As Austin's restaurant scene expands to include more interior and coastal Mexican options, our stomachs remember our regional roots. On any given Friday night, we still crave TexMex -- cheese enchiladas floating in spicy sauce with rice and beans (preferably refried), all chased by a good margarita or cold beer. Nothing else will do. So if you haven't already, head east, all folks...
If you're lucky, you'll land at Nuevo Leon Restaurant, Austin's perfect all-around TexMex utility joint. Nuevo Leon is a simple, family-run Mexican restaurant located on the near-Eastside. They serve no-hype TexMex cuisine -- variations on the taco/enchilada/tamale trinity -- in a bustling room the color of bubblegum. Most high-traffic nights find all the tables filled with regulars in spirited conversation or intense, muted feeding frenzies. Mama Rachel Davila, her family, and their insanely attentive staff never miss a beat in encouraging both.
Put simply, Nuevo Leon excels by paying attention to basics that other places treat as afterthoughts. When you hit your table, so do baskets of hot, light tortilla chips and bowls of salsa spiked with garlic. Both the baskets and bowls get refilled at the moment you swear you couldn't eat any more -- but you do anyway. Though you won't find any breathtakingly exotic entrées on the menu, you won't be disappointed by quality, taste, or portion size. The various plates offer all possible combinations of uniformly tasty TexMex dinner components (guacamole salad, enchiladas, chicken or beef tacos, chalupas, tamales, rice, beans, etc.). Choose your favorite combination and you can't lose. It's like the lottery in reverse.
Though it's a little late for this summer, you should know that they serve a perfect stock frozen margarita, the only cure for late-season heat waves. A Nuevo Leon frozen perfectly balances the crucial elements of a margarita -- sweet, tart, and strong -- without any hints of alligator-green coloring or cheap booze afterburn. Their large frozen is Texas heaven in slurpee form, and gets my vote for the best stock margarita in town, even during a cold snap.
-- Paul M. Johnson
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