Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Just before New Year's, I met a group of friends at Polvos, a place haven't been in probably 7 or 8 years, even though I live nearby. The South First Street Mexican food joint (and member of the "Mexican Mile") is well-known for it's relatively cheap but potent margaritas, but I've never known the food to be their stronger suit. Would I be proved wrong?

Fortunately, we had a reservation, because on a Saturday night, the place was packed. We were seated at an eight-foot plastic folding table with plastic folding chairs to match, and there was hardly any space to maneuver around the room. Being a colder night, there was a lot spill-over inside of folks waiting for tables, which certainly contributed to the noise levels. I arrived a few minutes late, and the margaritas, chips and salsas were already flowing when I sat down.
"Old time" Austinites may recall that the location that Polvo's took over used to be a restaurant called Seis Salsas, which had a salsa bar in the middle of the floor for customers to help themselves. Polvos has continued that tradition, with a number of salsas available. I didn't go up to the bar myself, so I am not certain on the exact names of what was at our table. On the left, is the roja, which I liked. Good bright flavor. The contrast, on the right, was a salsa that tasted very burned and overly roasted to me; looking online at their list of salsas, this may be the ahumada, or smoked, salsa. Others at our table liked this particular one, but it didn't do anything for my taste buds. Here you can see the festive lights and the salsa bar, though I have a feeling these lights may be up year-round.
One hungry eater got the Goliath Burrito; unfortunately from the picture, you can't really tell the size of this thing, but it was huge! A good 10+ inches long, and well-stuffed with your choice of meats.
The Guacamole Salad comes looking beautiful, nice chopped pieces of avocado, tomatoes, onion, cilantro. You can either eat it as is, or mash it up and make your own guac. Unfortunately, the kitchen threw a handful of salt in it, and it was practically inedible, and the person who ordered it is a salt fiend, so if she says it's too salty, it's too salty. The waiter was very apologetic, and handled the situation well; overall, given the crowds I thought he did a good job. Not his first time at the rodeo.
 The Camarones Diablo are shrimp in a tequila and chipotle sauce, which was rather spicy.
I ordered the Combo Plate, and my selections were a chicken enchilada with mole sauce (on the left) and an al pastor soft taco. Overall, it was good, but nothing to write home about. The mole sauce had decent flavor but no depth...honestly, I have made more satisfying mole sauces, and yes, they take time and a lot of ingredients. This one was a bit sweet and it had the cocoa undertones, but I couldn't really get any other flavors -- no raisins, or nuts, or even much of a lasting chile flavor. Now the al pastor was a bit better. The pork was nice and tender, juicy; at first I didn't see any pineapple pieces, but then I realized there were some in there. That's what I love about al pastor -- the savoriness of the meat combined with the sweet twang from the charred pineapple. The beans and rice were your average Mexican establishment fare.
So do I feel that I was proved wrong about Polvo's food? No. It honestly doesn't cut it for me. If I am going to have interior Mexican in this part of town, I am going to pick Habanero on Oltorf, just east of South First, or Sazon on South Lamar, just north of the light at Hether/Mary Streets, or Borrego de Oro (no website) on South Congress, just before Ben White/290. Life's too short to eat sub-par food!