Austin Landmarks on the Menu

Austin Landmarks on the Menu

El Patio

2938 Guadalupe, 476-5955, Monday-Saturday, 11am-9:30pm

It is impossible to walk into the El Patio dining room without feeling the comfortable, established quality of the place. The well-built wooden chairs are cheerfully scuffed, and the Formica tables haven't significantly changed position in decades. Signed photos of El Patio "celebrity" regulars, from Lady Bird Johnson to Walter Cronkite, are hung in the spaces not occupied by heroic murals of Pancho Villa. The bunkerlike stone building hearkens back to a time when air-conditioning was a novel luxury and a reason in itself to patronize an establishment.

Opened by Paul and Mary Ann Joseph in January 1954, El Patio has remained a single-location family business. Though Paul has passed away, Mary Ann is still involved in El Patio's day-to-day operations, along with her children Michelle, David, Roseann, and Renee. There's always a Joseph family member present in the dining room, and service is noticeably swift, thorough, and attentive.

There has been no unwarranted innovation in El Patio's classic Tex-Mex dinners. Tex-Mex at its purest is largely combinations and recombinations of a few basic ingredients – tortillas, jalapeños, beans, rice, seasoned ground meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes – and El Patio is nothing if not purist. Its signature dinners feature hand-rolled enchiladas; open-face, freshly puffed crispy tacos and chalupas; tamales; rice; and beans, and the price includes coffee or tea and a dessert of either sherbet or praline candy. In fact, the unchanged, 1950s-era cuisine is what keeps generations of staunch El Patio regulars coming back.

According to Tex-Mex authority Robb Walsh, "In the 1950s, Tex-Mex restaurants all over the state served saltines and hot sauce when you sat down at the table, usually with a bowl of butter." El Patio alone, of all Austin restaurants, preserved this Texas tradition and served their smooth, mild hot sauce with a sleeve of saltines and butter well into the 1990s – and you can still get them if you ask.

Sign up for the Chronicle Cooking newsletter

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

If you want to submit a recipe, send it to

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Kate Thornberry
The Year in Food
Top 10 Austin Food Blogs
The 2014 tastes we just couldn't stop thinking about

Jan. 2, 2015

Season's Eatings
Season's Eatings
Our guide to finally shutting up your in-laws

Dec. 5, 2014

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle