photo credit: Nicolai McCrary
Back in the 9th grade, we had a friend who would constantly tell stories about spending the summer in a small town on the Mexican coast, riding yachts and eating fresh seafood. These stories made the waters sound magical—complete with clams dancing like butterflies while old sea turtles crooned out jazz tunes from a Disney musical montage. We can only imagine that similar stories are what inspired Este, a Mexican seafood restaurant on Manor Road that feels like you just floated into a small coastal town in Baja, California.
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This is the second spot from the folks behind Suerte—a place we like very much—but here, seafood is the star of the show. Whether that’s in the form of a half dozen top neck clams swimming in a fiery pool of habanero pico de gallo and chile oil, or as the larger-format pescado zarandeado—a whole butterflied fish, brushed in a sweet, peppery annatto red chile marinade, then grilled to a perfectly-charred finish. Masa plays a supporting role here, in the form of crispy, masa-battered swordfish tacos, or as excellent house-made corn chips acting as a platform for giant scoops of bright and punchy ceviches, aguachiles, and tiraditos.
The dining room feels like a bright, seaside diner. Tall vaulted ceilings with exposed rafters, and a golden backlit bar give the place a regal look, while the blue/gray tones throughout the dining room add a bit of coastal flair. It’s upscale-casual and chic—the kind of place where you’ll feel like you can finally pull off that big hat you own but have always been too afraid to wear out in public. On the covered patio you can look out over the large garden where they grow most of their own produce. When the weather’s nice, there are very few places in the neighborhood better to sit outside and enjoy a passionfruit-pineapple tropical margarita or a glass of orange wine.
Este is a place you go to when you want to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, or just being alive, with some of the best seafood that Austin has to offer. It’s a place where you can dress up, just a little bit, and escape to a small coastal town where the seafood is always fresh. Because even if the fish aren’t actually singing, and the clams aren’t dancing, it’s an experience that would even make your old pal from the 9th grade jealous.
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There’s a whole margarita menu here (with four options), ranging from more classic types, to our favorite, the Tropical. We like the added oaky notes the tequila reposado brings to the table (cup?), but the passionfruit, pineapple, and lime keep the whole thing lively and bright.
This has large chunks of fresh snapper, shredded and pickled carrots, avocado, fresh herbs, and lime. It’s refreshing and zesty, and goes especially well with a tortilla chip and a drizzle of salsa. There are a lot of ceviches on the menu, but if you only get one, it should be this.
The cauliflower “ceviche” topping this tostada took us a second to wrap our heads around. But once we did, we were sold (and continue to be). It has just a bit more crunch than a typical ceviche, but all of the same flavors (well, minus the fish). It’s inventive and fun, and we’d recommend getting one, even if just to throw a few veggies into your meal.
These come two to an order and are probably some of the best fish tacos you’ll find in the city. It’s a large strip of swordfish that gets masa-battered and fried to a shockingly crispy finish that made us question any allegiances we’ve ever had to traditional batter. Just be careful—it’s served with a very spicy habanero-piquin hot sauce. Ask for it on the side if you’re sensitive to heat.
Carnitas De Atun
Large chunks of tuna get the full carnitas treatment here—they’re fried in lard, and served over some refried pinto beans with pickled red onions and fresh herbs. The beans are light and almost sauce-like, with flavors highly reminiscent of a more classic carnitas preparation, but our tuna was a little overcooked for most of our bites.
The star of the show. This is a whole grilled fish that gets butterflied, brushed in a peppery annatto red chile marinade, then grilled over coals until it’s charred on the outside, but smoky and perfectly-cooked on the inside. You can make a few tacos out of this with the tortillas on the side, or just go at it with a fork (or your fingers).