ATXReview

photo credit: Richard Casteel

Matt’s El Rancho image
8.2

Matt's El Rancho

Tex-MexMexican

South LamarSouth Austin

$$$$Perfect For:Big GroupsCasual Weeknight DinnerClassic EstablishmentOutdoor/Patio SituationImpressing Out of Towners

Included In

There are countless imitators, but there can only be one Bob Armstrong Dip, and you will only find it at Matt’s El Rancho. The original mashup of queso, beef taco meat, and guacamole is reason enough to make the trip to this Tex-Mex legend in South Austin. But the strong margaritas, homemade tortillas, and textbook enchiladas are also reason enough to get in the car. You’ll inevitably have to wait in line on most nights, because Matt's El Rancho has been serving consistent, classic Tex-Mex around for over 70 years, and it’ll likely outlive us all.

Matt’s El Rancho image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

Matt’s is built for war. While you wait for your table, take a look around. This place is a group dinner machine. You’ll find multiple dining rooms, a sprawling patio with a fountain, and enough seating for 500 people. So it’s safe to say there’s room for you and your friends, or entire extended family. The servers here have seen some sh*t, and showing up unannounced with 20 people would probably be fine. Matt’s is the kind of place where the servers might make fun of you if you take photos of the food, because regulars don’t do that, and only tourists (and Infatuation staffers) do that, apparently. 

Matt’s El Rancho image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

Eating at Matt’s will make you feel like you’ve time traveled back to a simpler time when gluten-free bread and nut milks didn’t exist. The menu is proudly old school Tex-Mex, a glorious, unashamed combination of meat and melty cheese and flavorful sauces, with all the classic dishes like nachos, chile rellenos, fajitas, tacos, carne guisada, enchiladas, combo plates, and beyond. The food is not life-changing, but it’s always better than it needs to be. The red salsa has a little kick to it, and the tortilla chips come out warm, fresh, and salty. All the tortillas are made on-site, allegedly to the tune of over five million corn tortillas a year (and “only” a half million flour tortillas a year). In all likelihood, Matt’s also makes enough queso every day to fill a swimming pool. 

Matt’s El Rancho image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

So yes, you go to Matt’s for melty cheese and enchiladas and maybe a steak, but you also go to Matt’s for the drinks. Well it’s not just you, it’s most of the Austin area really, as the restaurant constantly ranks as one of the top 10 restaurants in Austin for alcohol sales. The small cocktail menu spans from prickly pear to frozen margaritas, but you probably want to get the potent Mexican Martini—aka Matt's Knockout Martini—that comes with its own plastic shaker just so you can get a little bit more.

Matt’s El Rancho is enormous, and even then, there’s almost always a wait for a table. But it’s not so bad. Even at prime hours you never have to hang around too long, and the bonus is that you can grab a margarita at the bar while you wait. We’ve often found that by the time you’ve battled your way to the bar, put in your order, and finally gotten a drink in your hand, your table is usually ready. When you sit down, the first question you’ll be asked is not if you’ll get a Bob Armstrong Dip, but if you’d like a large or a small. 

Food Rundown

Matt’s El Rancho image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

Bob Armstrong Dip

Colloquially known as the “Bob” or the “Dip” or even the “Bob Dip.” Matt’s El Rancho is the creator and the home of this brilliant and often imitated combination of queso, beef taco meat, and guacamole. The options are large or small. Unless it’s just two of you, you’re getting a large. “A large Bob, please,” you say to the server when they first come to the table.
Matt’s El Rancho image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

Fajitas

The fajitas at Matt’s come out sizzling like they should. Paired with generous amounts of pico, guacamole, sour cream, grated cheese and unlimited flour tortillas, the fajitas are a near-perfect example of the genre. The angus beef is not cheap, but it’s worth it.
Matt’s El Rancho image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

Chile Rellenos

The chile rellenos are a delightfully old school dish, with the absolute maximum of shades of brown and orange that the human eye can process at one time. It’s a chile stuffed with beef, chicken, cheese, vegetables, or shrimp, that’s then battered and fried, and then topped with either ranchero or verde sauce, and then all of that gets topped with Texas pecans (for texture), raisins, sour cream, and raw onion slices.
Matt’s El Rancho image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

Enchiladas

When it comes to fillings and sauces, there’s basically an infinite amount of varieties of enchiladas you can get at Matt’s, but the simple and classic way to go is two cheese enchiladas with chile con carne that gets topped with even more cheese.
Matt’s El Rancho image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

Grilled Old Fashioned Tacos

Essentially griddled tacos, the grilled old fashioned tacos are a cross between a quesadilla and a hard shell taco, a relic of another era that somehow still remains on the menu. They’re unique, sort of like how birds evolved on their own in the Galapagos Islands, except in this case it’s a vintage taco preparation on what used to be a quiet stretch of South Lamar. There are different options for fillings, and we like it with smoked brisket.
Matt’s El Rancho image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

Tortillas

Matt’s probably burns through more corn tortillas in a single day than Nixta Taqueria does in an entire year. We like the artisanal tortillas at Nixta a lot more, but it’s just on a totally different scale, by orders of magnitude, and the ones at Matt’s are way better than any pre-packaged tortillas you’ll find at most other spots.
Matt’s El Rancho image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

Mexican Martini

If you're getting a drink at Matt's, you should get the very potent Mexican Martini—aka Matt's Knockout Martini—that's basically a margarita but with olive brine and garnished with speared olives. It comes with its own plastic shaker so you can get a little bit extra.

Included In

FOOD RUNDOWN

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