As Austin continues to be gentrified, it can be hard to know which restaurants are true mainstays. Check out this guide for some ethical eats!
Story by Julia O’Hanlon
Photos by Emma Hollingsworth
Mexican food is the universal Texan comfort food. Something about the generous spice, creamy cheese and perfectly seasoned meats makes a Texan feel at home. However, in a town as gentrified as Austin, it can be hard to find authentic Mexican food. It is vital that Austinites support businesses owned and operated by Latinx owners in order to combat gentrification. Below are a few fantastic, authentic restaurants that serve some damn good Mexican food. Get your fix and feel good about it too!
El Secreto de La Abuela
817 Airport Blvd, 78702
Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Just by looking at the outside of El Secreto de La Abuela, passersby know it is going be a good experience. The bright orange building, adorned with handcrafted drawings to celebrate the season, invites customers in to a self-seating restaurant. The booths are cozy and large, as if an invisible abuela is inviting more friends over to eat. The clientele ranges from families enjoying an early dinner, to students taking a break from campus, to workers getting off for the day, creating the illusion of a large family reunion.
Thick, well-salted tortilla chips are served with a spicy salsa roja and a slightly tart tomatillo salsa. The intention this restaurant takes is evident even in the free starter they provide. Their chile relleno, a Tex-Mex classic, is what really knocks this meal out of the park. Served with Spanish rice and creamy refried black beans, this chile relleno is perfectly fried and smothered in salsa. Neither soggy nor overly crispy, this dish balances the heat of the poblano pepper and the well-seasoned, pulled chicken inside. It’s satisfying without feeling heavy post-dining.
Guests pay at a counter at the front of the restaurant, peeking in to the kitchen to watch the family affair. The joy ruminating in the back of the house permeates into the food, making El Secreto de La Abuela one of the best Mexican restaurants in Austin.
1210 E. Cesar Chavez St, 78702
Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.
Las Trancas is easy to miss if one’s not looking for it. In a white trailer next to a covered porch area, the restaurant is inconspicuous and blends in with its surroundings near Interstate-35. However, walking up to the truck after parking on the nearby neighborhood streets, guests can feel the food truck’s radiating energy. It’s warm from the cooking meats and it smells of traditional Mexican spices and peppers.
Las Trancas’ speciality is tacos - a Mexican classic. Their tacos al pastor are served on two thin, fresh corn tortillas with fragrant onions and cilantro. The al pastor meat is bright red and moist, showing the intention and hours that went into its cooking. The tacos are not served with pineapple, and because of that, there is no sweet note to the taco. However, there are copious salsas to put on the taco. The tomatillo pairs well with the pastor and provides a spicy yet bitter tang to the taco. The tacos are small, so be sure to order two or three for a full meal. They are meant to be enjoyed in a white styrofoam tray wrapped in tin foil on their covered patio.
What is striking about lunch at Las Trancas is the opportunity to interact with people in both English and Spanish. While ordering and conversing in English is fine, doing it all in Spanish is preferrable. This area is a fantastic pocket and refuge for the Latinx community to operate how they would like to culturally: free of judgement and racism, and with tacos that rival those that can be purchased in Mexico.
Rosita’s Al Pastor
1911 E. Riverside Dr, 78741
Sunday-Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Not to be confused with their nearby food trailer, Rosita’s Al Pastor is located in the middle of a strip mall on busy East Riverside. This counter-serve spot welcomes customers through a door covered in menu items into a brightly colored restaurant. The walls are green with red trimming and the decorations are just as vibrant. Visitors are instantly transported to memories of Mexico, forgetting that they’re in the middle of an Austin shopping center. After self-seating, guests are surrounded by people from every walk of life chatting rapidly in Spanish and English.
Tortilla chips are served with a slightly spicy red salsa and a creamy, spicy tomatillo salsa. The food comes out quickly due to a simple menu and is served with a nod and a “buen provecho” from the staff. Everything comes with a grease on it that is true to traditional Mexican food. The grease invites customers in, asking them to think of their grandma’s cooking and how they felt when eating it. The barbacoa meat is silky and melts in the mouth, and the flour tortillas still have grains of flour on them, showing their freshness. The corn tortillas taste true to Mexico and takes one on a journey of the palate and mind.
Simply put: this meal is delicious, and will put you to sleep for a few hours after eating. As an added bonus, the menu is exceptionally affordable and the taco menu provides the most monetarily accessible and vegetarian-friendly options. When finished, check out at the register, take a dinner mint, and walk back into the real world. But, most importantly, start making plans to come back.
If you’re there late at night, be sure to check out their food trailer of the same name to feed all those cravings. It’s located just a few steps away in the parking lot, and equally delicious.