From 1997 until 2007, chef Iliana de la Vega operated El Naranjo restaurant in Oaxaca, Mexico, where she was internationally renowned for her sophisticated renditions of the cuisine of Southern Mexico. When political unrest made Oaxaca an untenable tourist destination, de la Vega and her husband closed the restaurant and moved to Austin. These days, the chef is a specialist in Mexican cuisine on the faculty at the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio and the proprietor of a chic food trailer in the newly hip Rainey Street neighborhood. Mexican cuisine in Central Texas is undoubtedly better because of the move.
The food at El Naranjo is simply remarkable – fresh, flavorful, and authentic. The chunky guacamole appetizer ($6) comes with freshly fried tortilla chips and makes a perfect complement to any of the tacos or tostadas on the menu. Molotes (three for $4.25) are dainty little fried masa cigars filled with either chorizo and potatoes or black beans and cheese. Dip them in the tangy house salsa verde for a genuine taste treat. Dinner entrées are hearty – opt for soft tacos or crisp tostadas (two for $4.50) with several choices of fillings. The shredded chicken tinga in salsa verde is divine, but the cochinita pibil was overwhelmed by vinegar. Be sure to consider the daily dinner specials. We were transported by tacos de camarones (two for $6.75), plump shrimp in a juicy taco with chipotle cream sauce and a toothsome cabbage slaw spiked with shards of fiery chile de arbol. I can't wait to go back for soups, mole, and tacos al carbon. See you there.
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