Doña Emilia's

Chronicle Food writer MM Pack makes it clear that while you might not be in and out of Doña Emilia's family-style Colombian restaurant in a hurry, it's definitely worth the wait.

Photo By John Anderson

Doña Emilia's

1411 E. Seventh, 478-2520

Tuesday-Friday 11am-3pm, 5-9pm; Saturday 11am-9pm; Sunday noon-6pm

Austin has never lacked for family-style neighborhood restaurants serving food from south of the border. However, with a few late, lamented exceptions, our food choices from cuisines farther south than Mexico have been about slim to none. In this past year, that situation has begun to change with the opening of Sampaio Brazilian restaurant and Doña Emilia's Colombian restaurant. Of the latter, a colleague from Bogotá says that it's the answer to her prayers: Now she can get homestyle Colombian cooking without having to make it herself. Apparently, word is spreading, and there are many others who share the enthusiasm. The place gets busier every time I visit, with weekday lunchtime becoming especially popular.

Located on the corner of East Seventh and Onion, right across from the recently renovated Texas State Cemetery, Doña Emilia's is hard to miss -- it's the electric-tangerine stucco building with bright blue, yellow, and pink stripes. The neon palette continues in the airy interior, harmonizing nicely with the simple blond, wooden furniture. Regarding the other kind of palate, the menu at Doña Emilia's is simple, tasty, and very reasonably priced. This is not a highly spiced cuisine, so don't expect a lot of heat, but do expect some interesting flavor combinations. You can make a meal from the selection of antojitos (appetizers) alone, some of which (like the crusty little empanada and slices of fried yucca) are recognizable cousins to snacks from other Latin American and Caribbean cuisines. Don't miss the papa rellena, a crisp ball of deep-fried mashed potatoes surrounding a core of ground beef. Another winner is aborrajado, a happy marriage of sweet, ripe plaintains and mozzarella, battered and deep-fried.

Several main dishes fall into two camps: slow-cooked stews, like chicken and brisket, and grilled or fried meats, such as breaded pork loin and grilled beef steak. However, my favorite is a Tamal Valluno from southwestern Colombia, a luscious, corpulent pocket of fluffy masa wrapped around tender chunks of pork or chicken, potatoes, and peas, simmered in a banana-leaf wrapper. Ajiaco is a thick, Bogotá-style soup containing shredded chicken, potatoes, and corn, garnished with avocado and capers. All entrée portions are huge, and come with one to three side dishes. Believe me, you won't go away hungry. Especially since Doña Emilia's serves three simple desserts, as well, including a nicely prepared rice pudding and flan. The showstopper is brevas con queso, caramelized figs filled with a mildly tart, creamy cheese, a perfect punctuation to a filling meal.

Although the waitstaff is eager to please and quick to explain the dishes on the menu, service can sometimes be on the casual side, and dishes can be slow coming out of the kitchen. Don't expect to be in and out of Doña Emilia's in a hurry, but rest assured that the handmade, satisfying food is definitely worth a wait.

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