Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Best Mexican Food in Austin, Updated for 2019

Click here to see the full Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide! 
** Post updated for 2019 ** 

Mexican or Tex-Mex? What’s the difference you ask?

I think of Mexican (or interior Mexican) as more chicken and pork than beef, thick flavorful sauces like mole, and while not edible, beautiful ceramic plates and tile work. Tex-Mex is more cheese and bean-centric, nachos and plastic tortilla holders. Think chicken enchiladas in mole sauce vs. cheese enchiladas with red chile sauce. Here’s a great article explaining some of the differences on Serious Eats (and written by a former Austin Food Blogger Alliance member). Some places serve both types of dishes, and that’s okay, there's bound to be crossover! And I don't claim to be an expert, I just know good food when I taste it! 😉

Here’s my guide to the best Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants in Austin!

Interior Mexican
ATX Cocina, 110 San Antonio Street (Downtown)
Modern Mexican food in an upscale setting. Heirloom corn from Mexico, from which they make their own tortillas and masa; gluten-free establishment. Pretty much everything we had was spot on; you can read my full blog post here
ATX Cocina pork carnitas tacos
Pork carnitas tacos from ATX Cocina's happy hour menu
Borrego de Oro, 3900 South Congress (South) 
Definitely a diamond (or should I say piece of gold?) in the rough; just north of Ben White/Hwy 290. One of the few Mexican spots that I see with lamb.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Borrego de Oro chipotle cabrito
Borrego's chipotle cabrito, which was absolutely OUTSTANDING! The meat just fell off the bones.
Curra's 614 East Oltorf (South)
Popular spot, known in part for their avocado margaritas; prepare to wait on the weekends. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

El Naranjo, 85 Rainey Street (Downtown)
What started as a food trailer on Rainey Street has graduated to a brick and mortar, run by Oaxacan Chef Iliana de la Vega. Dinner and weekend brunch; fine dining.
El Naranjo mole negro de oaxaca
Niman Ranch Pork Chop with Mole Negro de Oaxaca
Fonda San Miguel, 2330 North Loop (North Central Austin)
This iconic spot has been a mainstay of fine dining in Austin for over 25 years; the beautiful hacienda and all it’s gorgeous tile work and decor is worth the price of their delicious margaritas. Try their traditional dishes like mole or cochinita pibil. Dinner and Sunday brunch; fine dining.
Fonda San Miguel margarita
Fonda's margarita
Habanero, 501 West Oltorf (South)
Mom and Pop place just off South First Street, open breakfast and lunch daily, and dinner on Friday and Saturday only. 

Hecho en Mexico, 6001 West William Cannon Drive (Southwest) and 4300 North Quinlan Park Road (Steiner Ranch/West)
This family-run establishment is also known for their monthly tequila dinners. Lunch and dinner.
Hecho en Mexico
Tacos al Pastor at Hecho en Mexico
Juan In A Million, 2300 E. Cesar Chavez Street (East) 
A neighborhood staple since 1980, very popular, especially on weekends.

La Condesa, 400A West 2nd Street (Downtown)

Trendy, modern Mexican in the heart of downtown. Great little outdoor patio to watch the people go by while sipping on a sangria, margarita, or cerveza.

La Mexicana, 1924 South First Street (South)
Mostly known as a Mexican bakery, they also have great inexpensive tacos, tortas, gorditas, and street foods. Open 24 hours, which comes in handy when you're jet lagged from an international flight.
La Mexicana breakfast tacos
Fat and inexpensive breakfast tacos at La Mexicana
Manuel's, 310 Congress Avenue (Downtown) and 10201 Jollyville Road (Northwest)
Their tortilla soup never disappoints, and I've always been a fan of their chicken mole. Lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch at both locations. 
Manuel's enchiladas de mole
Manuel's enchiladas with mole sauce
Papalote,  2803 South Lamar (South), 3632 South Congress (South) and 13219 North Hwy 183 (Northwest)
The South Lamar location only has a handful of tables, and does a lot of carry out business. Street foods including tacos, tortas, and tlacoyos; known for the vegetarian cauliflower taco. Daily, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Great spot for a quick meal, not to be overlooked by other area taco places.

Sazon, 1816 South Lamar (South)
One of the few spots that serves huitlacoche; they have indoor and outdoor seating, nice happy hours.
Sazon tacos al pastor
Sazon's pastor
Suerte, 1800 E. 6th Street (East)
New trendy spot on the eastside, brunch with tacos, tostadas and doblado was quite good, but the palmier with cajeta is not to be missed!
Suerte brunch beef tongue taco, shrimp tostada, grilled doblada
Shrimp tostado, beef tongue taco, and chorizo + potato stuffed doblado.
Taqueria Chapala, 4201 S. Congress Ave. (South)
Looking for awesome chilaquiles? Look no further.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Veracruz All Natural, Several trailers plus a brick and mortar
This popular food truck offers plate specials on weekends, like these mole enchiladas with plantains and chilaquiles.
Veracruz All Natural mole
Mole enchiladas at Veracruz

Tex Mex
Chuy's, Six locations
The original on Barton Springs Road is what started it all, now with multiple locations nationwide. The tortilla soup is still a staple for many. Daily, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Chuy's sangria
Cocina de Consuelo, 4516 Burnet Road (North Central) 
Try the huevos rancheros and enchiladas. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, closed Saturdays.
DK Maria's Legendary Tex-Mex, 1807 Slaughter Lane (Far South)
They took over the former Tres Amigos spot at Slaughter and Manchaca, and have incredible thick tortilla chips and a jalapeno/avocado sauce that's amazing. Pictured here, Anselmo's Grilled Fish, which on this day was a drum with veracruz sauce; hearty portions. Large venue, great for groups.
DK Maria's Legendary Tex Mex Anselmo's Grilled Fish
Anselmo's Grilled Fish at DK Maria's
El Dorado Cafe, 3300 W. Anderson Lane (North Central)
This family-owned establishment has quickly earned its buzz. I went for lunch and the place was packed! Salsa X, calabacitas, and Esme's Magic rolled enchiladas with mashed potatoes amongst the standouts. I really wish this place was south!
El Dorado Cafe Esme's Magic Enchiladas
Esme's enchiladas at El Dorado
Fresas, 915 N. Lamar Blvd (Downtown; drive through/carry out) and 1703 S. 1st Street (South Austin)
I recently had a very solid meal at the South 1st location with excellent service, which had been my bone to pick before. But they are back in my good graces. While known for their chicken al carbon, the posole was outstanding.
Fresas posole
Posole from Fresas

Joann's Fine Foods
 1224 S. Congress (Downtown/South) 
I debated whether or not to include this in my Mexican foods post, but yes, as they say online: "The menu is a tribute to diner culture featuring Tex-Mex favorites and California inspired healthy options." And the beef picadillo enchiladas were delicious. Here's the link to my full blog post.
Joann's Fine Foods hash brown nachos
Joann's hash brown nachos
Matt's El Rancho, 2613 South Lamar (South) 
Serving some of Austin’s most popular Tex-Mex since 1952. Lunch and dinner daily; closed Tuesdays.

Maudie's Tex MexSeven locations

Multiple locations around town, popular happy hours. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Nachos compuestos for $5 during Maudie's happy hour!
Mr. Natural, 1901 East Cesar Chavez (East) and 2414 South Lamar (South) 
This is the spot for vegetarian and gluten free options; tamales, migas, and rellenos. Both locations, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, closed Sundays.
Mr. Natural's stuffed pepper
Trudy's,  Four locations
A popular spot near UT campus, and now with multiple spots around town, try the stuffed avocados. Daily, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

If you've got favorite dishes at any of these places or suggestions for other spots, leave a note below! Buen provecho!

And check out my City Guide picks for the ultimate South Austin restaurants!
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Thursday, February 14, 2019

First Look: Joann's Fine Foods

How fine was Joann's Fine Foods, the new Mexican/California foods entry from local hospitality group McGuire Moorman? Pretty fine! I am honestly a bit surprised to say I liked the food as much as I did.

This retro diner has moved into the South Congress spot that was previously Snack Bar (and El Sol y La Luna for those of us who have been living in Austin for more than a hot minute), adjoining the Austin Motel. So given their pretty central location in the midst of trendiness and tourism, and their pedigree (the team behind June's All Day, Josephine House, Clarks...) the menu prices are on the high side. Like $32 for chicken fried better be a huge portion!

Having studied the menu before visiting, I was a touch apprehensive given the pricing but knowing they can command those prices due to their physical location. But folks, Happy Hour is the time to go! {Weekdays, 4 - 6 pm, 25% off all food as well as drink specials.} My friend and I had liquid libations and an early dinner.
Lolita Sunrise, which matches the colors of the bar. 😉

Hash brown nachos were kind of a revelation, especially for my friend who is ALL about potatoes in all varieties of dishes. Nice textural combo of the toasty hash browns, firm beans, silky queso, sour cream(y), and fresh pico.

Grilled corn + zucchini squash with a green goddess dressing, cotija cheese, and jalapenos. And the acid
from the lime was perfect. Looking at the menu, it also mentions dill, which I see a tiny bit sprinkled on top.
If I were a dill lover I would have been disappointed, but I did not miss it at all.

Beef picadillo enchiladas, which aren't really photogenic, but fortunately they were delicious. The rolled tortillas were crisp and the picadillo had some nice zing to it! Add queso and yum! 

We don't really pass up the opportunity for dessert and this coconut tres leches hit the spot.
 Not too rich, though I wish the coconut on top had been toasted. 
The beautiful bar counter, complete with old-school plastic letter sign board. 

The booth area, as seen from the restroom alcove.
And from the booths, looking towards the bar. There's also a large outdoor seating area to the back left in the photo.
All in all, a very successful outing, and I was even shocked to find (albeit annoying) back-in parking right out front. Open since October, Joann's serves food from 8 am - midnight daily, and will undoubtedly be a destination for many during SXSW and beyond. 1224 South Congress, across from the Continental Club.

Friday, January 25, 2019

First Look: Darcy's Donkey

Darcy's Donkey red ale
Hi Sign Red Ale
A friend whose food tastes I trust visited Darcy's Donkey on Barton Springs Road (in the old Austin Java location) just after they opened in October and had some very mixed things to report. So I went for happy hour last week with an open mind but with some trepidation. Fortunately, we left stuffed and happy, but I wouldn't be me without mentioning some pros and cons encountered along the way.

First off, the name. I wouldn't know this place is an Irish pub just from it's name, and their website doesn't appear to offer clues as to its origin. But further digging found an article from the Austin American-Statesman explaining that the Irish owner is into a sport called donkey derby, and Darcy is a popular Irish name. Go figure on both.
Darcy's Donkey

When you walk inside the pub, the bar is straight in front of you, and there are like 5 steps to your right that go to the main dining area and the restrooms. There's no hand railing which may be a bit difficult for people of different abilities (or dare I say sobriety levels) to navigate.
Darcy's Donkey
The archway is where the stairs are. There is a handicap access door at the top of the stairs that leads to the ramp outside. Wooden stools are cute, but not comfortable.
There is bench seating that runs the length of two walls more or less, and small tables and short bars stools. And when I say short bar stools, I mean fit for an 8 year old, not an adult, and at 5'1" I know I am not much taller than many 8 year olds. I had been warned that the wooden stools were horribly uncomfortable, and yes, I can confirm that. And I only sat on one for about 15 seconds before my friend and I moved into the corner where the benches come together so we could each have a padded cushion. Much better.

Our young lad of a waiter was very sweet though we wondered if he was new. We ordered the entire happy hour food menu.
Darcy's Donkey happy hour menu

We also had the Cashel Blue Cheese Fondue (queso) which was incredible! Like, I am still dreaming about it! Sorry the photo isn't so great. Nice dense Irish soda bread, roasted head of garlic, chopped figs, and behind the fondue bowl were some pecans. The menu says candied pecans, though I don't recall if ours were in fact candied.
Darcy's Donkey Cashel blue cheese fondue

The prime rib sliders were also delicious, but a word of warning: the food is served on small metal trays and when placed on a highly varnished wooden tabletop, your food may end up partially in your lap if you try to cut said food. Fortunately no meat was lost and no clothing was harmed but the tray did almost go slip sliding away. Two sliders for $7 is a steal!
Darcy's Donkey prime rib sliders

Waffle chips were tasty, but they are cut waaaay to thin and they practically shatter in your hand as you pick one up.  The boxty pizza wasn't bad, but it wasn't really to either of our liking. Maybe a bit too soggy?
Darcy's Donkey boxty pizza

I really wanted one of the shepard's pie, but I was really too full after cheese and meat to order one. So I must go back! There are also a multitude of pratai, or potato, dishes that look intriguing, and how can an Irish pub mess up potatoes, right? Who else has been to Darcy's and what did you eat?

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Goodbye 2018!

Greetings 2019  -- we welcome you with open arms! Here are my top photos from Instagram of 2018, food, a little politics, but no cats! Must work on that! ;)

Food from June's All Day, Peached Tortilla, and Din Ho. Cake by my friend @soojee and wooden board from my other friend @cooperandclaire with food styling by me. See my Instagram for all the details! :)

Happy New Years y'all! Time to go make some black eyed peas.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Asian Dining in Austin: Five Places

I am a big admirer of all types of Asian cuisine, which is fitting as I am half Japanese. Some friends and have have our Asian Supper Club where we try new places or happily go to an old standby such as Sunflower Vietnamese.  Here's a look at five "new to me" places that I have been in the past six weeks, one with the Asian Supper Club!

Fat Dragon, 8650 Spicewood Springs Road
At the intersection of Hwy 183 and Spicewood Springs is a large strip mall on the southwest corner that is probably is the most diverse in all of Austin. Looking at restaurants alone, you've got Asia Cafe, Chen's Noodles (two of my faves) and a bunch I haven't been to: Uzbeki, Nepalese/Indian, Cajun, Mexican and cupcake place. You gotta love Fat Dragon for its logo alone! They opened over the summer and I was there in October. Overall, we loved it and I really look forward to going back. (WHY are you so far away from me?!)
Fat Dragon Austin
Cute little dragon!
Fat Dragon Austin pork belly bun
Pork belly bun or gua bao; very meaty portion of pork which was well-rendered and nice + crisp.
Fat Dragon Austin green beans
Dry-fried green beans, always a favorite.
Fat Dragon Austin lamb dumplings
Lamb cilantro dumplings. These were amazing, and I would probably love them even more by ordering them pan-fried next time. I love lamb and I don't think I have ever had a lamb dumpling. I want a LOT of these right now! Have heard from a friend that the lamb cumin dumplings there are also incredible. (Pork, chicken, beef and vegetarian ones also on the menu.)
Fat Dragon Austin soup dumplings
Soup dumplings or xiao long bao. They apologized when bringing these out to us and said the dough was too thin, so they had already torn and the soupy liquid had mostly leaked out. (They did bring us some egg rolls for the trouble.)
 They did TASTE good though.

Het Say,
2121 E. Oltorf Street
In another strip mall (between Burton + Willow Creek, a couple blocks west of Pleasant Valley) is Het Say, which opened in August 2017. The gentleman that brought out most of our dishes said he was the owner and many of the recipes were his grandmother's.  While the majority of the menu is Vietnamese, there are some Thai and Singapore noodle dishes and Chinese appetizers available. The stars of the show were the Vietnamese home style dishes under house specials.

Het Say Austin pork vermicelli bowl
Grilled pork bún (vermicelli) bowl. The pork had really good flavor but was a touch dry.

Het Say Austin pork  belly bun
Another pork belly bun!  This one wasn't as meaty as the one at Fat Dragon, but still good.

Het Say Austin chicka-rones fried chicken skins
Chicka-rones, or fried chicken skins! Fairly crispy, some had bits of meat still attached to the skins.
 I think I liked these more than others in our group. 

Het Say Austin banh mi
Bánh mì sandwich

Het Say Austin lemongrass tofu vermicelli
Lemongrass tofu vermielli

Het Say Austin braised pork belly
Braised pork belly, in a clear broth made from coconut juice, ginger, fish sauce and spices.
Het Say Austin braised catfish
Braised catfish, with a similar broth as above but with more of a ginger kick that I LOVED! The catfish is bone-in which makes it a little difficult to eat but the nourishing broth was so worth it. Can't wait for this on a cold day.

Lin Asian Bar + Dim Sum, 1203 W. 6th Street
Open since February, Lin operates out of an old house on the south side of W. 6th, and seeks to be a more health-conscious Chinese restaurant. I loved the look and decor of Lin, and enjoyed sitting at the counter overlooking the kitchen.
Lin Asian Bar interior
From the counter looking back to the front door and bar.
Lin Asian Bar interior
Private dining room to the side of the kitchen that would comfortably seat 8 - 10 people.
 I loved the wooden screen doors and peeked through one of the openings. 

Lin Asian Bar wine
A glass of Riesling went well with this meal.  I have a Boomerang of the ladies making shumai
 but I can't figure out how to post it here!
Lin Asian Bar soup dumplings
Shanghai soup dumplings -- these had more of a vinegary taste than what I have had with
 soup dumplings before which was a little unexpected for me. 
Lin Asian Bar dan dan noodles
Dan dan noodles -- I really enjoyed the peanut sesame sauce, but the noodles themselves were overcooked. 
Lin Asian Bar eggplant
This eggplant dish was one of our favorites on the night. However it's not on their online menu and can't remember the exact description; I believe it was with ground venison, pork, and beef. Long thin strips of Asian eggplant were coiled together and topped with the sweet sauce containing the meat.
Lin Asian Bar Hawaiian Sesame Chicken
Hawaiian Sesame Chicken with grilled pineapple. This one was a bit of a let down, as the sauce was overly sweet and the pineapple was used more as decor rather than as part of the dish.  The chicken was fried well though.
Lin Asian Bar salt and pepper tofu
Salt and pepper tofu, my favorite of the night. This came out screaming hot and was hard to eat at first! Nice crisp outer layer gave way to pillowy silken tofu. Very nice with a little of the eggplant sauce too.
Lin Asian Bar red lanterns
Laterns on the front porch.

Umi Sushi, 5510 S. IH-35 (northwest corner of 35 + Stassney)
I've long heard good things about Umi but had never made it there. A friend and I made it for happy hour, where a variety of items are on special.
Umi Sushi sashimi
Tuna, salmon, and yellowtail sashimi
Umi Sushi tempura
Shrimp and veggie tempura; the tempura batter was a bit heavier than what I am accustomed to,
but we both liked it! Very crunchy. 

Umi Sushi kani puffs and chicken skewers
Kani puffs (imitation krab eggrolls, more or less) and sesame chicken skewers.

Umi Sushi spicy crab roll
Spicy crab roll

Umi Sushi crunchy shrimp hand roll
Crunchy shrimp hand roll 
We were seated on the bar side of the restaurant, which was pretty much your stereotypical bar decor. But the main restaurant had some beautiful kimonos and other Japanese decorations; I'd love to go back for a full meal.

DFG Noodles trailer, various locations
AKA Dang Freakin' Good Noodles, I caught up with this trailer for lunch one recent weekday. Check their website for where to find them.
DFG Noodles Golden Nuggets
The Golden Nuggets, fried chicken with sambal chile sauce. Looking back at their menu,
 I think this was supposed to be over their Firecracker rice, but this was straight white rice. Hearty serving for $9.

DFG Noodles the Scholar
The Scholar -- vermicelli noodles with pork, ham, fried egg and more! Very tasty. 

DFG Noodles curry sauce
Now the curry sauce that came with the roti bread was incredible. Our group ended up with two containers of curry, one a bit spicier than the other, but not majorly so. I ended up taking the leftover sauce home and made chicken empanadas with it. The sauce on it's own is not the most photogenic, but trust me, it had great depth of flavor!
So there's my recent tour of Asian spots around town. What are your favorite Asian dishes and places to go?