I paid a visit to an old friend the other night.
A few years back I was employed at Tips Iron & Steel off of 5th Street in Austin. When I'm working, I always find a good quiet restaurant for lunch, as I tend to read or write during my lunch hour. To be honest, I'll put more emphasis on comfortable and quiet than on flavor. I admit I'm not really picky on what I eat. Flavor is more of a plus.
That being said, I actually did settle on some tummy satisfying places for lunch. One was The Hoffbrau Steak House on 6th Street. Steaks there are awesome! And while it was often crowded at lunch, there was a covered patio area that usually wasn't. Most days I just sat out there and had all the peace and quiet I wanted. The waitress got to know me, and what I wanted. I was amused that after I left Tips and came back to eat after a couple of years absence the same waitress was there and still remembered exactly what I usually ordered. I loved their steaks, simple and good. I have been back a few times over the years, I'm not often downtown anymore during the day. The steaks are just as good as I remembered.
The other main restaurant I went to back then was La Feria on South Lamar. It seemed like it was probably pretty busy at night, but at lunch it was usually pretty quiet. The wait staff was patient, and the food was very good. I am very fond of Mexican food, particularly TexMex. I considered La Feria to be among the best Mexican Food places in Austin.
Once again, it has been quite a while since I've eaten there. I had noticed some time back that they had moved down the street a bit, but just hadn't been in.
Now, Cat and I find ourselves often in South Austin. We greatly enjoy eating at Magnolia Cafe ( a mix of cuisines.) and Pei Wei (Oriental Food).
I've recently found that peanuts bother me. I've always loved peanuts and peanut butter, but now they bring on a migraine. Pei Wei, much as I enjoy it, seems to use peanut oil, as do most oriental restaurants. So, we need an alternative.
We were in town and going to Whole Foods downtown. I reminded Cat we were going to try La Feria, so we went.
I was prepared to be disappointed. After all, it's been five years or so since I've been there. La Feria had moved and could have changed hands since then, anything could have happened. The restaurant was busy, but not excessively loud. Cat enjoys margaritas, La Feria was having a special on Mexican Martinis so she ordered one. She liked it, and it was a really good deal. The chips and salsa were fresh and plentiful.
The only drawback for me was the presence of the ubiquitous televisions. I rarely watch television, but if one is in the room it draws my eyes. However, it wasn't too hard to ignore.
When I eat TexMex food for dinner, I tend to order beef enchiladas, especially if I am trying out a new place. That is how I judge a mexican restaurant. Give me stale tortilla chips and mediocre enchiladas and it goes way down the list, at least for dining. Remember, I have different lunch requirements!
My beef enchilada plate was very good, as good or better than any I've had in a while. Cat had a grilled shrimp plate and pronounced it good as well. The price was reasonable. We're unanimous, we'll be back!
On the flip side, just after Christmas we were traveling to Fort Worth to visit Cat's sister. We stopped in Burleson at a place on I35W called Mexican Inn. We'd never been before and were just looking for some place convenient. The ambiance was nice but the service was atrocious. When we finally got the food it was exactly the quality of the El Charrito frozen dinners I used to buy when I was a bachelor. Now, I admit to eating them back then, but then the emphasis was on cheap and quick. At the Mexican Inn we paid five times the price for the frozen dinner for exactly the same quality and terrible service. There is one place we won't return to! One oddity, instead of a basket of chips, each diner was given an individual small bowl of chips, tortilla chips the shape and size of regular Fritos. I'd never seen this before, and they were stale!
If you're wandering around Austin, I certainly recommend La Feria on South Lamar, The Hoffbrau on W 6th and Magnolia Cafe on South Congress or Lake Austin Drive. We also like Jason's Deli and Hyde Park Cafe. Pei Wei is still good, we love their fried wontons, I just have to avoid the aforementioned peanuts.
What are your favorites?