The search for the best Tex Mex in Austin has long haunted me, mostly because it feels like an overwhelming task. There are SO MANY Tex Mex restaurants in Austin, y’all. And I don’t want to hit “publish” on a food guide unless I’m certain that it’s thorough. My goal is always to direct you to the BEST restaurants in Austin.
And so, after several months of eating (and eating and EATING) at Tex Mex restaurants all over Austin, I’m ready to share my top 12 picks for the best Tex Mex in Austin.
But first…what’s the difference between Tex Mex and Mexican food? The quickest way to differentiate Mexican cuisine versus Tex Mex is this: Mexican cuisine dates back thousands of years ago from indigenous communities in Mexico, and Tex-Mex originated from Tejanos – Texans of hispanic decent – and is a blend of Texan and Mexican culture, hence the name “Tex Mex.” Also the ingredients, dishes, and flavors are different: Mexican food relies heavily on corn maize, white cheese, chile peppers, and cacao, while Tex Mex typically includes lots of flour tortillas, cheddar cheese, ground beef, and cumin. (NOTE: this is overly simplified – you can dive deep in research if you want to know more!)
Ok, on to the good stuff. You’re on this page because you want to know: “where can I get big plates of sizzling beef fajitas, refried beans, fresh homemade salsa, and a pitcher of margaritas? And I want to enjoy it all under twinkly lights on a patio in Austin.” Well friend, let’s dive in…
The Best Tex Mex Restaurants in Austin
When you ask local Austinites about Polvos, they’ll mention two things: the margarita pitchers, and the salsa bar. And both are amazing, don’t get me wrong, but here’s why I’m putting Polvos at the top of this list: if you’re looking for the best Tex Mex in Austin, you want reeaally good food (fresh tortillas, hot sizzling beef fajitas, fresh salsa), a fun environment (with a patio and twinkly lights), and lots of booze. Polvos has all of these.
Try the Fajita al Guajillo: your choice of meat sautéed with pecans, raisins, peanuts, peppers, and onions. Be sure to start off with some chili con queso and a pitcher of margs (or two…), and don’t be afraid to venture into the more “Mexican” side of the menu than “Tex Mex.” They have some great seafood and mole dishes here, too.
(Note: the margaritas pitchers aren’t necessarily the best margs you’ve had, but everyone orders them and after drinking a pitcher of margaritas, you’ll start to believe they’re the best you’ve had. Funny how tequila does that to you…)
1713 S First St, Austin TX 78704
2. Eldorado Cafe
If you’re judging a Tex Mex restaurant by its exterior, you probably wouldn’t notice this one. But PAY ATTENTION because the food is extra amazing! Eldorado Cafe is tucked into a little shopping center in North Austin. They have incredible margaritas, the best roasted beef short rib enchiladas, and the most scrumptious appetizer of FIVE different types of fresh salsa. Their queso is my other favorite app. Eldorado’s founder and chef worked at more than 30 restaurants (including TacoDeli and Whole Foods) and truly knows how to produce Mexican-inspired comfort food that you’ll crave again and again.
3300 W Anderson Ln, Austin TX 78757
3. Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
This is the ultimate blend of Mexican and Texas culture: Tex-Mex/BBQ! I adore the food at Valentina’s for many reasons, but the number one reason Valentina’s is on this food guide is their delicious homemade flour tortillas. PERFECTION.
Ok, but this isn’t a guide to flour tortillas in Austin…you also want to be sure to load up on tacos full of smoked meat, brisket-loaded queso, charro beans, and guac. I won’t typically choose chicken over beef when I’m eating Tex Mex, but Valentina’s mesquite-smoked pulled pollo taco smothered in sea salt lime guacamole on a fluffy flour tortilla is the exception. Quick note: this isn’t the place to go for a giant Tex Mex menu (they don’t have fajitas, quesadillas, or enchiladas), but Tex Mex + BBQ is a rare combo, so I wanted to be sure to highlight this place as something different for you to try!
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ
11500 Menchaca Rd, Austin TX 78704
4. Matt’s El Rancho
This massive south Austin Tex Mex restaurant wins for best ambiance! I’ve found that when most people ask me for a Tex Mex restaurant recommendation, they’re looking for something like Matt’s: a big restaurant with a fun patio, strong margaritas, quick service, consistent food with all the staples like tacos, enchiladas, fajitas, and homemade tortillas.
I wrote a blog post called I Can’t Call Myself An Austin Food Blogger Without At Least One Post About Matt’s El Rancho in which I talk all about the history of this iconic Austin Tex Mex restaurant. It’s a staple in our food scene, and the 500 seats are consistently full of hungry locals and visitors.
Matt’s created the famous Bob Armstrong dip, a queso appetizer with ground beef and other fixings mixed in. Restaurants all over the country have copied it, but the original was right here. Go to Matt’s for an AMAZING time, consistently good food, and one best places for Tex-Mex ambiance in Austin.
Matt’s El Rancho
2613 S Lamar Blvd, Austin TX 78704
5. La Mancha Tex-Mex Tavern
If you find yourself in north Austin and need a popular Tex Mex place to visit, go to La Mancha Tex-Mex Tavern. It’s a really fun, indoor/outdoor restaurant with high-quality Tex Mex staples, good margaritas, a covered patio, and good vibes! To me, this is the north Austin equivalent of Matt’s on South Lamar: it’s consistent, always buzzing, and has a really fun ambiance that you’re probably craving if you’re in the mood for Tex Mex!
Right when you sit down you’ll be greeted with a bowl of tortilla chips and some freshly made salsa. Try the Firehouse No. 12 Queso, which is loaded with ground beef, avocado, and queso fresco. The menu is massive, because they have everything from standard Tex-Mex staples to more traditional Mexican influences like tamales, grilled fish, and sopapillas.
2203 Hancock Dr, Austin TX 78756
6. Habañero Cafe (breakfast/lunch only)
This little café in South Austin is your best bet for a fresh and tasty Tex-Mex breakfast or lunch date. They’ve been family-owned in Austin since 1998 and have a steady stream of locals coming into their doors daily. Try the phenomenal shrimp ranchero taco wrapped in a flour tortilla (they get their tortilla fresh every day from local tortilla factory Fiesta Tortillas), or a giant Habañero burrito, filled with ground beef, beans, and cheese, and deep-fried with a side of ranchero sauce. (Psst: the breakfast tacos here are amazing.)
COVID update: to-go orders only.
501 W Oltorf St, Austin TX 78704
7. Tamale House East
In the madness that is East 6th St, there’s a little oasis called Tamale House East. It’s tucked back off the street and has a huge parking lot and lots of trees. This family-run restaurant has been in Austin since 1958.
The pork tamales are a best-seller here, with a soft and flavorful masa shell that’s full of melt-in-your-mouth meat. But holy mole (*wink*) that’s chicken mole taco is my favorite menu item that I have to get every time I’m here!
Tamale House East
1707 E 6th St, Austin TX 78702
8. Curra’s Grill
Curra’s is a neighborhood favorite in South Austin. They’ve created a name for themselves from their famous avocado margaritas (really thick, almost like a smoothie + tequila…you need to try one at least once). But there are a bunch of other reasons why this is on the list of best Tex Mex in Austin.
For starters, it just feels homey. It’s a little bit grungy, and you can tell it’s been around for a while and their food has made a lot of people happy. The Tex Mex breakfast here is a great choice, with a large roundup of all the best dishes like chilaquiles, breakfast tacos, and “Huevos Curras,” which is two eggs with carne guisada, and an option to add tamales on the side if you’re extra hungry.
The lunch/dinner menu is huge and offers all of the Tex-Mex classics that you’d expect. Try the steak fajitas, pastor enchiladas, and home made tamales…and tons others! Good food, good drinks, good times.
614 E Oltorf, Austin TX 78704
9. Enchiladas Y Mas
Say hello to the most hole-in-the-wall place you’ll find on this list: Enchiladas Y Mas fans are passionate about supporting this Austin institution. It’s been in north Austin since the 1990s, and after a short period of closure in 2020 (it changed owners) it’s re-opened and everyone is at peace again.
Go for the enchiladas (duh) and frozen margaritas. This is not “fancy” Tex Mex food, and I know there are a bunch of you who are raising your margaritas and chanting “AMEN!” There are green plastic mini blinds on the windows, brightly colored Christmas lights up all years, and tables and chairs that you might have seen in your church basement in the mid-90s. And it’s all so great.
Enchiladas Y Mas
1911 W Anderson Ln, Austin TX 78757
10. Joe’s Bakery and Coffee Shop
Established in 1962 in east Austin, tis is THE place to go for a Tex Mex breakfast in Austin. (Their breakfast tacos among the best in Austin.) Fill up on those migas, carne guisada, and breakfast tacos to start your day.
There’s typically a good crowd around lunchtime. Both regulars and tourist come to Joe’s because it’s really good Tex Mex food, reasonably priced, and big servings. And even though there’s a bakery component and the name has “bakery and coffee shop” in it, the Tex Mex restaurant is a really big component to this place.
Joe’s Coffee Shop and Bakery
2305 E 7th St, Austin TX 78702
11. Guero’s Taco Bar
I’m going to start with this disclaimer: as far as Tex Mex in Austin goes, this place is one of the most expensive ones you’ll find. That’s because it’s located in the heart of the South Congress tourist district, and lots of Austin visitors go to this place ready to drink margaritas, have a good time, and spend lots of money!
That being said, they have a really fun space, a good salsa bar, and a few seats outside where you can enjoy the SOCO ambiance. The food, in my opinion, isn’t worth the high price tag, but if you’re visiting Austin and you want a convenient, walkable place to get your Tex Mex fix, Guero’s is going to be perfect for you.
Guero’s Taco Bar
1412 S Congress Ave, Austin TX 78702
This sweet little old-school restaurant in East Austin has been on 6th street FOREVER. I hope it never goes away, because it’s a Tex Mex staple in Austin!
Just like Joe’s, Cisco’s has a great Tex Mex breakfast and I recommend trying that first. There’s a nice little bar in the corner where you can perch and enjoy a plate of breakfast tacos before you start your day. Or, if you’re dining solo and want a good lunch spot where you can get a beer and a plate of enchiladas, this is it.
1511 E 6th St, Austin TX 78702
I like to include a few extras at the bottom, just in case you’re the type of person who thrives on MORE choices, not fewer. These are a couple extra Tex Mex restaurants in Austin that are worth your consideration, too:
El Secreto de Abuela: a total hole-in-the-wall place in far east Austin. Pretty solid menu of regular Tex Mex menu items, cheap prices and big servings (there were lots of hungry construction workers eating there on lunch break when I visited), and quick service.
Chuy’s: it’s a big chain of restaurants now, but Chuy’s started right here in Austin on Barton Springs Rd. Along with Maudie’s, this is probably the most “gringo” of all the Tex Mex in Austin (which isn’t bad! Just something to note) and the food tastes more like food from On The Border than a Polvo’s or Eldorado.
Maudie’s: same as I mentioned above: Maudie’s is an Austin favorite, so I’m going to get a bunch of hate for saying this…but this is the type of Tex Mex food you might find in, say, Wisconsin. It’s a bit lackluster compared to some of the restaurants at the top of this list.
Cruzteca Mexican Kitchen: if this list was based on food alone, Cruzteca would on it. But as I’ve made pretty clear, Tex Mex food is also about the ambiance (patio! twinkly lights! location!) and Cruzteca is in a shopping center with Mattress Firm and Petsmart. (And I know that El Dorado is in a shopping center too, but their food is THAT good!) Cruzteca is an excellent option for to-go meals, or if you don’t really care that much about ambiance.