When: October 27th, 2008
Where: Zocalo Cafe (West Lynn, just south of Enfield)
What I Had: Appetizers: Dos Salsas a serving of Salsa Roja and Salsa Verde with homemade tostadas. Ceviche marinated white fish with avocado, onions, bell peppers, & jalepenos. Entrees: Tacos Del Mar two tacos stuffed with Mahi Mahi, cabbage, carrot slaw, and a side of mango-watermelon salsa. Pulled Pork Posole Soup a soup composed of slow roasted pulled pork, tender posole, and cilantro.
What I thought: Well here we are back to reviewing Austin after a brief stint in Arizona. Zocalo has come highly recommended to Claire and I from many sources. Claire has been having a craving to try it for a while now and we decided we would have a little date night down to the campus area of Austin and check out this swanky mexican joint. Let me preface this review with a few words. I hadn't seen any pictures or done much research at all of Zocalo. Usually I have a pretty good idea of what I am heading into. This time around I went with Claire's gut instinct. So I had very few or any expectations.
Zocalo is located in the heart of the Clarksville neighborhood which instantly gives the joint a cool, hip feel. As we are walking up to the restaurant there are lots of people out walking dogs, shopping, and visiting the local spots and coffee shops. We both agreed how cool it would be to live in a area that you could walk to your local coffee shop or favorite eatery. Having entered Zocalo, it seems remarkably plain for a historic and vibrant area of town. That is, until you start paying attention to the simple/retro/modern design of the restaurant. Each white table has a flower and a candle on it. The design is mostly in the lighting and less in art work or amazing architecture. Deep down there is a lot of character simply added by the age of the building. Not to mention there a few girls carving pumpkins at one table, how could that not be fun.
The ordering process is a simple walk up and take a number type. Claire and I took the cashiers recommendations on the pulled pork soup instead of opting for a second entree. I had heard somewhere that they had good ceviche and that the Dos Salsas was great. A order of the ceviche comes with a order of Dos Salsas, so we sprung for that as well. After only about 5 minutes our ceviche and salsas come out. Now, this is my first attempt with ceviche so I may not be the most well versed critic. I found it tasty, pleasing, and simple. Like I had heard it was good.
The salsas were delicious. I am a sucker for green salsa anyways so you can almost always sell me on those. Whether they be tangy or spicy, I am likely to devour the bowl. Zocalo's is of the spicy variety and was a good contrast to the acidic ceviche. The Roja salsa was unique, smoky and also something I could eat a bowl of by myself. It had a hint of mole to it, which I am not normally a fan of, but it also had a smoky base to contrast the mole flavor. The salsas compared and contrasted with one another and by the end of the time our entree arrived I still hadn't chosen a favorite.
I am a big fan of fish tacos. Battered, grilled, breaded, corn, flour, saucy, dry rub, you name it, I will probably enjoy it if it's a fish taco. So I do not say this lightly, and I mean no offense to La Bodega, but the Tacos Del Mar were the best fish tacos I have had to date. Maybe it is my recent obsession with Mahi Mahi, but these two flour wrapped babies were incredible. They had the write amount of sauce, the perfect combination of slaw and cabbage, and an incredibly well cooked fish to top it off. The curveball however was the mango-watermelon salsa. It was unique, fresh, and added that little bit of personality that sets these tacos apart from the rest.
The Pork Posole soup was good, it was warm and had great flavor. I can't say it was the standout of the meal but it was a good substitute for the standard rice and beans. It was the one thing that had a real authentic south of the border flair that didn't pull some crazy ingredient in. So simplicity worked well for this soup.
Simplicity works very well for Zocalo. When it comes to delicious, fresh, light, and unique mexican food this is the place to get it. The inside well become succeptibly charming throughout your meal and the food suprises you in places you don't expect. The manager actually came by our table twice, just to double check everything was good. Our server was great. We didn't have to ask for anything and always had plenty to drink. Zocalo provided perfect service with spot on food. By combining simple fresh flavors and putting a small spin on it Zocalo manages to make itself my first 10 for 10 restaurant.
Pros: Everything. Simple, charming interior, impecable service, helpful cashiers, delicious food for a steal of a price, quick access to campus and downtown nightlife.