La Condesa

I COULD go to trendy new restaurants soon after they open and THEN blog about them, but I much prefer waiting a few years until everyone already knows how awesome Eating Establishment X is, and then write about it like I’m the first to know. I’m talking, in this case, about La Condesa.

I ventured to the downtown TexMex restaurant for lunch recently and was pleased to see the hype wasn’t for nothing. I have no trouble believing this place will be a regular contender when the mister and I find ourselves in the “where should we go for date night” predicament.

Right off the bat I liked La Condesa for the location (across from Austin’s super cool City Hall, The W Hotel, Moody Theater and Lamberts). At night the trees light up and the people watching is superb. So kudos, LC, for picking out some pretty prime real estate in which to serve tacos.

Besides being situated in the heart of mucho A-town action, the architecture and interior design is jaw dropping, astounding even. You could sit inside and stare at the textured walls, vibrant murals, swanky lighting, everything…before  you realize it has been 10 minutes and you haven’t even opened your menu. I’m not overselling either. In fact, the restaurant won a people’s choice restaurant design award from AIA Los Angeles. Pretty nifty.

If you weren’t already intrigued, allow me to go on. I’ve always heard you can tell how good a TexMex restaurant is going to be by the chips and salsa. Perhaps forecasting this very school of thought, the brains behind the La Condesa menu offer not one, but four salsas on which to over indulge before your meal begins. There’s a classic salsa roja, as well as a fresh and creamy avocado tomatillo, chipotle salsa and a super spicy but delectable option. Four salsa choices AND a generous helping of warm chips. Don’t mind if I do.

The main meal itself (fish tacos, my go-to taco when breakfast tacos aren’t an option) was splendid as well. The serving wasn’t too massive, but was still plenty filling and the tacos themselves really hit the spot. The best part about the entree, however, was the extra tortillas that come with the meal. Some places (no names) up-charge for extra tortillas (not cool), but La Condesa included two additional corn tortillas right on the plate, just like that. It was an unexpected treat and came in handy for scooping up extra salsa, black beans and rice. It’s such a small thing to do, but that alone would have tempted me to return for another visit.

By lunch hour’s end, I had been converted. The tasty array of  salsas, visually entrancing atmosphere, and surprise bonus tortilla had me singing the praises of La Condesa to anyone that would hear it. Unfortunately I can’t speak on behalf of their margaritas. I guess I should return for happy hour in order to tell that tale.

A South Austin Saturday

I think it’s a scientific fact that we don’t spend enough time in South Austin. For example, take note of the delightful festivities provided to us this weekend by Austin’s south side.

1. 512 Brewing Company
This local microbrewery celebrated its two-year anniversary with an open house—providing free samples of its newest brews to the masses. Austin’s hippest residents showed up in droves for the chance to get a swanky pint glass and the freshest new flavors in beer.

The weather was hot, the lines were long and the shade was not ample, but I still believe this promotional event was a genius idea on the part of the party planners. It’s science that beer tastes better after the consumer has endured said conditions. After waiting in a 20-minute line, watching a patron promptly throw up the chili dog he just ingested, and counting about 3 men who were rocking the curly hipster mustache…

…we made it to the beer station.

Once at the coveted beer station, we had the choice of six beers: pale aleIndian pale ale,double pecan porterwitbierspecial anniversary brew and one we can’t recall. While we couldn’t try them all, I did get the opportunity to sample two, the witbier and the anniversary brew. The witbier was just dandy. It was flavorful, but not too heavy (and probably tasted even better considering the conditions of the day). The anniversary beer, called TWO, (as in the brewery’s TWO-year anniversary) was appropriately named for another reason. It’s much like drinking two beers in one. It was stout, bitter and potent (10% ABV). Perhaps good for the advanced drinkers but a little too much for me to take on in the summer heat.

2. Al Pastor
Influenced by our brewery partners-in-crime, we decided to hit up a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant for dinner. Our buds ranted and raved about the magic of this place, but I had my reservations. Surely if a restaurant was as delicious as the rumors claim, I would have been there before? But that’s the beauty of the undiscovered, hole-in-the-wall taco joint.
Al Pastor is one of thousands of strip mall restaurants located on East Riverside, one of Austin’s least desirable areas (because of an abundance of massive, generic, cheaply constructed apartment complexes). They specialize in pastor tacos (hence the name), and have perfected the science of this northern Mexican dish. For the first time, I found a taco joint that can rival Denton’s Casa Galviz.
The house special is served with cilantro and onion and hits the tastebuds with a punch.

The homemade tortillas are thick, soft, warm and blanket your mouth with flour. I am a firm believer that a taco is only as good as its tortilla, and this one provided the perfect canvas for its chewy, flavorful innards. An additional perk to this place, they serve breakfast all day long. As a girl who has a serious weakness for breakfast tacos, I always give extra points to any place that understands the importance and power of the anytime breakfast taco. The next time any friends come for an Austin visit, you better believe we are eating at this place.

3. Sanctuary Printshop
Sanctuary Printshop is a local screen printing business that reeks of South Austin character. The guys who started it have an affinity for Austin culture and a knack for design (Read article I wrote about them here). They even started their own clothing line and introduced the 2011 line with a fashion show and party at their warehouse. We showed up around 11 to take in the newest fashion, people watch and frolic in the photo booth. Photos to come soon…

As you can see, spending a Saturday in South Austin is an invigorating experience for all of the senses. If it’s been a while since you’ve visited, I highly recommend giving the southside a shot. You will be hipper for doing so.