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Alternative fuels for the Year of the Hybrid

Mike Sutter

We'll call this the Year of the Hybrid the year Austin started getting more restaurant miles per gallon.

It's something more than a choice between fried chicken at the drive-in (Top Notch) or fried lobster at the mansion (Green Pastures). We've made room for crispy chicken with tomato syrup at an old homebrew building (Foreign & Domestic, one of our Newcomers of the Year). Something beyond easy categorization, with the look and feel of casual but the food and philosophy of upscale.

In other words, we're getting restaurants that look and think like we do — an all-in-one blend of slacker, artist, pragmatist and entrepreneur. That spirit is captured in the start-ups La Sombra, Braise, Takoba, Zandunga, Artisan Bistro, Tarka and others.

People around the country are starting to notice. Austin landed two chefs on ‘The Next Food Network Star,' a contestant in ‘The Great Food Truck Race,' a handful of trailers in a Men's Health magazine spread and a visit from culinary pope Anthony Bourdain. The online budgeting tracker Bundle (www.bundle.com) tells us that Austinites spend more per person on restaurants and bars than any other city in America: $6,301 a year. More than San Francisco ($4,950) or New York City ($3,376) and seven times as much as Detroit ($871).

With almost 150 options in this Austin360 Dining Guide — divided into Upscale and Casual categories; you'll find trailers at austin360.com/food — you're bound to find the classic, compact or hybrid that's right for you.

msutter@statesman.com; 912-5902