photo credit: Nicolai McCrary
Cafe Hornitos is the kind of Tex-Mex restaurant that feels like a long-standing neighborhood spot, tucked away on a nondescript street in a mostly residential neighborhood. Instead, you can find it on a frontage road of I-35, right next to the elevated upper deck, in the shell of what looks to have been a Japanese restaurant in a former life—complete with a koi-less pond/fountain near the front entrance. But despite its location, it brings with it everything you’d expect out of a neighborhood Tex-Mex joint—solid food, strong margaritas, and a cozy atmosphere.
This is no-frills Tex-Mex at its best. Don’t expect any kitschy decor or waiters in themed aprons, just a large room with the bare minimum in interior design—a few hanging streamers and a couple wall murals— to let you know what they’re all about. Order a large margarita and it might come out in some large, blue-rimmed martini stemware, or it might show up in a pint glass. Either way, it’ll be immediately apparent that there’s no shortage of very potent (and, overall, pretty good) margarita in front of you to accompany the gratuitous amounts of cheese, tortilla, and grilled meats you’re about to consume.
Start with an order of camarones ala diabla—jumbo shrimp wrapped in cheese, jalapenos, and bacon—then order some fajitas to complete the classic Tex-Mex experience, sizzling skillet and all. They’re tender, flavorful, and perfectly suited to pairing with some grilled onions in a house-made corn tortilla. The enchiladas come in just about every variety—including a sampler version if you can’t decide between the ultra-classic ranchero, tangy chicken verde, or a more savory chile con carne—plus there’s the requisite selection of burritos, rellenos, and flautas that define a Tex-Mex restaurant almost as much as traffic defines Austin. And if you’re in the mood for something different, while also wanting to test the limits of the human body, you can try the Heart Attack Cheeseburger. It comes topped with extra melted cheese, a fried egg, and a slice of ham, in addition to all the classic burger accompaniments. We’re still mustering up the courage to order it.
Hornitos isn’t the type of place you take out-of-towners looking for a classic Tex-Mex experience. It’s where you go after a long day of work when you want a good, hearty meal and a couple of (strong) margaritas, all right off I-35 on your way home.
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