Three Great Spots for Mexican Fare in Austin, TX
Today is the first anniversary of Midwestern Exposure! Thanks to all of you who have come on this journey with me. I appreciate all the comments and encouragement, both on- and off-line; your feedback has made this project so worth the effort. I’m raising my glass (which at the moment is filled with Sam Adams Cherry Wheat) in thanks to you, and hope you’ll join me for another year of gastronomic adventure.
Dinner at Takoba
I traveled to Austin, TX, for a speaking engagement last week. I lived in Austin for a few years during my second round of grad school, so the trip gave me a chance to catch up with many friends and colleagues (although, sadly, the time was too short to fit in everyone I would have liked to see!) I had forgotten what a luxury it is to live in a city where nearly every restaurant makes its own homemade tortilla chips. These are served, piping hot, with salsa in lieu of the complimentary bread and butter so common on restaurant tables in other parts of the country. I may have eaten my weight in tortilla chips this week, and I don’t regret a single crunchy, salty, flavorful bite.
One of Austin’s new, casual, Mexican joints is Takoba on East 7th Street. The restaurant features a sand-filled, private, fenced backyard seating area with brightly colored picnic tables and benches shaded by large, equally colorful umbrellas. Our party of eight was made up of friends and former colleagues from the Architecture & Planning Library at UT Austin. We sat outside to take advantage of the gorgeous weather — a dry, slightly breezy, sun-drenched 80-something degrees. To cool off, we drank an assortment of margaritas, Mexican martinis, and other refreshing cocktails.
For appetizers, we dipped into fresh, garlicky, tomato-topped guacamole and queso fundido, topped with roasted peppers, tomatoes, and chorizo.
I ordered the Tacos de Pescado, soft flour tortillas (made fresh daily up the street) filled with crispy chunks of tilapia, pineapple, shredded fresh cabbage, and chipotli aioli. With a choice of sides, I settled on charro beans (deliciously flavored with pork fat) and nopales. The nopales, tender young prickly-pear cactus, were lightly sauteed and tasted like a cross between green beans and zucchini, but with an intriguing texture reminiscent of okra. I couldn’t stop eating them.
Fortunately, I had just enough room left for dessert, a luscious, velvety vanilla-bean flan topped with fresh strawberries.
Breakfast at Mi Madre’s
Mi Madre’s is an old favorite of mine — they serve my favorite breakfast tacos — so I was delighted to see the restaurant has expanded into a small neighboring house and added a second patio.
I had been looking forward to Taco #4, a flour tortilla filled with potatoes, scrambled eggs, and seasoned taco meat. I know it sounds weird, but it’s a wonderful combination. So, I was devastated when I read down the list of tacos on the menu and discovered that it skipped from Taco #3 directly to Taco #6. Happily, a brief consultation with the waitress confirmed that Mi Madre’s would still make my favorite taco, and my peace of mind was restored. I also ordered a Taco #8 stuffed with vegetarian migas.
Jennifer also opted for breakfast tacos, while Lorrie ordered Mole Enchiladas from the lunch menu. We all left feeling full and happy.
Dinner at Tacos & Tequila (TNT)
In contrast to the casual vibe at Takoba, “hipster” defines the clientele at Tacos & Tequila. Lorrie and I agreed the indoor atmosphere was a little too self-consciously trendy for our tastes, but we enjoyed dinner with our third companion, Karen, on the lovely outdoor patio.
The menu sports an impressive selection of tequila varieties, but I couldn’t resist the three-shot flight of infused tequilas. The flavors on offer that evening were peach, chocolate, and raspberry. The raspberry was too delicate; the berry flavor was overwhelmed by the flavor of the tequila base. The chocolate was intense and amazing, a layered complexity of flavors rolling back along my tongue. However, my favorite was the peach, with the flavor of the fruit, a touch of cinnamon spice, and the honeyed heat of the tequila all in perfect balance.
The Tropical Salad with Rojo Shrimp was one of the best dishes I had during my trip. The shrimp were nestled in a yin-yang pattern on skewers, creating spicy shrimp lollipops. According to the menu, the shrimp were rubbed with recado rojo seasoning and then basted with a sriracha orange sauce. According to my tastebuds, the shrimp were deliciously spicy & tangy. However, the star of this salad was not the shrimp alone, but an ensemble cast of mango, jicama, red onion, and avocado, tossed with tender greens and all dressed up with a tequila orange vinaigrette.
Three Mexican restaurants in three days may seem like a lot, but each of these restaurants offers a different, delicious take on authentic Mexican flavors. I couldn’t get enough!