First Look: Torchy's Tacos Mueller

Neighbors line up for family dining

photo by John Anderson

The last time folks in the central east Austin neighborhoods around the Mueller development were this fired up about a restaurant debut was when H-E-B's Cafe Mueller opened in the summer of 2013. Area residents are so hot for the new Torchy's Tacos, they've been lining up out the door since the opening in November.

Not to worry, the line moves fast and the food is the same hearty, flavorful Torchy's fare loyal fans have been wild about for almost a decade now. There is something different about this particular outlet of the rapidly expanding homegrown chain, however. Where Mike Rypka's other local Torchy's brick-and-mortar spots have been fashioned from remodeled small cafes, the more spacious Mueller restaurant was designed and built from the ground up specifically to be a Torchy's with a full bar.

photo by John Anderson

Torchy's outlets in other Texas markets, as well as in Cedar Park and Round Rock, already include full bar service and bars will be incorporated in the company's expansion plans going forward. The floor plan at Mueller functions with the service counter and bar taking up the middle of the room, with dining rooms in front and in back. The rapidly-moving line snakes around the front dining area; guests place orders, pick up a number, and find a table. If the bar stools and both dining rooms are full, there is a spacious, tree-shaded patio with sturdy tables, benches, and heaters that can accommodate over 100 people.

Though the cheeky Torchy's devil logo can be spotted here and there, the overall decor is simple and industrial, with red and silver metallic accents, including what looks like chainmail curtains. Framed black-and-white vintage photos of events at the former Mueller Airport line the walls, firmly establishing a sense of place for the restaurant. There are flat screen TV's tuned to sports and recorded music in the background.

photo by john anderson

When we visited at 6pm on a recent weeknight, couples and families were lined up out the door, but it was only a few minutes before we had placed our order and were searching for a table. We found a spot on the patio and employees were quick to come and light the heater near our table, warding off a little chill in the air.

Unfortunately, employees of the restaurant couldn't solve the main problem we experienced during dinner. Several families with small children were also seated on the patio. While moms and dads were enjoying a beer with their tacos, a group of four or five young kids were allowed to run in circles around the patio, emitting high-pitched, piercing squeals as they ran. This went on for more than 10 minutes, making it impossible to have conversation or truly enjoy our meal.

photo by John Anderson

I've long been a fan of the tacos at Torchy's and the newish side dishes on the menu are appealing, especially the Mexican street corn. The specialty cocktails here are somewhat less expensive than you're likely to find in the craft bars and friends who've tried them say they're just fine. I'm glad there is now a convenient Torchy's outlet only a few blocks from my house and I fully understand why a quick, affordable dining option that offers a bar would be a magnet for families in the area. While I realize it's not the restaurant's job to civilize the children of their patrons, our excruciating experience taught me to plan my visits here at times when little kids are likely to be in school or home in bed. The restaurant also offer convenient take-out service, complete with handy "to-go" parking spaces designated right in front of the entrance. It's the next best thing to a drive-through, and a damn good idea.

Torchy's Mueller
1801 E. 51ST, 512/322-2411
Mon.-Thu., 7am-10pm; Fri., 7am-11pm
Sat., 8am-11pm; Sun. 8am-10pm

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