Second Helpings: Tex-Mex Restaurants

Chronicle writer Greg Beets on Austin's Mexican restuarants.


The weekly Chronicle feature "Second Helpings" offers readers the opportunity to sample tasty, bite-sized restaurant listings compiled from new and previous reviews, guides, and poll results. This week's entries were compiled by Greg Beets. When you need quick, reliable information about Austin eateries, check here.

Flores Mexican Restaurant

1310 RR 620 S., 263-9546

Mon-Fri, 11am-10pm; Sat-Sun, 9am-10pm

2700 W. Anderson, 302-5470

Mon-Sat, 10am-11pm; Sun, 10am-5pm

Fajitas are the star attraction at this family-run Tex-Mex operation. The well-seasoned grilled strips of skirt steak come with a heaping pile of toothsome grilled onions and rajas of poblano peppers. From the list of platillos especiales, try the pollo caliente, a marinated chicken breast covered with the wonderful grilled onions and a smoky blanket of chipotle sauce. Mariachi bands often frequent the restaurant, so call first if that isn't your cup of salsa.

Habanero Cafe

501 W. Oltorf, 416-0443

Sun-Mon, 7am-3pm; Tue-Sat, 7am-5pm

Fear not, fans of Dos Hermanos. The restaurant with the new name on the same site is actually a spin-off. In fact, the recipes, the friendly atmosphere, and kind service stay all in the family. New owner Arturo Ibarra is the son of one of the original brothers. Check out their weekday lunch specials ($4.95!).

El Mercado

1302 S. First, 447-7445

7414 Burnet, 454-2500

1702 Lavaca, 477-7689

Mon-Thu, 9am-10pm; Fri-Sat, 9am-11pm

In addition to excellent bargain margaritas, El Mercado does the enchilada, taco, rice, and beans routine with seasoned aplomb. They also offer fajitas, chimichangas, and tasty barbecue chicken and brisket enchiladas that allow you to hit two of Austin's three major food groups all at once. If you're looking for a break from Tex-Mex, try items like the tacos al pastor and fish tacos. El Mercado also serves breakfast.

El Nopalito

2809 S. First, 326-2026

Tue-Fri, 7am-3pm; Sat-Sun, 8am-2pm

The menu at El Nopalito offers plenty of affordable breakfast tacos and egg dishes, a few appetizers, and an inviting list of entrées. Hearty, flavorful menudo, the renowned Mexican hangover cure made with tripe and hominy in a spicy broth, is the specialty of the house on weekends. With cactus as a namesake, it makes sense the restaurant would serve nopales (cooked pieces of nopal cactus), which can be found paired with eggs and in tacos.

El Azteca

2600 E. Seventh, 477-4701

Mon-Thu, 11am-9pm; Fri & Sat, 11am-midnight

El Azteca's placemat menu is a Tex-Mex restaurant history lesson in itself. We begin with numbered combination dinners prepared with textbook perfection, but El Azteca was also one of the first Mexican eateries to add a large section "for our vegetarian customers and friends," in the early Seventies. As local restaurant patrons became more sophisticated, the Guerras added a few Interior Mexican dishes to the basic Tex-Mex fare. However, each dinner still includes a small, comforting scoop of sherbet or cinnamon-scented polvorone cookie, the traditional finale to any spicy Tex-Mex meal.

La Jolla

1817 S. Lamar, 445-5787

Mon-Thu, 11am-11pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-midnight

This new restaurant has taken over the spot formerly occupied by Baby Compadre's, but the concept is about the same. Margaritas are the star attraction, and La Jolla's menu has an entire page devoted to the beverage. The food (enchiladas, fajitas, gorditas, fish tacos, etc.) is plentiful, if not particularly flavorful. Their Tex-Mex combination plate and their mushroom enchilada plate were both way too bland for Texas palates. More attention to spice could go a long way.

Mexico Lindo Taqueria

1816 S. Lamar, 326-4395

Daily, 6am-10pm

Mexico Lindo's menu tilts more toward the "Mex" side of the Tex-Mex equation. Their $2.95 weekday breakfast specials include migas, huevos rancheros, and chorizo. The lunch/dinner menu has both traditional and vegetarian variations on the combination plate as well as barbacoa, lengua, caldo de res, and menudo. $4.95 weekday lunch specials (enchiladas, rellenos, quesadillas, carne guisada, to name a few) come with free iced tea.

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