Tex-Mex is an innovative blend of traditional Mexican flavors with American ingredients, a necessity born from the available resources. Key elements like ground beef, American cheddar, and wheat flour were creatively combined with classic Mexican dishes, forging a distinct culinary genre.
Tex-Mex is far more than a simple mix of dishes; it’s a cultural emblem. From the quintessential enchiladas, burritos, and quesadillas to the obligatory sides of rice and beans, this cuisine showcases a diverse range of flavors.
It’s a fixture on menus across Texas, with each restaurant offering its unique twist. Whether it’s a trendy downtown spot or a cozy dive on the East side, Austin is a haven for the best Tex-Mex experiences. This guide aims to explore these culinary delights, highlighting the top Tex-Mex eateries in Austin.
11. Habanero Cafe
Looking for a casual eatery with coastal vibes that serves some of the best Tex-Mex in Austin? Look no further than Habanero Cafe. This family-owned and operated cafe has been dishing out delicious Tex-Mex for over 20 years. Their menu features queso-laden nacho plates and sizzling cast-iron skillets of beef fajita, as well as unique items like the barbacoa gordita, a Mexican ‘pita’ stuffed with barbacoa and cheese. This hearty dish comes with refried beans, chunky guacamole, and lettuce, making it a meal in itself.
Habanero Cafe delivers straightforward Tex-Mex with a focus on quality ingredients and traditional flavors. Don’t miss out on their delicious Mexican candies, available for purchase at the register. The cafe is open daily until 3 p.m., so plan your visit accordingly. With its unpretentious atmosphere and delicious food, Habanero Cafe is one of Austin’s best-kept secrets.
10. Pelon’s Tex Mex
If you’re looking for a classic Tex-Mex dining experience, Pelon’s Tex Mex is a must-visit. Located in the heart of downtown, Pelon’s offers a spacious dining area with multiple rooms and an expansive patio that’s perfect for enjoying a meal outdoors. As soon as you sit down, you’ll be greeted with freshly-fried, thin chips and house salsa that are simply outstanding.
The menu at Pelon’s is filled with Tex-Mex favorites, including the ground beef enchiladas with red chile smother and spicy shrimp tacos, which are among the most popular dishes. Whether you’re a fan of traditional Tex-Mex or looking to try something new, Pelon’s Tex Mex has something for everyone. Plus, the ambiance is unbeatable, with a towering oak tree wrapped in red lights that adds to the overall dining experience.
9. El Borrego de Oro
If you are searching for exceptional Tex-Mex cuisine in Austin, look no further than El Borrego de Oro. Located at the Southernmost end of South Congress, this small brick building may not seem like a culinary hotspot, but the food speaks for itself. The menu is extensive, but the standout dish is their braised lamb birria tacos. The restaurant’s name translates to “lamb of gold,” which is an accurate description of these delicious tacos.
Served deconstructed, the dish features tender lamb braised in a stew of tomatoes and onions alongside cilantro, pico de gallo, refried beans, and Mexican rice. The tacos are light but rich, with simple ingredients prepared exceptionally well. For a near-perfect, shareable Tex-Mex meal, be sure to ask for a side of pillowy flour tortillas.
If you’re a foodie visiting Austin, don’t miss out on this hidden gem. And while you’re at it, check out these 11 Best Barbecue Spots in Austin for more mouth-watering options.
8. Polvo’s Mexican Restaurant
If you’re looking for authentic Tex-Mex cuisine in Austin, Polvo’s Mexican Restaurant is a must-visit. With an extensive menu and generous portions, Polvo’s has been a beloved Austin landmark for years.
One of the standout dishes at Polvo’s is their breakfast tacos. The chorizo with eggs, potatoes, and cheese is a fan favorite. For a lighter lunch option, try the tortilla soup. Filled with chicken, zucchini, cabbage, whole cloves of garlic, and topped with crispy tortilla chips, this brothy soup is both filling and comforting.
If you’re in the mood for enchiladas, the carne guisada enchiladas are a must-try. Made with tender pork in a rich brown gravy and topped with fresh cotija cheese, these enchiladas are messy but worth it.
At Polvo’s, each plate comes with multiple sides such as diced jalapeños, sliced avocado, and chopped cilantro, giving you the opportunity to build your own perfect meal.
Overall, Polvo’s Mexican Restaurant is a reliable choice for Tex-Mex cuisine in Austin.
7. Juan in a Million
If you’re looking for a classic East Austin breakfast and lunch spot, Juan in a Million is a must-visit. Their signature dish, the Don Juan Taco El Grande, is a massive plate loaded with potatoes, bacon, eggs, and cheese, served with tortillas on the side. At only $7, it’s a bargain that’s perfect for sharing with friends or tackling solo if you have a hearty appetite. In addition to the famous taco, Juan in a Million also serves up a delicious fajita plate, with a mix of beef and chicken for the best of both worlds. Their chicken enchiladas are gooey and satisfying, and the huevos con queso is a memorable dish that features eggs served with queso on top.
6. Gabriela’s Downtown
If you’re looking for a restaurant with picturesque views of the Austin skyline and a phenomenal happy hour, Gabriela’s Downtown is a must-visit spot. The restaurant’s colorful Mexican table coverings, gorgeous mural, and ‘besos’ neon sign inside make it arguably the most photogenic restaurant on this list.
To start, try the popular choriqueso, which is baked jack cheese with chorizo and guacamole. For the main course, the tacos dorados are a feast for the stomach and eyes alike. The dish features three shredded chicken taquitos underneath a generous pile of bright purple cabbage drizzled in Mexican crema and topped with queso fresco, slices of ripe avocado, and pico de gallo. The chicken is tender and seasoned well, while the crema and crunch of cabbage balance out the dish.
End your evening on a sweet note with chocoflan, a traditional Mexican dessert that layers flan with chocolate cake and caramel. With its stunning views and delicious food, Gabriela’s Downtown is a must-visit for anyone looking for a memorable dining experience in Austin.
5. Tamale House East
If you’re in the mood for some of the best Tex-Mex cuisine in Austin, look no further than Tamale House East. This trendy yet historic eatery is known for its delicious tamales, with the traditional pork tamale being the most popular and highly recommended. The pork is full of flavor and the tamale itself is moist and satisfying.
But don’t stop at the tamales – Tamale House East also offers a fantastic cochinita pibil dish, featuring Yucatan-style pulled pork, black beans, pickled onions, jalapeños, Mexican rice, and guacamole. You can even DIY your own tacos with the provided tortillas and add a bit of everything to make every bite a top-notch experience.
Take a seat on the shady garden patio and enjoy the mouthwatering flavors of Tamale House East.
4. Matt’s El Rancho
Looking for some of the best Tex-Mex in Austin? Look no further than Matt’s El Rancho, the historic restaurant that has been serving up scratch-made dishes since 1952. With over 500 seats and a beautiful outdoor fountain, Matt’s El Rancho is the perfect spot for a lively night out with friends or a family dinner.
Start your meal off right with a rich and addicting order of smooooth queso, made fresh in the scratch kitchen. For your main course, we recommend trying both of Matt’s El Rancho’s most popular entrees: the mahi-mahi fish tacos and the asadero tacos. Both are served on Matt’s house-made corn tortillas, and both are sure to satisfy.
The mahi-mahi fish tacos are cooked to perfection and served with a stand-out cilantro vinaigrette. The asadero tacos are the ultimate taco bliss, with tender marinated beef, melty grilled asadero cheese, and flavorful peppers and onions. Don’t miss out on this classic Austin-style Tex-Mex experience at Matt’s El Rancho.
3. Joe’s Bakery and Coffee Shop
If you’re looking for an unpretentious, no-frills breakfast or lunch spot, Joe’s Bakery and Coffee Shop is the place to be. Since the 1960s, this family-owned diner has been serving up some of the best Tex-Mex in Austin. The dimly-lit dining space is adorned with black and white photos of the Avila family, giving it a cozy, nostalgic feel.
Joe’s is a breakfast-and-lunch-only kind of place, but they offer a wide variety of options to choose from. Rows of pan dulce, pastries, conchas, tacos, traditional breakfast plates, and a few lunch options are available. However, their breakfast tacos, migas, and carne guisada plates are the real stars of the show. One bite of their ultra-crispy bacon, and you’ll understand why it’s their most famous dish.
Despite its unassuming appearance, Joe’s Bakery and Coffee Shop has become a community staple and a fan favorite. So, if you’re in the mood for some delicious Tex-Mex breakfast or lunch, head over to Joe’s and see what all the fuss is about.
2. El Alma
If you’re looking for a restaurant that blends interior Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisines, then El Alma is the place to be. Located just across from downtown Austin, this cozy restaurant offers some of the best Tex-Mex dishes in the city.
Start your meal with a refreshing agua fresca and the queso blanco e rojo, a baked queso that pulls thick and cheesy. For lunch, try the Barton Springs chopped salad, made with spinach, avocado, pumpkin seeds, cherry tomatoes, bacon, and queso fresco. The chipotle ranch dressing adds a perfect hint of heat.
For dinner, indulge in the duck enmoladas, enchiladas served in a mole sauce that is a must-try. If mole isn’t your thing, the pollo a la parilla is also a fantastic option. This dish features grilled chicken breast, crispy potatoes, and caramelized onions topped with melty queso panela and chipotle tomato salsa.
If you still have room for dessert, check out the 20 best desserts in Austin for some sweet inspiration. Don’t forget to ask for a table on the rooftop deck if the weather is nice. El Alma is the perfect spot for a delicious meal with a view.
1. Eldorado Cafe
If you’re looking for the best Tex-Mex in Austin, Eldorado Cafe should be at the top of your list. This family-owned-and-operated cafe may be unassuming from the outside, but its reputation for serving up rich and colorful plates with airy chips and award-winning queso is well-deserved.
One of the most popular dishes at Eldorado Cafe is the carnitas cubanos, which is a true standout. The carnitas are subtly seasoned and lightly blackened, giving them a flavor and crunch that’s hard to resist. The dish is plated with pink pickled onions, shredded purple cabbage, fresh guacamole, black beans, and white rice, making for a colorful and flavorful meal.
But the carnitas cubanos isn’t the only thing worth trying at Eldorado Cafe. The queso is smooth and light, but so addictive that you won’t be able to stop eating it. And the chips are airy and crisp, making them the perfect vehicle for scooping up all of the deliciousness on your plate.
Despite being tucked away in a small strip mall in North Austin, Eldorado Cafe is definitely worth the trip. So if you’re in town for a few days, make sure to add it to your list of must-visit Tex-Mex restaurants.