Wednesday, December 01, 2021
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La Condesa Austin

A Bite Out

Welcome to the Modern Museum of Mexican Street Food

Following the street food trend of taking traditional dishes and executing them in a modern fashion, La Condesa has created a mania in Austin’s warehouse district. This little sister of the Dallas Victory Park original tries to distance itself from the older, big-haired, sibling; the menu and vibe are very different.

From the cut cinder blocks on the bar wall to the framed steel windows and shrub landscape, this is cool clever modern. Playa de Carmen, anyone? A leg-tease peak into the glassed stairway that leads to the “pretty people” Malverde tequila bar upstairs leaves you wondering if you’ll make it up to Heaven. Though the kitchen towels for napkins and the soundboard ceiling tiles dilute the scene a bit, the tiles do seem to help with the noise. The front row view of the Spaceballs’ Star Destroyer (City Hall) out one window and Teuscher Chocolatier out the other will remind you that Austin is going through a metamorphosis and you are sitting in the center of it. La Condesa is unique for Austin.

There is a serious amount of attention that goes into the flavor of most dishes.

The yellowfin Tuna Tostada is the perfect warm-up exercise, with pickled cucumber, chipotle mayo, and crispy shallots. We might only suggest that they capitalize MAYONAISE on the menu. Though the Mango y Jicama with Shrimp salad is a hit, you might want to wear a bathing suit to wade in the serrano dressing. The Cochinita Pibil Berkshire pork is meticulously tender and you can taste the charcoal. The nonpareil Camarones Al Pastor’s achiote-guajillo chile and grilled pineapple hold a delightfully smoky and sweet balance, though some might say the pineapple is a bit much. Favorite treat is probably the Hongos y Huitlacoche, with wild mushrooms, huitlacoche, oaxaca cheese, epazote (Mexican wormseed seasoning), and truffle oil. Everyone should order this.

There is a heat theme that carries through most of the dishes, almost like there is an over-compensation to prove there is flavor. The seems-like ketchup-based Vuelve a La Vida “Come Back to Life” ceviche, with the traditional 2 packets of soda crackers on the side, is longing for a plastic kid’s Luby’s bib, a milkshake straw, and most importantly…for seafood. The Acapulco ceviche is a safer bet.

Outside of the bar area, service needs to step it up. On one visit, the waiter had visited our table 4 times and hadn’t noticed that we were all out of water. There were only 2 other tables in the restaurant. Maybe they have to run “out” for water because the dishwasher seems to have issues, too. Not sure if it was intended as hip modern art, but the plates at our table had leftovers from previous guests stuck to it. Service needs to step it up.

The service seems to be stronger in the bar. Lana, the welcoming, spicy, comfortably-informed, bartender believes in what La Condesa is doing and the excitement is contagious. The spirits menu has over 70 tequilas and 10 mezcals, including tequila flights. There are several house specialty cocktails we recommend including the “El Cubico”, “El Guillermo”, and “Alma Blanca”. In place of a margarita, the El Cubico is whole leaf tobacco-infused Sauza Hornitos reposado, Navan vanilla liqueur, lemon, grilled pineapple juice, mescal essence, volcanic saffron-infused salt rim. Can we get an ashtray for this drink? The 4 main infused salt rims drive the cocktails home. The wine list is fairly playful (for Austin) with about 25 wines, ranging from $26 to $80 a bottle. Red or white Sangria is available by the glass or pitcher. On a different dirty dish visit, a Caipirinha glass arrived with a heavy shade of lipstick rim that didn’t match my outfit. After pointing it out to the waitress(who did offer to bring another one, though we were leaving), she didn’t take it off of the bill. Every visit there has been some dishwashing discrepancy.

Ignore the wobbly tables (2 of 3 visits), dirty dishes (which is worse… the fact that the dishes are dirty when they arrive at your table or the fact that the staff doesn’t notice/care?), misplaced dining chairs, imaginary empty water glasses at your table, and you’ve got a hit on your hands. Though not worth the hype, it is probably worth taking the afternoon off from work to take siesta with friends in the bar!

La Condesa Comida y Tequila


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