The ultimate question to answer before diving into this guide is what exactly is “Tex-Mex”? You’ve more than likely enjoyed it, as many of our “Mexican” favorites are actually Westernized versions of traditional Mexican dishes. Tex-Mex originated when early Mexicans settled in Texas and began fusing traditional flavors and dishes with American ingredients—think ground beef, American cheddar, and wheat flour (as opposed to traditional maize). Having to make do with products available, these Tejanos laid the foundation for what is now considered a culinary genre entirely independent from interior Mexican cuisine.

Tex-Mex encompasses much more than you’d expect, and staples like enchiladas, burritos, and quesadillas line menus throughout the Lone Star State. Every combo plate comes with a required side of rice and beans, of course. Whether it be on a trendy porch downtown or in a local dive on the East side, here are the restaurants that serve the best Tex-Mex in Austin.

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11. Habanero Cafe

Best Tex-Mex in Austin: barbacoa gordita from Habanero Cafe

Habanero Cafe is a casual eatery with coastal vibes that dishes out some of the best Tex-Mex in Austin. This cafe has been owned and operated by the same family for over 20 years and specializes in queso-laden nacho plates and sizzling cast-iron skillets of beef fajita. Order the barbacoa gordita, essentially a Mexican ‘pita’, where barbacoa and cheese are stuffed into a thin masa pastry. The dish comes with refried beans, chunky guacamole, and lettuce, and is not for the faint of heart. We love that Habanero Cafe delivers straightforward Tex-Mex and is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. The cafe is open daily until 3 p.m. so be sure to plan accordingly. And be sure to snag a few of the delicious Mexican candies by the register on your way out.

Habanero Cafe

$$ Mexican, Tex-Mex

501 W Oltorf St, Austin, TX 78704

(512) 416-0443

10. Pelon’s Tex Mex

Pelon's Tex-Mex ground beef enchiladas with red chile smother

Located in the heart of downtown, Pelon’s Tex Mex is exactly what we’ve come to expect from a standard Tex-Mex restaurant, which is so not a bad thing. Pelon’s boasts a fairly impressive dining space with multiple dining rooms and an expansive patio with endless nooks and crannies all anchored by a towering oak tree wrapped in red lights. Freshly-fried, shatteringly thin chips with house salsa greet you as you sit down (these chips should be the standard at any Tex-Mex restaurant—they are stellar). With a menu full of Tex-Mex favorites, the ground beef enchiladas with red chile smother and spicy shrimp tacos are among the greatest hits.

Pelons Tex Mex

$$ Tex-Mex, Bars, Tacos

802 Red River St, Austin, TX 78701

(512) 243-7874

9. El Borrego de Oro

best Tex-Mex in Austin dish from El Borrego de Oro

As a small brick building on the Southernmost end of South Congress, El Borrego de Oro may be the last place you’d expect to find some of the best Tex-Mex in Austin. The menu is extensive and everything on it is great, but their house specialty is what keeps regulars coming back: braised lamb birria tacos. The restaurant’s name actually translates to ‘lamb of gold’—that’s how good these are. Served deconstructed, the dish comes with tender lamb braised in a stew of tomatoes and onions aside cilantro, pico de gallo, refried beans, and Mexican rice. WIth simple ingredients prepared exceptionally well, the tacos are light but rich and absolutely delicious. Ask for a side of pillowy flour tortillas for a near-perfect, easily shareable Tex-Mex meal.

El Borrego De Oro

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8. Polvo’s Mexican Restaurant

Polvo's Tex-Mex in Austin

A longtime Austin landmark, Polvo’s is the place to find solid Tex-Mex, and quite a bit of it. Seriously, the menu is extensive and the portions are very generous. Each plate is served with multiple small sides (e.g. diced jalapeños, sliced avocado, and chopped cilantro), making for a delightful build-it-yourself vibe. The breakfast tacos at Polvo’s are some of the very best in town—chorizo with eggs, potatoes, and cheese is our fav. The tortilla soup is a great lighter lunchtime option. Filled with chicken, zucchini, cabbage, whole cloves of garlic, and topped with thick strips of crispy tortilla chips, this brothy soup is surprisingly filling and homey. We also love the carne guisada enchiladas, made with tender pork in a rich brown gravy with fresh cotija cheese sprinkled atop. Your meal will most definitely be messy, but it’s more than worth it for some of the very best Tex-Mex in Austin.

Polvo’s Downtown

$$ Mexican

360 Nueces St, Austin, TX 78701

(512) 494-6064

7. Juan in a Million

the fajita plate from Juan in a Million in East Austin

Going on 43 years strong, Juan in a Million is another East Austin classic with a solid breakfast and lunch game. Known for the behemoth Don Juan Taco El Grande, a heaping plate filled to the brim with potatoes, bacon, eggs, and cheese with tortillas on the side, bring your friends and a very hearty appetite to polish off this bargain $7 plate of goodness. Juan in a Million also has a great fajita plate (get a beef and chicken mix for the best of both worlds), gooey chicken enchiladas, and the very memorable huevos con queso (yes, that’s eggs served with queso on top).

Juan in a Million

$$ Mexican, Breakfast & Brunch, Tex-Mex

2300 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX 78702

(512) 472-3872

6. Gabriela’s Downtown

tacos dorados from Gabriela's Downtown Tex-Mex in Austin

Gabriela’s Downtown is arguably the most photogenic restaurant on this list, complete with colorful Mexican table coverings, a gorgeous mural, and a ‘besos’ neon sign inside. The restaurant boasts picturesque views of the Austin skyline and a phenomenal happy hour. Opt for the popular choriqueso to start (baked jack cheese with chorizo and guacamole). The tacos dorados are a feast for the stomach and eyes alike: three shredded chicken taquitos underneath a generous pile of bright purple cabbage drizzled in Mexican crema and topped with queso fresco, slices of ripe avocado, and pico de gallo. The chicken is tender and seasoned well, while the crema and crunch of cabbage balance out the dish. End the evening with chocoflan, a traditional Mexican dessert that layers flan with chocolate cake and caramel.

Gabrielas Downtown

$$ Mexican, Cocktail Bars

900 E 7th St, Austin, TX 78702

(512) 840-1569

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5. Tamale House East

the best Tex-Mex in Austin found at Tamale House East

Tamale House East is a trendy yet historic eatery serving some of the best Tex-Mex in Austin, including our favorite tamales. Sit on the shady garden patio and order the traditional pork tamale, their most popular tamale and our top pick as well. The pork is robust, the tamale is moist, and after your first bite, we fully expect your jaw to drop to the floor. While the tamales are phenomenal and what you’re here for, we also love their cochinita pibil, served with Yucatan-style pulled pork, black beans, pickled onions, jalapeños, Mexican rice, and guacamole. Tortillas are provided to DIY your own tacos. Add a bit of everything to make every bite top-notch.

Tamale House East

$$ Mexican, Breakfast & Brunch, Tex-Mex

1707 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

(512) 495-9504

4. Matt’s El Rancho

The original Austin-style Tex-Mex from Matt's El Rancho

Matt’s El Rancho is coined “the original Austin-style Tex-Mex” for a reason. The historic restaurant is notorious for its scratch kitchen, lively atmosphere, 500+ seats, expansive patio, and beautiful outdoor fountain. Opened by a husband and wife team in 1952, this all-day restaurant has become one of the most popular spots to find some of the best Tex-Mex in Austin. Snag a seat on the back porch and settle in with an order of smooooth queso to start (it’s rich, simple, and addicting). We recommend both of their most popular entress: the mahi-mahi fish tacos and the asadero tacos. Both tacos are best on Matt’s house-made corn tortillas. The fish tacos are cooked perfectly and the cilantro vinaigrette they are served with is a true stand-out. The asadero tacos are the ultimate taco bliss with salty marinated beef tenderloin, melty grilled asadero cheese, and some crazy flavorful peppers and onions to round everything out. 

Matt’s El Rancho

$$ Mexican, Tex-Mex, Seafood

2613 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

(512) 462-9333

3. Joe’s Bakery and Coffee Shop

Tex-Mex breakfast plate from Joe's Bakery and Coffee Shop in Austin, TX

Joe’s Bakery and Coffee Shop has been a community staple serving some of the best Tex-Mex in Austin since the 1960s, though you’d never guess it by its unsuspecting, hole-in-the-wall vibe. Blue, dimly-lit walls adorned with black and white photos of the Avila family line a dining space with yellow booths and a center bar. Though the diner is far from chic, one bite will make you a fan for life. Joe’s is a breakfast-and-lunch-only kind of place. They offer rows and rows of pan dulce, pastries, conchas, tacos, traditional breakfast plates, and a few lunch options. A quick scan around the restaurant to see what everyone has on their plates will show you what Joe’s does best: breakfast. Their breakfast tacos are phenomenal, and their migas and carne guisada plates are the kind of breakfast that’ll keep you happy and full well past lunchtime. Joe’s is most famous for their ultra-crispy bacon, so whatever you decide on, make sure a side of bacon is included.

Joe’s Bakery & Coffee Shop

$ Mexican, Bakeries, Breakfast & Brunch

2305 E 7th St, Austin, TX 78702

(512) 472-0017

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2. El Alma

the best Tex-Mex in Austin found at El Alma

El Alma is the perfect blend of interior Mexican and high-quality Tex-Mex cuisines, resulting in elevated tried-and-true classics and some of the best Tex-Mex in Austin. The restaurant sits just across from downtown and features a cozy interior and beautiful rooftop. If it’s not too hot, ask for a table on the deck and order an agua fresca and queso blanco e rojo to start. This type of queso is baked, calling for a cheesy, thick pull (you know the kind). For lunch, we love the refreshing Barton Springs chopped salad with spinach, avocado, pumpkin seeds, cherry tomatoes, bacon, and queso fresco. The chipotle ranch adds the perfect hint of heat. For dinner, dive straight into the duck enmoladas—enchiladas served in mole rather than a chili-based sauce. If mole isn’t your thing, the pollo a la parilla (grilled chicken breast, crispy potatoes, and caramelized onions topped with melty queso panela and chipotle tomato salsa) is also fantastic.

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1. Eldorado Cafe

carnitas cubanos from the best Tex-Mex restaurant in Austin, Eldorado Cafe

Unassuming. That’s one sure way to describe Eldorado Cafe, tucked away in a small strip mall lining a busy bridge in North Austin. Don’t let the distance sway your decision to visit though, as Eldorado Cafe’s reputation for having the best Tex-Mex in Austin far exceeds its unsuspecting exterior. Inside, the family-owned-and-operated cafe serves rich, colorful plates with airy chips and award-winning queso (smooth and light but the kind you can’t seem to stop eating). One of their most popular dishes, carnitas cubanos, mirrors the eatery’s vibrancy, plated with pink pickled onions piled atop shredded purple cabbage, fresh guacamole, black beans, white rice, and unbelievably crispy carnitas. An immediate standout, the carnitas are seasoned subtly and lightly blackened, but in a way that resembles the appeal of burnt brisket ends—full of flavor and with the perfect crunch. If you only have a few days in town, be sure Eldorado is at the top of your list when searching for the best Tex-Mex in Austin.

Eldorado Cafe

$$ Comfort Food, Mexican, Breakfast & Brunch

3300 W Anderson Ln #303, Austin, TX 78757

(512) 420-2222