I think everyone loves El Patio Restaurant – the little family-owned Tex-Mex joint just north of the University of Texas campus. Even my mom who went to UT in the 1980s still loves it. Every time she comes to Austin and we drive along the Drag I hear, “Ah! El Patio! Have you ever been there? Remember when we went there when you were little?” Yikes. Honestly, I hadn’t been back since that one time we went when I must have been in high school or something. I think another reason I hadn’t been back was because my vegetarian friend’s vegetarian parents gave it an awful review from an experience more than 20 years ago. Something about saltines instead of tortilla chips … Well, I can definitely say after my experience last night that there were no saltines and the menu was not made with vegetarians in mind.
Kyle and I had been planning on eating at Santa Rita Cantina last night, this swanky Tex-Mex place by our new house with an eight-page menu of all kind of enchiladas, fajitas, you name it. I had my heart set on some mushroom spinach enchiladas. But then we got sidetracked when we were returning some free movies and picking up some wine at Centennial Liquor on Guadalupe. El Patio is right next door and I think we didn’t really care where we ate. So, I looked at the menu, approved of the cheesy covered choices and took a seat. The place was packed with families over three tables and older couples that you could tell had been going there for decades (the placed opened in 1954). It has a kind of campus feel to it, like a lot of places on the Drag like Dirty Martin’s or Texadelphia, with UT memorabilia and signed photos of Mack Brown. It was warm and comfortable, but I completely forgot to ask the waiter, named David and also the owner’s son, where’s the patio? I bet he gets that question a lot. Maybe they used to have a patio.
First, I can speak to the saltine-less basket of tortilla chips because we spent some time munching on those and enjoying $4.00 margaritas after we ordered. I actually really liked the chips! They weren’t greasy, which is something I often find in traditional Mexican restaurants, and they were already salted to perfection. I’ve had better salsa for sure, say from El Chilito (I’m serious, this stuff is good) and then my roommate’s grandmother makes probably the best salsa I’ve ever had. She should really make a bunch and put it in jars and sell it, or give it to me. The margaritas were also fine. Nothing special, but sometimes all you need is a regular lime margarita, with or without salt, and a lime wedge. Suck that down.
When our food came it was like glory – a plate cover in a safe amount of enchilada, rice, beans, and tamale covered in chili con carne. It was definitely cheesy and straight-up Tex-Mex, but I could taste the simplicity in the chicken enchilada and beef tamale, and I appreciated that. I really get sick of going to gigantic Mexican restaurants where I pay a ton, get a huge plate of food that is going to clog every vessel inside of me, and then feel like I have to go back all of the time because it was so gooey and delicious. El Patio has the delicious and comfort-food aspect of it down, but the portions were perfectly reasonable and the price reflected that. We each had a dinner combo plate and a margarita and the tab came out to about $25.
Oh, yeah. And each customer gets complimentary sorbet or pecan pralines. We both had a nice refreshing cup of the orange kind, just enough to kill the sweet tooth.
El Patio Restaurant
2938 Guadalupe Street
Austin, TX 78705