Two benches melded to the bricks allow you to wait outside in comparative comfort at this no-reservations place. Inside, six two-tops press close together along one wall with an eating shelf opposite, usually offering an empty stool or two if you despair of acquiring a table. A prep counter at the end of the room flaunts a luscious collection of fruit, including oodles of ripe bananas.
Where micro-eateries are concerned, breakfast is the new profit center, and Dimes begins that meal at the eye-rubbing hour of 8 a.m. There's a quasi-conventional two-egg breakfast and a spectacular breakfast sandwich made with fluffy scrambled eggs piled high on a roll with cheddar, sliced avocado, and sweet-pickled jalapenos ($6.50). Further afield find a bowl of orange-date muesli splotched with yogurt and also a chia-seed pudding that manages to incorporate hemp and buckwheat.
There are excellent breakfast tacos— presented in authentic Austin fashion on flour tortillas—but most of Dimes' leggy and attractive patrons had their noses deep in acai bowls ($9 each). These cold soups are based on a purple berry puree shipped frozen from Brazil and reported to have medicinal properties. And they turn out to be unexpectedly tasty. All contain bananas, along with other seemingly random ingredients, among them lavender, goji berries, bee pollen, cashew cream, and coconut. In case that seems too healthy, you can also have sausage or bacon on the side for an extra couple of dollars, and wash it all down with the establishment's industrial-strength coffee.
Most of Dimes' leggy and attractive patrons had their noses deep in acai bowls.
Breakfast is served till 4 p.m., and there's also a lunch menu offering meal-size salads, grain concoctions, and sandwiches. Some of the lunches are remarkably transgressive, while remaining fruit and vegetable intensive. Amplified with avocado, arugula, juice-dripping roasted tomatoes, more of those sweet jalapenos, and lime-cilantro mayo, the BLT ($11) is a thing of beauty that will also burn your mouth off. And the bacon is piled on with a generous hand. (No Fakin' Bacon here.) There's an oddball banh mi made with Tuscan-style chicken livers, and a marvelous salad featuring cantaloupe, kale, and raw tomatillos – three ingredients that have probably never been in such close proximity before.
But the low-key diversity of breakfast and lunch won't prepare you for the tour-de-force of dinner, when the gals get serious with their menu and its modern obsessions. Composed salads and grains dominate the culinary landscape. Once again playing to a generation not afraid of chiles, an appetizer of roasted peaches ($9) comes engagingly tossed with blistered shisito peppers and toasted pecans. More conventionally, a splendid damp expanse of homemade burrata arrives looking like a runway model clad in heirloom tomatoes in eye-appealing colors. What's weird about Dimes' spin on this frequently seen combo? Oniony nigella seeds and a chile-balsamic dressing in which Italy and Mexico happily meet.
For diners who insist on normal bistro fare, there's a nicely roasted chicken and a lively stew of cod in curry broth, but why not pick one of Dimes' more atypical entrees? A dish with the discouraging name of spicy quinoa ($14) is anything but disappointing, featuring a miniature mountain of the putative miracle grain topped with a wad of beet relish, with a gorgeous array of fruit and vegetables radiating from it: bright red roasted peppers, wrinkly green asparagus, scattered yellow corn, and purple eggplant singed to a pleasant mush. Even carnivores are likely to writhe in pleasure at the lushness of the culinary landscape.
Other entrees illustrate the same attention to color and texture, as if each were a 3-D sculpture mounted on a pedestal at MOMA. An entrée based on black rice? Dimes makes it happen with cucumbers, pink grapefruit, and mashed sweet potato in a ginger ponzu sauce, and shreds of barber-pole beets lie atop like a Technicolor haystack.
After finishing up my black rice one evening, shocked that I had enjoyed such a meatless entrée so much, I asked the waitress a question that had been dogging me since my first visit: "Why is this place called Dimes?" She smirked as she whisked away the plate, "Because all our customers are dimes." Registering the confusion on my face, she added, "You know, like the movie '10.'" Mystery solved.
Photography: Paul Crispin Quitoriano