Proof that Mexican home cooking is alive and well in far South Austin
Reviewed by Claudia Alarcón, Fri., Jan. 21, 2005
1025 W. Stassney #103, 707-1207
Monday, Wednesday-Saturday, 7:30am-8pm; Tuesday, 7:30am-3pm; Sunday, 9am-3pm
When we were kids, my mother always made her salsa in the stone molcajete. She would roast the tomatoes, garlic, and chiles and then pound them in the molcajete to make a nice, chunky salsa, and she would bring it to the table still warm. At Cilantro's, the salsa comes to the table in little plastic molcajetes rather than stone ones, but it is nevertheless warm and chunky, and absolutely delicious. Proof that Mexican home cooking is alive and well in far South Austin.
A native of Northern Mexico, owner Marisa Santos lived in Mexico City for 17 years in, of all places, my neighborhood. Her cooking reflects a little bit of both regions, with border classics like fajitas and interior dishes that are not commonly found in restaurants but more often in the homes of Mexican families. Since Cilantro's only has seven tables, and Mrs. Santos personally takes care of the service, this creates a homey atmosphere that matches the food perfectly.
The menu is small but has plenty of enticing options. Cilantro's doesn't sell beer, but Mrs. Santos gladly allowed us to BYOB from the convenience store next door. Also, she has plenty of Mexican sodas to enjoy with dinner. We started with the Queso en Salsa ($4.95), a refreshing change from the beloved processed Velveeta version. Melted Monterey jack cheese is blended with plenty of that wonderful salsa and served with your choice of corn or flour tortillas. It was gone from our table in a matter of seconds. For the entrées we chose the Enchiladas Verdes Plate ($6.75). Mrs. Santos graciously suggested that we could try three different fillings. We chose cheese, mushrooms, and spinach. The enchiladas were covered but not smothered in cheese, so we were able to fully taste the tangy and wonderful salsa verde. She recommended Pescado al Mojo de Ajo ($7.95), two lightly battered fillets of white fish topped with lots of crispy bits of fried garlic served over rice, with a small side of salad and the best homemade tartar sauce. Though I'm not a big fan of fajitas, the Beef Fajita Plate ($6.95) was good and the meat properly seasoned with lots of sautéed onions.
But the winner for me was the Tacos Doblados ($6.25), three slightly fried corn tortillas folded in half, filled with a mixture of shredded chicken, mashed avocado, and sour cream, served with rice, a small salad, and a pickled jalapeño. This dish is the best example of the homey nature of Cilantro's cooking. With every bite, I was transported back to Mexico City and my parents' house for supper. I went back two days later and took home an order for dinner.
There are few dessert options at Cilantro's. While sopapillas have never been my cup of tea, I am a flan addict, and the dense homemade Flan Napolitano ($2.25) was one of the best I have had in Austin. I am very glad I live only five minutes away from Cilantro's. It will become my favorite dining destination in the neighborhood, and I can't wait to try their breakfast.