The Other Restaurant Row

South shore eateries, markets help make a neighborhood

Time was when the stretch of East Riverside Drive from I-35 to Pleasant Valley Road was fairly nondescript, the gateway to seemingly hundreds of cookie-cutter stamped apartment complexes housing thousands of college students. The street was lined with fast-food joints, pizza parlors, coin laundries, and other small businesses that catered to the ever-changing student clientele. Neighborhood entertainment consisted of a music venue known as the Back Room, a disco called the South Door, and a run-down, two-screen movie theatre that played the Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight on weekends. The only decent meal to be had close by was served at the original Casita Jorge's on Elmont. It was a bland and soulless part of town, probably because few people lived there long enough to make it a neighborhood with some actual flavor.

Fast forward to today, and a drive along the south shore of Lake Austin reveals a completely different atmosphere. Relocation of the airport to nearby Bergstrom has increased traffic and development on East Riverside all the way to Highway 71. Due to the added traffic, most national and regional fast-food outlets are well-represented, and some of the same businesses are still there. The hills above Riverside Drive are still covered with endless apartment and condos full of students. Movie theatres are a casualty along here, with the original movie theater (and two more) now gone. However, the venerable Back Room continues to crank out the hits, and the old South Door now houses a busy conjunto polka bar. Club Latino is the busiest nightclub above the shore, packing in the dancers on weekends, and there are good, cheap homestyle meals in little ethnic restaurants all along Riverside. In fact, due in part to an influx of Mexican and Asian immigrants, the south shore is now a real neighborhood with families, locally owned independent businesses, plenty of nightlife, and a style all its own.

Over the past couple of years, members of the food staff would mention or review restaurants they'd discovered along the south shore, and it got me thinking about restaurant development in the area. Research revealed a vibrant, active ethnic restaurant row with good Chinese buffets and takeout plus a bounty of interior Mexican cooking, very affordable and muy casera, just good home cooking. Mick Vann, Rebecca Chastenet de Géry, Rachel Feit, MM Pack, and I encourage you to check out the South Shore Restaurant Row; you won't be disappointed.

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