Everyone Loves Lists
Matt Odam (the Statesman) is out with his top 50 restaurants. It's a pretty great list, and with Mike Sutter currently working on his top 55, we're seeing some great food criticism right now (it looks like Fearless Critic has gone quiet, and the Chronicle's year end list is a ways off).
The Good: I especially liked the high rankings of Foreign & Domestic, Vino Vino and Fabi + Rosi. I've had wildly creative and wonderful food at F&D, and consistently great food at Vino Vino and Fabi + Rosi; I think the latter 2 get overlooked quite a bit. I'm also officially dying to try Lenoir (5!) and El Naranjo (24).
The Bad: No Olivia or Lambert's? Odam points out that it's his top 50 right now, and while I think you can certainly make a case for having Perla's above Lambert's, I wouldn't exclude Lambert's entirely. Further, Lucy's makes the list. Lucy's! I think that place is....well I think it's awful actually. Hipster fried chicken.
The Weird: Not a single trailer? Not even East Side King? And while I appreciate Tarka's, and certainly hope there's an Indian Chipotle in the future, I don't think it would crack my top 50. Similarly, Hopdoddy's is nice, but it's not exactly a revelation.
Not to be horribly obvious, but these are places at which he's dined twice in the past year, 100 out of a possible 600 meals (assuming no breakfast out [breakfast not being a meal at nearly all of the restaurants included], vacation, etc.). This also inherently excludes several new restaurants, others that have changed chefs (try Trace now and find it infinitely better), and probably limits geographically to places nearer the '04.
I'd disagree with 20% and restructure significantly, but that's a caveat in his preface-- this is a personal list. And frankly he goes out more than I do. While I think the Carillon is amazing (and agree about the lack of atmosphere, but love the architecture library from which it takes a few cues), and think Lenoir is merely okay, I've only been to each twice, and could have have had radically different experiences from Mr. Odam, and I tend to weigh food much more heavily than service or atmosphere.
Also, I'd absolutely agree with chrisdds98 that "we're lucky to live in a town with so many great food options."
I am admittedly a freakish Indian food fanatic. Asiana down south and Indian Spicy Chicken up north eat Tarka for breakfast. It's not bad, I agree better than perhaps an "Indian Chipotle". The chicken curry at ISP is one of my favorite dishes in all of Austin, light / soupy, deep flavor, and really tender chicken. The goat curry, and anything "chettinad" at Asiana are similarly sublime. I've had nothing at any other Indian spot in town that rivals these dishes.
First off, I want to say that this list is actually pretty good. Above average work for a local newspaper.
Since everyone loves lists, I'll articulate my criticisms in list form.
1. Inexplicable sequence. Congress is not the third-best restaurant in Austin; Lenoir is not the fifth, F&D is not the sixth, Trio is not the seventh, the Carillon is not the eighth, etc. Assuming the ordinality of the list is significant, this is a broken list. Good items with a flawed order.
2. Cuisine panic. Highest-rated Indian is Tarka, highest-rated Thai is SPIN, highest-rated pizza is Eastside Pies, etc. Asserting Tarka is the best Indian food in Greater Austin creates a deep concern in the reader.
3. Notable omissions, especially given the list's breadth. How can Franklin be the only BBQ listed? Where is Din Ho? Ramen Tatsu-Ya? Eastside Kings? Too many Mexican/taco omissions to list? Many places somehow didn't make the list, considering issue number 4, which is...
4. DMW (Dead Man Walking) joints. Several places listed have been mediocre for a while and carry on through sheer inertia. I don't want to be crass, so I won't call them out, but putting THAT place, and THAT OTHER place, and THAT ONE OLD place where they are on the list is jarring, especially since the writer otherwise seems to be receptive to new establishments. Surely, if you're this open to up-and-comers, you'd deprioritize some of these sad, declining elders.
5. After four general issues, here is a specific one: The El Meson on the list is the inferior Lamar variant. Adding to the confusion, Burleson Meson gets mentioned but not listed.
re: tom in austin
FWIW, and not much I am sure, and I have yet to communicate this to MO but the concept of a top 10 or top what ever, is in need of revision. And by that I mean it is not fair to put places like Barleyswine, Foreign and Domestic and Contigo on a general list of restuarants along side Congress, Trio, Fabi and Rossi or whomever is your favorite sit down and have a good dinner place. By that I mean, we have two ( or more) different food, cooking and serving concepts going on. IMO, places like Brandyswine and Contigo fall in a category something like a tapas place, ie, small plates where you order a variety and don't go to eat there with the intent of having a traditional dinner. I.e. you don't, or at least I don't go there with the intent of eating a meal, getting full, burping and falling asleep on the couch during "The Big Bang". What we have here are different food concepts and I believe they should be discussed separately for sense and coherence.
I thought the list was great. Definitely disagree with some, but solid choices. Love the placement of Tam's--my favorite restaurant in Austin all things considered.
Some Chowhound worthy spots like Asia Cafe, Asiana, Taco More (though I don't love Taco More that much).
NWLarry, are you saying Tarka is Indian Chipotle? It is a bit better than that order prep wise and I've had decent dishes. Top 50, no. Indian Chipotle is the new Naanful by the domain. I haven't been but my coworkers said pretty mediocre.
re: Carter B.
I have eaten at 2 of the Tarka's and thought both were delicious. The best Indian restaurant in Austin though? (Swad in my book)
From the looks of it, they are both trying to capture a bit of that rapidly growing fast-casual dollar. Which I have no problem with-I welcome the higher quality ingredients and affordable options the segment offers. I'd love to have a high quality foodie lunch every day, but since I'm not particularly near any Austin hotspots, I appreciate what the Chipotle's, Panera's and Tarka's of the world offer.
we're lucky to live in a town with so many great food options.
Although I've had some good meals at Olivia they didn't live up to my expectations at that price point.
And what besides the atmosphere is there to like about Lambert's? certainly not the bbq! I did enjoy the brunches, but my last few times were mediocore.
Agree with Lucy's, its decent fried chicken but its pretty expensive and not that special.