Dishes from the interior regions of Mexico are spicy just like Tex-Mex, but you’ll find a lot less of one major ingredient: cheddar cheese. White cheeses are used in some interior cuisine, but they tend to play more of a supporting role.
Austin’s oldest interior Mexican restaurant, Fonda San Miguel has been going strong since 1975. The beautiful hacienda-style building is just one of its many charms. The chicken chile relleno is one of many standout dishes. For those who are familiar with the rich, complex flavors (cinnamon, chocolate) of mole, Fonda San Miguel’s version of mole enchiladas will not disappoint. It’s packed with almonds, capers, and olives, and smothered in a creamy cilantro sauce. For dessert, don’t miss the decadent tres leches cake. 2330 West North Loop; (512) 459-4121
The restaurant is easy to overlook since it right next to a huge Target. Once inside, you’ll find a dimly lit dining room that’s narrow but deep. The bar in the back glows with subtle blue light. The absolute can’t-miss dish here is the cochinita pibil. It consists of achiote-marinated pork cooked in banana leaves. The meat is incredibly tender and only subtly spicy. Coming in at a close second is the chile relleno en crema. The large pepper is stuffed with pork, onion, tomatoes, almonds, and raisins. It’s the cream sauce on top that takes the dish to a whole other level. The bar also has an excellent selection of tequila and its devilish cousin, mescal. 4211 South Lamar Boulevard, Suite A-2; (512) 416-9667
For a light start, try the ceviche, a seafood blend with lime, escabeche onions and orange-marinated corvina. The sopa Azteca is a rich soup that’s substantial enough to be a main course. It’s packed with spicy chicken, avocado, corn and queso fresco. Big eaters will appreciate the pork chop marinated in Coca-Cola. It sounds odd, but the taste is amazing. 1025 Barton Springs Road; (512) 609-8923
The restaurant’s signature dish is the carnitas Michoacanas. The spicy fried pork is served with pickled jalapenos and charro beans. For an extra kick, order it with the Pipian sauce. The unique twang of Pipian sauce is an acquired taste, though. Many waiters suggest trying a sample before ordering the dish. The tacos al pastor, however, are adored by all. The mixture of pork, cilantro, lime, and onion produces an unforgettable flavor. Mole and ceviche dishes also earn high praise. 1816 South Lamar Boulevard; (512) 326-4395
This gorgeous, multilevel restaurant in downtown Austin earned its 15 minutes of fame when Andrew Zimmern featured it on his TV show. The fresh guacamole with chipotle and toasted almonds is an excellent meal starter. Adventurous eaters rave about the mushroom masa with huitlacoche and yellow corn. Venison tacos are another crowd fave. 400-A West 2nd Street; (512) 499-0300