Thursday, April 24, 2014

Rob’s Favorite Mexican Restaurants in Austin: Part 2

Last week we began with a look at 13 of Rob’s favorite Mexican places. But 13 couldn’t begin to address Rob’s favorites accurately. So here is Part 2 for your reading and dining pleasure.

Los Pinos

A tragic fire earlier this year temporarily closed this Hudson Bend favorite. But they are rebuilding and owner and chef Margarito Maldonado is on the way back. Maldonado worked at fine dining Mirabelle for 8 years so you can get some idea of his background. The food at Los Pinos is fantastic. The Carnitas are to die for. And the Shrimp Mojo de Ajo is exquisite. The Tortilla Soup is one of the best around. I’ll keep you posted on their scheduled reopening.

Juan in a Million

This Cesar Chavez hot spot has received national attention and for good reason. Owner Juan is a former high school chemistry teacher and is also possessed of one of the firmest handshakes around. His breakfast tacos are legendary and the places just exudes charm. There’s also a great chemistry in the kitchen. This is a must visit.

Cantina Laredo

At 3rd and Colorado, this place started slowly but rounded into fine form. They do a killer table side Guacamole presentation. I also enjoy the Shrimp Flautas and the tender and tasty Chicken Tampico. They do some nice Tequila martinis here and they have a wide array of my favorite Mexican libation to choose from. The place also has a really nice atmosphere and is popular with the downtown crowd. Manager/partner Al is a terrific host as well.

The Texican Café

This is the spot to go for El Paso style Mexican cuisine. Owner Maurad Belcacem has three stores in Manchaca, Brodie Oaks and at Lakeline Mall, and all are muy popular. I personally love the Cabrito and the Stuffed Jalapenos with Jalapeno jelly. Breakfast at The Texican is always good and the San Antonio Migas are the absolute bomb. Great place to watch a game as well.

Rosie’s Tamale House

This place has been a fixture on Highway 71 in Bee Cave for over 30 years. The indomitable Rosie greeted customers as they paid their bills and always had a freshly made praline to dispense. Now son Vincent has taken over but the food is every bit as good. I love the Nachos and the Cheese enchiladas. The Willie Plate (named after you-know-who) is always fun and the Burritos and their namesake Tamales are excellent. Still BYOB after all these years but that’s not half bad.

Maria’s Taco Express

This is about as iconic a joint as Austin has. Maria is a hoot and she loves music and good tacos. The Pollo Guisada and the Tacos al Pastor are two of my favorites. The Verde tacos are filled with eggplant, mushrooms, bell pepper, onions, zucchini and lots more. And they’re delicious! The Chalupas are also very tasty and Maria has added an extensive and impressive list of entrees to her taco menu.

Cisco’s

This East Austin joint was larger than life when Rudy Cisneros was at the helm. He had a cast of characters around him that could have made for a great movie. The privileged got to sit at the Liar’s Table and there was some serious B.S. that flew around that location. Rudy’s gone now and some of the magic went with him but the food is still good and the Mexican breakfasts are still among the best.

Santa Catarina

Owner Francisco Cortez started as a dishwaher 26 years ago at Manuel’s. Today he has his own restaurant across from The League on RR 620 in Lakeway. And what a place it is! The interior cuisine is extraordinary. All the salsas and sauces are homemade: the jalapeno/onion dip is astonishingly good. The Cochinita Pibil is a wonderful example of Francisco’s style. At the site of the former Flores. Check this one out immediamente!

Vivo Cocina Texicana

This restaurant was already great at its Manor Road location before they added a 2nd location on 620 AND chef Paul Peterson. Peterson, who owned the famous Little Bistro in Buda made his return to Austin at Vivo and he’s a great fit. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried the Puffy Tacos. They use a corn masa that is lightly fried until it puffs up. And the fillings! And their Enchiladas begin with a special sauce of whole wheat flour and cumin seeds, a roux that adds jalapenos, onions, tomatoes and garlic and finally hours of sautéing that result in killer flavors!

Manuel’s

Manuel’s has been a fixture at 3rd and Congress for years. They’ve also added a Jollyville location. When it comes to mole, Manuel’s is the straw that stirs the drink. The dark chocolate or tomatillo versions are both excellent, full of extraordinary flavor. The Chile Relleno en Elote is dynamite and the Lomo do Puerco (grilled pork tenderloin) is a really tasty dish. The Hongos Guisados (mushrooms topped with a broiled queso blanco) is another irresistible dish.

Chuy’s

Mike Young most definitely has the Midas touch when it comes to restaurants. The dean emeritus of Austin restaurateurs, Young’s Chuy’s is wildly popular and was the favorite of the Bush daughters while they resided in Austin. The menu is fairly traditional Tex Mex but the Barton Springs location looks like a UT Football Saturday night crowd every night of the week. I like the Chuychanga and the wonderful Vegetarian Enchiladas. The Elvis Green Chile Fried Chicken is also very tasty. The managers even travel to Hatch, New Mexico each year to harvest the freshest Green Chiles.

Mesa Rosa

This steadily growing owner-operated chain now has four locations in Round Rock and Austin. I enjoy their food. The Bean and Cheese nachos are quite good and the Burrito al Carbon is worth a visit in its own right. The Chile Relleno starts with a beautiful Poblano and it just gets better. Great Chile con Queso as well. The Pollo Ranchero is another great recommendation.

The Oasis

Beau Theriot’s restaurant overlooking Lake Travis has undergone not one but two metamorphoses in the past ten years. First, the food which used to be bad to medocre at best is now decidedly above average to good. The restaurant has also been rebuilt after a devastating fire in 2005. The new building is absolutely gorgeous and the view is still sensational. I love the Piratas and the Fireballs for appetizers. The Tortilla Soup is excellent and the Crawfish Étouffée Enchiladas are to die for. They also have some of the best Pulled pork Rellenos around. And i really enjoy the Fried Shrimp (not Mexican but who cares: they’re that good). They still ring the bell each night at sunset and why not: it IS the sunset capitol of Texas.

Well foodies, there you have 26 of my favorite spots for Mexican dining. Are there more? Most certainly. Looks like we’re gonna have to do a Part 3 soon. But for now enjoy all these great locations. And recognize how fortunate we are in Austin to have this kind of wonderful diversity.