Texicalli Grille

Rachel Feit writes that "sandwiches are Texicalli Grille's real specialty." Read on to see if they live up to the legend.

Texicalli Grille

534 E. Oltorf, 442-2799, 442-4258

Monday-Saturday, 10am-9pm; delivery available from 5-10pm

There are some restaurants that never lose their appeal. Year after year they manage to weather sea changes in the economy, food fashion, and neighborhood transformation. Through it all, they never lose sight of the essential things that really define them. The Texicalli Grille is one of those places. This South Austin joint is just so, well, South Austin. With concert fliers covering the walls from floor to ceiling, kitschy dolls, flags and various other curios, the clutter of Texicalli Grille feels a lot like a teenager's bedroom. Tables are jammed into the tiny space in almost no discernable pattern. Loud roots music keeps the staff and the customers humming. But after 21 years in the business, Texicalli Grille is no adolescent in the Austin dining scene. Its core clientele, formed of local musicians, politicians, film people, and just plain folk of all ages are fiercely loyal to the little cafe.

Regulars crave their crispy waffle fries, or their homemade onion rings, served alongside one of the Grille's chubby burgers. Still others return for the fried sweet potatoes and tangy orange sauce. But sandwiches are Texicalli Grille's real specialty, each one named to reflect a unique personality. Texicalli's menu offers 15 different varieties. In both half and whole sizes, Texcialli Grille's sandwiches are buxom and baroque, bursting out of their bread, and spilling onto the plate. Grilled meats, crispy grilled bread, melted cheese, and plenty of mustard and mayo propel them above the common type.

Sandwiches like the Greggie ($7.65/$5.75) -- a clever arrangement of Canadian bacon, avocado, Swiss, sprouts, and a creamy sauce on a French roll -- are salty and spicy, meaty and creamy. Then there's the Texicalli ($7.45/$5.60) -- with thinly sliced grilled steak, sautéed mushrooms, onions, jack cheese, and jalapeños -- or the Stromboli ($6.15/$4.65), with roast beef, green peppers, onions, and cheddar. Both are hearty, juicy, and satisfying in that made-in-America sort of way.

Another popular sandwich is the Don Cornello ($7.65/$5.75), a seemingly mouthwatering amalgam of thinly sliced grilled pork, pickled onions and cabbage, tangy mayo, and provolone. In my experience, though, this sandwich tastes better on paper than it does in reality. The version that I ate featured dry, chewy meat that badly needed salting. The promised mayo was AWOL, and the pickled cabbage and onions lacked the requisite kick to enliven the whole ensemble. The chicken-fried steak ($8.55) also fell short of expectations. Though it arrived at the table fresh out of the fryer, it could have used a little extra spicing, both on the meat and in the gravy. If the Texicalli Grille falters in certain areas, however, it compensates for it in charm. The cosmic cowboy effect of Texicalli evokes a younger, less-mannered Austin. And in a business that quickly wearies of even its own inventiveness, it's comforting to know that some places will always seem young.

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