Food Set

Ruben Rodriguez
Ruben Rodriguez (Photo By John Anderson)

Evita's Botanitas

Ruben Rodriguez is the chef/owner and hot sauce maker at this popular little South Austin family restaurant. A native of Guanajuato, Mexico, Rodriguez has worked in restaurants most of his adult life and he's been his own boss at Botanitas for more than nine years. In the front window of his joint, Ruben proudly displays all the awards his hard work and creativity have garnered: multiple wins in the Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival; both Readers and Critics poll choices in the annual Best of Austin and Restaurant Poll voting; a designation as one of the 75 Best Mexican Restaurants in Texas by Texas Monthly. Not bad for a little family neighborhood restaurant.

Legions of loyal Botanitas fans will tell you they go back time after time for the stellar variety of table salsas Ruben Rodriguez creates fresh every day. The first thing to arrive at your table will be a wooden carrier loaded with a basket of crisp, hot chips and six small bowls of Ruben's excellent signature salsas. Some swear by the salsa verde, tangy with tomatillo, onion, and cilantro, while others dip immediately into the luxuriantly creamy black bean puréed with peppers and sour cream. My personal favorite is the utterly addictive roasted-pepper variety, thick with roasted poblanos, tomato, and onion. Each bowl features sauce with a distinct personality and flavor profile and they're all wonderful.

This time of year, Ruben is hard at work in his steamy kitchen, surrounded by fresh peppers, tomatoes, onions, herbs, and other comestibles, testing the best red and green concoctions for his annual festival entries. "I enter two reds and two greens, just to see how they'll do. One year, the black bean placed in special variety and the roasted pepper has done okay, too," he recalls with a smile. This year, as almost every year since the festival's inception, Botanitas will be a contestant in the restaurant category and the Rodriguez family will be busy in a food booth, selling some delicious items from their menu to the hungry hordes of hot sauce revelers.

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