Friday, January 24, 2020

El Naranjo Now in South Austin

Originally published 1/24/2020, updated 2/16/2020 (scroll down)

El Naranjo began as a food trailer during the opening era of what's now the hip and trendy Rainey Street, and soon opened a brick and mortar restaurant there. And searching my past blog posts, I first visited in June 2010! This past fall, they moved into the old El Chipiron spot on South Lamar at Manchaca, where there's plenty of parking! I recently visited for dinner with some friends.
We all loved this Queso Oaxaca Fundido with chorizo. Crispy around the edges, and gooey in the middle, with flavorful chorizo that wasn't super greasy. Served with housemade blue corn tortillas and  a verde salsa.
Their complimentary bread service, including butter with orange zest, chile oil (or salsa macha), and escabeche (pickled veggies).

Cochinita Pibil, the classic Mexican pork dish, traditionally cooked in banana leaves until it falls apart, with refried black beans and pickled onions.
Pesacado al Cilantro, or redfish with cilantro and ginger butter. This was fresh and light with bursts of flavor.

I am always a sucker for mole, and this mole negro with duck breast was plated beautifully. However for my tastes, I felt the sauce was on the thin side, and while they use 30 ingredients in it, I was unable to detect the nuances that I love in a mole like sweetness from raisins or prunes.
A delicious chocolate torte for dessert!
El Naranjo has kept some of the decor of the previous restaurant like the web of ropes. 

The bar
Bowls on the way to the restrooms
From the street
All in all it was an enjoyable meal, and we had a great server, Amanda. Unfortunately they were out of the Negro Modelo beer I initially ordered, so I chose a glass of Tempranillo. I would definitely go back, but I think I would try things other than what is normally my go-to mole dish at an interior Mexican restaurant. Neither of my dinner companions wanted to try the huitlachoche (corn fungus!), but I have had it before and liked it, so I'll have to back to try El Naranjo's.

Have you been to the new South Lamar location? What have you eaten?



After my initial post above, Chef Iliana de la Vega reached out to me and invited me back to El Naranjo to try their mole again. I went with a friend this past week, who was also excited to try the huitlacoche! Disclaimer: this meal was complimentary, no money exchanged hands, nor was I asked to revise my original blog post. All opinions are my own.

Amanda was our server again, and after explaining who I was and the circumstances as to why I was there, she brought me tastes of both the original mole negro that I hadn't been in love with and their mole amarillo. While you can't tell from the photo, I could immediately tell that this mole negro was thicker than what I had been served before. The previous one I believe, had just been thinned out a bit too much which also diluted out the suble flavors. This one was wonderful in taste and texture! I liked the amarillo (yellow mole) too but not as much as the negro. 😃 
Tasting the mole negro and amarillo
We also had the huitlacoche empanandas, which I loved. Again, it's a corn fungus that was first used by the Aztecs, and is considered prized with some of the indigenous cultures. I particularly loved the crisp masa dough with the earthy flavors inside, and served with a great roasted salsa. 
Huitlacoche empanadas
We then shared the queso fundido, with mushrooms, and this night's selection were trumpet, shitake, and lion's mane, which surprised me. Lion's mane supplements are great for brain and memory power, but seen less frequently in food preparations. The queso was served with fresh tortillas and a green salsa, that my friend loved as it instantly reminded her of what her father's family from the San Luis Potosi region makes. 
Queso fundido with mushrooms
She had the cochinita pibil, and I had the carne asada, which was a perfect medium rare. And served with dreamy goat cheese mashed potatoes. I drizzled a little of the chile oil (salsa macha) on the steak just to give it a little extra kick.
Cochinita pibil
Carne asada with goat cheese mashed potatoes
And for dessert, the tres leches with a drizzle of a bit of raspberry reduction on top, which was the perfect end to the meal.
Tres leches cake
Many thanks to Chef Iliana for having me back to El Naranjo. Their mole negro is quite wonderful, as was all of our food!