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Mar 14, 2007 02:15 PM

The Lineup Card


"I like to focus on finding the best versions of specific dishes, rather than “the best” restaurants in Austin." ----- MPH

On the Wink discussion, there seems to be a consesus that there is no single restaurant in Austin that you would recommend to a fellow from out of town without reservation. But, there are many places that you would recommend certain dishes with fervor. So that fellow 'Hounds may increase their likelihood of excellent meals at locations all across Austin, please list some superb dishes at upper end restaurants. I will start with a couple of recommendations:

Wink- foie gras (as another poster mentioned, it is always seared to perfection no matter the other machinations involved)

The Driskill- Salad nicoise (a friend of mine was the pantry chef there years ago and he always recommended this. It was excellent at the time)

Also, in a similar light, there are several restaurants where you end up going when you have non-Houndish friends in town (Guero's comes to mind). To save what would have been a frustrating experience, let's try to recommend a dish or two to save those evenings at restaurants that you would not normally frequent. I think we would agree that even restaurants in decline will have one or too good offerings.

Guero's- Tacos al Pastor, Tortilla Soup

Polvos- Guisada de Puerco, there is also a dish involving chuletas and pineapple that is good)

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  1. I’ll play, El General. These are some initial thoughts on where to find the best chow around town.

    best upscale pizza: Enoteca Vespaio

    best supplì: Cibo
    runner-up: Enoteca Vespaio
    [These might also be the only two restaurants that offer them.]

    best risotto: Vespaio

    best bistecca fiorentina: Cibo

    best Italian chestnut cake: Cibo

    best fried catfish: Queen Lola’s

    best fish entree with ruby trout: Eastside Cafe

    best shrimp nachos: El Chile

    best thin-grilled drive-in-style burger: Top Notch

    best fried chicken: Tony’s Southern Comfort
    runner-up: Gene’s

    best homestyle cakes (strawberry, carrot)—Tony’s Southern Comfort

    best smothered pork chops: Gene’s
    runner-up: Ben’s Long Branch

    best simple, housemade bread pudding: Gene’s

    best banana pudding: Gene’s

    best peach cobbler: Ben’s Long Branch

    best brisket: Smitty’s
    runner-up: Black’s

    best spinach salad: Backstage Steakhouse

    best chocolate cake: Backstage Steakhouse

    best way with pork specials: Backstage Steakhouse

    best blackberry pie: R.O.’s Outpost

    best crispy oysters: Jeffrey’s

    best savory puddings: Jeffrey’s

    best polvorones: Fonda San Miguel

    best capirotada: Fonda San Miguel

    best rich, dense chocolate dessert: Shoreline Grill

    best tasting menu with wine: Wink

    best (and most improved) cheese plate: Wink

    best cheesesteak: Hog Island

    best Italian hoagies: Hog Island

    best meatball sub: Hog Island

    best bread basket: the Driskill Grill

    best white asparagus, arugula, and anchovy salad: the Driskill Grill

    best upscale version of pork belly: the Driskill Grill

    best venison sausage: Hudson’s on the Bend

    (another) best fois gras: Hudson’s on the Bend

    best Thai warm beef salad: Little Thailand

    best New-Orleans-style custard: Gumbo’s


    I think I did this backwards, now that I look back at your list. Instead of what to order at each restaurant, I put down where I find my favorite version of each dish.

    I recently posted on what I currently consider the best versions of various Tejano/Tex-Mex dishes ( ), and there’s that entire thread on the best CFS ( ). So, I didn’t repeat these things here.

    Some categories were omitted because many other 'hounds know about them (Casino El Camino’s burgers). Some I left off because no version of the dish or item stands out (croissants). Some I just don't have time to think through right now (Chinese, Vietnamese, and many more). By the way, for barbecue purposes, I’m only claiming Lockhart as “Austin.”

    I look forward to seeing what everyone else recommends.

    1. Oh good - I was going to start another thread regarding Polvo's specifically, but this is better.

      **Polvo's - it appears that from MPH's previous posts that his or her experience is with breakfast items. I've never had breakfast there. The chips suck - I've often thought of bringing my own...I wonder if they would mind?

      1) Chile Relleno Original: This is a dish that I at first passed over. I thought "I can have a Chile Relleno anywhere. The menu said that it is topped with a "special red sauce" and Monterey Jack cheese. Nothing eye catching. One day my wife ordered it (she doesn't like cream or almond sauce on a relleno) with shredded chicken and cheese. Lord, that red sauce is sublime. Piquant, a bit of acidity, and flavors like achiote and cumin. Frankly, I can't tell what's in it. It is absolutely my and my wifes favorite of all time. And, we spent two weeks in Oaxaca last April

      2) Camarones a la Plancha: Huge shrimp, some secret sauce, and fire roasted or something on a 500 degree grill. The shrimp come out with about a pound of fresh vegetables and rice. Carrots, cucumber lettuce, lime. The great thing is that the dish is covered with thin grilled guajillo strips. I take the meat side of the guajillo strip, place it on my tongue and suck on it a bit....then I make this noise: mmmmmHGHGHGHmmmm. Wife wife calls it "the noise." Recently, they mistakenly brought me the pescado a la plancha instead. Not that I complained, but I pointed it out - they comped it, and I actually liked it as much or better than the shrimp. The entire filet had a brown sear, locking in the juices.

      Fajita al Guajillo: You can get beef or pastor, and there are strips of guajillo, nuts and raisins mixed in. When it is on, it is right on.

      Ceviche - very fresh, light, and lots of vegetable items. We only get it when we are with three or more.

      Fish Huasteca - generous filet roasted in Huasteca achiote inside of a banana leaf. Pescado mojo de ajo is excellent as well.

      Enchiladas de La Casa (meat) or Dona Clara (cheese): very fresh, with plenty of cabbage and other vegetables in a guajillo sauce (no strips). Definitely a cut above the norm. You can get upgraded to the exoticas and choose from these sauces:


      And, their house margaritas are 1) tasty 2) strong, and 3) large. They used to be a ridiculous $4 or so and $16 for a pitcher, but they've gone up. you only need a beer and a marg, or two margs.

      So yes, I like Polvo's. On the other end of the scale, I absolutely love certain things at:

      **El Patio: Yes, this is one of the worst restaurants in town. Order two shiner bocks, a guacamole salad, a chile con queso, and then top it off with a sherbet. They fry their own corn tortillas for the con queso. Their guacamole salad is consistently fresh and on point. Never, ever order a margarita there, as it is a wine margarita.

      **Artz: best burger. I've described it in another post. Two days later, I had the Casino burger again. There is an article in the statesman regarding the best burger - Casino comes out at nuber 10 or something.

      No more time right now.

      8 Replies
      1. re: rudeboy

        I'm glad I missed that column in the Statesman, but your list looks very helpful.

        By the way, I've also had the fajitas al guajillo at Polvo's. I prefer the fajitas at Los Comales and Habeñero Cafe. But hey, we don't have to all love Polvo's, right? If I could get past the way they mishandle the basics, I might return one day to try a fish dish. But since I'm finding very interesting new places by chowing around, it's not a priority.

        My favorite chile relleno can be found at Janitzio, on East Riverside. They also have an amazing queso compuesto. (Thanks to scrumptiouschef for pointing that out in a previous post.) Janitzio doesn't have the same kind of “hip” atmosphere that Polvo's does, though. It's a no-frills spot where you just chow down and get out.


        1. re: MPH

          What are the basics that were mishandled? I'm not sure what you mean, except for maybe the quality of the chips and the breakfasts. Can you provide more detail? And please tell me about the fajitas and what makes them better at Habanero and Los Comales? I'll get over to Janitzio and see what's up with that relleno.

          And can one say that they have been to Polvo's if one hasn't had one of the "fish dishes?" Where else can one get a fish in bananna leaf in huasteca? Remember, this string is about dishes, not the avoidance of hipsters. Actually, one of the reasons that I don't like Polvo's is because of the crowd. Hopefully, the hipsters will read this and take over Janitzio!

          Freescale Cafe - Chicken mole

          Cart on St John's E of I35 - Tacos al Pastor

          Marco polo and Tien Hong - my best recent 1-2 punch on weekend dim sum (yes, I've been to SF). Tien Hong two weekends ago was better than ever

          China Cafe - best strip mall chinese place to get drug to by co-workers.

          Madam Mam's - Kao Soi

          Costco - best and cheapest hebrew national on potato bun

          Cafe Mangu - chuleta de puerco and yucca

          1. re: rudeboy

            Let me respond to your questions and comments. The basics include, in my opinion, the rice, beans, tortillas, chips, salsas, and fajitas—as well as the classic breakfast dishes—that I’ve tried. I’ve covered what I love about the fajitas at HMC and LC in other threads, which you should be able to pull up. And yes, I think that one can say that he or she has been to Polvo's without having had a fish dish. Above I listed several “best dishes” in town, with no reference to the “best place to avoid hipsters.” I only included the difference between the vibes at Janitizio and Polvo’s so that people would know what to expect should they try the former. I don’t know why you’d wish hipsters on any restaurant, especially the innocent Janitizio.

            Thanks for recommending the fish dishes at Polvo's. If I ever end up there again, I might give one a try.

            My original point, you’ll recall, was simply that I didn’t agree that Polvo’s was the best Tex-Mex in town, even though that was a popular opinion on the board back in 2005. Your experiences with Polvo’s have been good. Mine have not been. (Neither were those of my dining companions.) You won’t be able to convince me that I really could or should have enjoyed their food any more than I could convince you that you actually hated it.

            And why would either of us want to? Again, let’s just agree to disagree. I’ve read enough of your past posts to realize that you’re a true ‘hound, but we must have different ideal versions of fajitas and other Tex-Mex/Mexican foods. However, I know we enjoy some of the same places (like El Regio and Don Luis).

            Personally, I like the fact that this board doesn’t try to achieve a consensus. To really make the best use of the diversity of tastes, one has to read through a lot of past posts, compare how other chowhounds' opinions stack up against his or hers, and make independent decisions. I’ll understand if you want to assume that you’ll like anything that I dislike and vice versa.

            This thread that El General started should be a great addition to the treasure trove of different opinions about Austin’s best chow. I'm looking forward to hearing what more 'hounds have to say.

            1. re: MPH

              Ah, which reminds me:

              El Regio - the best damn chicken

              1. re: Nab

                Funny, we just finished of last week's El Regio last night. Picked up some decent corn tortillas, sliced some avocado, and chopped up an insane amount of cilantro. along with the green salsa. We just stood over the kitchen island and wolfed down three apiece!

              2. re: MPH

                Well, maybe we just have different ways of ranking things. I always notice when rice and beans are better than the norm, and I discard breakfast entirely. The only breakfast I've been eating lately is:

                Las Manitas - White Posole (with a taco, usually).

                Even more importantly, I don't consider Polvo's Tex Mex. Their entrees usually have more of interior sophistication that I don't find at a typical Tex Mex joint.

                1. re: rudeboy

                  Yup. Different things matter to different people, which is why one can learn so much from reading others' posts. For example, the posole that you describe at Las Manitas sounds tempting. I'll give it a try—soon, since they're closing?

                  I think Polvo's, like a lot of restaurants in town and across the state, tries to do both Tex-Mex and regional-other-than-Northern-Mexican food. Even El Mirador in San Antonio has some Tex-Mex options on the menu. Some of my favorite options—in Texas—for food from the interior can be found in S.A. But that’s a topic for a different day. . . and now a different board.

                  1. re: MPH

                    If you try the posole at Las Manitas, make sure that they bring you the oregano and chile along with the radishes and cabbage. Sometimes I have to ask for it - if I didn't know that I wouldn't know to ask!

                    Other soups I like:
                    Madam Mam's Tom Khlong (lots of galangal) and the northern Kao Soi
                    Tapatia - Sopa de Mariscos

                    I usually don't like Marisco's on Burnet, but I think that it has gotten better recently. There is a dish called Pulpo Revel___ something that is very spicy and excellent. You have to like octopus, though.

                    Best Ribeye under $20 is at Saltgrass. Don't go the the 183 location, however. Certified Angus Beef.

        2. I like this game! I've tried to organize by category, but restaurant picks are in no particular order.

          Polvo's: Pescado al Mojo de Ajo
          Pappasito's: Tableside Guacamole (extra jalapenos, hold the onions and tomatoes), Mexico City Soup
          Taqueria Arandas: Quesadilla Regular with Steak, Tacos de Pastor
          Jorge's: Chicken in New Mexican style verde sauce (forgot the name)
          Angie's: Carnitas tacos (obvious)
          El Zunzal: Tamal de Pollo
          Oaxacan Tamaleo: Pollo con Mole
          Tacolote: Gorditas, Tacos al Pastor
          Gueros: Margaritas, Quail
          Wink: Foie Gras (my favorite dish, period!), Pork Belly, Vension
          Enoteca Vespaio: Beet appetizer, gnocchi
          Jezebel: Lamb, Steak Tartare
          Capitol Brasierrie: Salade Lyonnaise
          Eddie V's: Broiled Oysters, Caesar, Bread Pudding ( like the merengue the best)
          Gene's: Oyster Po-Boy
          Madam Mam's: Pad Sea-Ew (w/beef, flat noodles, extra spicy); Panang Curry, Tom Kha
          Pappadeaux: Oysters Pappadeaux, Mahi Mahi with Yvette Sauce, Pappas Salad
          Tam: Boiled Shrimp Sandwich, Cream Puffs
          Sam Paio's: Feijoada (tell them to hold the salt)

          I'm interested to hear other's favorite picks -- in particular Clay Pit & La Traviata

          2 Replies
          1. re: catarata

            Ooooh, I'm going to disagree with you on the al Mojo de Ajo. The version at Guero's is one of the few things on the menu that I'll order; Polvo's always seems a little too charred (perhaps just slightly overcooked), while Guero's is rich and buttery. I would like to know more about the quail, since I haven't gotten around to trying it.

            Props on the rest.

            And one for you–Clay Pit: Khuroos-E-Tursh

            1. re: Twill

              Twill, I've never tried the Mojo de Ajo at Guero's, I'm excited to have something new to try. And I'll remember Khuroos-E-Tursh the next time we go for lunch at the Clay Pit. Thanks!

          2. Best vegetarian plate: Vespaio
            Favorite Salsa at Table: El Chile
            Best Fish: Snapper at Aquarelle... had it last night... phenomenal!
            Favorite Dumplings: Spinach Dumplings with Peanut Sauce at Thai Noodles, etc (for other Thai food I prefer Madam's but these rock)
            Favorite Soup: Roasted Tomato at Galaxy Cafe, Gazpacho at Eastside Cafe
            Best Consistent Vegetarian: Swad (also my fav Indian place)
            Best Consistent Sweet Potato Fries: Galaxy Cafe
            Best Fish Sandwich: Jim's in South Austin (on a Saturday or Sunday late morning... better staff frankly)
            Favorite Tasting Menu: Uchi

            1. Best Steak Salad- Zax Pints and Plates