• BEST NEW RESTAURANT
    • The Crown & Goose
    • It might have seemed as sensible as a French comedy club, or an accounting festival, but with some energy and imagination and a surprising Old City location, incorporating two ancient saloon spaces and a beer garden—no business has ever made better use of Knoxville’s eccentric skyline—The Crown & Goose seems to be a hit. The brainchild of everybody’s favorite Mod, downtown developer and former Londoner Jeffrey Nash, the Goose seems likely to revise our views of English cookery by punching up some old pub standards, like fish and chips and shepherd’s pie, into the realm of the upscale, and with a few potent but very civilized ales of their own design. Maybe good timing helped—The Crown & Goose opened in early March, just before our ballots were going out, but readers even gave it their nod for Best New Business. Anyone for bangers and mash? (J.N.)
    • Runners-Up:
    • Amerigo, Ruth’s Chris, Smoky Mountain Brewery
    • BEST DELI
    • Jason’s Deli
    • “Please eat responsibly,” it says at the end of Jason’s menu, and they make it easy with menu items from a “Nutty Salad” of organic field greens, grapes, chicken breast, organic apples, pumpkin seeds, etc., to a vegetarian fresco garden pasta and even organic peanut butter and jelly. Jason’s also makes diligent dining difficult with menu items like red bean and sausage taco salad or New York deli-style Reubens complete with Russian dressing, an Italian Cruz Po Boy with hard salami and Italian dressing (though the mustard is organic stone ground), and desserts from turtle cheesecake to baklava. Things get easy again when it comes to ordering—Jason’s (located on North Peters Road) allows you to order online for pick-up or delivery in a limited range, or dine in any old time you feel like it. Now wasn’t that simple? (R.K.)
    • Runners-Up:
    • Ali Baba Time-Out Deli, Colonel’s Deli, Nixon’s Deli
    • BEST WINGS
    • Wild Wing Café
    • How do we love the first Wild Wings Cafe to open in the state? Can you count to 39?
    • 1. The patio, overlooking a forested couple of acres and a dandy little lake (big pond?) complete with Tiki Bar, where you can sit with 129 of your closest friends
    • 2. High-def plasma TVs by the barrel, most of them tuned to most any sport you could hope for, even if you’re a hockey or Bama fan
    • 3. Lots o’ live and local music
    • 4. No one rolls up the sidewalk outside at 9, even though it’s in the Turkey Creek area. Think family restaurant with a bar early evening, bar with a par-tay when the clock strikes 10.
    • 5. Live Trivia with Matt Tuesdays at 9
    • 6. Working Women’s Wednesday with DJ dancing and $3 3-Olive martinis. (Should that count as three? or nine?)
    • 7-39. 33 kinds of wings, yowza to sweet and yummy (R.K.)
    • Runners-Up:
    • Buffalo Wild Wings, Hooter’s (Kingston Pike), Hooter’s (Merchants Drive)
    • BEST BARBECUE
    • M&M Barbecue
    • It’s not a sit-down restaurant, but don’t hold that against them; many of Knoxville’s best and most authentic barbecue joints over the years have been take-out only. Then again, this simple cinderblock building on Middlebrook Pike, just northwest of Bearden, is more than a mere catering place, because four days a week, Wednesday through Saturday, they’re a short-order take-out place, open daily at 11 a.m. M&M stands for Martin and Martin; co-founder Robert Martin is deceased, but his widow Precilla, who’s originally from the Philippines, runs the place now. They’re best known for their pulled pork and tomato-based sauces. (J.N.)
    • Runners-Up:
    • Back Porch BBQ, Buddy’s Bar-B-Q (Broadway), Calhoun’s on the River
    • BEST MEAT AND THREE
    • Chandler’s
    • Chandler’s is kind of an exception in this category of the meat and three, for two reasons; unlike most of that category, it doesn’t offer table service: you get your food cafeteria-style, on trays, in disposable containers. The other reason is that the food itself is exceptional. Chandler’s is not only our favorite meat and three, but Knoxville’s most reliable soul-food place, usually serving barbecue, fried chicken, and enough hot vegetables to brag to your mama about. At Chandler’s, by the way, it’s not enough to ask for “greens”; you need to be more specific, because Chandler’s usually has at least two varieties. Don’t let their use of the word “deli” fool you; Chandler’s is a thing much rarer than a deli. It’s a clean, well-kept soul-food cafeteria, and maybe the dependably best home-cooking in town. (J.N.)
    • Runners-Up:
    • Big Fatty’s, Pete’s, Wright’s Cafeteria
    • BEST ASIAN
    • Taste of Thai
    • Tucked away in the looming bulk of a bustling West Knoxville strip mall, Taste of Thai offers Thai cuisine for all gastrointestinal temperaments, fit for the spice-averse among us or dressed up for those who like their curries hot enough to melt plaster. Much recommended are the Rama Chicken, Pork Satay, and Som Tum (papaya salad). Be sure to leave room for some warm rice pudding with a side of coconut ice cream for dessert. (M.G.)
    • Runners-Up:
    • P.F. Chang’s, Stir Fry Café, Wasabi (Bearden Hill)
    • BEST MEXICAN
    • (Tie) El Charro (Bearden) & Señor Taco
    • There’s a ton of Mexican restaurants in this town, probably a side effect of having a giant university here. But, as anywhere, so many of them are content to be greasily bland, or maybe blandly greasy, and unimaginative. That’s why it’s refreshing to see a Mexican place that serves something we can’t get through a drive-through window. And this year, you recommended two of them, in a rare first-place tie between Senor Taco and El Charro-Bearden.
    • Senor Taco calls itself a Mexican seafood restaurant, but it’s also got all the cheesy, beefy, melty staples you’ll find anywhere else, except better, and cheaper. Maybe that’s why it won for Best Cheap Meal, too. The restaurant’s namesake food, its tacos, are compact, neat, and fresh. We especially recommend the fish and chorizo tacos, served on soft corn tortillas. And, of course, there’s the famous salsa bar (get the yucateca) and a two-for-one margarita special on Monday night.
    • Local mini-chain El Charro boasts that it has the best salsa in town. And that’s not the end of it by far. It’s got a big, extensive menu, offering both simple (tacos, burritos and enchiladas) and more high-brow fare (chicken in rich, red mole sauce or pork tips with green salsa). And to go with it, you have a choice of nine high-ish-end Mexican beers or 10 domestics. (C.M.)
    • Runners-Up:
    • Chez Guevara, Pelancho’s, Soccer Taco
    • BEST MIDDLE EASTERN
    • King Tut’s
    • There are five—count ’em, five—“We’re open” signs on the front of King Tut’s. And proprietors Mo and Seham Girgis could probably use five more to keep people from driving right past this squat brick building in the low-rent, no-rent, “nothing happening, and all of it suspicious” 4000 block of Martin Mill Pike. Those who do leave daylight behind to step into the kitsch and low lights of the dining room should expect the unexpected. Somehow, Mo has managed to create a piece of 1950s Greenwich Village right in darkest South Knoxville. And he seems to have forgotten what kind of “our place” it’s supposed to be. There’s linguini with pesto on Monday Pasta Night, stuffed grape leaves on Wednesday Egyptian Night, and liver and onions any old night you feel like it. If that’s not enough to keep customers off balance, what about drinks served in flower vases, a few minutes in one of the restaurant’s masks (or bring your own), or candlelight and roses for women on Saturdays? Presiding over it all is Mo, with his ear-to-ear smile, timely reminders to try it, try it (could be Egyptian salad, cracked wheat or chicken four ways, depends who you are), and no credit card and “we close when the party’s over” policies. Vegetarians, rejoice! Mo was fresh country produce when fresh country produce wasn’t cool and there’s nary a can in sight. Never a customer to be seen from the road, either, but trust Mo, they’re open—to just about anything. (R.K.)
    • Runners-Up:
    • Ali Baba, Mirage, Sitar
    • BEST PLACE TO EAT WHEN SOMEONE ELSE PAYS
    • Ruth’s Chris Steak House
    • Never mind the mangled name (heaven forbid you have a lisp), this originally New Orleans-based franchise has caught on like a broiler afire in the short months since it took over the Riverside Tavern space in October. Aged, corn-fed USDA Prime beef filets are prepared to succulent glory in a trademark 1,800-degree oven and served on a plate heated to 500 degrees—hear that sizzle? Almost as good as the food is the “’60s divorcee made good” story of founder Ruth Fertel, a chemistry student born in 1927 in New Orleans who opened the first place in 1965 by mortgaging her house for $22,000. These days there are 111 locations worldwide. Being a beef-eater is no pre-requisite when other splurge entrees include ahi tuna steak seared rare and topped with colossal lump crabmeat, veal chop with sweet and hot peppers, and even grilled portobello mushrooms atop fluffy garlic mashed potatoes for the veg-heads. With seven types of potato (one sweet potato with pecan crust) and desserts like caramelized banana cream pie and bread pudding with whiskey sauce, the tally adds up quickly to the average per-diner bill of $65 to $75. But patron parents and dates can feel good about the profits; Ruth’s Chris subsidizes charities like Second Harvest Food Bank and Friends of the Smokies. (R.K.)
    • Runners-Up:
    • Fleming’s, Melting Pot, Regas
    • BEST LOCAL CHEF
    • Bruce Bogartz (RouXbarb)
    • He doesn’t seem to stay in one place for very long, having made the rounds from his own late, lamented Bogartz to a stint at downtown’s Oodles to his latest venture, RouXbarb on Northshore Drive, with a few other stops along the way. But chefs as tasteful and inventive as Bogartz are hard to come by: He’s just as adept at building flavors in complex dishes fit for experienced gourmands, or at pleasing simpler palates, with big, well-chosen and perfectly prepared hunks of meat. Find out for yourself why Knoxvillians so love this portly itinerant chef. (M.G.)
    • Runners-Up:
    • Chip Meyer (Sapphire), Gary Nicely (Naples), Steve Puleo (Puleo’s Grille)
    • BEST BARTENDER
    • Forest Hunter (The Valarium/Blue Cats)
    • “It’s about time I won” is the typically curmudgeonly response from the man who says he’s been getting lots of the same people drunk since ’98 (mind you, the Valarium only opened in November). But Hunter’s kinda sweet, too, with his fixation on keeping up with the sweaty press of shot-seekers, his care to deliver your precise poison, and his “no one stays sober on my watch” attitude. The louder the band, the deeper the crowd pressed around his little hovel of an all-black barstand, the better he likes it. “I’m more of a roadhouse bartender than a cocktail lounge guy,” he says. “More Swayze, less Cruise.” And less the fatherly counselor of the glum and alcohol-soaked? “Actually, I do give advice, in a cynical, tough-love, snap-out-of-it way,” he says. One recommendation he makes often: Try his signature NAFTA 2.0 shooter. “It’s equal amounts Crown (for Canada), Maker’s Mark (for America), and Jose Cuervo (for Mexico),” he says. “And then one ounce of soda water, so the carbonation will make the alcohol rush to your bloodstream. I’m the evil kind of bartender who knows that.” (R.K.)
    • Runners-Up:
    • George Wertz (Downtown Grill & Brewery), Jeff White (Naples)