Restaurant and Business Reviews

Reviews of Austin area restaurants and businesses published by Larry E Vaughn and currently hosted at http://www.yelp.com

1. La Posada – Wm Cannon & West Gate

A busy neighborhood restaurant with tasty Tex-Mex entrees and large drinks in a casual setting. Warm chips with tangy pepper/cilantro salsa, homemade flour tortillas, delicious hot tamales made with tender shredded (rather than ground) beef, and chimichangas topped with a spicy chili sauce make for a taste bud pleasing meal. Noticeably good service, too, as the friendly wait staff delivers prompt refills on chips, salsa and drinks. Located at West Gate and William Cannon in a retail center, there is plenty of parking in an easy to get to location.

2. Whataburger – 1st Street & I-290

I had heard about this chain of restaurants from former Texans who had moved to the Midwest, and had to try them out right after relocating to Austin. I must say that my first visit may be my last. As a Food Safety Manager, I am pretty familiar with fast food restaurant operations, and I must say that I’m not sure they really fit into the category of fast food. Good grief they were slow! As I watched the kitchen operation from the dining room, I couldn’t figure out what was taking so long. It certainly wasn’t because they were that busy. Besides, there are procedures already in existence that make it easy to handle large volumes.

I did notice that the drive through expediter had to come out into the dining room to get iced tea for her customers. That’s unusual! Actually, I found the whole Whataburger experience mildly disturbing, because the “classic” burger I bought wasn’t as tasty as I expected. It was plenty greasy, however. Burgers that are grilled or fried on a griddle usually don’t have as much grease as my sandwich did. The meat quality was lower than that at Steak and Shake, Dairy Queen, Red Robin, and even some of the genuine fast food chains like Burger King.

I think you would have to pack a lunch to snack on if you decided to use the drive up window. I thought the cars in the line outside the dining room were parked, until I left the building, and noticed they were in line. I just can’t imagine!

3. Hudson’s on the Bend

Hudson’s on the Bend is an unpretentious dark wood lodge-like structure offering outdoor as well as indoor seating. The menu is adventurous and the food is elegant, tasty and well executed. There are traditional dishes in the beef, pork, vegetarian and fish categories, but, they also offer bison, venison, rattlesnake, wild boar, rabbit, elk, quail, and other game not usually seen on most menus.

My wife and I were fortunate to be guests in a weeknight party of six during our first dinner at Hudson’s, and had one of the best dining experiences in recent memory. The staff was helpful and willing to answer questions about menu items, wine pairings and dessert choices. I have read in other reviews that the service was not good, or the staff was not attentive, but we experienced none of that, although I will point out that we were dining inside the building on a weeknight. The only snootiness we observed was on the part of the wine steward, who wasn’t expecting a tip any way. His recommendations for wine pairings, however, were flawless. So, maybe he deserves to be snooty.

Our only negative comments were related to the rattlesnake appetizers, which were underwhelming. The entree prices are quite high. So high, in fact, that they momentarily took my breath away. But, then, I’m just a down home Midwest kind of guy. You should see me when I happen into a restaurant that doesn’t have prices on the menu!

4. La Madelein – Brodie Lane

A great restaurant for a quiet lunch conversation with that someone special, or a small group of friends, la Madelein features Fast Food in an attractive French sidewalk café setting. I have to say the best things here are the soups, salads and sandwiches, which are made to order. They use lots of cream and butter, so this is not a weight watcher friendly restaurant. But, then, would it be French food without cream and butter? Okay, this isn’t really “French” food, but it comes close. The atmosphere certainly helps with the suspension of disbelief, and the flavors are quite good.

The restaurant also sells wine, and beer, and bakes a line of breads and desserts. There are three types of fresh, sliced, bread available at no extra cost; wheat, sourdough, and 7 grain, with butter and three flavors of jelly available at the condiment bar.

The tomato and basil soup is quite good, and the French Onion is better than many restaurants, and the freshly baked bread as an accompaniment is a big plus. However, a sandwich and a drink can be a complete meal . . . they don’t skimp on portions. If you buy salad, soup, drinks, and dessert it can get quite pricey.

The ordering process is a little awkward, in that you will be handed a menu before you are seated, and are expected to order while standing in the walkway of other diners. During busy times, this line gets quite backed up, and you can get pretty flustered because you feel like you are the cause of the bottleneck. But, after a couple of visits you’ll get the hang of it. Grab one of their “To-Go Menus” in the bakery area, and you’ll be able to make some decisions before your next trip. All in all, it can be a fun experience. The food is pretty good, and the atmosphere is interesting.

5. Marie Callender’s – Brodie Lane

This is a very nice place to bring your guests when they stop by for a visit. They have a delightful breakfast plate for only $4 Monday through Friday, with two eggs, hashbrowns topped with cheese, apple wood smoked bacon and toast. I ordered a couple of eggs, two pancakes and crispy bacon, and even with coffee, it was less than $6. The atmosphere is very pleasant, and the servers are very friendly, and food is really good, and ample, for the price.

They also offer a luncheon special each weekday, with pricing below the normal menu. I had their chicken pot pie on the day it is on special, and had to “wow!” when they brought it out, because it is in a larger ramekin than you usually see. The flavor of the chicken gravy was a little lighter flavored than I am used to, because they don’t use any chopped celery or potatoes, and they go pretty light on the onions. The pastry crust was okay, but there are more flavorful recipes available.

I realize that Marie Callender’s pies are very highly regarded by some, and are marketed widely in channels other than their own restaurants; but, I am one of those who feels that the type pie crust they use is too dry and too flat tasting. I like my pie crust to be crispy and flavorful. It should itself be a treat that compliments the filling. And, you either like their style or you don’t. The filling was very flavorful, and can makeup for the disappointing crust.

I like this restaurant, and will return again and again. It may turn out to be one of my favorites. And, I am really anxious to try out their Party Platters!

6. Red Robin – Brodie Lane

This theme restaurant is really designed for the younger crowd. It’s retro, garish, and noisy, although there is outdoor seating available, where you will only hear the deafening roar of traffic on 290 and Brodie. Let’s be fair about the noise, though; Red Robin is designed for family dining, and it is intended to be a fun experience. So, it gets noisy. The variety of burgers is terrific, with the option to select from a whole variety of cheeses, which can change the taste of a sandwich completely.

The menu is a pretty traditional mix of burgers & bottomless fries, chili, sandwiches, soups and such, but I enjoyed a nice lunch here. The meat on my hamburger was very tasty, and was cooked “medium” to order, rather than having the dried out texture of an overdone burger. I appreciated the server asking when she took my order whether I wanted the “relish” sauce on the side, which I said I did. I was really happy when I tasted it and discovered that it is very sweet pickle relish with a tomato sauce. I wouldn’t have liked a sweet sauce on my meat. The server was Johnny-on-the-spot bringing refills before being asked, and really did a good job of taking care of all the diners in the area around my seat.

The broad-cut fries were well prepared, although they seemed a little short on salt. I noticed some of the folks around me putting the Red Robin spice on their fries, but I decided to leave that experiment until a later time. Overall, the food is fairly priced and tasted quite good. I will have to say that getting into their parking lot can be a challenge, but then I am just now learning the whole “Texas U-Turn” – frontage road concept. Those things haven’t made it into the Midwest yet. 

7. La Familia – Wm Cannon & Brodie Lane

Lea and I discovered this café style restaurant while on another mission, and decided to give it a try. It is on the west side of William Canon north of the Walgreens Pharmacy on Brodie, and is located in one of those single story strip malls. When we entered the restaurant, the fragrances were delightful. I could hear something frying in the kitchen in the back, and there were a few couples already seated and eating traditional Tex-Mex dishes. I ordered their lunch special, three pork tamales in a chili sauce for $5.99. It came with refried beans and Mexican rice. Lea had their taco lunch special for about the same price. Of course, chips and salsa were provided, and we added a chili con queso dip. All flavors were fairly bland compared to La Posada dishes, but would be great for those who don’t like spicy. Our soft drinks were $1.75 each, making our lunch total $19.97 without tip. The service was good, and the dishes were nicely prepared, and, knowing that the spiciness is mild, you can kick it up a notch with the three hot sauces provided at the table.

8. IHOP – 8801 S I-35

A clean restaurant with good food, quick service and fair prices. Those are great qualities for any restaurant to have, and this one does stand out from many of the others. I’d rate it among the better IHOPs. Oh, sure, the menu is about the same as any other IHOP, but cleanliness and wait staff are a direct reflection of the restaurant’s manager. If IHOP’s delicious menu is one of your favorites, you owe it to yourself to experience one of the better ones when you’re in the area. Located in the 8800 block of the I-35 access road just south of Slaughter Lane, it is easy to find and offers convenient access.

9. Which Wich – Brodie Lane

Lea and I stopped in the Which Wich for lunch, and found it to be a tongue-in-cheek fun ordering concept. I’m one of those who learns from being shown how something works, so after a few moments of watching some young ladies take a brown paper sack from a holder below the menu board, and write on it with a red marking pen, I figured it out. We took a seat across from the wall board that explains the various options, and looked it over. As we narrowed our preferences, I got sacks for each of us, and a marking pen, and we “designed” our own sandwiches, right down to type of bread and combination of condiments. A fun experience, and reasonable prices. We were there between lunch and dinner, picking up sandwiches for that evening, and found the store to be clean, and the service good. The sandwiches were delivered hot and wrapped, and when consumed some hour and a half later, were still delicious after being refrigerated and then warmed up. Caution, though. You have to plan your condiments carefully in order to make sure they will stand up to refrigerating and then reheating. An option would be to take your sandwich apart and heat only the meat, and then reassemble. Regardless, we enjoyed it, found the food to be good, and are likely to do it again next time we want to have a sandwich on hand for later consumption.

10. Firebowl Café – 5601 Brodie Lane

This concept restaurant offers a different experience than most. It’s a combination of self service and stumble through it service. I was attracted to it because I like to try new things, and there is hardly anything I can’t eat, thank goodness! So, we went in for lunch, and got in line, taking a few minutes to study the menu boards as we worked our way to the cash register. By the time we reached the register, I had decided to try the chicken stir fry, and Lea ordered something with noodles (she is a pasta lover). We also ordered Pot Stickers for an appetizer. The order taker gave me a bowl and told me to pick out my vegetables, gesturing to a vegetable bar to her right, gave me two drink cups, and then handed me a large table decoration with the number 17 on it. So, I got Lea seated and got our drinks, and returned to the table about the same time our pot stickers were arriving. I sat down and tried a bite of one, and found it to be very tasty. As I was tackling another one, the order taker came back to our table, and seeing the empty bowl still sitting on my table, asked if I had picked out my vegetables for the stir fry yet. DOH! I got it! I went up to the vegetable bar, which has a nice selection available, and picked out the veggies I wanted with my chicken, and gave them to her. In a matter of a few minutes we had our entrees, and that both were very good, hot and tasty. We liked the concept, the service, cleanliness, and reasonable pricing. We will be going back to this one. Maybe we’ll even try it for dinner some time.

11. Maudie’s – North Lamar

What a hoot! This Maudie’s has a real tongue in cheek attempt at “decor.” The outside of the building didn’t appeal to us at all as we drove past, but the parking lot was nearly packed on a Sunday morning, so we just HAD to give it a try. I had to chuckle as I entered the building, because it didn’t appear the door would even close shut, let alone keep out a burglar, but I got distracted by the interior decor, which falls somewhere between “We don’t have any money. What’s the cheapest way to cover up the water damage in the ceiling?,” and “Decor? We don’t need no stinkin’ decor! They come here for the FOOD! Besides, I have a sister who likes to finger paint. She can do it!”

Needless to say, I was a little dubious when I had to get up and go get my own menu . . . there didn’t appear to be any table service. But, when I took a look at the extensive menu, and the descriptions of the meals (with really modest prices), I began to feel much better. About the time Lea and I had decided on our choices, another two or three couples came in, and then another, and another, and before long, the place was really hopping, and there were four people tending tables.

Not to say the place is pretentious, at all. Our waiter, in his 30s, wore a pair of faded jeans, a sweatshirt, and a ball cap down over his eyes. We had mistaken him for a customer earlier. Turns out he was just otherwise occupied. Soon there was salsa and chips on our table, delivered by a young lady who took our drink orders. The salsa at Maudie’s is homemade, and delicious! It was spicy enough to clear up my morning sinus congestion, but still left enough taste buds to enjoy the entree when it arrived. Lea particularly enjoyed the very thin chips that are baked fresh daily.

She had the Gringo, a platter of eggs, homestyle potato fries and bacon, while I had the Pancake Platter, with big, fat pancakes, eggs and bacon. I ordered “crispy” bacon, and when it arrived it was so crispy it had burned spots on it! That’s hard to get in most restaurants, where they hesitate to get it to the point you can break it with a fork, because so many folks will send it back. All of our food was delicious, table service was pretty good, and there was a real mixture of (do I dare day “diners” in a place like this?) groups from couples to families enjoying generous portions of their favorite foods. It was definitely a good place to eat if you like good Tex-Mex offerings. And, it’s kinda fun to speculate as you eat how long those big plywood stars on the ceiling are going to be able to hold on!

12. KFC – 6818 W Gate Boulevard

This KFC is the typical fried chicken drive through facility tucked into a corner of a shopping center. Be careful exiting the drive through, as there are about three routes that converge at this spot, and you’ll have cars coming at you from two angles. The food we got one evening was okay, very typical of KFCs, but we spent an inordinate amount of time in line. First, we sat for two or three minutes waiting for our order to be taken, and when we finally got a response, we were told that she would be with us in just a moment. Seven minutes later she came back on to take our order! We received our food promptly after that, but we couldn’t see any reason for the delay as we exited the drive through and looked into the dining room and kitchen area. It’s just another “fast food” mystery! The food was okay, fresh and hot. I rate this one only two stars because of the inexcusable wait times.

13. Dan’s Hamburgers – 4308 Manchaca Rd

Real, old fashioned (original type) burger joint, with time worn tables and chairs, and more available parking than indoor seating capacity. Brisk carry out business, too, with
Lots of traffic in and out. Order at the counter and take your food wherever you want, just like in the days of old . . . eat in, take it to your car, or just plain take it away. Sunday night dinner included the basics of burgers, fries and soft drinks, although they offer a lot of other items, such as thinly sliced onion rings, curly fries, fish and chicken baskets, and thick milk shakes. Everything is made fresh to order, so take your cholesterol medicine and name your poison!  BTW, I paid for our meals with a debit card, so they have entered the 21st century. If you find yourself short of cash, you can now pay with plastic!

14. The Bakehouse – 5404 Manchaca Rd

Lea and I stopped in for lunch just after one o’clock, and were a little surprised to find plenty of seating available. In the older part of the restaurant, filled with booths and world globes as décor, there were five older couples having lunch. We were seated in the front area which has what must be a Spanish theme in view of the bar. We were seated by what we took to be a barmaid or a kitchen helper, we couldn’t really tell. She had what appeared to be flour all over the front of her blouse. She took our drink orders, though, and gave us menus, which we set out to explore.

The building overall has the appearance of a restaurant that just barely makes enough money to keep the owner in business. Evidence of deferred maintenance is every where. I sometimes wonder in these older buildings if the décor isn’t designed to cover up defects in the ceilings and walls so the patrons don’t see it. After we spent a few minutes looking over the menu the server brought our drinks, her blouse cleaner now, and took our orders. Their menu promotes their “original” Smoked Sausage Crisp, so I decided I would give them the benefit of the doubt by ordering their own special entrée. Lea ordered the beef stroganoff, and we both ordered salads, which were only $1.50 each. We were quite pleased with the salads, which had red cabbage, slices of tomato, a radish, black olives and carrot slices tossed with the head lettuce. Quite tasty!

The smoked sausage crisp was served with a small bowl of horseradish sauce, which saves the dish. Combined with the sausage, it actually makes a not too bad flavor combination. I didn’t care for the deep fried flavor of the smoked sausage without the horseradish, and thought the presentation was poor. It wasn’t bad, but I won’t order it again. It’s just not my kind of an entrée. Lea said her beef stroganoff was light on sauce, and consequently, tasted more like beef and noodles. We both enjoyed the fresh hot mini-loaf of bread the server brought out, and ate enough of our entrees to be satisfied. We decided to try their desserts, . . . they looked so good in the display case. Lea got the rocky road chocolate cake, and I got the cream cheese canoe. Both desserts were a little dry, and while not very sweet, they both had pleasant flavor. They were only $1.25 each, so how can you complain?

Funny you should ask. I would have to say that this place thinks of itself as a bar that serves food. The servers were not very attentive. Our dirty dishes were not cleared before the desserts were brought to the table. In fact, they were still on the table when we left! Our drinks were not refilled. The worst part of it though, was as we were finishing up dessert another of the servers was putting out napkins and silverware on the other tables. She was carrying a handful of silverware in her left hand, and arranging them on the tables with her right hand, and as we casually watched her work, she coughed into her right hand, and then took silverware and placed it on YOUR table with that same contaminated hand! I nearly choked!

My observation: Mediocre food, poor service, poor décor, poor food safety standards. We won’t be back.

15. Texadelphia – 5400 Brodie Lane

Nice, clean facility in a shopping strip on the north side of Brodie near West Gate. Wi-Fi, fast service & lots of different sauces to keep things interesting. Their menu states that the sauces, queso and guacamole are made fresh daily. The floor plan reminded us of Quiznos, but this café has a kitchen! Located in the open behind the Carry Out counter is the kitchen crew building sandwiches and entrees for hungry customers. I ordered the signature “Founder’s Favorite” in the large size, and the young lady taking our order offered to put it on two plates for us. Very thoughtful! You order and pay as you enter, then can take a seat. We were given our drink cups and a order number card to place on our table and await our meal.

In a few minutes our order arrived, and it looked delicious. It is a local twist on the Philly sandwich, made with shaved Angus beef, grilled onions, mozzarella cheese, mushrooms and jalapenos, topped with their homemade mustard sauce. We also got a side of curly fries, and everything was delightful, although the bread is somewhere between too soft to hold the sandwich in your hands very easily, and too tough to cut with a plastic fork. We c I ould have customized the sandwich with chicken, or spicy ranch sauce, and could substitute cherry peppers for the jalapenos, but we tried the standard sandwich first. Now, we can go back and try some variations!

I was really enjoying my meal, when the fellow sitting behind Lea was served a huge bacon cheddar burger that must have been a full half pound of Angus on a 5” bun! It looked so good I got entrée envy, and didn’t get to enjoy my last few bites as much as I had been! Now I have to go back and try one of those, too! 

16. Taco Express – 2529 S Lamar Blvd

Lea and I just recently made our first trip to Taco Express for a weekday lunch. We had tried to get in a few weekends ago, but it was so crowded we didn’t even try. We did notice that there was a live band playing on the outdoor portion called the “patio” or “Hippie Church.” What a crazy, weirded out, fun place! They have really pulled together all the bad anti-establishment decorating taste of the hippie era, and actually turned it into an interesting if not intriguing décor. If nothing else, it will keep you scanning the walls and rafters looking at the old metal advertising signs and really bad artwork to discover yet another “cool” something or other tucked somewhere. The clientele at 1:30 in the afternoon included business folks on a late lunch hour, several young couples or groups, and one young lady with green hair wearing leopard-skin hose and shorts. She fit right in.

We ate our meal in the outdoor patio area with it’s dirt floors, 2×4 and 4×4 wooden tables and birds working the dirt for tidbits thrown down by patrons. The roof is clear plastic panels, so you get the feeling of being outdoors, particularly when the side doors are propped open. Service was quick. There was a short line, but you pay when you order, and the fellow running the register has had some practice. He was very good; quick and efficient. We were soon on our way to seek out just the right table out on the patio.

Oh . . and the FOOD!!! We went there because of the name. Tacos! Express! We ordered the Crispy Taco plates, chips and drinks, all of which cost less than $19, and the portions were so big neither of us finished the meal. The plate comes with an oversize portion of refried beans and another of rice. The tacos are filled with a fairly mild blend of taco meat, cheese and veggies, so you can spice them up as much as you want at the salsa bar. Lea and I both like spicy salsa, and theirs was a good tomato-ey salsa, cilantro with a good jalapeno presence and even better back kick. We liked it so much we laced our tacos with it. We thought the experience was very good, and will definitely go back!!

The downsides: parking, and getting out of the parking lot. Parking on their property is minimal. I notice that some of the other postings say that you will have to park elsewhere and walk when they are busiest, and that may not be so bad. We left a little after two in the afternoon, and it took us nine minutes just to get out of the lot onto Lamar! And, there were no cars in front of us, Lamar was just that busy. And, every time I saw a hole in traffic that would let me turn left, there were one or more cars sitting in the turn lane waiting to get into the lot we were trying to leave, and I couldn’t turn until they moved.

But, still, the food is good, the epitome of greasy tacos and just plain tastiness. And, for those of us who experienced the sixties and seventies first hand, the décor will bring smile to your face. If your out of town friends enjoy a good touch of humor served with their meal, this is a fun place to take them. They won’t be disappointed. Just keep in mind that my review is on a weekday . . . be sure to read other postings here about the weekends. That is going to be a completely different experience. Regardless, just go!

17. The Oasishttp://www.oasis-austin.com

After reading many of the reviews, what can I say about the Oasis that would add anything? First, I can reinforce what many have already stated. The food is only okay, though overpriced for the quality, but the view is delightful. I give it two stars for the view. Actually, I gave it three initially, but had to take one away for the difficulty of getting to some decent seating away from the band. It seemed like we were scaling alongside the side of the cliff, and, well, darn it! We were! But, once settled, we enjoyed the view, and appreciated the misters that were spraying a cooling mist into the hot September air. Fans kept the mist moving, and in fact, it was dripping off our umbrella onto us! We didn’t get any service for quite some time, so we finally turned the mister off ourselves to keep from getting soaked.

Many reviewers have stated that it was a beautiful place with terrible food, overpriced, overcrowded, and a haven for partiers; and, that was before it burned down. Strangely, that’s exactly what I was going to list as my impression of it today. The food and drinks are notably not very good, the service is spotty at best, and none of it is worth the prices charged. The sunsets, however, make up for all that. I suppose that’s what makes it so popular. The trees lining Lake Travis, the distant cliffs, the brand-new lower deck of tables and chairs, and the view out into the hill country make this one of the best places to take out of town visitors.

I would rag on about how this place would be gangbusters with a decent chef in there to overhaul their menu, and a good manager to herd the youngsters doing the table service, but it’s all been listed in previous Yelps on the Oasis, and they don’t seem to be paying attention. Sometimes the only way to help them improve is to stay away until they make an honest effort to bring you back.

Here’s a link to a little sunset video shot from the lower deck one evening in September 2007: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryu-5TGNzaE Once you’re on YouTube you will find other videos listed on their site that focus primarily on the sunset itself, and use better lenses and filters to catch the beauty of the sunset over the lake. Grab a snack and sit down to watch the sunset videos. No parking problems, no elbowing, poor service or tasteless food. Now, doesn’t that feel better?

18. Rudy’s – 2451 S Capital of Texas Hwy

Two of my favorite things are BBQ, and I was anxious to try one of the chain restaurants that came highly recommended. My first exposure was a road trip to pick up some take out. I was aghast when we entered the building and discovered that the ordering line was from the ordering counter to the front door, and the line was stacked four rows deep like at an amusement park ride! I thought it would take forever to get up to the counter, and I am one who will turn heels and quickly depart if the wait is too long. Fortunately, I was with someone who was able to say, “You’ll be surprised how fast the line moves. We won’t be here long.” True to his word, we moved right along. Meanwhile, I had time to peruse the premises, and enjoyed its “country store turned deli counter” atmosphere.

There were thirteen people behind the counter, as best I could count; everything from butchers to cooks to order takers to wrapper uppers to who knows what. And, man, did they make that kitchen sing! I love to hear a kitchen when it is working at peak capacity, and that one certainly was. The people behind the counter were super friendly and offered suggestions and guidance if they got a hint that you hadn’t learned the ropes yet. After you order your food at the counter, you can take it to a long indoor table covered in a plastic red and white tablecloth. Condiments, sauces and add-ons dot the wall counters in the dining area. It’s not fancy, but the BBQ is very good. The baby back ribs were outstanding, and the brisket was delicious, too; moist and flavorful. Ordering by the half pound, the meals are quite cheap (less than $10 a person), and the portions of the sides are generous.

Most of the entrée items were somewhere around $4.50. Naturally sandwiches are served on white bread, the traditional accompaniment to barbecue. BBQ comes in three flavors: the one you prefer, the one you tolerate, and the one you don’t like. Rudy’s barbecue sauce falls into the category of the ones I prefer; sweet. But, I notice they make theirs with corn syrup instead of sugar or sorghum molasses. Although it was very tasty, and I WILL be eating there often, I feel like I can taste the missing flavor of the molasses, or at least, a mixture of white and brown sugars. But, then, we can always find something to complaint about, can’t we? 

19. Bess – downtown

Bess provides a unique experience in Austin . . . an eatery in a basement. I’m told there aren’t many basements under commercial buildings in this area. Too bad, because they make great “hole in the wall” eateries. This one is fun, cozy, and the atmosphere is very pleasant. Our party of four was seated promptly for a late lunch, and our server was quite helpful and pleasant. My first impression of the menu was that they attempt to take “home cooking” and have the chef raise it up a couple of notches. It made for a fun opportunity to try familiar dishes with a different twist. I think that different twist is probably what has led to some of the negative comments I read on here before writing my own review, because sometimes we just have too fixed an opinion about how something should be served, and can’t get over the difference.

Our meal started with salad, and it seems we each preferred a different dressing, so there wasn’t any consensus. We thought the salads were adequate, but not outstanding. The bread was tasty, and the variety of flavors was good. Our ice tea and water glasses were kept full prior to the main course, and our service was good except for the period between the three-minute check back (after the entrée is served) and half way through the meal when glasses are supposed to be checked. Ours didn’t get refilled at that point, and a couple of us emptied our tea glasses and started working on the water before she came back to see if we wanted dessert.

We had a variety of dishes at our table, and the one dish everyone sampled and highly praised was the macaroni and cheese. It definitely had received a higher level of culinary skill. The eggplant was served nice and crispy, but was a little light on the cheese for my taste. I would have liked a little side dish of cheese so I could add more if I chose to. The sauce was pretty skimpy, but the flavor was so delicate even a large amount would not have contributed to the dish. Over all, it was only okay. Everything else was very pleasing, fit in with the ambience of the facility, and is one restaurant that will draw us back.

20. Matt’s Famous El Rachero – South Lamar

Lea and I dropped in for lunch right after church on Sunday, and were able to get seated right away. It was a little cool that particular day, so we opted to be seated inside, in view of the patio area near the fountain. Unlike most Tex-Mex/Mexican dwellings in Austin, this place is quite large, not just a hole in the wall. They have multiple dining areas, and we may have been there on an off day, but the service was just great. The waiter engaged us in conversation, and realizing that this was our first time there, he took time to explain several of the menu items and made some recommendations. I wouldn’t say this was the best service I have ever seen, but it was pretty close. There was one person working the tables in our area just refilling drinks. Another delivered chips and salsa, and made sure we had all we wanted. The chips, by the way, tend to be thicker than some, but are obviously homemade, and quite tasty. The salsa, also homemade, was also quite good, although just a little light on cilantro for my taste.

We selected the Deluxe Dinner, which included generous portions of beef enchiladas and tamales with chili con carne gravy, iced tea, and sherbet or a praline, for just $9.50! It may not be the best Mexican food in the area, but it was quite good, and the atmosphere is very nice. I didn’t think to look up at the ceiling, as one reviewer suggested, so I don’t know whether the cobwebs are still on the light fixtures. I can tell you, though, as the former operator of a Victorian bed and breakfast with eleven foot high ceilings, those cobwebs are a constant problem. They seem to grow overnight!

The parking lot was very convenient, and we were able to find a spot quite easily. The dining areas did, however, begin to get much busier after we were seated. The service we got was very good, and very friendly. I haven’t been treated so much like a valued customer at any of the other restaurants I’ve been to. Like I said, it may have been an off day.

I don’t do five stars; there is always room for improvement, but I am giving Matt’s four stars, and I am definitely going back again soon.

21. NG House – West Gate Shopping Center

Lea and I stopped in for a late lunch during a weekday afternoon, and found the menu board out front of the restaurant displayed the ingredients for three appetizing entrée specials, and decided to stop in for our first visit. The restaurant was noticeably very clean. I like that about Chinese restaurants. There were two other booths in use at the time, so we were seated right away and given menus to peruse. There was also a menu board on the wall directly over our table that listed the same three entrée specials for that day. I learned later that their daily specials are also posted on their website http://www.nghouse.net.

Our server brought out our drinks right away, and placed some chow mein noodles in a wooden bowl on the table, along with a slightly sweetened peach sauce used for dipping the noodles, which is a nice touch. Over time Lea and I have realized that often the best bets for a first time visit to a restaurant is to go with their specialty dish or the special for that day. So, we each ordered an entrée from the lunch specials. She had the ginger-kissed chicken on lo mein noodles, and I went for the beef pepper steak on rice. We each ordered the hot and sour soup, and while it was tasty, Lea added soy sauce to hers, and I added a little Chinese mustard to mine just to boost the flavor.

Unfortunately, I put too much mustard in mine, and ended up eating mustard soup! I know, I know, I should have sampled it first! They make their mustard themselves from a prepared powder base, and it is very full of flavor. It is several times more flavorful than the mustard in the little plastic pouches you get elsewhere. The mustard was delicious, however, on the vegetable egg roll, which I dipped cautiously, but enjoyed greatly because the egg roll was very light and crispy. It wasn’t saturated with oil as the often are at other restaurants.

When our entrees arrived, the fragrance wafted through the air making each of us wanting to taste the other’s dish, which we did, and the flavors were delightful. Lea’s chicken was lean and so light and tender it fell apart at the touch of a fork. The beef on my dish was delightfully prepared in a spicy red pepper brown sauce base that had just the right combination of heat and flavor, and tossed with nicely stir fried vegetables.

The price for each special is $5.99, and the portions are quite generous. The service was prompt and very friendly. As we were leaving, our server, and the cook were just taking seats at one of the tables to have lunch themselves. We liked this restaurant and the service, and we will go back.

22. Juan’s Mexicali – Sunset Valley Homestead

A nice, clean (new) quick service style restaurant with a limited menu, good & fresh meals served up quickly. This restaurant is designed along the lines of many contemporary quick-service (I hesitate to call them restaurants) places where you go to the counter to order your meal, step on down the line to pay your bill and collect your main dish, then move on to fill your drink cup and find a seat. This is a good one.

Juan’s features Mexican and California influenced fare, and everything is made to order right there behind the counter as you watch. Their appetizers range from chips & salsa (or dip) to chicken tortilla soup. They offer a ceasar salad and two chopped green salads, a number of items in the burrito, wrap, quesadillas and tacos categories, along with kid’s meals, and a cookie is the dessert item offered.

Lea ordered the nachos, and I decided to experiment with the Thai Peanut Grilled Wrap, each of which was priced at 5.99. We also ordered self-serve fountain drinks (small 1.29, medium 1.69, large 2.09). Lea’s nachos filled a full size dinner plate was piled high with cheese, chopped greens, black beans, sour cream, pico de gallo, and guacamole. My Thai wrap was as long as long as the plate was wide, and either of the two could have fed two persons a light lunch easily. The wrap was shredded pork, rice, lettuce, crispy noodles and a delicate peanut sauce in a huge grilled tortilla. I was surprised when, after a couple of bites, I began to notice some heat in the back of my throat, but hadn’t tasted anything spicy in the wrap. It was a delicious meal, and I enjoyed the delicate flavors in contrast to many of the overwhelming flavors often encountered in this type dish.

The facility itself was very nice; clean, not too noisy, and the self service counter where the condiments are kept was well stocked and clean. The cashier-host came to our table during our meal to see if we needed anything, and another young lady came from the kitchen area during our meal to see if we enjoyed the flavors of our meals, and any comments we might have to offer. It was a pleasant experience, and as we were leaving, we were given a frequent diner card with two meals already stamped. Buy eight, and get the ninth free (kids meals not included). It is worth a trip to give them a try. It’s simple, fast, offers generous portions and is very tasty. We’ll be back!

This restaurant is located in the Sunset Valley Homestead shopping center on Brodie, but if you turn off onto Ernest Roble Way, you can enter on the back (East) side of the shopping center, avoid a lot of congestion (and speed bumps), and Juan’s is the first business on the right.

23. Iron Cactus – North Austin

Our son took me and Lea to lunch at the Iron Cactus at on a weekday, and we had a very pleasant meal, although the piped-in music was so loud it was difficult to carry on a conversation with anyone sitting across the (curved booth) table from you. We sat on the main floor just across from the front doors, and we had no problem with the service and found our server to be very nice and very professional. Based on many of the other reviews, maybe this was just an off day, or maybe things are better at lunch, or maybe it’s because we were dining inside the restaurant, rather than being on the patio people watching.

Iron Cactus is a Mexican Grill with a expansive margarita bar. But, for a grill, they have a very nice menu selection, and the food we were served was tasty, attractively plated, and was as good as I would have expected from an upscale Tex-Mex restaurant. The building and it’s decor is welcoming and inviting.

I ordered the Pollo Relleno, which is a tender breast of chicken stuffed with corn bread, cheddar cheese, diced relleno pepper and rice, topped with a jalapeno cream sauce. It was a unique presentation, full flavored, and much too generous a lunch portion for one person. We took half of it home; something I rarely do, but it was much too tasty to leave behind.

Pricing is a little on the “upscale” side, averaging $25 per person with $1.95 iced teas (no alcohol), but it’s proximity to the Arboretum Shopping Mall make it an ideal choice for lunch when you’re on the north side. I would have given it five stars if I did five stars, but always feel there is room for improvement, even if I don’t recognize it at the time. 

24. Starlite Café – Downtown

Our first visit to the Starlite, in what I now understand to be their new location, was for brunch for four. As soon as you enter you get the impression that this is a European sidewalk café indoors. The atmosphere is pleasant, with wood planks, interesting lighting (except the giant chandelier) and minimal art. The service is okay, though, I must say, spotty. All of our coffee cups were completely empty before anyone came around to replenish our drinks. It isn’t that they ignored us to wait on other tables. The wait staff just seemed to disappear from the floor for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. I’m not sure why this happened, except that as I went to the bathroom, in the back of the house, I passed the kitchen, and heard a lot of commotion coming from there. There was a lot of cheering, and I wondered whether it was a celebration because another order had come into the kitchen, or if it was cheering for some athletic event somewhere. So, to say the service was spotty is to say they attention you get at some eateries just didn’t happen during this visit. The luncheon fare, however, was notably tasty, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back again . . . just not when I was in a hurry.

25. Williams-Sonoma – Arboretum Shopping Mall

Founded in 1956, Williams-Sonoma specializes in above average quality products for the home, marketed through their famous catalogs, the Internet, and retail stores. The Arboretum store Lea and I visited is fairly new and is two or three times larger than the store at Barton Creek. I really enjoyed wandering around this store, with way too many items to be able to take in during a single visit.

I particularly enjoy their selection of chef’s knives, and that there is someone available to get them out of the case and let you feel the difference between the various grips, and the noticeable difference between the composite and (more expensive) wooden handles. Williams-Sonoma is one of the few places with almost the entire set of Wustof kitchen knives available and on display. Pricing on these items, by the way, is about the same as pricing found on the Internet, once you factor in shipping costs.

I get a little annoyed at their tendency to stock so many items that can be found in less trendy stores. I wish they could just focus on being “better quality” and carry fewer items. I was able to find on this initial trip, a remote thermometer for grilling. The unit I purchased for about $50 has the temperature sensor to insert into your chuck of meat on the grill, and it displays the current reading on a unit outside the grill, but also has a remote you can put on your belt and take with you while you prepare other side items in the kitchen. This is very convenient when slow cooking or smoking on the grill.

This was a nice shopping experience, and the array of goodies and do-dads available for the home, it is always fun to discover those things that you previously didn’t even know you just HAD to have! I hope they get back to carrying just those “unique, unusually useful and better quality products” that we all “need.”

26. La Feria – South Lamar

Lea and I stopped in for lunch right after church, and found the restaurant already had several families and groups eating lunch, including a party of twenty on the large outdoor patio which faces Lamar. It was obviously a pretty popular place, with its well-worn, homey environment. It seemed to me that the restaurant was not generally as clean as I like to see, and the floors were pretty dirty, but there was a busser working to clean tables during our meal.

As we looked over the menu we noticed that they didn’t appear to have been wiped down very recently, and had dried spots and stains on them. Most good restaurants sanitize their menus at least daily, but I couldn’t imagine ours being so dirty by lunchtime, and have to presume they don’t have a regular cleaning routine. I certainly didn’t see any of the menus being returned to the hostess being cleaned while we were there.

Their salsa was a bit of a let down. I’ve had much tastier salsa several places, and theirs seemed thin and runny and could use more cilantro for balance and onion for heat. The chips were thick and seemed greasy. On the other hand, the iced tea was quite good. Our server recommended fajitas, since, he said, unlike other restaurants, they slow cook their fajita meats to make them extra tender. Lea ordered the beef version, while I ordered the chicken. The entrees were certainly not outstanding, but they were okay. Personally, I didn’t much care for the pinto beans they served in a small bowl. I would have preferred the usual refried beans, but, I wouldn’t say they were bad; just different.

If this review is one of the first you have seen because you are trying to find one of the really good (rather than really fun) restaurants, there are many places that serve better food at the same price with a better atmosphere. However, it is a nice change from the well known local restaurants to a bright, cheerful place with a friendly staff. By the way, we noticed that smoking is allowed on the patio, so if you’re sensitive to second hand smoke you may want to let your server know before selecting a seat, and make sure you’re in the unroofed section. Would I go back? Sure! I could eat there again. After all, you can’t let your immune system get too sensitive, right?

27. Casa Garcia – South Lamar

As I gain a little more experience with Tex-Mex food in South Austin, I would have to say that Casa Garcia is pretty typical fare. Good enough food to come back again when you need another dose, but nothing really exciting. They offer lunch specials for $5.75, and have a fairly good variety of them available. We were a little surprised that their chips didn’t seem very good, but the salsa had plenty of heat and flavor. The queso tasted like a blend of Velveta and Jack cheeses with tiny amounts of diced veggies . . . disappointing, really. The refried beans had great flavor, but the guacamole was over salted, and otherwise without flavor. Service for our late lunch was less than average, but it seemed that they were understaffed, judging by the “rushed” attitude everyone seemed to have.

I think we all tend to find our favorites, and sometimes convenience is a big factor in determining what you are willing to settle for. If I was in the neighborhood when I got hungry, I might give this one another try. But, for right now, I’m going to keep looking!

28. Abuelo’s – Barton Creek Mall

Abuelo’s Mexican Food Embassy (www.abuelos.com) is a privately held conglomeration of 38 companies from Wisconsin to Arizona and Florida operated by Food Concepts International LP of Lubbock TX. They specialize in a variety of ethnic food items, including a range of starters, such as a dip sampler, chile con queso, nachos and green chile chicken quesadillas. The restaurants specialty includes sautéed chicken zucchini, white wine lemon chicken and rib eye steaks. It also serves seafood items, including wood-grilled salmon filets, stuffed crabs and fresh shrimp, and offers special menus for children and senior citizens. The queso stands out from the normal blend of American and Jack cheeses, offering great flavor with just a hint of heat.

I had experienced an Abuelo’s restaurant in Indianapolis, and found the building near the Barton Square Creek Mall to be a pretty close copy, right down to the sky painted on the ceiling, the black uniforms of the wait staff, and the delicious thin chips and salsa. Abuelo’s is a very good concept. No greasy Tex-Mex foods are offered. Good quality Mexican and American dishes are! The menu consists of really tasty dishes attractively plated at reasonable prices. Many are under $10. The food is fresh, the atmosphere pleasant, and the service that we received was excellent. One of the things you’ll notice here is that their wait staff seems like professionals when compared to the service at “mom & pop” restaurants. The facilities were well maintained, clean and bright, the floors sanitized, and the ambience was casual, intimate, and subdued lighting. A good setting for a good meal.

Lea and I arrived early for dinner, well before the rest of our party, as we were coming from the south, and everyone else was tied up in inbound traffic. Regardless, we were promptly taken to a table and seated, and an endless flow of chips and salsa began, accompanied by Steiner Bock and iced tea. Lea and I like Abuelos’ chips more than most chips, and tend to compare all others to these. They are light and crispy, flash fried so they aren’t greasy, and are just sturdy enough to use for dipping the salsa.

Our party arrived and orders were turned in, we oohed and aahed as each beautifully plated entrée was placed on the table: White Wine Lemon Chicken, Salmon San Carlos, Tilapia Veracruz, Juarez with Papas con chili, and the other entrees. All of which were delicious! One word about their soups; they have Tortilla Soup every day, and then rotate the other soups daily. For example, their delicious Cilantro Lime is available only on Mondays. (This soup is so delicious, we have attempted to duplicate it at home, and have come pretty close). Whether selecting meat or poultry, everyone in our party was very pleased, indeed, with the quality of the food and the wonderful service.

The cost of a dinner here is about $25-30, including tip, which is quite reasonable for this level of quality. Plan to be generous when tipping your waiter/waitress. They are right on top of things, and we never had to ask for a single refill all evening. Good service, good atmosphere, good food! That’s Abuelo’s.

29. Bill Miller Bar-B-Q – Wm Cannon Dr

The problem with Barbeque, is that you either like your sauce sweet, or you like it vinegary, and anything in the category starts off with a strike against them. Such was the case when Lea and I went to this Bill Miller’s for lunch. I like my barbeque sweet, and theirs is vinegary, but I thought it was only fair to give it a try and see how it lay on the taste buds. I have to say, it wasn’t too bad for that type sauce. It wasn’t overly sour, and I could actually taste the BBQ rub in the background. We had ours served over slices of nicely tenderized brisket , but I have to say it isn’t going to make me a regular customer.

Nothing we were served was notably tasty, with the possible exception of the iced tea, and the general feeling was that it was just “okay” with nothing that really stood out.

This is definitely a franchise, and you can see it in the care-less way the building and dining area are maintained. The mop marks are four inches high on every stick of furniture, including the home style condiment bar with bread, onions, pickles etc. I could just visualize the bacteria crawling up the side of that thing, and didn’t go near it! I would be more inclined to do a drive through next time, rather than going inside to eat, to reduce the odds of getting food borne illnesses. I usually check the bathrooms to get an idea of how well the restaurant is maintained, but didn’t feel I needed to in this case. What I saw in the dining room was enough to tell the tale.

In summary: The meals are over priced for the quality level, and there are cleaner places to go for a better value. I’d recommend that you keep on looking at reviews for better choices.

30. Trattoria Lisina – Driftwood TX

This is one of the best locations to take guests for a delightful lunch. Located in Driftwood, it is an absolutely beautiful estate, and conducive to extended daydreaming about what you could do if you had such a place. The restaurant is probably smaller than the demand would require, and I’ve read where folks have had to wait for a couple of hours to be seated. Even then, the only choice they had was to eat at the picnic tables out on the piazza surrounding the gorgeous outdoor fountain.

So, even though you may have to wait, they have made it tolerable by providing an attractive piazza area with views of the many-columned restaurant and the vineyards. The estate is beautiful…it is something you would expect to find in Napa Valley, and it is very relaxing just to take in the scenery.

The food was delicious. We ordered 2 appetizers — grilled bread and a variety sample platter of prosciutto, caramelized onions, asparagus, grilled eggplant, etc. Lea ordered a pizza, and got a generous portion for only $11. Be aware that most of the pizzas here don’t have tomato sauce on them, an old Italian tradition. You will have to ask for sauce on the side if you want it. Add your drink, salad and dessert and you can have a great meal for about $20 plus tip.

This is probably one of the better restaurants to take a date, business guests, or visitors you want to impress, because of its ambience and romantic setting. It is a delightful experience, and one I highly recommend.

If I didn’t have a long standing policy against rating anything “as good as it can get,” I sorta wish I could give half stars! This one goes at the top of my list, though. 🙂

About Larry E. Vaughn Jr

Larry E Vaughn is a Missouri-based blogger/ content writer, and former career counselor. His published works can be found at HeliumNetwork, and InsideBusiness360 . He wrote for CabForward.com℠ and has additional websites at GodsWoodShed.com, Vaughnkitchens.com, larryevaughnjr.com, and is publisher of The Self-Employment Journal, http://paper.li/levaughn#/..
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