Traditional and Modern Mexican Fare in Austin, Texas
KP and I spent New Year’s Eve eve in Austin, preparing for our move there later this month. I was excited to get there and explore the city a little bit, see some neighborhoods and get a sense of where we might want to live. But let’s be honest, I was also excited to check out the food scene. I was wowed by Odd Duck on my last visit and promptly did my research for where we could enjoy dinner on our baby-free night in our soon-to-be new home. La Condesa won for dinner and for lunch we decided to wing it and ended up at Serranos Especial.
Austin didn’t exactly welcome us with the weather we were looking for, having come from cold, gray Chicago. It was equally cold (maybe not equally, but still cold) and gray in Austin, too. And drizzly. Soup weather. When in Texas, there’s only one kind of soup to eat — in my opinion — tortilla soup.
We were slightly strapped for time for lunch, as we had a date with our realtor that afternoon. So I scoured Yelp for the closest acceptable Mexican spot near our hotel. Serranos Especial seemed decent (three stars from Yelp, which I take with a grain of salt) but more importantly, it was really close to our hotel. Sold.
Since KP and I already knew we wanted tortilla soup, there was no lingering over the menu. We foolishly ordered “large” soups, thinking, “it’s just soup.” Well, it was “just soup” for a family of… four? This pic doesn’t do it justice, but the bowl was huge. I liken it to one of the serving bowls we use for dinner at home.
The soup was loaded with carrots, celery, tortilla strips, shredded chicken, what seemed like a whole avocado (not complaining) and a hunk of an ear of corn. It was loaded. It was hot. And it was delicious. So maybe ordering a large wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
The interior of Serranos Especial feels like a traditional Mexican restaurant, and there’s a huge patio which I’m sure is just lovely in the spring. Although, I’d have to be super careful if I were to return and sit outside to enjoy a margarita (or three) — the patio is made of uneven slabs of stone. Tricky for klutzes like me.
We finished with our realtor earlier than expected, and our dinner reservation at La Condesa wasn’t until 8:00. So we did what you do when you visit Austin. We went to Sixth Street and bellied up to the bar at Darwin’s Pub. I really like that place. It was so casual and comfortable and the staff was really friendly. Although, as I quickly learned, that’s how most people in Austin are. I don’t think I’m a Sixth Street kind of gal, but I’d go back to Darwin’s.
Onto dinner… I anticipated a delicious dinner even more so after telling a few people where we were going and getting lots of, “oh I love that place” in response. We arrived much earlier than our reservation but it was full, so we went to the bar upstairs and enjoyed a Margarita La Condesa — cazadores blanco, damiana, pineapple juice, agave nectar, lime juice, cactus-lemongrass salt rim. I think I’m going to become a margarita drinker if they’re all that good. While we were upstairs in the open bar area, we had a chance to scope out the cool decor throughout the restaurant, especially the interesting lighting. It was unique in each room and each piece was cooler than the next.
La Condesa is more than just a trendy scene with neat lights. The food — shared plates — is solid. Our server steered us in the right direction in terms of how much food to order for two people. Would you believe it if I said the ejotes (grilled Texas green beans, garlic, epazote) was my favorite dish? Green beans. But they were so good. I’ve since tried to recreate at home, to no avail. The other standout was dessert. I hardly ever order dessert but it was a special occasion — New Year’s Eve eve, baby-free and our first dinner in what will soon be our new home. So we splurged and shared the dulce de leche cake and as I said to our server, it was without a doubt the best dessert I’ve ever had in my life. Cream cheese ice-cream. Need I say more?
Once we arrive in Austin, finding a gym will be a priority if we’re going to be eating like this!