Texas’s best Mexican Sunday brunch is the lavish spread at gracious Fonda San Miguel, with numerous regional dishes like the Yucatán’s achiote-seasoned pork pibil served in beautiful Talavera pottery bowls. Small, brightly painted El Mesón puts out some seriously good interior dishes, as well as tacos al pastor, with sweet grilled pineapple and cubes of tender pork sided by chopped onion and cilantro. Some of the best barbecue in Austin is found in the pecan-smoked-brisket taco at Matt’s El Rancho, reason enough to visit the stalwart restaurant’s bustling, hardly intimate dining rooms. The tacos al pastor at ebullient, fast-paced Güero’s are so authentic that at least one Mexico City native visits specifically to have the diminutive, homemade soft corn tortillas topped with adobo-seasoned shredded pork, cilantro, and onion (order the appetizer size to get the small tortillas).
Tiny, tender corn tortillas wrap around grilled bits of guajillo-soaked tilapia at Taco Diner, in the white-hot shopping and dining destination known as West Village; dress up these mini—fish tacos with lime juice, minced cilantro and onion, and fresh jalapeño slices. At sexy, urbane Nuevo Leon, the dish called taquitos is a delightful revelation: Petite soft corn tortillas serve as little platters for toppings of achiote-drenched shrimp laced with an exquisite poblano cream sauce. The cheery, cramped rooms at Mia’s are regularly filled with devotees of the cafe’s sensational smoked-brisket tacos. Two big, grilled flour tortillas are filled with shreds of juicy meat, grilled onion and jalapeño, and brisket gravy— ¡muy delicioso!
No-frills Tacos Santa Cecilia boasts the city’s best tacos: the trompos (“tops”), soft corn tortillas filled with smoky, perfectly seasoned pork cooked on a rotating spit; dress them with the nameless salsa of avocado-studded pico de gallo that’s served on request. At bustling Forti’s Mexican Elder, owner Consuela Forti does a take on the Mexican beef salad known as salpicón—to wit, a refreshing shredded-chicken version seasoned with jalapeños and cilantro in a tart oil-and-vinegar dressing. The carne picada (beef tips stir-fried with tomatoes, onions, and jalapeños) at the H&H Car Wash and Coffee Shop is the best breakfast in the city, loved equally by workers of blue, white, and other collar colors. Among the perfectly executed entrées at Yum Balam —a trendy newcomer whose look is as chic as its seasonal menu—seared ahi tuna in nutty pistachio mole is a must. For dessert, festively decorated La Cuesta offers irresistible cajeta crêpes, bathed in tangy-sweet homemade Mexican caramel and topped with candied walnuts (for the recipe, go to texasmonthly.com).
The most impressive food in Fort Worth, Mexican or otherwise, is coming from a special kitchen deep within the gardens at Joe T. Garcia’s, where Lanny Lancarte II—who represents the fourth generation of the venerable eatery’s founding family—has a restaurant within a restaurant called Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana. His elaborate five- and seven-course tasting menus paired with carefully chosen, unusual wines are costly but well worth it. A recent highlight was excellent steamed sea bass crusted with crushed pepitas, pecans, and walnuts in a key lime beurre blanc, all atop a bed of sautéed spinach. Among the appetizers to enjoy within the relaxing confines of La Playa Maya, the terrific ceviche has a great foil in the queso flameado: gooey, slightly salty Oaxacan cheese speckled with spicy, unabashedly greasy chorizo. A server douses it with Bacardi 151 and sets it aflame to bubble the surface of the cheese. The list of great homey dishes at loud, friendly Esperanza’s is long, but one of the best is the tender, crisp-coated steak milanesa—the chicken-fried steak of Mexican cooking.
At carefree Maria Selma, crab-filled avocados are prepared tableside, the ripe fruit mashed and mingled with fresh crabmeat and piled back into the shell. A specialty at upbeat Pico’s is the huachinango tikin xik, red snapper coated with achiote and grilled in banana leaves; the brick-red spice adds a citrusy, smoky flavor to the perfectly cooked fish, which is garnished with vinegary pickled Bermuda onions. Unfussy eaters who shun sauces and prissy garnishes will love the mesquite-grilled quail at lively Cadillac Bar. The three garlic-rubbed birds, butterflied for easy gnawing, come with chunky char-grilled vegetables. At polished Hugo’s, start grandly with the taquitos de langosta : three small, homemade soft corn tortillas bearing chunks of succulent Australian lobster, drizzled with a roasted-garlic-and-lime sauce. The top dessert here is the mousselike chocolate flan , rich with deep, faintly cinnamony Mexican-style chocolate made from cocoa beans that are roasted and ground in-house.
Workingmen and families gather for breakfast at nothing-fancy Paulita’s #1, where the muy spicy huevos con machada a la mexicana (with dried beef and chopped tomato, onion, and jalapeño) are a real wake-up call. Paulita’s enormous, fluffy flour tortillas are fantastic too.
Napped with an emerald-green cilantro pesto boosted with lemon, pumpkin seeds, and Parmesan, the fabulous cilantro shrimp at classy El Jarro de Arturo are a legend in their own time; order them as shrimp fajitas or with bow tie pasta. All the tacos are terrific at Beto’s small, jazzy cafe, but one of the best is the chile-rubbed-fish (with a wonderfully tart yogurt-cilantro-poblano dressing). The pumpkin flan at sedate, soothing La Fonda is a fusion dish that really works, blending the best features of Mexico’s satiny flan and America’s spicy pumpkin pie. Lively Rosario’s, beloved of night owls, has the city’s best pozole—pork and hominy in a mellow broth sided by zesty condiments like chopped onion. Might unprepossessing Tito’s become el número uno of San Antonio’s Mexican restaurants someday, assuming the mantle once worn by the original Mario’s? Talented Tito Cantu, nephew of the late Mario Cantu, is making amazing sauces, like luscious poblano cream (reminiscent of asparagus) and cilantro cream (with a limey kick).
See the Directorio for directions to any of these restaurants.