Austin’s love affair with Mexican food continues to grow. While we are sad to see classics like El Azteca close after decades of service, we take solace in new options and old favorites that showcase traditional cuisine, home cooking dishes, and modern takes on beloved dishes. Here are a few of our latest favorites.
Vox Table’s new sibling features excellent takes on Mexican and Tex-Mex fare and cocktails. The festive ambiance and unique décor set the stage for a fun evening out with friends. We love the bar’s large window that opens to the street, giving it a vacation feel to match the legit margaritas and signature libations like the Tuco Ramirez (mezcal, dark rum, passionfruit puree, lime, and grapefruit, served up). Appetizer standouts include a unique shrimp cocktail, bite-sized pork ribs glazed with a roasted chile and tamarind adobo, and a super fresh guacamole. From the selection of tacos, we loved the birria, traditionally made with braised goat and served with molcajete salsa and queso fresco, and the mar y tierra with chunks of grilled tiger shrimp and rib-eye served with salsa borracha and spicy butter. The recently added happy hour makes it even more affordable, with discounted food, specials on traditional, mango, and avocado margaritas; frozen piña coladas; palomas; Mexican martinis; and micheladas, plus all beers are only $3. At brunch, they serve the most unique huevos rancheros in town.
This friendly, laid-back South Lamar spot serves some of the best Mexican home cooking in the ATX. The menu at El Mesón showcases simple yet incredibly flavorful guisados, many inspired by chef Marisela Godinez’s travels through different regions of Mexico. Godinez serves many family recipes including her mom’s mole and has often consulted with famous Mexican chef Patricia Quintana on her recipes. Her pride and joy is the Sunday buffet, which at $25 is one of the best values in town. The all-you-can-eat affair includes everything from healthy salads to eggs and bacon, pozole, two kinds of barbacoa, exquisite tamales, and a number of guisados and specials that change often. The latest is the addition of a street taco station, made to order right before your eyes. Desserts are not to be overlooked — the flan Napolitano tastes just like in Mexico City. Wash it down with fresh lime margaritas and inventive agave-based cocktails.
The sexy Rainey Street outpost for stellar Mexican cuisine with Oaxacan slant offers items found nowhere else in Austin. Chef Iliana de la Vega imports rare chiles and landrace corn from Mexico, the latter used on all things corn at El Naranjo. The chefs cook and grind the corn in-house and prepare tortillas by hand every day. This corn masa is used in unique antojitos like the garnachas istmeñas, small tortillas topped with chopped beef, salsa de chile mixe, and cheese, garnished with a slaw made with cabbage, carrot, chile serrano and chile mixe. Another unique dish is the chiles pasilla mixes rellenos with Oaxacan picadillo, egg battered and fried a la minute and served covered in a delectable tomato and almond sauce. These smoked chiles come directly from Oaxaca; chef de la Vega has supported the community that grows them for many years, and they are finally available in Austin thanks to her direct importing efforts. Dining here is like taking a trip to Oaxaca sans the airfare and passport.
Fonda San Miguel
Austin’s granddaddy of traditional Mexican cuisine is celebrating the new edition of its iconic cookbook and the revamping of the lovely bar. The space was reimagined to accommodate more customers and improve the flow, and renovations include a custom-made zinc bar top, something that co-owner Tom Gilliland had always wanted. They also reworked the space behind the bar so we now can get our hands on fresh lime margaritas, watermelon-infused silver coins, and other signature cocktails much faster. Restaurant manager Danny Herrera continually adds new offerings to the wine list, especially selected to match the complex flavors of the regional dishes. And we hear that co-owner/chef Miguel Ravago is returning to Fonda’s kitchen after living in Europe for nearly a decade.
We absolutely love what the folks behind Jacoby’s have done with this East Austin corner. Walking into Grizzelda’s feels like you’ve just stepped inside a design magazine’s feature story, where modern art pieces mingle with glass chandeliers, shabby-chic elements, mismatched furniture, colorful glassware, and cute succulent arrangements to create a cozy living room atmosphere. The patio, surrounded by plants, is especially alluring, perfect for sharing an intimate dinner or drinks with friends. The menu includes well-known standards and inventive dishes with Latin flare. We loved the tostaditas topped with real refried beans, tasty Jacoby beef picadillo, asadero cheese, and house-pickled jalapeños ,and the ceviche mixto with shrimp and fish tasted as fresh as in Acapulco. Taco plates are served family-style, with a guisado accompanied by hand-made tortillas and appropriate toppings so diners can roll their own. A pleasant surprise is the fried cauliflower, served crispy over a bed of mole, sprinkled with pumpkin and sesame seeds. If you like your food spicy, ask for the habanero paste — the table salsas are tasty but too mild. Prices are higher than average, but quality is on point.
A perennial East Austin favorite, Licha’s offers an informal and fun atmosphere and seriously good food. Chef/owner Daniel Brooks serves modern takes on Mexican street antojitos, as well as lesser known delicacies inspired by interior Mexican dishes. Some of our favorites include the huarache de tuétano (bone marrow); salpicón de res (a shredded beef salad traditional in the Yucatan); and the chochoyotes con mixiote de cordero, tender braised lamb shank in a guajillo-peanut sauce with masa dumplings, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, and Parmesan. The patio is one of our favorites for meeting friends over snacks and drinks, but get there early to grab a table. Happy hour boasts $5 drink and appetizer specials, and brunch includes one of our favorite chilaquiles in town.