Austin is the capital of Texas. It might also be the capital for great Mexican cuisine. In Austin, you’ll find everything from Authentic Mexican food and Tex-Mex to Modern Mexican and fusion. Here’s the list of our favorite spots to get tacos, fajitas, margaritas, enchiladas and so much more in a resturant setting.
Habanero is the place to go if you’re looking for actually authentic Mexican food. Austin residents originally from The Valley or El Paso will remember their Abuelas fondly with every bite. The portions at Habanero are large, cheap, and delicious. Therefore, it’s usually packed. But the breakfast tacos at this no-frills spot are worth the wait, as are the gorditas (explained to gringos as “Mexican hamburgers”).
Habanero is family owned and has been in Austin for 18 years. Some servers have been there almost as long; they’re super welcoming and friendly. Habanero is cash only and closes at 3 pm during the week, but their generous lunch specials mean you’ll definitely have enough dough.
Fonda San Miguel
Fonda San Miguel is the spot for more upscale traditional Mexican food from the interior. A true Austin institution, they celebrated 40 years in North Loop back in 2015.
Fonda gets major points for ambiance. The walls are full of folk art and cool decorations. The hacienda-style restaurant is grand and spacious and has an Old World Mexican vibe. For dinner, don’t miss out on the blue corn masa huaraches and duck enchiladas. They offer unlimited guac, plus homemade flour AND corn tortillas. Service is professional and personable, even when they’re slammed.
Where Fonda San Miguel really shines, though, is brunch. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays, they offer the best brunch in Austin. Think high-end buffet. They offer a wide selection of dishes including mole, cochinita pibil, ceviche, a variety of ensaladas, and an entire table dedicated to desserts. At $38.95 a head (plus drinks), brunch is definitely worth treating yourself. Heads up – they don’t do online reservations on Sundays, so you’ll have to call to snag a spot. In fact, be sure to make a res any time you try to dine at Fonda San Miguel.
This modern Mexican spot downtown was nominated for a James Beard award in 2013. Their food continues to be tasty, and their ever-evolving cocktails are worth a visit for happy hour (half priced bar snacks!). La Condesa is all about a modern take on traditional street food from Mexico City in a hip setting. The bar is beautiful and perfect for sipping on mezcal and enjoying their samplers of guacamole and salsa. Dine on the patio for some great people watching in the heart of downtown. This is a great place to take out-of-town visitors for margs.
Chuy’s is as Tex-Mex as Tex-Mex gets. Its mix of funky decor, laid back vibes, and good food is classic Austin. They’ve been around since 1982 and have since expanded to two other locations around the city. But our favorite is still the original, located on Barton Springs. It has a great outdoor space and provides a fun and energetic atmosphere.
Crowd favorites include the Chicka-Chika Boom-Boom Enchilada and The Elvis Presley Memorial Combo. Everything has a little bit of a kick, not enough for the spice lovers and almost too much for those who pass on hot sauce. Their portions are huge and all entrees are around $10. Expect a wait, but it’s no sweat when you can hang out at their nacho bar and help yourself to chips, salsa and drinks. Speaking of chips, they have bomb jalapeño ranch and hatch green chili salsa.
Matt’s El Rancho
Matt’s El Rancho is LEGEN… wait for it…
They’ve been serving up authentic Tex-Mex for over 60 years. Family friendly, yet elegant, Matt’s El Rancho is welcoming and satisfying. Opened by Matt Martinez in 1952, the business has been run by the Martinez family since.
The most famous dish is the Bob Armstrong Dip: queso with chili and guac and sour cream. It’s the stuff dreams are made of. And don’t sleep on the fajitas (we recommend the combo!) or the chile rellenos. They even have good veggie options for non-meat eaters. Their classic margaritas are lowkey but delish and the space is huge – we suggest sitting on the patio on a warm evening and enjoying the mariachi band.
El Alma Cafe
photo credit to Yelp user Katie O.
Two words: rooftop margaritas. El Alma is the perfect place to enjoy great Mexican food al fresco before or after a dip in Barton Springs. Their happy hour is not only killer tasty, it’s also cheap. They have $4 cervezas, $5 sangría, $6 classic margaritas $7 margarita chilangas and
discounts on select appetizers every day from 3-6pm. Enjoy an early dinner on the roof to see the sun set against the downtown skyline. The space inside is small and intimate, decorated with bright art. Their duck enchiladas in pasilla mole with almonds is fantastic, as is their queso fundido.
photo credit to Yelp user Paul L.
Licha’s is famous for it’s 4-6pm happy hour. They have tequila, mezcal and rum cocktails available as well as quesadillas, sopecitos, huaraches and verduras all for only $5!! These are best enjoyed on their bright and festively decorated outdoor area (Licha’s is housed in a cute cottage). Don’t be fooled by the low prices during happy hour, the food at Licha’s is good. Named after the owner’s mother, Licha’s retains its authenticity with blue corn huitlacoche quesadillas, legua sopecitos, and bone marrow huaraches. Try the Camote, a roasted sweet potato dish with, goat cheese, a piloncillo-chipotle sauce and pumpkin seeds for a totally vegetarian but filling appetizer.
Juan in a Million
Juan in a Million is a longstanding Austin fave for when you’re craving Mexican for breakfast. A visit entails standing in a long line, but the food is cheap and tasty and the portions are huge. The Don Juan is the most famous dish – a steaming plate of eggs, bacon, potatoes and cheese piled on tortillas that could easily feed at least two people. It’s an especially killer cure for hangovers. If you’re lucky, Juan himself will be there to greet you with a smile and a handshake.
Eldorado Cafe is a new favorite dishing up warm, hearty, comfort food. The service is hospitable, the ambiance is hip, and the food is exactly what you want when you visit: a fresh balance of inventive and traditional.
They have a spectacular salsa sampler where you can taste five salsas for just $5.95, including a yummy Avocado citrus salsa and a very spicy one called The Scorpio – beware, they are not joking about the heat! The Shiny Ribs, pork ribs with a Chinese and Mexican fusion of sweet arbol chile glaze, are an absolute must. The breakfast tacos are also superb, and conveniently they serve breakfast until 3pm on weekends.
Eldorado is always busy, but it never feels hectic. They don’t take reservations, but they do have a great lounge area where you can enjoy a drink while waiting for a table. Lots of gluten-free and veggie options, too!
Polvos earns a place on the list as much for the experience of dining there as the food itself. Another Tex-Mex joint, Polvos provides a great atmosphere in which to enjoy a margarita with a group of friends, especially if you’re visiting Austin. They have an entire salsa bar where you can load up on as much salsa as your stomach can handle. Save some room for the enchiladas de la casa al pastor, or for their combo fajitas, which are served with a stack of mixed flour and corn tortillas. It’s a great place to kick off a weekend with your friends before heading to happy hour on dirty sixth.
Suerte is brand new – it opened March 22nd – but it is already getting rave reviews. From executive chef Fermin Nuñez and owner Sam Helmann-Mass (of Odd Duck and Barley Swine fame), comes a restaurant devoted to fresh, house-made masa, which is dough made from hominy or finely ground corn kernels. The menu is simply organized into “Snackcidents,” “Frio & Raw,” Vitamina T (dishes that start with the letter T), vegetables, and specialties, including oak grilled dorade and confit brisket.
The space itself is also downright beautiful. Suerte is only open for dinner – from 5pm to 10pm Sunday through Wednesday and 5pm to 11pm Thursday through Saturday. We highly recommend snagging a reservation for your next date night. It’s modern Mexican done right.