Story by Elena Mejia
Photos by Theresa Callaway
Austin is home to some of the best Tex-Mex eateries, but if you want to immerse your taste buds further south into the tropics, here are five Latin American restaurants to try in Austin:
Argentina: Buenos Aires Café – 1201 E. Sixth St.
Chef and owner Reina Morris moved to Austin in 1997 from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Driven by her love for Argentine food, she enrolled in the Texas Culinary Academy. Buenos Aires Café blends into the East Side culture with dim lighting, vintage décor and lettering and a welcoming staff. Argentine empanadas are accompanied with chimichurri, a regional green sauce made of parsley, garlic, olive oil, oregano and white vinegar. The entrees from the grill take 20 minutes to cook, which adds juicy flavors to the Argentine steak. Buenos Aires Café presents specialties that include all types of protein, with crisp fries and mashed potatoes as common garnishes. Whether you come in for a churrasco from the grill, or a couple of freshly baked empanadas, this East Side café takes Austinites to South America through traditional and celebrated Argentine recipes.
Colombia: Patakon – 1213 E. Sixth St.
Located on the East Side sits a bright yellow food truck. The décor consists of yellow and red cacti and large candlelit picnic tables with Colombian and Latin American music in the background. The attention to detail and the welcoming ambiance is reflected in the food as well. The menu is only in Spanish. The appetizers offer either beef empanadas or la picada, a tray of small fried bites that serve two. Entrees range from beef, chicken or potato plates that are accompanied with rice, plantain and cilantro, each one decorated with savory red onions and aji. Sometimes live bands play vallenato, rejoicing Colombian songs and blending styles with other those from neighboring countries. Large tables welcome customers of all types and ages to sit together and chat while they taste authentic Colombian recipes. Make sure to BYOB and enjoy an evening on the East Side.
El Salvador: Costa del Sol – 7901 Cameron Road
“If you’re not familiar with Salvadorian food, think Mexican but with a tropical twist.” Costa del Sol describes its food as having the best of both worlds. This Mexican and Salvadoran restaurant fuses both cuisines into one, offering a true Latin experience through innovative and regional dishes. Its customers acclaim the pupusas, the traditional Salvadoran dish made of handmade corn tortilla and filled with pork, cheese, beans, or a blend of the three ingredients. The tamale is a Mesoamerican dish, made up of corn-based dough and filled with either pork or chicken. Aside from Mexican traditional rice and beans and shredded lettuce, its Salvadoran influence offers fried plantain and samplings of mango and coleslaw.
Mexico: Fonda San Miguel – 2330 W. North Loop
Miguel Ravago and Tom Gilliland innovated Austin’s dining scene after opening Fonda San Miguel in 1975. Their pioneering efforts allowed for a Mexican cuisine to be introduced in a time where only Tex Mex could be found. Gilliland fell in love with San Miguel de Allende, where he used to hitchhike from The University of Texas at Austin every time he had the chance. From his passion for Mexican culture, Fonda San Miguel was born, transporting customers to San Miguel de Allende through authentic food and paintings from vendors of the streets of Mexico. In the 1970s, chipotle was highly uncommon in Austin, and black beans had to be brought from Mexico, but the co-founders imported a native sense of cooking that was the first of its kind in the city. The menu reflects different regions, which offer a specific recipe or ingredient that celebrates Mexico’s unique gastronomy. San Luis de Potosi, Veracruz and Oaxaca, or the “land of the seven moles,” blend three culinary perspectives into one without Americanizing anything, except the chips and salsa.
Peru: Llama’s Peruvian Creole – 611 Trinity St.
Llama’s owner Miguel Barrutia came in to Austin in 2000 to attend UT and opened the food trailer in 2011. He partnered with chef Julio-Cesar Florez, who tailored Peruvian recipes for the Austin market. He infuses mayonnaise with aji amarillo and puts hoisin, a thick sauce used mainly in Chinese cuisine, to the Pork Belly sanguche. The Lomo Saltado is served with the soy sauce used to cook the meat, taking an extra step that gives most of the flavor. They mix lime and lemon to prepare the Peruvian Cebiche, which is an alternate move uncommonly seen in Peru. Llama’s is true to their ingredients by having fresh peppers and using tenderloin, a very tender meat that is not commonly used in food trucks. Every plate is designed for the Austin kind of market, blending Peruvian recipes with a universal outlook for the community. Panamericana, a well-known Peruvian radio station, and the llama as their name and logo, creates an ambiance with uniquely altered recipes, immersing customers to western South America. Located at the corner of 7th and Trinity, Llama’s is open from Wednesdays to Sundays until 3 a.m., setting an optimal environment for late-night munchies.