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Seeking Distinctively Austiny Tex-Mex or Mex Seafood/Veggie Weeknight Dinner to Impress

Greetings Hounds,

I'm fairly new to Austin, having moved here from the Bay Area. I've read a fair amount of the Chow boards, both here and in the Bay Area.

My difficulty is this: I have a friend visiting from the Bay Area this Wednesday, a real foodie (a former waitress at Chez Panisse), and I want to impress her with a 'distinctively' Austin dinner, something that she can't find in Bay Area. She eats seafood, but no other animals. A full bar would be nice.

So, since BBQ is out, I'm thinking something Tex-Mex--or maybe just Mex--with a good vegetable and seafood selection?

I've read many posts here concerning similar visitors to Austin, and I apologize for bringing up such a familiar theme again, but I wasn't able to come away with any sort of confident opinion from what I read. The discussion about the visiting New York Times food writer came closest.

My own current best thinking is below. I would welcome any thought/comments.

I was originally thinking Fonda San Miguel, but given the cost, the reviews (for dinner at least, as opposed to for brunch) just aren't that positive. La Condesa seems even more expensive at first glance, but if it's really amazing, that would be OK. Las Palomas seems like a decent a possibility. Maybe Azul or Sazon? Perla's looks good--I know it's not Mex--and I'm sure my friend would like it, but there are restaurants like that in the Bay Area. And lastly, Curra's Grill is currently near the top of my list, despite the mixed reviews here, just because it's comparatively inexpensive (and I get 10% off with my Go-Card, I think)--and we could walk there from my house--a plus, given the likelihood of Margaritas

Are there other better Tex-Mex or Mex places, with good seafood and veggies, that I've missed? Dives are possibly OK, too.

Thank you in advance, hounds! I promise to report back!

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Curra's Grill
614 E Oltorf St, Austin, TX

Azul Tequila
4211 S Lamar Blvd Ste A2, Austin, TX 78704

Las Palomas Restaurant & Bar
3201 Bee Caves Rd Ste 122, Austin, TX 78746

Fonda San Miguel Restaurant
2330 W North Loop Blvd, Austin, TX 78756

Sazon
1816 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

La Condesa
400-A W 2nd St, Austin, TX 78701

Perla's Seafood and Oyster Bar
1400 S Congress, Austin, TX 78704

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  1. i'm a fan of the mex-mex (as opposed to tex-mex) side of the Azul Tequila menu. and i really like Sazon. They have a zucchini stuffed with corn and cheese, as well as spinach or crab enchiladas, and a fish dish or two. the homemade corn tortillas are wonderful!

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    Azul Tequila
    4211 S Lamar Blvd Ste A2, Austin, TX 78704

    Sazon
    1816 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

    1. i agree with your opinions about both perla's, curra's and la condesa.

      curra's is very austiny: they have the outside seating, veggie taco options, and those luscious avocado margs (i get mine half-and-half so they aren't so vegetal).

      perla's will probably be too similar to something your friend can get at home.

      la condesa has 5 ceviches to try, and good people watching, which may be nice.

      many places will have things like grilled fish, and enchiladas or tacos made with seafood.
      vegetarian is harder to find, and good vegetarian is even more challenging.

      if your friend's meal comes with rice and/or beans, make sure they ask about the ingredients.
      often the rice will have chicken stock and the beans may have pork.

      as an alternate idea, you could always do a truck crawl, getting a few things from different places.
      that's pretty austin-y.

      ________________

      here are some of the places i have been or bookmarked, that fit the bill:

      vivo
      http://www.vivo-austin.com/menu1.html
      --vegetarian options, and the 620 location has an outdoor seating area with a fountain.
      --no seafood.

      manuel's
      http://www.manuels.com/
      --their vegetarian chile relleno is very boring, but the seafood stuff is great.
      --the arboretum location has a fountain and some trees with lights, which helps you forget you're in a strip mall.

      z'tejas
      http://www.ztejas.com/z-tejas-6-stree...
      --this location is probably closer to you, but doesn't have the great view of the arboretum.
      --veggie and seafood options.

      la fuente's
      http://www.lafuentesaustin.com/menu_m...

      el gallo
      http://elgallorestaurant.com/elgallo....

      tacos garcia
      http://www.tacosgarcia.com/u_dinner1....

      zuzu's
      http://zuzuaustin.com/images/menu.pdf

      matt's el rancho
      http://www.mattselrancho.com/mattsmen...

      chupacabra cantina
      http://www.chupacabracantina.com/menu...

      1. I think Perla's would be a great place to check out - it might be a bit too much like the bay area, but it's still an impressive restaurant with great food. From the same playbook, I always like Parkside, and their oyster selection seems just as good but not as expensive.

        PLUS... this is just my opinion, but I've been really disappointed with Curra's the past several times I've been. It just seems like the food's generally lackluster. I do love the avocado margaritas of course, but if you want a similar type of place with a similar neighborhood vibe and what I think is better food, I'd go to Polvo's.

        Once again, just another opinion. I'll also agree that La Condesa and Fonda are nice.

        I've also heard that Málaga is good? Anybody agree with this? Neither Tex nor Mex, but I do like a tapas bar...

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        La Condesa
        400-A W 2nd St, Austin, TX 78701

        1. Pescatarian from SF wants the full Austin experience? No problem, we've got you covered.

          Your best bets are tied for first place at Uchi and Uchiko. I know this will break the bank, but if you spring for Uchi you can honestly tell her that you paid for one of the best sushi/fusion joints in the continent. Hit this board all over to hear what folks are saying about Uchi and Uchiko. Other than the long wait and the price, you cannot go wrong here unless you're also secretly allergic to awesome.

          As an aside: I love SF and go there often. I know it is hard to believe that Austin's sushi could stand up, but Uchi/ko really does.

          I have to downgrade Perla's. I've gone four times in the last three months and (save the delicious oysters) I've been dissatisfied with their cooked dishes. Dunno what is happening here, maybe being on Bourdain's show is the Sport's Illustrated cover curse of the food world. Used to really like this place, even though it is expensive as all get-out. I also have to recommend against Justine's -- first few trips were great, but then the saltmonster kicked in something fierce. Haven't been back in a while, I kind of wonder if they're still open.

          For similar food to Perla, although much better, truck on downtown to Parkside. Again, like Uchi/Uchiko and Perla, this is gonna be expensive, but should have all sorts of delicious pesca options, including oysters, raw bar, and great fish. Good luck! Parkside has a full (and really solid) bar, with some great original drinks.

          Needing pescatarian Tex-Mex and or Interior Mex options? Hnnnnnh. That was a pain sound. Don't do anything rash, like run to a Juan in a Million, Polvo's, or Chuy's. Stay strong. Curra's is a better choice than those, but still not great in the pesca-zone. Condesa is OK; not quite Fonda, and certainly not as staggeringly wowie zowie as some folks are breathlessly stammering. Then again, I think Condesa's menu is more favorable to a true fish person than Fonda or Curra's. P.S. you mention really expensive being OK if it is also really amazing? Then throw all these places out and go to Uchi, Uchiko, or Parkside. Pesca heaven. Our local Mex needs land animals, IMHO.

          This fish constraint is blocking Odd Duck and East Side King, who have fine poultry options. Is this chick maybe ovolactopesca? If so, you can totally quaff breakfast tacos with eggs and cheese, which gets you into some safe Austin territory. Go migas! ... But can you double-check that birds are off the menu? If we can do a bird or two, that brings some really good stuff from the 'Duck, ESK, and numerous other places up to the front reel.

          You know, Foreign and Domestic feels like San Francisco hipster w/ a little Zeitgeist feel from the hood it is in, but still has plenty of Austin, and has a couple fish dishes on the current menu. On that note, consider East Side Cafe, using honest, homey techniques and local, garden-grown ingredients. It has been a couple years since I knocked back one of their ruby red trouts, but it was delicious when I did, and I bet any fish they provide will be equally tasty.

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          Uchi Restaurant
          801 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

          Odd Duck
          1219 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

          6 Replies
          1. re: tom in austin

            My advice is to dump anyone that doesn't eat delicious animals, especially cute ones.

            1. re: achtungpv

              Here's my report, as promised.

              First, while it is perhaps true that some BBQ is better than sex, this particular person was not mine to dump. And no matter how awesome the Uchi family is, and they are certainly near the top of my personal list now, it just didn't seem right to take someone there who's visiting from the Bay Area.

              We ended up going to Curra's. It was, as many of you would guess, pleasant enough, but not super memorable. We had margaritas and some queso with veggie-chorizo to start. Hard to mess up too bad. I had enchilladas with some special dark mole. It was interesting but overwhelmed all other flavors. My friend had shrimp diabolo (?). I tried one, the shrimp per se were not of the best, but fine. My wife didn't offer any of her entree! We split some tres leche cake for dessert, which also was fine, if not too subtle. Maybe one shouldn't expect subtle from that particular dessert.

              During the course of the meal, my friend and I each had another margarita.

              Total damage was about $85, which included 10% off for my go card (it should have been 15%, according to go card's site), but not the tip.

              The service was good, and the atmosphere was fun.

              All in all, for the price, it was OK. I bet we would have spent close to twice as much at FSM--would it have been twice as good?

              I'll be back to Curra's at some point, but mostly because I live so close. I would feel better about breakfast or lunch, if the prices were lower.

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              Uchi Restaurant
              801 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

              1. re: jcroedel

                Try the pibil on your next visit and let me know what you think.

                1. re: jcroedel

                  i think our tex mex or mexican interior places just do a better job w/ fish than with vegetarian selections.

                  did your friend at least get to try an avocado marg?

                  1. re: dinaofdoom

                    I might have tried the pibil if I wasn't sitting next to a vegetarian! It would have seemed so . . . carnivorous of me. But it looked great, and I'll try it next time.

                    About the avo margaritas, I told my friend about them. I found out she once worked in a tequila bar, long ago! She had lots of opinions about margaritas, and wanted to try the pomegranate, which turned out to be quite nice. My regular classic was good, too.

                    Thanks everyone for your advice and feedback.

                    1. re: jcroedel

                      Took my staff to El Meson (S Lamar) for lunch yesterday. Our token vegetarian raved about the stuffed chiles. He was at the opposite end of the table so I never noticed his dish but he went on and on about it.

                      Everything else was fantastic too. Had the Chilorio which is great like everything else there. They now give you a small bowl of lentil soup which is very good. Homemade thick chips and uncommon salsas are great. They had homemade corn tortillas also. For some reason, the last time I went there, they didn't. As usual, not very crowded at lunch.