Don’t wait to experience elevated Mexican dishes created by an expert chef in a stunning downtown space
By Karen O. Spezia
Photographs by Holly Cowart
Regret, presumably, is a waste of time. So why do I keep kicking myself for not discovering ATX Cocina sooner? In the two years since it opened, I could’ve been reveling in its refined Mexican fabulousness. But instead, I hesitated. I worried that it was just another overhyped, overpriced downtown blip. I chased after other new restaurants, doubting there was a need for yet another Mexican restaurant in Austin. But then, my friend, fellow food writer and Mexico native Claudia Alarcón insisted I check it out. She swore the place was legit. She was right. I was wrong.
Better late than never. ATX Cocina is now on my list of go-to restaurants. Its sophisticated Mexican food is terrific, as are its drinks, ambiance and service. Run by the aces behind marquee dining destinations like Eddie V’s and Red Ash, it’s no surprise ATX Cocina fires on all cylinders. I’m delighted I finally experienced it.
Executive chef Kevin Taylor’s parents owned a Mexican restaurant for more than three decades. He grew up in this business. As an adult, he honed his skills at modern Mexican standouts like Philadelphia’s El Vez and the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas. His latest menu offers an overwhelming range of tempting options. It all sounds good — and better yet, it all is good. Making up for lost time, I’ve now sampled almost everything and there’s not a loser on the list.
Start with the sopes, three tender disks made with Oaxacan heirloom corn that’s ground and cooked in-house, then filled with cochinita pibil, bean purée, and habanero-onion salsa. Or the tacos arabes, succulent roast lamb served on a bed of creamy garbanzo purée and spicy rajas with recado rojo (anchiote paste). Fold some into a warm homemade tortilla and you’re in heaven. Other tasty starters include the bright and herbaceous guacamole, the savory duck carnitas, and any of the fresh seafood crudos.
While you could easily make a meal out of ATX Cocina’s starters, don’t miss its show-stopping entrées, all large enough to share. The barbacoa short rib is fork-tender and packed with flavor, garnished with jalapeño-chayote escabeche and cashews. The succulent chile-roasted chicken is served in a pool of lip-smacking white mole with a side of bacon-braised cabbage and grilled cebollitas. One of these days, I’ll try one of the massive grilled meats, like the lamb porterhouse, bone-in ribeye or pork tomahawk.
Be sure to order one of the excellent side dishes, like the sweet, butter-poached corn tossed with queso fresco and punched up with smoked aioli, lime and cilantro. Or the crispy papas bravas, smashed fingerling potatoes drizzled with zippy smoked-chile aioli.
Drinks rival the food at ATX Cocina. If you’re a tequila or mezcal fan, you’ll be astounded by its extensive selection. Cocktails are skillfully crafted, and even the basic house margarita is one of the best in town. The beer and wine list overflows with wonderful treats, like the bold Chilean Prisma Rosé, which complements almost everything on the menu.
ATX Cocina’s daily happy hour is worth the effort. Although the offerings are limited, they’re an incredible value. And some items, like the outstanding cochinita pibil tacos, are offered only during happy hour.
No matter when you dine, you’ll appreciate the restaurant’s stunning interior. The soaring dining room is lined with natural wood and windows overlooking Lady Bird Lake and downtown’s bustling scene. You’ll also find intimate dining nooks, communal tables, multiple bar options and an outdoor patio. Serving only dinner, except for lunch on Friday, the restaurant is always packed with diners, including young residents from surrounding high-rises, working professionals hosting business dinners, and singles, couples and tourists of all ages. Everyone, it seems, feels comfortable at ATX Cocina. It’s a pleasure to dine there. I’m absolutely smitten. Don’t make the same mistake I did; get over there pronto.