Restaurant Review: Texican Cafe

Recognizing a long-overlooked far-South gem

Texican Cafe

11940 Manchaca Rd., 282-9094

Monday-Thursday, 11am-9:30pm; Friday, 11am-10pm; Saturday, 9am-10pm; Sunday, 9am-9:30pm

11066 Pecan Park Blvd. (Lakeline Plaza), 506-9900

Monday-Saturday, 11am-10pm; Sunday, 11am-9pm

Open since 1988, the Texican, near the far end of Manchaca, specializes in what they call "El Paso-style Tex-Mex." This means a full menu of border cuisine utilizing the flavors of West Texas and southern New Mexico. Whatever the label used, the Texican is easily the most popular South Austin Tex-Mex venue, and you'll be hard-pressed to avoid a wait for a table. Strangely, it's also a restaurant that most Austinites know little about.

The Texican is on our short list of regular dining spots, and over time we've developed a long file of favorite dishes. For years it was the Santa Fe Enchiladas ($7.50), a stacked version smothered in an authentic Chimayo-style red-chile sauce, topped with cheese and fried egg. Then we discovered the Carne Colorado ($8.50), luscious pork tips in the same sauce.

We stumbled across their Tacos al Carbon ($8.25), smoky seared strips of tender sirloin in flour tortillas. Not long after we tried their Tamales ($7.50), an excellent sauce and cheese-topped version that boasts rich flavor with an uncommon lightness to the masa. A few weeks ago it was the San Antonio Enchiladas ($7.50), two cheese enchiladas topped with their succulent carne guisada and chile con queso.

Lately we always begin the meal with Con Queso Maya ($5.95), a large bowl of unctuous chile con queso, with the addition of spicy taco meat and guacamole (all three delicious on their own, but incomparable as a combo). Before that we were stuck on the Queso Flameado ($5.95), a molten mixture of Mexican white cheeses and chorizo, served bubbling on a cast-iron platter.

Last week we dined on the Steak Fabian ($14.95), a tender charred rib eye topped with grilled whole serrano chiles (more of those, please) and onions, and the Beef Fajitas ($9.95), a sizzling platter of authentically spiced meat that melted in the mouth (a tad heavy on the bell peppers ... we'll request fewer next time, with some serranos). We also had the Fajita Gordita ($9.25) made with chicken fajita meat (superb), but we were disappointed in the dense, precooked gordita shell. The same meal also tempted us with a slab of Heavenly 7 Chocolate Cake ($4.50), which wasn't made in-house but tasted fine. Our only complaint was that it came garnished with honey, which didn't match well with the chocolate; might we suggest cajeta, instead? Just as simple, but a better match and much more authentic.

The Texican sports a full bar that shakes and blends an excellent margarita (available also in multiple top-shelf versions), which comes in sizes up to the jumbo carafe. They carry a full line of Mexican beers, and have Dos XX on tap. The salsa is superb, and the oft-replenished chips warm and crisp. Plates are huge, and most of them come with exemplary beans, Mexican rice, and pico de gallo.

If we could make one recommendation, it would be to have the host staff make a concerted effort to keep the tables with loud screaming children in one of the large dining rooms while seating childless, quieter diners like us in the other. Lately it seems like many of our trips there have been marred by adjacent families that choose to ignore their high-decibel children. Note to the parents: Your kids are not cute when they start to "act up" and ruin neighbors' meals!

Obnoxious spawn of the breeders aside, the Texican is a rock-solid choice for dependable and delicious Tex-Mex in far South Austin, and has been for many years. Prices are reasonable, especially when one considers the size of the portions and the high quality of the food.

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