It seems strange to write about a restaurant that is so popular that further compliments just seem redundant, but my relationship with Guero’s Taco Bar on South Congress Avenue is a bit different.
For decades now, Guero’s has been a frequent but temporary cure for home sickness. I moved to Austin from South Texas in the 1980’s to attend the University of Texas and, over the years, work and busy schedules have made trips home fewer and farther between. Though I keep in close contact with my family, what I always miss is the food. Having had the benefit of great cooking from my mom and grandmothers, finding great Mexican styled or Southern cooking that meet the standard has always been a challenge.
So, finding a place where my first impression was “God, this tastes kinda like home!” was amazing.
Guero’s has been open in Austin since 1987, and has been in its current location since 1995. The restaurant, in an ancient brick building south of downtown, is a series of large high-ceilinged rooms with oversized sepia photos of old, rural Mexico. Beautiful deep green pottery is also hung on the wall above the open kitchen, offset by a series of Guero’s Mexican-styled calendars. The eclectic Austin style here is a progenitor of the many places that have become “SoCo”.
Kitsch, trendiness, famous clientele, and location aside, the food is, in a word, fantastic. Guero’s large menu has all the old standards; tortilla soup, quesadillas, fajitas, enchiladas, crispy and soft tacos, burritos, tamales, and a variety of daily specials like chilies rellenos. Another plus is they make their own corn tortillas!
My favorite meal at Guero’s is the Chicken al Carbon tacos served with flour tortillas, charro beans and rice. The chicken is marinated in orange juice and ground achiote (a rust colored seed from the annatto shrub in the Yucatan), then grilled. I add fresh avocado and a squeeze of lime and improve my entire day.
The two stand-outs here are the quality of the beans and rice. The rice has a nice garlic and tomato flavor and the beans, though vegetarian are also very flavorful (though a little salt-pork would be nice).
Other favorites are the breakfast tacos and the thick flan for dessert.
From the bar, Guero’s margaritas have to be mentioned. Instead of using a mix, they use pure Key lime juice. Though you may ask for some Grand Marnier or other liqueur to sweeten it a bit, you will eventually not like margarita’s elsewhere.
So, whether you are missing your mom’s cooking, or your nanny’s, treat yourself to Guero’s soon. It’s considered one of Austin’s best for a good reason.By Richard Arebalo Photos by Vicky Garza
Editor’s note: I never thought I would hear the words “We have a special vegan/gluten-free menu” come out of a server’s mouth. But, to my surprise, Guero’s has a special separate menu for vegans and the gluten-intolerant. I highly recommend the Chalupas a la Celeste with soy chorizo, lettuce, and avocado for those seeking a meat-free, dairy-free alternative.