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Best Evers: Laura Kelso, Writer

Monday, February 28, 2011 | 11:10 AM

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In addition to rating and reviewing businesses on Hotpot, you can give your favorite businesses a Best Ever award. While we're in Austin these next several weeks, we thought it would be fun to talk to a few prominent Austinites to see what businesses they're giving their Best Ever awards to and why.

Up next in this ongoing series is Laura Kelso, an Austin-based food and travel writer who regularly contributes to Southern Living, Texas Monthly, Austin Monthly, and the Austin American-Statesman. She also has written for Travel + Leisure and the Discovery Channel. Laura was the food critic for Austin Monthly for four years, and is the co-founder of, a website devoted to sharing the love of food – dish by dish. We asked Laura to give us some of her Austin Hotpot Best Evers.

I know. Uchi’s praises have been sung in oh-so-many-ways. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…but honestly, this cutting-edge sushi mecca serves up the most imaginative Japanese fusion fare in town. Think smoked baby yellowtail, served atop crunchy yucca chips with garlic brittle and Asian pear. (Can you say umami?) Besides, how is it not possible to “heart” chef Tyson Cole? He’s the bomb.

Fonda San Miguel
How can you not love a restaurant that feels like a spacious hacienda in the Mexican highlands, filled with Mexican paintings, Saltillo tiles, and punched-tin lanterns that play tricks with the light? Add to that the Mexican interior cuisine – fresh ceviche, handmade flour and corn tortillas, tacos al pastor, and roasted poblanos – and you can see why “the Fonda” earns my love. Oh, and the crepas de cajeta, layered with milky caramel sauce, cinnamon and ice cream? In a word, ricissimo.

Thai Fresh
I love Jam Sanitchat’s sunny eatery, which triples as a kitchen, informal dining room, and grocery store. A handful of daily dishes, displayed in a deli case, range from spicy lemongrass soup to green curry with tofu and summer squash. Sanitchat – both owner and chef - sources many of her ingredients locally, including natural chicken from Buddy’s, meat from Richardson Farms, and vegetables from Austin-area farmers’ markets. I head to Jam’s when I want to get my Thai on.

Lamberts Downtown Barbecue
It’s my go-to joint for barbeque, and not just because the brisket, rubbed with brown sugar and coffee, is finger licking good. Juicy smoked chicken is enlivened with an achiote and lime rub, and the seared chickpeas and goat cheese appetizer is a must for any garbanzo devotee. Chefs Larry McGuire and Tommy Moorman bring a laid-back vibe to the old school dining room, with its historic brick walls and warm lime green booths. Live nightly music upstairs in the lounge is another awesome perk.

Flip Happy
Sure, this vintage Airstream might have erratic hours and ridiculously long lines, but the hand-made sweet and savory crepes are worth the wait. One of the grande dames of the Austin trailer scene, Flip Happy opened its windows in 2006, and has subsequently blazed a path for a long line of other foodie four-wheelers. Their sweet and savory crepes oozing with the likes of Gruyere cheese, roasted chicken, caramelized onions, Nutella and bananas makes it easy to believe their slogan: “Made from Scratch with Love.”

It’s where I go when I’m craving authentic Italian – antipasti, wood-fired pizzas, pastas, and seafood. Just thinking about the tartare di tonno – chopped sashimi grade big eye tuna tossed with Dijon mustard and capers, served with olive tapenade, grilled focaccia crostini and Belgian endive – makes my mouth water. In season, the back garden yields a bounty of fresh basil and heirloom tomatoes that are showcased in dishes like Vespaio’s caprese salad, complete with their own homemade mozzarella.

The most challenging thing about eating at TacoDeli is choosing what Mexican-style taco to order. Will it be the cochinita pibil – Yucatecan–style roasted pork, marinated and cooked in citrus and achiote, or the Florentino – fresh spinach, sautéed in olive oil and sherry and tossed with onion, mushrooms, and red bell pepper? Mil gracias to Mexico City native and TacoDeli owner, Roberto Espinosa, for bringing a toothsome taste of the Distrito Federal to Austin’s table.

Posted by Vanessa Schneider, Hotpot Team