Garibaldi's Mexican Restaurant

Garibaldi's is my idea of a great neighborhood restaurant

Garibaldi's Mexican Restaurant

4201 S. Congress, 326-9788

Monday-Thursday, 8am-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 8am-11pm; Sunday, 9am-8pm

Garibaldi's is my idea of a great neighborhood restaurant: The menu is vast; the prices are modest; the hours are long; the cooking is adept; and the ambience is calm, welcoming, and unpretentious. I only wish it were in my neighborhood.

Named for Mexico City's famed Plaza Garibaldi, home to many restaurants and strolling musicians, this South Austin restaurant serves Mexico City-style food, in other words, a selection of dishes from the country's various regions and a fillip of Continental sensibility. Chef/owner Carmen Sims deftly offers Austin the food of her native city, adding just a couple of Tex-Mex touches for good measure.

You can start the day with one of Garibaldi's 12 breakfast items, most for less than five dollars. If breakfast doesn't exactly mean morning to you, no problem; for a dollar extra after noon, breakfast items can be had all day. Migas ($5.75) are one of my benchmarks for judging a restaurant, and the Garibaldi's version passes muster: a generous portion of fluffy eggs laced with plenty of cheese, tomato, jalapeno, with hot, freshly made tortillas. The Menudo ($4.95) is thick with tripe, and I recommend going for the optional (and free) addition of posole; it makes a nice foil for the spicy, slightly fatty broth.

While you can order anything from the dinner menu at lunchtime, there's a lunch special menu till 2pm (all items under $6) that includes various enchiladas and tacos, as well as some rib-sticking potato quesadillos. I love the Gorditas ($5.95 for two), hefty deep-fried puffs of masa stuffed with shredded chicken or beef.

I scarcely know where to start with the dinner menu. I've eaten there frequently and feel like I've barely made a dent in the offerings. The Chili Relleno ($8.95) is about the best I've had in Austin: a plump poblano pepper filled with tender beef, fried in a light egg batter, and bathed in melted cheese and ranchero salsa with raisins and pecans. Yum. Same goes for the Yucatecan-style Cochinita Pibil ($7.95), succulent pork shredded in adobo sauce, steamed in a banana leaf and served with rice and sweet plantains. The unusual AlambresÊHawaianos ($8.75) are quite wonderful – strips of sizzling pork mixed with bits of sausage, bacon, onion, green pepper, and pineapple.

Fellow Chronicle Food writer Claudia Alarcón tells me the Albondigas ($7.50) I like so much are just like those she grew up eating in her Mexico City neighborhood. Two big fat beef meatballs braised in a thick, spicy tomato and chipotle sauce. I also hear the Lamb Birria ($5.75) is exceptional, but I haven't gotten to that yet. There are numerous variations of fish and shrimp dishes; my Sautéed Tilapia in Achiote and Onion Sauce ($11.95) was fresh, light, and generously portioned. Almost every dish is accompanied by nicely prepared rice, a choice of beans (choose borrachos), fresh salsa, and excellent house-made tortillas. Mexican beers, margaritas, basic wine, and several flavors of sweet aguas frescas are available.

If I have any complaint about Garibaldi's, it's that sometimes the service can be a bit haphazard and slow. That said, I can't understand why this place isn't packed all of the time. The food is that good. Check it out, even if it isn't in your neighborhood.

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Carmen Sims, Garibaldi's Mexican Restaurant

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