This ever-growing local chain is everything Mexican restaurants should be in this city: creative, tasty, affordable, friendly and filled with funky Austin style. Born from a phenomenally successful food truck, Torchy's dishes up enormous, innovative tacos drizzled with award-winning hot sauces. Start with the addictive green chile queso before diving into the green chile pork taco, the delectably unique fried avocado taco or the juicy Baja shrimp taco. Follow with deep-fried chocolate chip cookie bites.
A satisfying kick in the taste buds awaits diners at this authentic Mexican cafe. In fact, it's safe to say that if you can't take the heat, you should probably stay out of Habanero, where even the fresh salsa packs quite a punch. Perfectly-battered chile rellenos, crave-worthy gorditas, fajitas with mesquite-grilled chicken and arguably the best breakfast tacos in Austin – it's all delicious, it's all fresh and it's all cheap. Welcome to spice paradise.
Güero's is a relative newbie on the Austin Mexican restaurant scene, having just opened in 1986. It's a bustling spot on trendy South Congress and is especially so at lunch when sidewalk tables fill up fast. Evenings can be lively as well, particularly when live bands play on the patio. Menu highlights include tacos al pastor (marinated pork on corn tortillas with onions, cilantro and pineapple) and alambres (grilled marinated beef with bacon, peppers, and onions). You can also create your own enchiladas by choosing a meat and sauce from a long list of possibilities. Corn tortillas are made fresh on-site.
With its thatched roof, La Palapa is certainly easy to spot, which is a good thing since you'll want to get inside and get down to the serious business of eating as quickly as possible. The food is that good – from queso flameado to chile rellenos to flan. In operation since 1984, La Palapa presents live music every night. In fact, it's known as the place where country star Rick Trevino first got his start. Performers range across many genres, but country and Latin beats are the most common (this is Texas, after all).
Mexican and Tex-Mex joints are a dime a dozen in Austin, but Abuelo's stands out for both ambience and an extensive menu. The restaurant is reminiscent of a posh Mexican courtyard with its colorful murals, statuary, and plenty of lush foliage. The food ranges from Tex-Mex standards like enchiladas and fajitas to more authentic dishes. Tortilla soup, a staple in the Southwest, is quite good here, as is Fundido del Mar, a concoction of shrimp, scallops, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, and poblanos in a white wine-cheese sauce.
Matt's first opened in 1952, and age has not diminished its appeal one bit. It's classy, with tall ceilings and authentic art, but the Texas uniform (jeans, cowboy boots, and a Western shirt) is certainly appropriate attire. The signature appetizer is Bob Armstrong Dip, a combination of melted cheese, seasoned beef and guacamole. Main courses run from steaks grilled with onions, peppers, and jalapenos, to traditional chile rellenos. This being Austin, the menu includes several vegetarian options as well.
One of Austin's favorite spots for Mexican food, Curra's has numerous dining areas, a large patio, and great eats. Start with queso flameado, an amazing combination of melted jack cheese, peppers, and chorizo. Standout main dishes include Punta de Filete (tenderloin chunks and mushrooms in chipotle sauce) and the perky Camarones a la Margarita (shrimp with chile pasilla, gold tequila, orange liqueur, and lime). Curra's tamales are excellent as well, and you can choose from pork, bean, chicken, or veggie varieties.
Manuel's first location, an industrial-looking place in the heart of downtown, invites folks to partake of campechana, a soup-like dish of seafood, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and serrano peppers. It also presents pollo en molé and Tex-Mex enchiladas and burritos. In addition, a selection of interior Mexican dishes includes chile relleno en nogada, or roasted poblano peppers stuffed with spiced pork in a walnut cream sauce.
Great things sometimes come in unassuming packages – such is Fonda San Miguel. Located in an ordinary neighborhood in south-central Austin, it offers an interior and food that are nothing short of extraordinary. The decor transports you to an Old World Mexican hacienda, decorated with colonial Mexican antiques, Talavera tiles, and hand-thrown pottery. The beautiful courtyard is alive with flora and splashing water. Authentic interior Mexican cuisine is the draw, and traditional Yucatecan and Veracruzano dishes are deliciously savory but not unnecessarily hot.