Monday, February 27, 2017

The Best Mexican Food in Austin

 #ATXBestEats 2018 AFBA City Guide
Click here to see the full 2018 guide from AFBA members! 
** Post updated for 2018 ** 

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!

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
Alcomar 1816 South First Street (South)
Latin seafood, not strictly Mexican, but everything is super-fresh. Great ceviche/cebiche, grilled calamari, scallops, watermelon mimosas. Lunch and dinner, weekend brunch; finer dining.
Alcomar ceviche
Ahi Tuna Cebiche
Borrego de Oro3900 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
Taqueria Chapala, Three locations 
Looking for awesome chilaquiles? Look no further.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Veracruz All Natural Three locations 
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
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.

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 best South Austin restaurants and South Austin food trailers!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Soba Noodles with Broccoli Slaw

I hosted a pot luck lunch recently with five former coworkers. We've known each other about 20 years now, but it's been almost two years since we all got together. Time flies. Life happens. Seasons change. But we can all still connect like no time has passed at all. :)

Here's an easy soba noodle recipe that my friends enjoyed. While I haven't run an actual nutritional profile on it, it's pretty dang healthy, and you could add some protein too.
South Austin Foodie soba noodles

Soba Noodles with Broccoli Slaw
© South Austin Foodie 2017

10 oz soba noodles (whole wheat spaghetti works too)
12 oz bag broccoli slaw
2 medium cloves garlic, center stalk removed (that's where the bitter garlic taste is)
½ inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled
½ cup soy sauce (I prefer a higher quality soy sauce that has better flavor over a low sodium one, but entirely up to you)
¼ cup brown sugar
2 Tbls. tahini
1 Tbls. toasted sesame oil
2 Tbls. rice vinegar
Optional 1: chile paste or flakes to taste
Optional 2: 1 - 2 Tbls. sliced scallions or chopped peanuts; ½ tsp. sesame seeds

  • Cook noodles to package directions; drain,  rinse under cold water and drain thoroughly. Place in large bowl
  • Cook slaw to package, either via microwave (about 3 minutes) or blanching (about 2 minutes); drain and rinse under cold water.
  • While noodles cook, prepare the sauce; in a small food processor add remaining ingredients and combine. Taste it! Add more of something if you wish!
  • Toss sauce over noodle and combine well. Let refrigerate for at least an hour.
  • Add protein of choice if desired (grilled chicken, baked or fried tofu, etc.
  • Serves 4 - 6

Like many dishes, it tastes better a few hours after it's been assembled. Also great for picnics/outdoor events because there's no mayo/eggs.
South Austin Foodie soba noodles

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Food Fun at Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot!

I don't eat at many chain restaurants, much less write about them, but three of us had so much fun recently at Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot that I feel it warrants a blog mention! Located at 24th and Seton, they are three blocks west of Guadalupe near the UT campus; a small parking lot is available and they are open seven days a week for lunch and dinner.

Warm soup was just the thing we needed on a recent (rare) blustery winter day here in the ATX. I should have taken more photos of the set up, but I didn't so you'll just have to trust me. Each table is has it's own built-in hot plate. And this is designed to be communal food. If you don't like sharing your food or eating family style, this may not be your thing. You do have your own individual bowls to portion your items into, but my friends and I are comfortable enough with each other that we just picked things out of the hot pot with our individual chopsticks (read: double dipping) half the time.

First you have to decide if you're going to order a la carte or just do the all you can eat price of $21.99. We decided to do a la carte and ultimately may have been a bit over-zealous in our ordering, because the total came out to exactly $21 each before tip. No regrets though! They have these handy menus where you just check off the items you want.

Then you need to decide on a soup base (original or spicy), or they have these nice ying yang pots so you can try both! We were also impressed by the ladles as they have a hook on the backside that latches over the sides of the pot so it doesn't get lost in the broth. Genius!
Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot broth
And upon closer inspection of the broth, it was chock full of all kinds of things, like longan nuts, goji berries, black cardamom pods, and of course chiles in the spicy one.  According to their website, the broths are made from the colonel's secret recipe of more than thirty ingredients.
Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot broth
For meats, we went with the lamb shoulder (pictured in the back) which was my favorite, and the pork belly. They slice the meat while frozen to get these paper thin slices which cook in a flash when you dip them in the simmering broth.
And being the hearty eaters that we are, we went for THREE kinds of noodles! In the white bowl are the Korean-style sweet potato noodles, as well as fresh noodles and the thicker Japanese-style udon in front. The leafy greens are called tong ho, and they have a really nice taste to them, but it's not one I could really verbalize. We looked it up and discovered it's chrysanthemum! Other items include tofu, luncheon pork (aka Spam), beef tendon, and a trio of meatballs (beef, fish, and lamb), and sweet corn on the cob which proved to be a bit difficult to eat once immersed in very hot broth. Everything was very fresh and came out beautifully presented, particularly the sliced meats.
Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot noodles
Then there's this loaf of bread that's called a sesame pancake.  I got excited seeing it on the menu, because I thought it might be like the thin, flaky green onion pancakes that I adore. Clearly this wasn't that. The crispy parts on top with the seeds were delicious, and the fairly dense, bready, yeasty insides were plain, but good for sopping up the broth and saucy bits. But at 4 - 5 inches tall and about 8 inches wide, I'd hardly call this a pancake!
Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot sesame pancake
Apart from just having a great meal with friends and bonding over a shared love of food, what's so fun about a hot pot meal like this are the options. There's tons of them! And if you're not a huge fan of beef tendon like me, then you just avoid it and let the others enjoy it or get over there and try new things. It's just a fun way to share a meal, call it breaking bread or slurping soup together, it all brings us a little closer.  Food and friends, what more do you need?