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Oct 21, 2008 10:16 AM

Best Carne Asada in Austin

The Carne Asada Queen is Dead

Long live the queen.

But she's not dead.She's right behind the register where I go to pay after having the worst meal[and the only bad meal I've ever had at Los Comales...formerly known as Graciellas]

I'm not real into sides.Give me a really good main and I'm good.Give me a bunch of good sides and a poor main and I'm grouchy.

I come to Graciella's for Carne Asada,formerly the best in town and the only thing I order on my visits to Los Comales.

I arrive to a half full house on Friday night.Seat myself and bask in the aroma of grilling Nortena style meats.A good 9 seconds pass before a happy slip of a lass approaches for my order.I ask for a cup of queso,she sprints to the queso fountain and returns within 20 or so seconds with a nice bouillon bowl of the good stuff.Strictly Tex Mex style which I love.It's extra melt with chopped chiles and little else.Creamy,cheesy and right at delicious.

I order the Carne Asada and within a minute am presented with a platter of rice,beans,salad and a shriveled,grayish lump of meat.

The good part:The rice,normally a throw away is good,perfectly cooked and actually seasoned a bit.The Refrieds are REAL good.Porky and creamy with lard, they've been robo couped smooth which is one of the many ways I enjoy Pintos.

The Salad with Guacamole is about what you'd expect.The avocado is fresh if unseasoned and the salad is the typical affair of iceberg and tomato.

The bad, which sadly is what I came for:The carne asada is pitiful.The rapidity of it's arrival screams pre cook and that is definitely the case.I can see sandbagging chow in an ultra busy kitchen.It's the only way to survive the shift when you're staring down the barrel of a 200 cover night.

Los Comales is doing nowhere near the level of business to require precooking the carne.The room is half full at prime time:8pm and the beef is dry,gray and devoid of flavor.

I have a pressing engagement so I resist the urge to send the leathery mass back for a re-cook and tack into this steer's sorry hide.

It's bad.The worst carne asada I've had in recent memory.

I chat with Graciella briefly on the way out the door.She's been the queen of carne for 18 years on 7th street but her reign is looking mighty shaky right now.

I need a really good version this week to get this one out of my memory.

What's your favorite carne asada in Austin.

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  1. A good bloody plate of Carne Asada is available at El Azteca.

    I like to eat like a bear on Friday night.Normally I prefer 5 small meals over the course of a given day but Friday night the Kodiak in me comes out and I like to eat a giant platter of food with the center piece being a hunk of steer or perhaps hog.

    Last night I decided to wander through the east side til something struck my fancy.I shuddered as I rolled past Los Comales.The memory of their carne asada is still strong and vile.

    A few blocks east I glance over and see El Azteca,maneuver my bike into the lot[perfumes of grilling meat] and stroll inside.

    I'm greeted like a favored cousin,led to my table and given a menu.I glance at it for a second and put it down.I'm not sure what's on it but I know I want some good Mexican beef.

    My waitress appears with a basket of chips,a volcano bowl of salsa and takes my order.I'm starved half to death so I ask for a chile con queso starter,a carne asada main and content myself with my chips and salsa.

    It's ok.I love cilantro but El Azteca's version is STRONG.My queso comes in a couple minutes and it's the Tex Mex version but sans chiles and tomatoes.10 or so minutes go by[during which I pass the time by staring at a nice portrait of Abraham Lincoln,I'm reading "Team of Rivals"right now so it was nice to just kind of sit and daydream about Kentucky's favorite son]

    My platter comes and it's gorgeous:Two big hunks of steak are sputtering with fat off the grill,a vivid guacamole salad,rice and a bouillon bowl of charro beans rounds everthing out.

    The rice is non-descript which is to be expected.The charro beans are nice.Spiked up with black pepper and in a loose broth with slivers of pork they are a welcome respite from my typical refrieds.The guacamole has been whipped with some dairy or other which is not my favorite style.It's so bright green it borders on surreal...

    The carne asada is the star of this meal.Two big rib steaks totalling upwards of a pound,dark char marks from the grill,blazing hot and bloody as all hell.They taste like they've been seasoned with a Mexican take on Montreal seasoning which is just fine with me.

    Service is fine.The young lady attending me is couched in the ethics of service.Friendly and happy to be to be at work she's sparkly and contributes a lot to the meal.

    I took El Azteca off my rotation a few years ago when myself and my date were asked to leave[apparently the squares working the front of the house back then didn't appreciate some tequila fueled dance moves we worked out in the dining room]

    All is forgiven.

    And I can't wait to get back and eat some of the many goat options on their menu

    7 Replies
    1. re: scrumptiouschef

      Fiesta throws a raucous party on Sundays.They wheel a tricked out taco cart near the front door,load the grill with tons of beef and set it all ablaze.The aroma could drive a vegetarian to give up the life of the ascetic.I'm not really hungry but can't pass up the opportunity to eat some good fresh beef.The special is two tacos with a soda for $3.88 which is a good value but too much food for me when I'm eating out of obligation more than hunger.The Carne Asada taco is plump,the meat meltingly tender and charred nicely over a cool,slightly bloody center.The corn tortilla is good but not on par with other favored carts.I douse everything with a good mild tomatilla salsa,hunker down on the curb and watch the scene which approaches melee' level.A fine repast.

      1. re: scrumptiouschef

        One carne asada taco per day til I find the best in Austin.

        Strolling along the Drag I spy Changos an offshoot of Manuels restaurant downtown.It's been years since I walked inside but I'm a little hungry sooooo.I don't even look at the menu,the counter guy chirpily inquires as to my order;I ask for one Carne Asada taco and an order of chips and salsa.


        I muster up a level of politeness I didn't know I possess.Pay the usury and make my way to table.The taco comes nice and quick and is good.It's been grilled earlier in the day then submerged in a broth of some sort which normally would be disgusting but the flavor is smoky and the quality of the steak high.

        The red salsa needs some serious help.It's served warm and is a pretty orange color but has little flavor.I begin resuscitation with salt and lime juice and the patient becomes well,edible.

        The chips are the gross,El Lago product that all the lowline places in town serve.They're sturdy enough to dig a ditch with but have so little flavor I begin wondering what relationship they have with the corn plant that they purportedly come from.

        I guess folks are onto Changos pricing point as I'm the only diner right at lunch rush.The restaurant is "nice" modern looking in a Portland coffee bar sort of way.It's spotless but I'd be willing to trade the shiny floors for better food with realistic pricing.

        1. re: scrumptiouschef

          I like the taste of Chango's tacos & burritos but seriously 3 tiny tacos with maybe a tablespoon of filling will set you back $12. Not. Worth. It.

          1. re: achtungpv

            I love La Canaria.It's near the top tier of taco carts in Austin,perhaps a notch below Tacos El Rico and El Rinconsito.Last night after a good hang at Epoch I'm in the neighborhood and figure I'll stop in on my way to supper at El Patio for a quick appetizer.My carne asada taco comes rapid fire on a storebought tortilla[a first,they normally make them from scratch].It's ok.The meat is skirt,the quantity good but it's lacking the char and flavor that defines carne asada.I douse it down with salsa verde and begin to chow as we make our way south towards Guadalupe.La Canaria does good work with pork but needs a little help with their beef.It makes a decent starter for supper but I would've been disappointed if it would've been my main.How's the Posole they serve on the weekends?

            1. re: scrumptiouschef

              Where exactly is Tacos El Rico? A fellow Chowhound aficianado and I tried to find it (on Montopolis just north of 71 he read here), and looked all around.
              Anyhow, on topic, we did have Carne Asada at two places, both outstanding, and among the best we've tried. La Michoacana (though we were both blown away yet again by the Barbacoa), and a new place, SE corner of Oltorf and S. 1st, El Pollo Rico. The latter had the flavor of being grilled over charcoal and maybe a bit of wood smoke. Both versions, less than $2 per taco (both about $1.30).

              1. re: taliesin15

                You were close, but not quite. It's at Felix and Vargas. It's a blue trailer that seems to migrate around that intersection.


                1. re: Carter B.


                  read the second paragraph and you'll be powerless to resist eating carne asada and hopefully writing about it.