For many people in Austin, Mexican food is a source of comfort. It is as familiar and as necessary as mother's milk. People eat it when they feel depressed. People crave it. But as with all comfort foods, most people are finicky about how they like it to taste. This makes recommending Mexican restaurants in Austin a tricky business. For instance, I like my Mexican food on the greasy side. More precisely, I like rice and refried beans, and I like them to taste like someone in the kitchen has put some thought into their preparation. Joe's Bakery has the kind of Mexican food I like.
Serving comfort food for over 50 years, Joe's Bakery is a thick slice of Mex-Americana. This little breakfast-and-lunch joint is a dinosaur among the new species of chain eateries currently invading Austin. The simple, dimly lit interior has an old-fashioned truck-stop feel to it, with booths lining the walls and metal tables crowding the center of the restaurant. A lunch counter in front of the kitchen lets patrons spin around on their vinyl-upholstered barstools as they wait for their order. Velvet paintings of Zapata and pictures of Mexican saints cover the white stucco walls. Judiciously placed plastic flowers complement the colors in the art. All in all, it looks as if the decor has not changed in several decades.
With a bakery occupying one side of the building and a restaurant on the other, Joe's does a brisk business for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast items include fried pork chops, migas, huevos rancheros, a chorizo-and-egg plate, and of course, pancakes. Although the pork chop breakfast is nothing special -- a somewhat tough, deep-fried pork chop served with potatoes, egg, and beans -- the migas come chock-full of yummy little peppers, onions, eggs, and tomatoes all bound together with that mainstay of Tex-Mex cookery, yellow cheese. It is an altogether well-made miga. Lunch items consist of the standard enchiladas, carne guisada, and tamales, all heavily meated. In fact, unlike most places, at Joe's, chicken isn't even an option as a filling for enchiladas and tacos. It's beef or cheese or nothing.
My own order, the Barbacoa lunch, essentially consists of a generous mound of slow-cooked and shredded beef served with a side of rice and beans. Rolled in a tortilla, with a helping of Joe's spicy hot sauce, the Barbacoa lunch forms a perfectly delicious, if slightly greasy, mouthful. The tamale lunch is another winner. The plate comes with six homemade tamales smothered with a very flavorful chile con carne.
Oh ... and did I mention the rice and beans? With plenty of lard in the beans, and plenty of onions, peppers, and tomatoes cooked into the rice, I could make a meal of these alone. The perfect flavor of both these sides indicates that, unlike at some restaurants, somebody in the kitchen is tasting the food. For dessert, we stopped off at the bakery and bought some Mexican sugar cookies and an apple pastry. A sweet way to end a comforting meal. A word of caution, however: Joe's brand of Mexican is the heart-stopping variety: meaty, greasy, spicy, and full of flavor. If that's what you like your Mexican food to be, as I do, then eat at Joe's. It won't disappoint. -- Rachel Feit
Sign up for the Chronicle Cooking newsletter
If you want to submit a recipe, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org