El Monumento: Austin Style Pick
A design-minded haven of Mexican influences nestled outside charming Georgetown, Texas.
Tucked along the bank of the San Gabriel River on the outskirts of Georgetown, the limestone walls of El Monumento are an unexpected sight. After parking in the sandy crushed granite lot, the walk along the restaurant’s exterior is lined with a vegetable garden and flowering red Pride of Barbados shrubs. There’s little in the way of signage, and entering the compound feels like stumbling into a Mexican villa owned by a particularly green-thumbed stranger. The project was envisioned by the organic-minded owners of cherished neighborhood diner Monument Cafe as an outpost of Mexican cuisine far enough outside Georgetown’s historic district to seem like it’s in the middle of nowhere. Intended to clear diners’ minds of both small-town streets and the nearby highway, the lengthy entrance sequence into the restaurant takes visitors past a clay-tiled courtyard shaded by the leafy tendrils of a massive, drought-tolerant huisache tree. Co-owner Clark Lyda says, “We want people to poke around the courtyard, stop thinking about the traffic, and think about the sound of the water and the scent of the plants.”
Once inside the restaurant, it’s clear that you haven’t quite left civilization. The design comes courtesy of Overland Partners, a lauded San Antonio architecture firm best known for their work on the LBJ Library. Traditional Southwestern elements like dusty-colored brick-work, custom mesquite furniture, and windows overlooking the riverbed are complemented by more contemporary design touches like exposed steel framing and Edison-bulbed light fixtures. An entirely open kitchen shows line cooks whipping up Interior Mexican cuisine like duck smothered in a rich, Veracruz-style xico mole and enchiladas filled with Swiss chard and sweet potatoes straight from their garden. At the bar a vintage snow cone machine crushes ice for margaritas and cocktails are adorned with fresh herb garnishes. The approach to the culinary process is so transparent that there’s literally a window into the freezer that guests pass on the way to the restrooms.
But perhaps the most striking aspect of El Monumento is how it fits into the surrounding environment. A winding patio circles the back of the dining area and gives a relaxing view of the river. The compound is landscaped with nearly 50 native and well-adapted species of Texas foliage planted by the founders of Austin’s Jardineros Nursery. Each shrub, succulent, and flower is labeled, from antique roses and jasmine vines to 40-year-old olive trees. “We want people to feel like they’re a guest in someone’s house and the architecture and landscaping is designed to reinforce that,” Lyda says. It’s a style of hospitality that’s likely to have return diners feeling less like they’ve stumbled onto a stranger’s property and more like they’re visiting a familiar friend.