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Austin: Best Dining Bets

  • Uchi (801 S. Lamar Blvd.; (tel. 512/916-4808): Don't think of as just a great place for sushi and Japanese cuisine. It's a great restaurant, period, with creative cooking that transcends its humble roots. The setting, in a beautifully revamped 1930s house, is transcendent too.

  • Castle Hill Cafȳ (1101 West Fifth St.; tel. 512/476-0728): Wonderful cooking with a predominance of American and Southwestern flavors. The dining room is quite comfortable, too. I always like whatever Mexican-influenced dishes they put on the menu. Go for lunch and save a few dollars.

  • Kreuz Market (619 N. Colorado, in Lockhart; tel. 512/398-2361): It's a short, pleasant drive to Lockhart and to this pilgrimage site for the barbecue faithful. Kreuz has the best sausage and ribs I've ever tasted. But don't expect to be putting any sauce on your meat. That would be an insult to the cook, and they take these things personally down here. If you positively must have that rich and tangy Texas BBQ sauce, then steer your car toward Black's, also in Lockhart, and held in high esteem by the must-have-sauce crowd.

  • Las Manitas (211 Congress Ave.; tel. 512/472-9357): If it's still standing when you get to town, this endangered cafe should be one of the top entries on you dining list. Go for a late breakfast and enjoy the scene along with some really good food. This humble little spot has legions of fans who come regularly to enjoy the warmth and homey feel of the place and talk over local issues, such as the impending demise of this Austin institution.

  • The Best Dining-as-Happening Scene: Uchi, 801 S. Lamar Blvd. (tel. 512/916-4808), has drama, action, and a beautiful mise en scȲne. It's a great restaurant with creative cooking that transcends its humble roots.

  • Best Place to Pretend You're in Italy: It's not only the menu -- great cappuccino, delicious thin-crust pizzas, focaccia sandwiches, and the like -- that makes Cipollina, 1213 West Lynn (tel. 512/477-5211), feel European. This deli also has a cosmopolitan atmosphere that makes you want to settle in with a copy of Umberto Eco's latest book.

  • Best Vegetarian Cuisine: The West Lynn Cafe, 1110 W. Lynn (tel. 512/482-0950), has a huge meatless selection prepared in the most innovative ways. Vegetarians of all stripes leave here completely sated.

  • Best Quintessentially Austin: Its laid-back Texas menu, huge outdoor patio, and "unplugged" music series all make Shady Grove (1624 Barton Springs Rd.; tel. 512/474-9991) the Platonic ideal of the Austin restaurant.

  • Best Brunch: It's a tie between the Sunday buffet at Green Pastures, 811 W. Live Oak Rd. (tel. 512/444-4747), where Austinites have been imbibing milk punch, liberally dosed with bourbon, rum, brandy, ice cream, and nutmeg, seemingly forever, and the one at Fonda San Miguel, 2330 W. North Loop (tel. 512/459-4121), where the spread runs deliciously toward Mexico.

  • Best Melding of Old and New Worlds: The Driskill Grill, 604 Brazos St. (tel. 512/391-7162), has the grace and tone that befits the historic hotel it serves, but there's nothing dated about the New American cuisine that dazzles this era's gastronomically demanding guests.

  • Best if You're Game for Game: It's a bit of a drive and more than a bit of a wallet bite, but if you want to see how tasty venison or bison can be, you can't beat Hudson's on the Bend, 3509 Hwy. 620 N. (tel. 512/266-1369).

  • Best View: The easy winner is The Oasis, 6550 Comanche Trail, near Lake Travis (tel. 512/266-2442), which has multiple decks that afford stunning views of Lake Travis and the Texas Hill Country.

  • Sweetest Contribution to the Dining Scene: Amy's has for years been Austin's favorite ice cream stop. College-age servers put on a show for the customers, tossing scoops of ice cream about and crushing toppings into it with rhythmic glee. The ice cream is rich and the flavorings are natural and distinctive. There are 10 locations in Austin, including the airport. Central locations include 1012 W. Sixth St. (at Lamar) (tel. 512/480-0673); one in SoCo, 1301 S. Congress Ave. (by the Continental Club) (tel. 512/440-7488); and one just north of the UT campus, 3500 Guadalupe (tel. 512/458-6895).

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