I’m not sure if the lack of a space between the “El” and the “Dorado” is inspired by Tacodeli’s fused name, in which case Eldorado might be pronounced el-door-ah-though, or if the name is sourced from the dusty West Texas town in Schleicher County, in which case it might be pronounced el-door-eh-doh. Although I don’t how to say it, I do know what it means: delicious Mexican-style comfort food served up fresh and vibrant on the north side of Allandale.
Chef Joel Fried has quite the pedigree, having worked with Jean Pierre’s Upstairs, Bitter End, Vespaio, Whole Foods, Stubbs BBQ, and, over the past decade or so, Tacodeli (where the ‘deli’s Otto has single-tacoly raised my life satisfaction quotient by 7 percentage points). Joel and his wife and business partner, Joanna, with experience in catering, decided to open a restaurant—their first—to bring a casual neighborhood spot for regular folks to enjoy good food, good drinks, and good company. Being neighborly is personal with the Frieds since they live and love in nearby Brentwood and that the restaurant displays family artifacts, including Joel’s father’s Latin albums.
With a focus on being a neighborhood cafe, the Frieds are not trying to take over the world (at least at this point). Eldorado is not a high-end chef’d-up eatery aiming for a James Beard award. While I’m a big fan of chef’d-up food, chef’d-up often means mysterious ingredients in tiny portions at exuberant prices. Eldorado hosts familiar ingredients in hearty portions at reasonable prices with its chefiness stealthily crouched among familiar dishes. The vast majority of Eldorado’s menu sports Mexican and TexMex fare, but it also includes flirty fusions into (purely) Texan (biscuits), Cuban, Indian (puchkas), Italian (panzanella), and Chinese (spare ribs) cuisine.
For breakfast, Eldorado offers tacos ($2.5–$5), including one, “The Crossing”, that I hope references the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name; biscuits and biscuit dishes ($4–$7.5); and plates ($7.5–$8.5). We’ve tried the Migas ($7.5) and Nomad plates (sausage and carnitas scrambled with eggs, tomatoes, onions, roasted green chiles, jack cheese and queso fresco topped with salsa ranchero; $8.5) and found them both tasty and satisfying.
For lunch and dinner, there’s a wide array of dishes including appetizers ($4–$10), salads ($4–$11), house-specialty guisos (Mexican stews; $13–$15), and enchiladas ($12). For lunch, we enjoyed the Enchiladas Classicas (ancho chile sauce, jack cheese, and diced onion with chicken [you can also choose beef, cheese, or mushrooms]) and the Enchiladas Suizas (creamy salsa verde, avocado, and jack cheese with chicken) along with a fresh agua fresca; $4).
For dinner, we partook of the Nachos Compuestos (individually constructed nachos with refried black beans, jack cheese, avocado, and Pico de Gallo [we added shredded chicken]; $9) and the Pork Green Chile Guiso (pork with roasted green chiles and tomatillos plus two sides [we chose rice and Las Calabasas, a hash of butternut squash, zucchini, roasted garlic, toasted pepitas, and basil]; $15). Both dishes were delicious, but the guisa stole the show with unbelievably tender carnitas-style pork steeped in a deeply flavored, mole-esque sauce. We also sipped top-shelf and house margaritas. The house margarita got you there, but the top shelf was the-shelf must-be-on-the-roof good with complex flavors that danced on the tongue. We also enjoyed a sampler of Eldorado’s five signature salsas ($5): Avocado Salsa, Salsa Fresca (inspired by Tamale House), Chile Verde, Salsa X, and El Scorpio (a ghost-pepper infused bowl of pain that must have been inspired by the Hellraiser movies; to maintain my limited machismo I explained away its nearly-full status at the end of the evening due to its limited heat).
The menu includes choices for vegetarians and vegans as well as a kid’s menu. We’ve yet to try the buzzy Shiny Ribs (crispy St. Louis pork ribs coated with sweet arbol chile glaze, garnished with jicama slaw; $10) or the deserts (which include a sopapilla cheesecake [$7] and an amazing-looking skillet cherry pie [$9]). We also need to go back try house specialties such as chef Shauna Mason’s Shaunna-Wanna Taco Salad, chef Esme Tejeda’s Esme’s Magic enchiladas, Joel’s Happy Plate enchiladas, and bar manager Laura Beck’s specialty drinks [is our Laura Beck moonlighting!?!?!].
The Fried’s long experience in the restaurant business has left nothing to chance. They tested the menu at pop-ups around town; have given a great deal of thought to the mission, menu, aesthetics, and brand; and have clearly hired (and trained) welcoming and friendly staff. Despite the strip mall location, Eldorado is warm, friendly, and familiar as soon as you step inside. It’s all the good parts of Austin rolled into an instantly comfortable atmosphere.
In the neighborhood TexMex spectrum, I’d say that Eldorado comfortably fills the gap between our existing neighborhood establishments and Fonda San Miguel, which, I believe, is exactly what the Fried’s intended. And based on the peak-time waits and rave reviews, the Frieds have expertly arranged the perfect array of ingredients to create a successful neighborhood destination restaurant.
about our scale:
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll be back]
**** holy sh!t [transcendental]
I wrote this review for the Allandale Neighbor