The newest Mexican restaurant in Cedar Park takes its name from the popular Mexican folk song, Cielito Lindo. And just like the chorus proclaims, a visit there to enjoy the authentic flavors of the Mexican Interior will have you singing, not crying, and is sure to “gladden your heart.”
Eusebio Alvarez spent his entire adult life in the kitchen of one of America's seminal Interior Mexican restaurants. During the 30 years he worked at Fonda San Miguel, Alvarez benefitted from the knowledge of the legendary Diana Kennedy and founding executive chef Miguel Ravago, as well as chefs Roberto Santibanez, Alma Alcocer-Thomas, Jeff Martinez, and even his own brother, Oscar Alvarez – one of the few Austin sous chefs who has assisted in the preparation of multiple dinners at the James Beard Foundation House. One of the hallmarks of any great restaurant is that it inspires and nurtures the talents of its employees, and that is certainly the case with Eusebio. Earlier this year, he struck out on his own to prepare the food of his homeland at Cielito Lindo in the Austin suburb of Cedar Park.
The plain exterior might create the impression that this is just another strip mall joint, but once inside, we found the new eatery cozy and comfortable. A coiled lariat and a cowboy hat hang above the door, evoking memories of chef Eusebio's youth on a rural Mexico ranch. The walls are painted a soft butter yellow using a sponge technique that creates a rustic adobe effect and they are accented with attractive blue stenciling just above table height. Roxana Alvarez manages her fathers business and she says she chose the paint color scheme because it reminded her of a convent in their hometown of Sombrerete, Zacatecas.
The substantial tables and chairs were imported from Guadalajara and contribute to the tasteful Mexican hacienda atmosphere. Roxana is eager to hang original art on the bare walls, perhaps by offering shows to emerging Latino artists. She also says they'll have the menu up on their website soon and a liquor license is in the works so they can offer patrons beer, sangria, margaritas, and micheladas from a station off the kitchen.
Cielito Lindo is open for both lunch and dinner. Weekday lunches offer specials under $10 and they'll pack food to go for guests who call in advance. The large menu offers a couple of nods to Tex-Mex culinary traditions such as chips and a smoky, roasted tomato hot salsa for the table, and a well-spiced, dip-worthy creamy chile con queso.
The majority of the dishes, however, are drawn from the Mexican interior, so look for such specialties as cochinita pibil, enchiladas napped in a rich, labor-intensive mole, carnitas, chiles rellenos stuffed with pork accented with fruit and nuts, and plump Gulf shrimp in a creamy chipotle sauce. There are plenty of fresh corn tortillas for sopping up the exemplary sauces and simple sides of guacamole, grilled vegetables, rice, and three kinds of beans are expertly prepared and perfectly seasoned. This gentleman knows how to execute this food.
Full disclosure: I worked with Eusebio Alvarez during my second tenure in the Fonda San Miguel kitchen in the mid-Eighties, when he was newly arrived from Zacatecas and the youngest member of the Torres and Alvarez clan that have been the backbone of that kitchen for forty years. I have always appreciated his work ethic, but I wouldn't drive all the way to Cedar Park to eat if his food wasn't good. I'm jealous of the folks out there who have his restaurant close at hand and I'm betting the addition of beer and margaritas will help make Cielito Lindo a hit in the suburbs.
Cielito Lindo Interior Mexican Cuisine
1540 Cypress Creek Road, Cedar Park, 512/709-2220
Mon. – Thu., 11am-9pm; Fri. - Sat., 11am-10pm; Sun., 11am-6pm
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