(the new) trudy’s

I’m not in the restaurant business (although, perhaps, I am, given that I’ve written about Austin restaurants for over 30 years now). However, one restaurant commandment I’ve observed is: Thou shall not mess with the tried and true. Given that TexMex is one of the basic food groups in Austin (along with tacos, margaritas, and brisket), it’s probably best not to mess too much with it, especially if it is already popular. But that’s what’s happened with Trudy’s, which has been under new ownership and management for the past few years.

Having gone to UT and lived just a few stumbling blocks from the original Trudy’s on 30th street, I have many great memories of Trudy’s food and its infamous Mexican martinis. When The Bride and I traveled overseas for a week or two, our first stop between the airport and our house was Trudy’s to receive an infusion of emergency TexMex and tequila. Trudy’s was where we met with friends, made memories, and enjoyed the best artery-clogging food in town.

We were heartbroken when Trudy’s announced it was going bankrupt and then elated when Hargett Hunter Capital Management stepped in to keep Humpty-TexMexidumpty in one piece. And while the big pieces are still here, they replaced or “upgraded” enough of the little pieces to change Trudy’s to not be Trudy’s anymore.

In part, I get it. Austin has chef’d up bigtime since we sipped our first Mexican martini back in 1991. Many places around town have had their wares “elevated” in one way or the other. But does perfection need elevation? How high does the pedestal have to be? Consider that other stalwart of Austin-style TexMex, Chuy’s. Chuy’s has moved to the national stage with the same menu and aesthetic they’ve had all along and done well with it.

Another restaurant commandment, especially one with a basket full of regulars, is: Thou shall not shut down too long. People will go elsewhere and create new routines and new traditions. And if the menu is too different from what it was before the re-opening, the regulars will ask, “Who moved my queso?”

That is what happened with Trudy’s, and that was certainly our experience. My go-to dish, migas enchiladas, was now adorned with brisket and sickly-sweet bbq sauce (For some reason, the out-of-towners tried to fuse bbq with Trudy’s TexMex. Unless your name is Valentina, no.). We wept into our elevated Mexican martinis and didn’t come back.

Until now. When we were craving a bowl of tortilla soup late one night, and El Mercado was fixin’ to close, we ventured back into the open-late Trudy’s. It’s not nearly as busy as it used to be, especially on a weekend night, but we loved that we could get a seat right away. And the soup (and margaritas) were good.

On a recent trip, again in need of emergency TexMex, we hit Trudy’s. Again, not as busy, but again appreciative for instant seating. We splurged on the fancy queso (which was different than the old fancy queso, but, dare I say? better). The margaritas were good (go basic, not “elevated” here). Scared of the migas enchiladas, I ordered the suiza enchiladas with (at The Bride’s recommendation) a side of caliente (green chile, jalapeno, and habanero) salsa splashed across the top, and it was superb, the salsa adding a good burn to the richness of the suiza and chicken tinga. Back again, we ordered sampler plates (an excellent way to test the wares) and walked away happy (except for the smoking allowed on the patio). And they still have those thin, crispy chips that are our fave in town.

The key thing about the new Trudy’s is to not judge it against the old Trudy’s. The old Trudy’s is gone. When judged on its own merits, the new Trudy’s is pretty good. If you’ve stayed away as we have, it’s worth another look and exploration of the menu to find new favorites.

web&where: interwebs; various locations, north star at 8820 burnet road, (512) 454-1474
what’s the deal? texmex; table service
overall: ** (food**; atmosphere**; service**; instagrammability**)
cost: $$

our scale:
–          meh [think twice]
*         OK [it’ll get the job done]
**       good [solid neighborhood joint]
***     damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
****   yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best]

each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)

I wrote this review for the Allandale Neighbor.

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