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Best Tex-Mex in Austin

Jane Mesa Last updated on Aug 22, 2022 by

What is Tex-Mex?

Sure we all love Tex-Mex, but how did this beloved cuisine begin and even better, what exactly is it?

Some say Mexican cuisine began to fuse with American cuisine when early immigrants from Mexico began moving to Texas. People would naturally want to cook the foods from their culture, but America didn’t offer the same ingredients that had been so readily available in Mexico.  Unlike traditional Mexican cuisine that dates back thousands of years, Tex-Mex showcases ingredients like cheddar cheese in place of queso blanco and the use of flour in place of or mixed with corn (think Mixla tortillas).   

In 1928, the City Plan of Austin required the Mexican community be relegated to the East Side. Austin saw a burst of Tex-Mex cuisine during the Great Depression of the 1930s and 1940s. Part of this can be credited to the overall population boom the city saw during that time, however much of the credit for the popularity of this genre goes to the Mexican community in Austin who were able to build their community and gain wealth despite the segregation laws imposed by the city at that time. Tex-Mex proved to be an ideal marriage of traditional Mexican recipes and American ingredients.

Now that you’ve had the history lesson, dive head first into this list of the very best Tex-Mex the ATX has to offer.

Rosita’s Al Pastor
1911 E. Riverside Drive
These al Pastor tacos will change your life!

Y’all don’t realize how much you’re sleeping on this restaurant.  When my then-boyfriend, now-husband first took me to their taco truck in front of a Bingo Hall on East Riverside my initial thought was “This is so Austin and it’s going to be amazing!”.  That was 2017 and Rosita’s Al Pastor has been our go to place for tacos ever since!

All of their food is amazing, but I insist you try their Al Pastor tacos paired with a Mexican coke (bonus points if you head over to Lakeshore at Lady Bird Lake Metropolitan Park, grab a bench, and enjoy your food with an awesome view).

This spot has grown from a taco truck to a brick and mortar restaurant, complete with a drive through.  For us old school fans of Rosita’s, the original taco truck is in their parking lot and still serving amazing food daily.

Juan In A Million
2300 E. Cesar Chavez Street
You have to try the legendary Don Juan

Juan In A Million has been family owned and operated since 1980. This is one of the few places left in town that when you walk in, you immediately feel the love.  Whether it’s the fast, friendly service, the food that is guaranteed to blow your mind, or the fact that most days you can see Mr. Juan himself shaking hands and chatting up the patrons of his restaurant, this spot is one of a kind. 

As a tour guide in town, one of my favorite things to ask out-of-towners is “Have you eaten at Juan In A Million yet?”  If they say no, I immediately rattle off my standard order: “The Don Juan with 5 extra tortillas and a side of queso!”.  This combination of everything wonderful about breakfast all in one massive juggernaut of a breakfast taco that locals know to split between friends.
Cisco’s Restaurant
1511 E. 6th Street
Amazing food since 1950

Known as “The Man Who Made Huevos Rancheros Famous”, Rudy Cisneros established the restaurant in 1950 making it the oldest operating Tex-Mex restaurant in Austin. Now owned by Rudy’s grandson Matt Cisneros, Cisco’s is such an icon in this city that it’s recently been approved to be a Historic Marker.  Can’t get more iconic and legendary than that!

The time-honored vibes continue inside Cisco’s:  personal photos of local Austin so-and-so’s, vintage tile, and a lunch counter with some very sassy, red barstools all acting as a type of culinary time capsule from 50 years ago.  And honestly, if you’ve got a good thing like Cisco’s does, why change it?

So grab a table or spot at the counter and order some of their amazing food.  There’s obviously their world famous Huevos Rancheros, but you also can’t go wrong ordering their migas or picadillo.  ALSO, do not skip the complimentary biscuits.
Enchiladas Y Mas
1911 West Anderson Lane

Enchiladas Y Mas y Amor

When a restaurant’s motto is “Never Trust a Skinny Cook”, you know your taste buds are in for a ride!  Since 1994, Enchiladas Y Mas has been family owned and making some of the best Tex-Mex in Austin. Some places just want to feed you and get you out the door.  Eating at Enchiladas Y Mas is different.  Once you walk in, you feel like you’re at home and you’re going to be FED! 

From the homemade salsa, to the Chicken Enchiladas with Verde Sauce, everything on the menu at Enchiladas Y Mas is delicious and made with a lot of love!

Maudie’s Cafe
2608 W 7th Street
Visit any of Maudie's 7 locations around Austin

In 1954 when Maudie Hamilton first opened the homestyle cafe for which she was the namesake, she had no idea that she was helping to start an Austin icon. After owning the restaurant for decades, it was sold in the early 1990s to Joe Draker, who made the switch from homestyle to Tex-Mex, solidifying Maudie’s as one of the top spots for this beloved cuisine. Now with 7 spots around Austin, Maudie’s Cafe can be anyone’s favorite neighborhood Tex-Mex joint.

Open 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Maudie’s food will make your mouth water any time of day! My favorites from here include the Marfa Stack (cheese enchiladas topped with fried eggs), Mango Margarita, and their showstopping fajitas!   

Tamale House East
1707 East 6th Street

Delicious food with a photo ready ambience? Yes, please!

The first Tamale House opened in Austin in 1958.  It was a small, family run business that had 8 items on the menu.  Over the years, not only has the menu expanded, but the family love running this business makes all the difference when eating their food. The current incarnation of this family’s legacy is Tamale House East.  This spot opened in 2012, just in time for South By Southwest and all the excitement of an ever evolving East Side.

You can’t go wrong ordering up a 6 pack of tamales, some Veggie Compuesto (queso with fresh guacamole and black beans served with tortilla chips) while pairing it with one of Maudie’s margaritas!  If you’re there on a Saturday, you might even get a chance to be serenaded by a live band.  When you’re ready to kick it up a notch, make sure to go on Thursday for live salsa music and dancing!
Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop
2305 East 7th Street

Save room for dessert!

Ever since Joe Avila opened his restaurant in 1962, Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop has become one of the East Side’s go-to spots for Tex-Mex. Open exclusively for breakfast and lunch, this spot offers all the usual culinary comforts of Tex-Mex like tacos and enchiladas, but their migas and huevos rancheros during breakfast are not to be missed.  Lastly, you have to save room for Pink Cake for dessert. If you go on the weekends there will be a bit of a wait, but trust me when I say it’s totally worth it!

El Secreto de Abuela
817 Airport Road

Get in on the secret!

El Secreto de Abuela is THE best kept secret in Austin when it comes to Tex-Mex cuisine. Even before you walk in, the adorable Abuela (Spanish for Grandmother) painted on the outside lets you know you’re about to have your tastebuds dazzled. The service is excellent, the vibe is family friendly, and the portions are big enough to share or take home for later!

Open from breakfast through dinner, El Secreto de Abuela offers a sizable menu that features seafood dishes, Mexican cuisine classics like menudo and crowd pleasers like fajitas & enchiladas. I recommend a brunch order that includes Egg & Chicharron Breakfast Tacos, some pancakes paired with a Horchata to drink.  You’ll thank me later. 

El Alma Cafe y Cantina
1025 Barton Springs Road

Order the Chile Rellenos & thank me later.

A different approach to Tex-Mex cuisine while still giving that cozy, comfort food effect that makes these foods so beloved. If the weather is right, there’s nothing quite like Happy Hour on the patio at El Alma Cafe y Cantina. It offers the perfect amount of shade while dining as well as a gorgeous view of Downtown and Butler Metro Park.

The only drawback to El Alma is having to decide what you’re going to order. The $4 tacos have all your favorite fillings. Don’t let the price fool you; they’ll leave you feeling full and happy! I would definitely vote for their Micheladas as among the very best in Austin, but you also can’t go wrong ordering La Llorona Margarita. It’s a spicy combination of ghost pepper tequila, prickly pear puree, lime juice, and agave. Don’t forget I told you it’s SPICY! Another can’t miss dish here are their Chile Rellenos. They have 3 to choose from: Sweet Potato, Duck, and Shrimp & Crab. I’m on a personal mission to try all three.
El Arroyo
1624 W. 5th Street
El Arroyo's food is as delicious as their sign is witty!

No “Best of ATX Tex-Mex” list would be complete without the iconic spot that is El Arroyo. You’ve seen their witty signs all over social media. Neither the food nor the humor are new gimmicks here. They’ve been serving up great food and fun times since 1975. 

Once you take a selfie next to the sign and head inside, you’ll start to understand what the rest of the fanfare with El Arroyo is all about. If the weather is good, ask for a spot on the patio and order up a margarita. You’ll need this frosty bit of heaven to help you contemplate the menu. It’s a tough decision that can also be made easier with an order of queso to accompany their delicious chips and salsa. For the entree, I’m always torn between ordering the lime-marinated Steak Ranchero and the Chile Rellenos with Shrimp. Remember this though: There’s no rule that says you only have to order one thing. That’s why there’s takeout containers, right!?        

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