Austin Grill - Astonishingly Bad
The Austin Grill at Central Square in Cambridge is a branch of a chain based in Washington DC. Since my family and I lived for some years down along the border between the US and Mexico we have been on the lookout for good Mexican influenced food in Boston. It ain't easy to find. Of course, the influences of the cultures vary from place to place. We lived in Southern California -LA and Escondido. I worked near Tucson AZ and Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos NM. We stayed some time in Austin Texas -and I was in Mexico itself for a few months traveling on an extended business trip from the Texas border all the way down to the Yucatan. The food is cheap in Mexico -and so is life.
The Austin Grill (AG) purports to be "Tex-Mex". We read the review written a month ago in the Boston Globe.
While not all that negative, the Globe reviewer gave the AG two stars and raved -for example -about the fine tortilla chips served as an appetizer
-------- quote ----------
The tortillas are excellent; the salads are fine, even the tortilla chips offered at the beginning of the meal are many cuts above the packaged variety. Seasonal specials such as a fire-roasted chili relleno stuffed with minced vegetables are imaginative; ----
The chips were commercial - and I do not mean Bearitto commercial - the salsa served with them was thin.. It has a strong cilantro flavor. The fact that the two 4 year old girls eating with us liked the salsa meant that it had zero heat. My wife ordered the chili relleno based on the review. It was AWFUL. They just roasted a green chili and stuffed it with rice, raisins, a few nuts, seeds and no apparent cheese. She said that it was too much like the side vegetables served with the meal - more rice and some black bean pure.
We arrived at about 3:40PM and were told that lunch was still being served. The service was fine. They seated us at a table for four -we were five -so I pulled a small neighboring table over. That was a major mistake - that table was extremely wobbly. When my wife tried to pass me her margarita for a taste, the busted up table caused the drink to fall over. I tried to replace the table with another -but that was the same and we wound up stuffing napkins under the leg extension to stabilize it. That and the hair in the food were about the only Tex-Mex element in this experience.
The food was tasteless -gringo style. I had a carne dish that was simply a couple of minute steaks with an onion sauce. The sides were mashed potatoes and pureed squash - of very poor quality. I added some salsa from a honey-pot style pourer to get some flavor. The mashed and squash were the standard sides - not my choice. Our companion -a Cape Verdean chili lover -- had a lime marinated chicken breast that had zero chicken flavor. Her rice and black bean mash were OK. My wife had the previously mentioned relleno. The iced tea I had was plain - the bottled beer was OK and the margarita was nothing to write home about.
The women's food came complete with human hair samples. (short hair -in the long haired women's dishes). That might have been a Tex-Mex touch -along with the thing in the relleno that bore a remarkable resemblance to a mouse dropping -but I won't get into that :-
The kids wanted a simple child's plate with a burger and salsa chips. The burger roll was grilled and tasted stale. The burger meat was small -overdone and tasteless. They couldn't eat much of it. Honestly, the McDonald's across Mass, Ave, is way better and a LOT cheaper.
The Globe review gave the impression that the reviewer thought that the food was cooked ahead and nuked to serve -to account for the tastelessness and texture. This was just plain awful. The check arrived and the prices for the various plates were derived from the dinner menu - considerably more expensive. The total bill was astonishing, considering that I wouldn't have finished my meal is they paid ME ! I took it home for cat food. I got the check straightened out and we went across the street to the little Indian take-out beside the Harvest Coop Market--- for some samosas and chutney. We needed to get the taste of this meal out of our mouths and minds as quickly as possible.
AG is an acronym for Attorney General. This AG food was criminal. AG again? No way, Jose!
If you're looking for real Mexican food in Boston, check out El Pelon in the Fenway area (96 Peterborough St.). It's a small place, with a few tables and nothing over $6. Chef/owner Loretta worked at East Coast Grill and Casablanca before opening up this place in an attempt to bring authentic Mexican food to Boston, as opposed to the Tex-Mex that most places serve. Their tortas are excellent (try the pork), they make their own chips & salsa (three varieties, one very hot), and if you come on a weekend you can get tamales and sometimes even brunch. Full disclosure: my wife works there, but I ate here before she started working there and was overjoyed to find good Mexican food in Boston (I lived in Queens, NY, which as Jim Leff will tell you is ground zero for Mexican food in NY). Give it a try; I promise a much better experience (amd much lower bill) than Austin Grill.
re: Seth Ditchik
I ate there about two weeks ago. My boyfriend and I stumbled upon it (it's in the middle of a sort of colledge-student-priced restaurant row). It was the best Mexican food I've had outside of Mexico (I live in NYC). My b.f. lived in San Francisco and said he couldn't recall any restaurant there that was better than El Pelon. Great chips, great burritos, great drinks. Pleasant, casual attidude. I also liked the picnic table out front. And very inexpensive. I hope they bring one to New York!
Just visited El Pelon this weekend. The blandest burrito I have ever tasted. No spice, no marinade, no nothing. The beans tasted fresh out the can. The rice, like rice. The horchatas we ordered, formerly heavenly, were viscous and gloopy -- I showed them to the counter guy, lifting my straw. He watched as the snot-like liquid clung to it and finally dripped off. He refunded our money. What could've gone wrong in so short a time? Maybe the help wanted sign in the window, asking for both counter help and chefs! Stay away till they hire someone!
I found myself at the East Coast Grill for brunch about a year ago -- the menu is southwestern-inspired. We quite enjoyed it. The only specific dish I remember now is ropa vieja, which was a great, thick soup with lots of stuff in it (cassava and such). I do remember there was some heat to the food. And, at least by NY standards, it didn't strike us as being nearly as pricey as we thought it might be. Waitstaff was utterly professional. You might want to give them a call to see if they're still offering this type of food at brunch. I'd be curious to know how you think it measures up.