There are many restaurants and dishes in my food life that border on compulsory. And there are a few that are simply indispensable. Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop on East 7th is one such place.
The history of this place is remarkable, dating back to the late 1930s when it was a bakery called La Oriental on East 9th Street. But when Joe Avila took over the operation from his parents in 1962, it gradually evolved into a restaurant along with the bakery on East 7th. At that point, he named it Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop. As the restaurant part of the business grew larger one might have thought he’d have changed the name, but it remains the same.
Had Joe’s never done the restaurant part, odds are I probably wouldn’t have been a customer. The brightly colored fare at the bakery did little for me. Everything pretty much tasted the same. But then I heard about the restaurant from a friend and I ventured in.
I still remember my first meal: a small queso with corn tortillas and huevos rancheros. It was a stunning experience, the kind that is forever etched in your food memory vault. The huevos rancheros (eggs over easy for me) were quite simply the best I’d ever tried. The homemade ranchera sauce had the most amazingly comforting flavor and the bacon (dipped in an egg wash, coated with flour and then grilled) was transcendent. It was so crispy that I mistakenly thought it had been deep fried. The frijoles were perfect and the flour tortillas were house-made. The sliced home fried potatoes nicely complemented the dish.
Of course, my technique was to mix everything up and lovingly ladle it on to pieces of the tortillas. I still do the same thing today.
I’ve tried other dishes at Joe’s. You know that story about how menudo can cure a hangover? Well in my case it was absolutely true. Damned tasty too. Of course, I like sweetbreads as well. My advice to gringo diners: try this at least once. They didn’t name a Latin boy band after this dish for nothing.
And the migas platter, with its scrambled eggs and corn chips and cheese, has always been a favorite along with the colorful and spicy huevos a la Mexicana with tomatoes, onions and jalapeños. And you truly haven’t lived until you you’ve tried the chicharrone platter with eggs and fried pork skins (no carbs) cooked in salsa. Again, huge flavors in this dish if you can overcome any chicharrone prejudice you may have.
When I first visited Joe’s in the mid ’90s I noticed that there were very few Anglos in the restaurant. That has changed quite a bit today, although the predominant crowd is still Mexican-American. To all my Anglo readers: you don’t know what you’re missing!
Joe’s daughter Rosie (after retiring from State Farm) is now the jefe at the place. Her daughter works there as well. And interestingly, I have finally started to like some of the bakery items. They have killer oatmeal and raisin cookies and a nice apple turnover.
Joe’s has overcome some setbacks (like the time a truck carrying materials to the set of The Alamo crashed through the east wall). Undaunted, the team covered the opening with plastic and rebuilt, all without missing a beat. And they continue to have the most engaging servers and staff. It’s not only delicious but fun to dine there, too.
Time has indeed passed over the years but it has been kind to Joe’s. We are lucky to have this iconic restaurant in the River City.
Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop
2305 E 7th St.
Austin, TX 78702