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Dona Emilia's

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I ate here Saturday night with a couple of friends. We arrived about 10 minutes late for our 6:30 reservation but they had no trouble seating us outside on the patio. The patio is a nice place to sit and eat in mild weather like Austin had this past weekend.

I started with a spicy margarita. Not particularly strong but pretty delicious. Not actually hot spicy, more like a little (red) peppery. I'd get this again and might even try making it myself.

For an appetizer we split the ceviche. It came with 3 fried plantains (one for each of us I suppose). The seafood was halibut and shrimp, both were excellent. I'd never had ceviche before but I will have it again. I especially liked the shrimp prepared that way. It had a nice snap to it. There were some chunks of fruit (jicama possibly?) mixed in and it was topped with avocado. The extras didn't have much impact, probably because the seafood was so good.

I ordered the coffee crusted beef tenderloin, medium rare. It came closer to rare which made me pretty happy, it was warm all the way through though the middle was purple. It was very thick and tender. The "coffee crust" is pretty subtle and doesn't even attempt to overpower the beef. It came with mashed potatoes and asparagus that went well with the sherry reduction. I like a dish like this where the cook doesn't try to do too much.

My friends split the Pabellon Criollo. I didn't get to try it but they didn't attack it as voraciously as I attacked my dinner, nor as they did the appetizer. The service was fine but our waiter was a little...well I won't complain.

All in all it is easily one of my favorite restaurants in Austin for now and I'll definitely go back to try the cumin crusted tuna and jumbo shrimp, and probably the tres leches even though I shouldn't.

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  1. I opened this hoping that you had gotten the coffee-crusted tenderloin. My favorite dish there.

    Glad to hear you and your friends enjoyed it. I think this place is a little underrated, and the patio looking out onto Cesar Chavez is nice when the weather is cooperative.

    1. I went to Dona Emilia's about a year ago using a restraunts.com certificate. Thinking about it, I don't know why I haven't been back.
      I had the salmon with asparagus, and my partner the flank steak with chimichurri sauce and maduros. Sorry for the accuracy in the description of the items, but it seems that they are no longer on the menu online.
      Both items were very nicely done. The asparagus was probably the best I've had.
      It is also very reasonably priced for a night downtown. Thanks for reminding me of Dona Emilias!

      1. great to hear positive reviews - i'm hosting a brunch there in mid april and hope the weather is cooperating so that the ten of us can sit outside hopefully. has anyone tried their sunday brunch items?

        5 Replies
        1. re: kalex

          Went there tonight since it was close and I had a craving for ceviche. Happy hour turned out to be 1/2 off apps (except the tuna) and discounted drinks. First the ceviche - a little light on the flavors and only shrimp, no fish. And no avocado. Just ok. Next was the seared tuna with haberno soy. I asked for extra soy since I love painfully hot food. Tuna was ok, some pieces perfect, some with too much gristle. But the soy had NO heat. None. Last was the coffee crusted tenderloin skewers. These were served with soggy onion rings, but that didn't dampen the great meat and seasoning. Best of the three. Overall, eh. Would try again for dinner.

          1. re: Chicago Wine Geek

            Spicy soy sauce? Hunh? I don't think I've ever had soy sauce with "heat".

            1. re: amenidad

              Tabasco and Kikkoman teamed up to market a spicy soy sauce that I love...too bad this dish didn't bring the heat - it sounds like it had great potential.

              1. re: saticoy

                Must try the moijitos at Dona Emilia's... surprisingly good and refreshing... hmm... I think that i shall have one right now! ;)

            2. re: Chicago Wine Geek

              I've had an unusual quantity of Dona Emilia's lately, but haven't tried much of the seafood (for shame). Can't say that I've ever seen a piece of gristly tuna anywhere, though.

              I'd agree that the tenderloin skewers are great, but I'd add that I like the garnish. When I had them, I thought they were fried leeks or shallots: finer (ie., thinner) and more flavorful than onions. And mine weren't greasy, just delicious.

              Other apps I tried were the beef and potato empanada (good, but a bit heavy for an app), and the picada, which is a selection of small bites of beef (very good), chorizo (Spanish-style smoked with paprika, not like Mexican chorizo, and very good), chicken (plain but not objectionable), and potatoes (liked them, my sister loved them). The calamari was well-prepared, and the chili sauce they serve with it is a nice change from the tired marinara. It's not a spicy chili sauce, more on an ancho level of heat.

              For the mains I've tasted, I was most surprised (in a good way) with the arroz con pollo. Ordinarily I wouldn't order that (and I didn't, just tasted from a friend's plate), since it seems unexciting, but the chicken is so nicely seasoned, and the rice is perfect and very well-balanced in flavor. Don't dismiss this one. I'd like to have it again (and to know what they put in the rice). I also tried the stuffed chicken breast, which I wasn't crazy about. It's not bad, but chicken breast is usually the least-appealing item on any menu to me. However, the side of yuca hash browns is so good. They also make excellent maduros.

              The blackened salmon was all right, but not to my preference. My mom liked it, though. The garnish (potato cake with some kind of cheese) was suprisingly bland compared to everything else I've tried. Also surprisingly bland was the side of green beans that came with the chicken breast and with the salmon: no seasoning, not even salt, seemed to have contacted them at any point.

              Sadly, I haven't tried any of their beef entrees.

              At lunch, they serve a good chicken sandwich on a sweet roll. I want to try their burger (marinated in chimichurri sauce). Their lunch prices are very reasonable, most under $10.

              And I tried 2 of their desserts: the chocolate cake (one of those molten cakes) was extremely chocolatey: 1 small cake goes a long way, and I'd recommend sharing. The plantain and strawberry flambe was really enjoyable, but know that it's got a lot of booze (rum), if that sort of thing puts you off. It's also portioned for 2.

              In sum, I've been impressed with this place. there are a few times when the ball seems to drop (the green beans especially) but all in all everything has been really tasty: I love spicy foods when they don't rely on chilis for all their flavor (not that I mind heat, but sometimes it seems like a one-trick pony). The dishes here that I've liked most (like the arroz con pollo) are spiced in the non-chili sense (eg., cumin, saffron).