We’re discussing the level of satisfaction we can get from a good plate of Mexican food vs the tariff that plate’s going to levy, as we ride through the Violet Crown neighborhood of Austin. It’s supper time and my companion is peppering me with queries about where we can go and what she can expect once we get there.

I trot out all the normal metrics of eating within a 2 mile radius: Arandas on Burnet, Dart Bowl on Grover, Fonda San Miguel on Hancock, El Caribe on Lamar etc. til we finally get it narrowed down to Jorge’s vs Fonda San Miguel. It’s doubtful these 2 restaurants often compete head to head for a meal choice but this is where we find them.

Face to face in a flavor vs flavor vs value showdown.

There’s not a lot of value at Fonda San Miguel.

It’s pretty. It’s comfortable. It’s well-appointed. But, unlike its competitor, Four Seasons, I’ve never been sent reeling into the night by how unimaginably delicious it is. It’s too easy to drop a hundred dollars there on supper and it’s simultaneously hard to warrant that kind of expenditure when you factor in the flavor vs dollar ratio.

Pay a bunch of money for Mexican food? It’s enough to make a cat laugh.

I’ve been known to eat Mexican 7 days a week. It’s cheap, abundant and delicious in Austin. There’s no call for it being expensive.

$9 for guacamole? If the owner wants to ride around in a fully restored Stutz Bearcat in a raccoon skin coat he’s going to have to manage it without seeing any of my hard earned dollars.

Jorge’s has a long history in Austin. The Arredondo family set up shop in a variety of restaurants in Austin in the 70s and vended thousands of plates of Tex Mex to our citizenry before finally calling it a day decades later. If there’s still an Arredondo in town selling Mexican plates, I’d love to hear about it cause I loved those cheese enchiladas with carne chile gravy and raw, chopped white onions.

Old school.

Jorge Arredondo’s Casita Jorge has belonged to the Veloz family of West Texas for nearly a decade. The family of taco barons has restaurants scattered all over the state serving a regional variation of Mexican food that includes a decided tilt toward New Mexico. With bushel baskets of Hatch chiles currently in every kitchen in Austin, I opt for the New Mexico enchiladas: two, red, tortilla-bound, chicken enchiladas drenched in a chunky Hatch chile sauce with a double side of porky refried beans.

They’re fine. The white meat chicken is tender; was it grown in a yard in Rosedale, butchered by a man with a footlong goatee and then sent through a circulator in the back for a day and a half before it hit the table. No, and it’s telling that these are the new criteria that we judge our food by these days.

To this day the best quesadilla I ever put in my mouth came from the Odd Duck kitchen of Bryce Gilmore. He probably hand-raised the kitchen in a spare bedroom, had Jesse Griffith over for supper one night and coaxed him into butchering it, then cooked it sous vide for a week or so before finishing it off on a wood fire.

Hyper-local has arrived in Austin and we’ve never had it so good. On this night at Jorge’s, the tortillas are commercial. The star of the plate is actually the beans. They’ve been slow-simmered with plenty manteca then pureed til silky smooth. I could eat a gallon of them.

Special note must be made of the totopos as they are FRIED IN HOUSE. Such a simple task, cut up some corn tortillas and dunk them in hot fat til crispy, but you would think it’s damn near impossible if you surveyed the number of joints in town that can’t be bothered.

Across the table there’s a fierce battle going on and a plate of chicken enchiladas is on the losing end. It’s a fine looking plate {or was} but I feel no need to sample it. The speed and efficacy with which it’s being demolished speaks volumes.

We take our meal on the one hundred degree patio with ESPN blasting from the TVs. It’s easy to get cabin fever in Austin when summer starts to wind down and the relentless heat shows no sign of abating. Our servers {we have 2} adroitly tend to our needs keeping rapidly dwindling water glasses and margaritas filled to the brim. When the salsa begins to diminish, it’s replaced with a full one. Sadly, these sorts of actions are both notable and laudable.

A big scoop of Amy’s Mexican vanilla ice cream provides a nearly perfect ending. As we leave, we note the bar area is filled with people shrieking and laughing in a scene befitting Hubert Selby, the main part of the restaurant is beginning to fill up and a little patch of earth outside the door is playing host to a group of pre-teen girls having a cartwheel contest.

If only the old Americana Theater was still open across the street. Unfortunately, the grand old movie house became the Yarborough branch of the Austin Public Library system years back. Vanishing into our collective memory like old Jorge Arredondo and those killer enchiladas.

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