Licha's house-smoked pork chop with blue corn meal — Photo courtesy of Joshua Simmons
If you're not fortunate enough to have a grandma who knows how to cook authentic Mexican food that's as delicious as it is supremely satisfying, then Licha’s Cantina in Austin is the next best thing, perhaps even better!
Licha’s is one of the newest restaurants to grace the burgeoning east side community, and it's located on 6th Street, just a few blocks east of I35 and within walking distance of the legendary bar hopping 6th Street scene.
Although Licha's only opened in March 2014, they've already established themselves, purely through word of mouth, as one the best restaurants to go to for happy hour (on the patio), on into dinner. Happy hour takes place daily from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and includes a luscious assortment of libations from $5 cocktails – such as their signature watermelon jalapeño margarita – to wine and beer.
Five-dollar plates are also on offer, featuring ideal after-work tapas like quesadillas and sopecitos (house-made corn cups layered with black beans). As daylight fades into twilight, it's time to order up some of the most incredible entrees you'll find amidst Austin's expansive culinary landscape.
First of all, it must be said that Licha's is not Tex-Mex. These dishes are made from truly authentic Mexico City and central Mexico family recipes that were filtered through owner and cook Daniel Brook's ingenious mind.
The menu will evolve with the seasons and often features locally-sourced ingredients. Thankfully, you won't find red tortillas or yellow cheese here.
Instead, what you'll find are blue and white corn tortillas made from house-made masa, the corn dough used to make the tortillas. It takes one woman eight hours a day to make all the tortillas Licha's uses, but back to the entrees . . .
Licha's Cantina on East 6th Street — Photo courtesy of Joshua Simmons
While you certainly can't go wrong with any of Licha's platos, the perfectly brined and smoked tender pork chop – served with blue corn polenta, sweet potatoes and a vibrant peach and goat cheese salad – is out of this world.
If you consider yourself a mole connoisseur, then you must try the duck enmoladas, which are essentially enchiladas made with roasted duck, queso asadero, black beans and the most balanced sweet and savory poblano mole you've ever tasted.
"You can tell when someone's passionate; it comes through the food," says Brook, who learned how to cook from his grandmother. "The taste is just as important as the presentation, quality and preparation. A meal should hit the entire spectrum."
Somehow, Brook manages to keep this eclectic and homey restaurant surprisingly affordable. What makes Licha's even more special is not that it used to be a typewriter museum, but the "Mi casa es tu casa" mentality that imbues every aspect of what they do. The staff operate as a family, and after just one meal, you'll feel like you belong here, too.