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What's the deal with Guero's?

Heard about the place for years. Finally went with a group of buds in town for the NAMM show (we will miss you Austin!)

Camaraderie was great, bumping into a high school buddy of mine was great, but the food left me totally flat.

Salsas and pico were OK, but the chips were a mix of semi-fresh and stale.

Queso - blah

Guac - BLAH

My #1 had even more queso and guac - blah BLAH

Tamale had the right flavor but was dry.

No classic TexMex cheese enchilada, so I went with Ranchero sauce - only fair,
and white cheese in a Texas enchilada? What's with that?

Asked for my plate sans lettuce which meant I got a soft taco with nothing
but ground beef. Flavor and tortilla were both decent, but as a taco it sucked.

Beans were pretty damned good.

Needless to say I will not return.

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  1. Because inevitably someone will suggest a trip to Guëro's, I would suggest one of two starters and one of three entrees.

    The starters:
    Guëro's Dip with chicken or beef. Basically just a fancy seven-layer dip, but it works well with the sorry excuse for chips they have, and one of their top shelf ritas (I actually really like the margaritas at Guëro's-they don't have the overpowering sweetness of most others you'll find at similar eateries).

    Caldo de Pollo. The Soup Peddler even claims that this is the version he bases his own take on. It's good, it's big, and it can help you get through a meal at this restaurant even if you despise the rest of the food.

    Entrees:
    Alambres. I'll get this about once every 6 or 7 times I'm there. It's better than their fajitas because there's bacon in it, and everything is better with bacon.

    Fish tacos. Get them with cheese, and have the chipotle mayo and guacamole on the side, otherwise they're ruined. These may be my favorite version of fish tacos, though the last time I had them, they'd definitely slipped.

    Huachinango al mojo de ajo. Garlic warning: there may be an entire head of garlic in a half pound of melted butter on top of this healthy, seared piece of red snapper. Extremely rich, and the fish always seems to be perfectly cooked.

    Everything else (in general) on the menu (except for the margaritas) and in the restaurant (patrons, waitstaff, vibe) is either annoying, bad or unmemorable.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Twill

      I've usually found the al pastor tacos to be a pretty safe bet.

      1. re: Torckus

        except they're so tiny. I have personal issues dropping $1 a bite.

        1. re: Torckus

          Try the chicken tacos that are marinated in orange juice and achiote.

        2. re: Twill

          Great list, Twill. I agree that most of Guero's fare is mediocre.

          I'd add to Twill's list: their shrimp tacos are usually very good. Large, moist shrimps, not overcooked, bursting with flavor.

          Disclaimer: I haven't been in several months or more.

        3. Couldn't agree more. I ate there once on the suggestion of some out of town friends who'd heard it was good and I'll never go back. Bland food that's overpriced. I have no idea why it's such an Austin favorite.

          1 Reply
          1. re: nhennies

            Location, reputation, and good libations.

          2. do NOT like gueros. i went a few years ago. never went back.
            there was dirt in the spinach enchilades and the chicken tasted like it came out of a can.

            o v e r r a t e d !

            1 Reply
            1. re: scoutaustin

              the name of the restaurant is "guero's taco bar" and yet you cannot get the most basic taco -- a crispy beef taco.

              ok.....

            2. Thing is, Guero's is not a Tex-Mex place. They do have a few dishes that aren't Mexican (Fajitas, Santa Fe enchiladas, chips & salsa), but most are authentic interior dishes, or interior dishes slightly adapted to American tastes. That's why they don't have crispy tacos or yellow cheese.
              And speaking of the Santa Fe Enchiladas, try them with shredded chicken and salsa verde, stacked in layers with tortillas and that melted cheese, all topped with a fried egg. Bust the yolk of that sucker and let it run all over the top and dig in - MMmm man, that's some good stuff. The heat and richness of the dish is the perfect foil to the sharp tang of the fresh squeezed limes in their rocks margaritas.
              The quality of the food and drink ensured Guero's success for 8 years before it moved to it's current "location". And when it did move, Congress wasn't a hot spot - it was known more as the kinda scary part of town. Just like today, there were plenty of pedestrians, but back then they were more likely to be drug dealers or prostitutes (Female, Male and everything in-between) than hipsters and tourists. Guero's was instrumental in revitalizing S. Congress and shaping the current SoCo district. So in a very real way, Guero's success was responsible for the popularity of its location, not vice-versa.

              6 Replies
              1. re: Alan Sudo

                [Note to Alan Sudo: If this sounds like a diatribe, it's just because I can't stand this restaurant. It has nothing to do with you personally. Best, MPH]

                Most of the posts on this thread have complained that Guëro's food is bland or gross, not that it isn’t “Tex-Mex.” So, people’s unhappiness with their offerings can’t be explained away by attributing erroneous expectations to customers. And I’m sure that neither the restaurant management—nor you—would expect any of us to believe that “authentic interior Mexican” is *supposed* to be bland.

                It seems to me that Guëro's menu, like many in town, is both "Tex-Mex" (from fajitas to nachos) and "interior Mexican” (by which they seem to mean al pastor, huachinango, shrimp alambres, etc.) Frankly, their own categorization is nonsensical. A taco of carne guisada, of all things, and a quesadilla are the main components of the "Oaxaca Special"? Why?

                The authenticity of their "interior" options seems questionable. However, I digress. After all, that isn't really the point of this thread. While I appreciate the historical perspective you’ve offered, I’m not awed by the restaurant’s allegedly pivotal role in the gentrification of SoCo. I'm a chowhound. I care about the food on the plate. And frankly, I hate Guëro's food. [I've never tried the shrimp tacos, but I can live with my choice.]

                So, that’s one more negative assessment of Guëro's. Do I feel bad for them, when maybe they have done a lot for Austin? Not at all. I feel bad for chowhounds like GroovinGourmet who get conned into wasting their time and money on terrible chow. Too many bad restaurants get good buzz, which, after all, is mainly generated through paid advertising. Don’t believe the hype!

                1. re: MPH

                  Hey, thanks MPH.
                  I'm not so connected to this place to consider a difference of tastes personal.

                  I just happen to really, really enjoy both the margs on the rocks (with the almost painfully tangy fresh squeezed lime juice) and the Santa Fe Enchilidas (with Verde Sauce and chicken). It's a food I crave at times, and if I feel that strongly about a specific dish, I'll not hesitate to mention it. Especially because the original poster could not have choosen weaker menu items if I had given them written instructions. Cheese enchiladas and tamales are done so much better at so many other places in town. El Sol y La Luna right down the street has tamales that put Guero's lame Texas style ones to shame, and the tamale at Mi Columbia on the eastside is almost transcendant - if the chicken chunks were not so dry, it would be the epicurian equivilant of what my Southern Baptist friend used to describe as being reborn.
                  The Mexican references were in response to specific comments about yellow cheese (we DO have authentic white Mexican cheeses, even in Texas) and crispy tacos. While it has slowly adapted to American tastes, Guero's food is very authentic. Back in the day, the owner (Guero is Spanish slang for white boy) spent a few years in Oaxaca. When he came back to Texas, he convinced the entire family (brothers, cousins and all) that ran his favorite restaurant there to pack up their recipes and come with him to open the original Guero's on Oltorf. While the recipes have been forced by the market to adapt slightly, they are still very close what you would find across the border, at least in that region of Oaxaca.
                  I honestly love specific dishes on their menu (Alambre, SF enchiladas). I would much rather pay $1.50 for a bite of one of their tiny, over-priced Al Pastor tacos than a tablespoon of roast duck confit with raspberry risotto. They have the strongest pineapple flavor of any in town. I love the way the fresh juices drip down and carmalize on the pork during cooking. A touch of fresh onion and cilantro add the perfect notes to raise the taste level from that of a Real Estate Law seminar at the Convention Center to that of a Republic of Texas biker rally Sat night on Congress. (PS. I know you've done the research, so if you can point me to another Pastor with so much pineapple, I would be extremely grateful.)
                  My opinion also has nothing to do with the SoCo scene or Guero's role in creating it, because to be honest, I much preferred the drag queens that populated the area in the late 90's.

                  1. re: Alan Sudo

                    Thanks for your reply and for sharing what you love at Guëro's. As Twill and others have noted, it’s always helpful to know the best things to order.

                    I would still have to disagree on key points. You echo that the owner initially modeled the restaurant on Oaxacan food that he’d enjoyed while living there. That doesn't mean that their food remains "authentic," as suggested by their "Oaxaca Special" of carne guisada, a quesadilla, and guacamole. After all, we can't magically taste the owner’s good intentions or the chow of eight years ago. There’s no resting on past laurels with us chowhounds. To me, Guëro's is one more popular place in town that tries to please everyone and ends up doing a mediocre job of both "Tex-Mex" and "interior Mexican." I understand, of course, that you have a different take on it.

                    As for good sources for al pastor, you might enjoy Rosita's Al Pastor on East Riverside. As a bonus, their tortillas are freshly made on-site. You can get to-go tacos from their trailer, which is parked in the lot of the shopping center with the Bingo parlor. Or, you could stop by their brick-and-mortar restaurant that's located in the same shopping center. I think the restaurant’s atmosphere is quite friendly, though it's nothing like Guëro's. Here are two threads with more details, including an address:

                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/389338

                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/304597

                    Let us know if you check it out.

                    Best,
                    MPH

                    1. re: MPH

                      Thanks for the response, MPH. As it happens, I have eaten at Rosita's several times, usually because it's late and I'm looking for anything that's open. In those circumstances, it's a good alternative, but like most taco wagons, they cook their pork in a pan. The result is very different from pork roasted on a spit.

                      On a side note, my favorite pan-fried "Al Pastor" is a little taco wagon near the intersection of S. Congress and Stasaney, in the parking lot of a Hispanic night club that used to be called El Coyote (next to the Pawn Shop). They have a relish for their customers that is thinly sliced white onions and orange habaneros, marinated briefly in light spices (dried oregano?) and vinegar. It's the addition of this fiery hot condiment that makes this taco my favorite pan-fried Pastor.

                      1. re: Alan Sudo

                        Actually, Rosita's Al Pastor does cook their al pastor on a spit. You can even see the meat roasting if you go to the restaurant. (It's located in the same shopping center). In a way, that Al Pastor trailer isn't your typical trailer; it's more like a mobile outlet, with later hours.

                        However, it's not just brick-and-mortar places that do true "al pastor" style. More details on a good trailer that rudeboy told me about can be found here:

                        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/40731...

                    2. re: Alan Sudo

                      I second your vote for the margaritas at Guero's. I have been all over town and tried margaritas on the rocks with salt, both house and top shelf, at many different restaurants, and the margaritas at Guero's still put most of them to shame. Their "secret" is that they use key limes instead of large persian limes, and the margaritas have a very clean, sharp, lime and tequila flavor instead of the more common syrupy Kool-Aid and generic alcohol flavor I find at so many other spots. As far as food, I agree with many others that the menu is odd and very hit-or-miss. The one thing that I go back for over and over again is the queso flameado with chorizo--basically a big bowl of melted white cheese and sausage with a little bit of spicy orange grease, served with tortillas. It never fails to satisfy me. They also serve it as a plate, I think they call it the "Mauro" plate, with guacamole. Many of the tacos are also good, although expensive.

                      And by the way--the margaritas here, although delicious, are quite small--I prefer to order a double so that I don't have to order a second drink in the first 10 minutes. Expensive, but delicious.

                2. the same deal with the OASIS; Food sucks but it's a trendy spot.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: dmwt

                    Back when Guero's was on Oltorf, it was pretty good, imo. When it was more of a taco bar.