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One Last reservation needed...Mexican

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  • ljero Jan 23, 2008 01:51 PM
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We have completed our reservations and here is the plan: Thurs night--Uchi, Sat lunch Salt Lick Driftwood and surroounding vineyards, and Saturday night--Lambert's. Sun brunch: Maria's Taco Xpress. Sunday is superbowl and we are staying at The Driskill, so unsure about sunday night. What are your thoughts?

But, looking for a Friday night reservation for a fun group of 30 somethings from out of town.I really want Mexican, but am having a hard time finding a place that has great food (can be either interior or Tex Mex), fun or unique ambience, with great drinks. Any thoughts?

Also will have to go for Migas fri am...

Thank you!

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  1. for a group that size, you might try matt's el rancho

    1. If you mean 30-something in age, not group size, then I'd definitely skip Matt's. Azul Tequila isn't fancy, but it's reasonably priced and the food (interior Mex, mostly) is great. Curra's is another option. Try the avocado margarita! Here's a good thread about interior Mex in Austin:
      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/93182

      2 Replies
      1. re: mkwng

        AND Azul Tequila usually has mariachis on Fri night! great food.

        1. re: NirvRush

          The mariachis can be a bit loud though. I second the great food if you stay on the left (interior) side of the menu.

      2. If you're looking for a place to watch the Super Bowl within walking distance, I'd recommend Daddy's Bar & Grill. It's about a block down 6th street. Tons of awesome HDTV's, lots of space, and pretty good burgers and wings.

        1. Saturday night you need to have the amazing Aramark nachos at the Palmer Events Center during Carnaval....amazing eats! then the carnitas french fries on sunday at lunch at Fuegos!

          1. sorry, i misread that. I only suggested matt's for 30 people. azul, curra's, sazon, fonda all good choices.

            1. A couple of thoughts...
              You will love Uchi
              If you are driving out of town for BBQ I recommend going to Lockhart before heading to Salt Lick. If you have your heart set on Salt Lick, remember you are going for the atmosphere and not the food. The food has been extremely greasy the last couple of times I ate there and I have decided that I will not be back. Also, remember it is BYOB.

              BBQ for lunch on Saturday and Lambert's for dinner is whole lot of BBQ in one day. I would not do those two estbalishments for consecutive meals, but if you do then remember to pace yourself. I was not impressed by Lambert's entrees, but did really love their seasonal fried pie.

              For Mexican, I also like Azul Tequila although the atmosphere is nothing great...it is in a stip center. However, their conchinita pibil is quite good. I also like Habenero Cafe on Oltorf and Angie's on east 7th (especially for their carnitas tacos). Both of these places focus on the lunch crowd and close at 9 pm on Friday nights.

              Enjoy your trip.

              17 Replies
              1. re: Honey Bee

                Thanks, everyone for the recs. I meant to say that we are doing Salt L ick Friday for lunch. It is more for the experience, i.e. the drive, the nearby wineries. I concur that Smitty's and others FAR EXCEED SL, but not as much fun for a group.

                There is a group of 6 people Friday night. Azul sounds great, but really want to take all of these NY/LA folk to a place that has some atmosphere in a cool area..not a strip mall (althoguht I agree that some of thebest food can be found there). Went to angie's last time and did not have a good expereince. Moreover, no ambience for a group on a Friday night. Also went to Curra's and felt the same about that. do all of the kitshy places have horrible food? Can;t we have it all?! :) also hit Geurro's last time--awful, but margs were pretty good. Hit El Chile and liked the food, but kind of quiet...

                Wish we wanted Italian in Austin and would do the wine room at Vespaio, but, alas, we really want a fun place for margs and Mex. Any other thoughts? How is the ambience at Polvo's?

                I am skipping Maria's sun, as I have seen some bad write ups on it..where else good for low-key (no buffet) hangover brunch?

                Friday should we do Backstage? what's the amebience like there? Was worried we were getting too meat heavy and cannot go to Austin with Mex!

                any help is greatly appreciated!

                1. re: ljero

                  Habanero might be a good Sunday hangover Mexican. Friday night Mexican, I'd suggest Jorge's on Hancock.

                  1. re: ljero

                    Manuels on Congress or Jollyville for pleasant ambience. Menu is hit or miss, though.

                    1. re: ljero

                      For your Sunday breakfast, I strongly recommend Borrego de Oro. http://www.yelp.com/biz/borrego-de-or... I take my breakfasts very seriously and Borrego is easily one of the most underrated Tex-Mex restaurants in the city. A good sign: real life Mexican-Americans eat there. They by far have the best migas in town, and anyone who tells you Las Manitas is better is so wound up in nostalgia they have no idea what they're talking about.

                      1. re: 24hourbreakfast

                        There are plenty of reviews of Borrego de Oro right here on chowhound, with fairly continuous coverage since at least 2004. (That was my search parameter). Here's one recent thread exclusively on the subject:

                        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/342322

                        24hourbreakfast, I wonder if you can expand upon your recommendation of the migas at El Borrego de Oro as "the best" in town. After all, "real life" Mexican-Americans, like non-Mexican-Americans, eat at all sorts of restaurants—from Taco Bell to Chez Panisse. That doesn't automatically confer deliciousness on the chow at every one of these places (or even just on the "Mexican" ones). How are the migas at Borrego de Oro prepared? What are they served with? What are you looking for in your ideal version of migas? Where else have you tried and liked migas in town; or, what are your points of comparison? This information would be much appreciated.

                        For the OP [original poster]: I recommend that you do hit Backstage Steakhouse, even if you have to brace yourself to do without the "loud" or "fun" ambience that you're seeking out. If your friends are chowhounds, they'll appreciate their truly good cooking. Your suspicions are correct: The kitschy places in town generally don't serve delicious food. That's why they rely on kitsch (and advertising). I'd definitely skip Polvo's for your breakfast option; moreover, I personally think there's better dinner chow in town. However, you can find more opinions on their food by doing a search. There are also some good ideas for visitors in these threads:

                        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/463852

                        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/474770

                        1. re: MPH

                          Of course, the notion that somehow a place that has "real life Mexican-Americans" is magically made delicious is fairly absurd.

                          El Meson is mostly gringo customers these days, but they still manage to produce great food. Taqueria Arandinas on William Cannon has an almost exclusively Hispanic clientele, and the food is pretty bad. We could spend all day providing examples and counterexamples of our points along those lines.

                          The simple fact is the best indicator that a place has good food is that the place has good food. If you get caught up in the atmosphere -- be it a fancy, contemporary feel or the patrons vaguely matching the chow's ethnic origin -- you're distracting yourself from the main point: is the food any good? This sort of race-baiting is common amongst weaker food critics -- see the Fearless Critic guide for numerous examples. Discussions on those lines can be found here:
                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/374868

                          On that note, and of course exclusively in my opinion: Borrego is mediocre. Better than Polvo's. Worse than El Meson, Rosita's Al Pastor, the much-maligned Curra's, Fonda San Miguel, Habanero Cafe, Angie's, the Riverside location of El Regio, and a number of other places.

                          I work near Borrego and I'm lazy but like lunchtime variety so I've been several times, both dining in and picking up to go. If they have anything really good there, I haven't had it. Multiple attempts at the birria haven't sold me. I enjoyed a horchata while I waited for my takeout once, but it wasn't anything special. In retrospect, that tall styrofoam cup of horchata is probably the best thing I've ever had there.

                          (I agree with 24hourbreakfast that Las Manitas is overrated, though.)

                          1. re: MPH

                            MPH,

                            Thanks for the thread regarding Borrego. I will take a look at it.

                            I haven't had migas at every possible restaurant in town, so I suppose I can't say with Absolute Authority that Borrego's are objectively the best. Also, I have not visited the kitchen while they prepare migas, so I can't explain in detail their procedure. But I can tell you why I like them better than any other I've had. And you can feel free to agree or disagree or even add to the conversation without demanding a complete and comprehensively researched dissertation.

                            #1: Crunch. The preparation of migas, in my view, is a careful balancing act that requires careful attention the texture of the corn chip. Borrego makes their own corn chips (as do many other restaurants), but here, the corn chips retain their own texture instead of sopping up enough moisture as to lose that vital crunch.
                            #2: Egg "doneness": At all too many Mex restaurants, the eggs are left on the griddle and overcook, imparting a certain flavor to the egg. I understand how this happens. They have a million other things to do in the kitchen and the egg is left on the griddle to cook instead of being constantly tended. The flavor of overcooked egg is difficult for me to describe, but I could say it has a more sulfurous tone with overnotes of old rag. At Borrego, at least in my experience, the egg has been consistently well prepared. Which leads me to my third trait.
                            #3 Consistency. I have had many breakfasts here and almost everytime, at least one person with whom I'm dining has ordered the migas. In some instances they are "real life" Mexican-Americans themselves who grew up eating Tex-Mex and Interior-Mex and, one would hope, would have some idea of why they prefer the flavor of one preparation over another.

                            That brings up the issue of "real life" Mexican-Americans. While of course in a multicultural society, people of different cultures eat foods from other cultures. Food is often the first point of cross-cultural contact in any society. However, I think to ignore that any authenticity can be bestowed upon a particular establishment by the fact that people from the same culture dine there frequently is to be blinded by a fear of being culturally insensitive (i.e. making stereotypes and prejudice.). It is not to say that a Lebanese restaurant populated solely by whites of European heritage is necessarily bad, nor that a kosher bakery filled with Hasidic Jews is necessarily good. I am simply stating that the fact that working class Spanish speaking Mexican dudes in big pickup trucks fill Borrego every weekend morning may lend a certain credibility to the "authenticity" of the food. After all, these are people of the same culture who presumably grew up consuming Mexican food. Might they not have some idea of what they like? As a food fan, I'm surprised you wouldn't "know what I mean" and take the comment at face value rather than dissect its subtle implications.

                            1. re: 24hourbreakfast

                              24hourbreakfast,

                              I'm afraid that I still have to disagree about what the clientele of an "ethnic" restaurant implies about its food quality. If you search the board, you'll see that I eat often—sometimes almost exclusively—at places frequented by "working class Spanish speaking Mexican dudes." (You can do a search for MPH and "east side" to pull up some of the reports in my series.) Some of these restaurants are very, very good; some are aggressively mediocre; and some of these "authentic" places are downright bad. Thus, the clientele of a restaurant is not correlative with deliciousness. I'll agree that "these are people" who "know what they like," but I'm sure that chowhounds don't have to be reminded that many, if not most, people like food that is not transcendently delicious. Thus, why should it be surprising that people from diverse cultural backgrounds might also settle for what's easy, or prefer to frequent places where they feel comfortable (like chains)? Most people just eat to live. Only a small segment of any population lives to eat.

                              I personally have no problem with discussing the clientele of a restaurant in the context of a chow report, though you'll see that some local 'hounds do. All I can tell you is that when you're discussing what should count as "the best" food with a group of highly opinionated chowhounds, you might want to bring more to the table than assertions that "real life Mexican-Americans eat there."

                              You've done that now. Thanks for the details on why you like the migas at Borrego. That will help visitors and fellow chowhounds decide if they share your ideal of eggy goodness.

                              Best,
                              MPH

                      2. re: Honey Bee

                        Salt Lick is also cash only, but sounds like a super place for your party group, especially since it is BYOB!

                        1. re: amykragan

                          I'd agree with Amy on Habanero and hangover Sunday. As a person that lives 10 minutes from that place and a frequent patron (looooove their fajitas), I can tell you that it's a great little spot. The scenery however isn't that great as there's ton of construction going on and it's smack dab by the heavily traveled Oltorf.

                          1. re: SpaceAgeNinjaCowboy

                            I feel like a broken record here as I have posted similar comments before...But I absolutely love Polvos. The mexican martinis are the best in austin! Have taken many people there who say they don't care for tequila but love the martinis. I think it will have the vibe you are looking for as well.

                            Hangover brunch, either Juan in a Millions or SoCo Cafe. Juan's tacos are awesome but I think SoCo has out of site migas!

                            1. re: chowinginaustin

                              do they have heaters outside? can we sit out if it is 65 day and 45 night temps or not? have been thinking about choosing polvos, thanks--what is ambience inside like and what are your other fave things there?

                              1. re: ljero

                                My BF went the a couple weeks ago and said they had closed in the patio but it was still a little chilly outside. The choriquezo is a must do!! Thick cheesy goodness with sautéed peppers onions, and chorizo. This and the Mexican martinis are always ordered straight away when we arrive. And I will be honest we usually only order a taco or two since between two people the choriquezo coupled with a few martinis is plenty. I have tried the shrimp fajitas which had almost an Asian flavor, very tasty. As far as the ambience, it is kind of eclectic, busy, and lively. Certainly the kind of place I would want to take out of towners for a taste of something Austin.

                                1. re: ljero

                                  They have several heaters outside (and it's a miricle they haven't burned the place down yet, as they've melted the ceiling twice and countless fans). I would strongly rec not going at night. Things have a tendancy to fall apart at night.

                                  1. re: ljero

                                    Have you tried Vivo's?
                                    It is a block or two from El Chile, has a live DJ spinning Latin jazz in the bar on Friday nights, great strong margaritas, a fun atmosphere, and good food with a lighter edge (ie, no lard in the beans and veggie options for many of the dishes).

                                    1. re: Alan Sudo

                                      For Tex-Mex with energetic atmosphere I think Vivo is a good choice. I like the enchilada/puffy taco combo. The higher prices and lack of high chairs keeps out the people with kids so it is a good adult-oriented environment at dinner time. Order the Paula's margarita as opposed to the House, as the former is made with fresh lime and the latter is not. I think they have great salsa, even though their chips are the "grainy" kind that I don't like.
                                      I think Maria's and Las Manitas are way overrated and I can't believe people put up such a fight to "save" them.

                                      1. re: Alan Sudo

                                        I agree, I think Vivo's is very good and certainly not a strip mall atmosphere.

                            2. Maria's is one of my most favorite places in town, you can't beat the south austin atmosphere, think funk trailer. Sunday's is Hippie Church with live music and dancing. Polvo's is another fave.

                              1. Z Tejas isn't really Mexican, they bill themselves as Southwestern (there is a lot of crossover on the menu), but a fun atmosphere, and better than average Margaritas. Plenty of info on this board if you search for them.