Los Pinos

In Austin, it's a small world after all, but one with plenty of dining options

Los Pinos

4919 Hudson Bend Rd., 266-3231

Sunday-Thursday, 7am-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 7am-10pm

Margarito Maldonado worked with Mirabelle owner Michael Vilim at Brio Vista and Castle Hill. When Vilim opened his own restaurant, Maldonado was one of his first hires. For five years, Margarito Maldonado was the lunch chef at Mirabelle. But Margarito had always dreamed of starting his own restaurant. A year and a half ago, he found his opportunity and opened Los Pinos.

His choice of location – near Lake Travis' southern shoreline – makes Los Pinos something of a trek. It's worth it.

While the menu is full of Tex-Mex concoctions, there are a few surprises that reflect Maldonado's brush with Southwest cuisine and the food he made at Mirabelle.

Take their soups. The small bowls are $3.95, but one is plenty for one person. Big eaters can always spring for the $7.25 large bowl. Every day, he has tortilla soup that bears more than a passing resemblance to Dean Fearing's soup at the Mansion on Turtle Creek. The chicken soup with vegetables (what Maldonado himself was having one night when we were there late) is so chock-full of white meat and veggies that there's hardly any room for broth. Ditto for the beef soup with vegetables. We chose the pozole with pork and hominy. This will scare those of you used to lighter-style pozole. It's dense, rich, and full of both chorizo and hominy. The menudo came steaming and overflowing with tripe.

We also ordered queso fundido ($6.25), a version with less cheese and more meat and peppers than usual. The corn tortillas we ordered to accompany were handmade and hot off the skillet.

Our waitress, Matilde, made our drinks specially to order. The top-shelf rita ($7.95) was just as we asked: very light on the lime juice, no bar mix, and heavy on the tequila. The Mexican martini ($5.50) was served à la the Cedar Door, with a large shaker filled with about three drinks. Los Pinos limits the Mexican martini to two per customer, and they're right. It's a hammer. It's also so smooth and delicious, you don't notice them going down until it's too late.

We saw some carnitas ($9.95) going by and were sorely tempted, but Matilde recommended the Los Pinos Special Pork ($10.95), tender chunks of pork in the most delicious, tangy guajillo sauce, perked up with some tropical fruit flavors. Maldonando's cochinita pibil ($9.95) was as traditional a version as you would find in Mexico, steaming hot and fork tender.

The best dish of the night was Tilapia Borracho ($9.95). Tequila provided the drunken factor, but the sauce was what made the dish. Chipotles mixed with cream, corn, and mushrooms adorned the fish and sent me running for more fresh corn tortillas to scoop up the remaining sauce.

Service at Los Pinos was attentive, helpful, timely, and friendly. How often do you find that combination in Austin? Bottom line: worth a trip. – Wes Marshall

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