Vibrant, masa-obsessed James Beard semi-finalist
Somehow fusing both East Austin flair and colorful Mexican cultural heritage, this is the bright and lovely restaurant that masa built. Their masa made in house (naturally), and their love for the corn-based dough is evident, informing many of the dishes on the menu. Diners rightly enthuse over the chicken tamal, pork belly carnitas tlacoyo, and tetela al carbon (triangular stuffed masa, papadzul black bean puree, quesillo).
South Lamar, Burleson Road
Unassuming family-run spots for classic interior dishes
El Meson was doing interior Mexican before it was cool, with a menu featuring a deliberately wide range of regional specialties. If you’re dining with friends, here’s your go-to: order the chilorio del norte (northern-style guajillo pork), the tinga poblana, the chile en nogada, and the fish Veracruzana, and share it all amongst yourselves. There’s also an extensive brunch menu ($20 AYCE), and impressive selections of tequila and mezcal!
Colorful cantina with a from-scratch kitchen and a lovely outdoor patio
Both the design and the beautifully plated food at family-owned Licha’s Cantina are infinitely Instagrammable. The menu is inspired by childhood dishes featuring house-made masa, slow-roasted meats, and sauces redolent with spices. Expect to find interior specialties like cazuelita de cochinita pibil, tlacoyo de camarón con mole, and sopes de lengua, plus an extensive tequila and mezcal selection and an excellent $5 happy hour.
Traditional Oaxacan cuisine, ceviche, and craft cocktails
El Naranjo’s Oaxacan cuisine and specialty tequila selection are well worth braving the madness of Rainey Street. Garnachas istmeñas (sopes topped with beef and Oaxacan pasilla slaw), scratch-made moles, tampiqueña, and weekly ceviche are the draw. You’ll also find the same rich Mexican flavors at brunch, where they offer an array of breakfast dishes (like the cheeky huevos Benedictos) alongside their truly creative, tequila-heavy (and tasty) breakfast cocktail menu.
South Austin/Bouldin Creek
Relaxed south Austin restaurant with traditional interior eats
Sazón moves effortlessly between regional dishes from Puebla, Yucatán, Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Mexico City; two of the most distinctive are chile en nogada (poblano, cinnamon-spiced pork, almonds, raisins, pear, apple, walnut cream sauce) and the pipian verde con pollo (toasted pumpkin seed sauce, poached chicken). Skip the chicken fajitas elsewhere and treat yo’ self to a fresh lime margarita on the patio here.
Opulent Austin original serving decadent dishes
Gorgeous talavera, bright walls, big art, and scrupulous attention to detail are only the backdrop for the spectacular dining experience at Fonda; it’s a spot that has ambiance with a capital “A”. The food and service are always impeccable, even during the madhouse AYCE brunch -- fan favorites are the calabacitas rellenos (baked zucchini filled with corn and white cheese), enchiladas de mole poblano and camarones en chipotle cream.
Trailer serving Tijuana-style bacon-wrapped hot dogs
Nestled in the Lo-Burn food trailer park, you’ll find T-Loc’s Sonora Hot Dogs. Yep, hot dogs: this place introduced an already meat-obsessed city to the heart-stopping bacon-wrapped dogs typically found in Tijuana, Mexico. Topped with beans, diced onions, tomatoes, mustard, and mayonnaise, this might be the last thing you’ll eat... but you’ll be happy about it.
Out-of-the-way trailer serving Mexico City street specialties
With a couple of tables and some paper picado fluttering in the breeze, there isn’t much to distinguish this trailer from any other… except the name. The term “D.F” is a reference to Distrito Federal, another name for Mexico City, where street foods are king. Little D.F has a variety of street foods, but the “huarache” stands out: huarache technically means "sandal," but in this case it's smashed masa dough topped with mashed beans and your choice of traditionally Mexican toppings. Opt for cochinita pibil, nopales, red and green salsa and queso fresco.
Second Street District
Modern Mexican-inspired dishes in contemporary surrounds
While La Condesa’s menu is more “interior Mexican-inspired,” the flavors of the interior style of cooking show up on most of the menu. They offer elotes, carne asada, and tamal, but you’ll also find the more complex Pollo en three-day mole, achiote-marinated fish with plantain puree, and braised beef cheek -- there's also a wild mushroom huarache, which features huitlacoche (corn smut) and the under-utilized herb, epazote. The crafty cocktails and beautiful atmosphere are just welcome bonuses.
Pocket-sized trailer specializing in Discada tacos and elote
You'll find this unassuming friend-run trailer on Rosewood serving a single dish -- OK, technically two dishes, but only one type of taco. “Discada” refers to the seven-layered cooking process that takes place in a kind of “cowboy wok,” a shallow plow disc. The tacos have pork, beef, onions, and pineapple, and are about three bites each; you can choose between three, five, or nine of the delectable little tacos, with a small or large elote on the side. The trailer's open Tuesday to Saturday, and can often sell out (so check the Facebook page before going).