Thank God the drought is over. Not the real one—sorry, that one is as brutal as ever. No, I mean the Great Austin Restaurant Drought. After a hot, dry spell, promising new venues are popping up like mushrooms after a rain. This month it’s Garrido’s, the long-anticipated upmarket taco emporium from chef David Garrido. Those of you who aren’t total newcomers will remember Garrido, who for fifteen years ruled the beloved white-tablecloth haunt Jeffrey’s. Then, in 2006, he vanished into corporatelandia to become the new-concept guy at the Chuy’s empire (yeah, I thought it was a little weird too). But now that the wraps are off his new digs, it has all become clear. Garrido and friends aren’t stopping with just one—they’re hoping for an eventual rollout in Texas’s major cities. This could be the start of something big.
When you go, consider beginning your evening on the tropical, palm-swathed deck way above Shoal Creek with a round of drinks (I love the Paloma, with tequila, grapefruit juice, and Mexican Fresca) accompanied by homemade chips and salsa (there should be a twelve-step program for that hot-sweet-icy tomatillo-serrano sauce).
After that, you’ve got to decide if you want to abandon the umbrella-shaded deck for inside (of course you do; see aforementioned drought). Once ensconced in the cool room, with its comfy brown leather chairs and arty wood screens, scan the concise menu and order a round of small plates for the table; the idea here is mixing and matching and keeping it casual. I was quite taken with the lamb pops—three small, rare chops with a side of garlic ancho chile sauce; they had me gnawing the bones. Or you might try the shrimp cocktail Acapulco in a spicy arbol chile, red pepper, and lime juice salsa.
Of the tacos, my favorite turf version is the coffee-marinated ribeye and asadero cheese combo garnished with chipotle-horseradish aioli. My favorite surf edition is the crispy batter-fried oysters with sweet habanero aioli and pico (pictured, previous page), which are basically clones of the ones Garrido made famous at Jeffrey’s (they live!). I was about to suggest that all or most of the tacos could be ordered as plates, but I think I’ll hold off on that until the kitchen has time to work on the tired cilantro rice and the slightly sludgy refried black beans (even though they’re sparked with an unusual anise seed seasoning).
Once you’ve filled up on nibbles, all you may want for dessert is the silky mango flan. But give careful consideration to the pastel de calabaza , a.k.a. zucchini cake. Yes, the name loses something in translation, but it’s a Garrido family recipe, and the striking pistachio-green color, not-too-sweet flavor, and supermoist texture will make it stick in your mind. Which is something you could say about the restaurant as a whole—and when you’re talking about a hot new concept, isn’t that the point? Bar. 360 Condominiums, ground floor, 360 Nueces, Ste. 10 (512-320-8226). Open Mon—Thur 11—10, Fri 11—11, Sat 9:30—11, Sun 9:30—10. $$ W+