Mercedes Martinez Restaurant & Bar

It's All in the Latitude

Mercedes Martinez Restaurant & Bar
Mercedes Martinez Restaurant & Bar (Photo By John Anderson)

Mercedes Martinez Restaurant & Bar

1703 S. First, 440-1889

Mon-Thu, 11am-10pm; Fri, 11am-11pm; Sat, 8am-11pm; Sun, 8am-10pm

Mercedes Martinez, a sprawling eatery named for its owner's grandmother, is somewhat hidden at the back of a parking lot adjacent to landmark Austin music venue Jovita's Cantina. A relatively new entry to the South First Mexican food scene, the year-or-so-old restaurant seems to do its biggest business weekday mornings, when cars line up bumper-to-bumper to cop the breakfast taco specials served from 6:30-10:30am. Thus begins the day for this family-friendly restaurant, open continually until well after dark. Mercedes Martinez serves lunch and dinner in addition to breakfast tacos, of course, and mixes a tart margarita that tastes good at just about any hour. The interior of the place is not completely without charm, although I recommend asking for a table outdoors on the sprawling deck with its magnificent twisting, turning live oak tree.

Order a drink and a basket of chips while you scan the lengthy menu that offers both traditional Tex-Mex favorites and some more creative, upscale approaches to standard Tex-Mex fare. Mercedes Martinez's chef is originally from Mexico City, but his restaurant training is pretty classic Austin Tex-Mex. He has put in more than 25 years in some of the city's favorite kitchens (Trudy's, El Arroyo) before breaking out on his own at MM. Hotheads will appreciate MM's salsa. There's nothing subtle about the stuff. It's hot. It's oniony. And oddly, it's seasoned liberally with cracked black pepper.

The restaurant's menu fills four pages, with standard appetizers like chile con queso ($3.95, small; $4.95, large), stuffed jalapeños (their version comes deep-fried), and nachos and quesadillas offered as openers. The Tex-Mex Crab Rolls, a special recipe created by the chef, marks a departure from the appetizer norm, and the dinner menu similarly lists well-known favorites and some pretty racy, newfangled fare.

The "Dinner Menu" (as opposed to the "Mucho Dinner Menu") features burritos, a chile relleno, fajitas, and a couple of steaks in addition to the tasty Tequila Chicken Breast that comes coated with fresh cilantro, green onions, and mushrooms flambeéd in a spicy tequila. The "Mucho Dinner Menu" details Santa Fe enchiladas ($6.95), an open-faced stack of blue corn tortillas layered with pork or chicken and topped with a fried egg for an extra protein kick. The seafood enchiladas ($6.95) are supposedly the chef's favorite, but there are several other seafood/fish entries, like the Fresh Tuna Steak ($6.95) with cilantro, mushrooms, and green onions, and the Shrimp Caliente ($8.95), in a seductively smoky chipotle sauce. Mercedes Martinez also does a Tex-Mex take on the basic burger, topping 6 oz. of beef, chicken or veggie patty with cheese and poblano peppers.

There's plenty of tasting to be done at Mercedes Martinez, and one of the best things about this modest place is that the waitstaff won't try to chase you off if you come in for happy hour, settle in for dinner, and then decide to stay for a little live music and more eating.

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