Nine chaplains walked into a bar … which sounds like the lead-in to a really bad joke. It’s a true story, though. I’ve been hanging out with hospital chaplains this summer, and when a bunch of us wanted to find an affordable, decent lunch in relaxing surroundings after a long morning meeting in the East End, Austin’s emerged as a convenient and decent dining option.
An out-of-towner piped up as we rolled into the large parking lot of the free-standing eatery and watering hole near Holiday Manor: “I haven’t heard of this chain.” That would be because it is not a chain, as most locals know, although this was not an unreasonable mistake. The large, sprawling building with its expanses of glass, wood and brick, has a chain-y look, as does its sister restaurant closer in to town, KT’s.
There’s a corporate look, too, to the large bar that forms a centerpiece for comfortable, casual dining rooms, the ample drinks selection and the professionally produced menu that ranges from queso and chips ($7.99) to a club sandwich ($8.99) or chicken pot pie ($9.99).
The menu calls the fare “Southern and regional cuisines with a contemporary touch.” It struck me as a slightly fancified, well-made cookery from a corporate kitchen intended to please a well-traveled Midwestern farm family that’s equally happy with country fried steak ($9.79) or grilled chicken alfredo ($12.49).
Appetizers (many of them salty, crunchy bar fare) and dinner salads range in price from $6.99 (for the house salad topped with bacon, eggs and toasted almonds) to $12.69 for the meal-in-itself bronzed salmon salad, which one of our party declared “a winner.” Soups are $2.89 for a cup, $3.89 for a bowl.
A dozen sandwiches are $7.99 (for a reuben) to $11.99 (for a prime rib-eye steak sandwich on French bread), while dinner entrees all come in under $20, topping out at the Maker’s Mark sirloin ($16.49) or classic rib-eye steak ($17.49).
Our pal Josh said the grilled ahi tuna sandwich, served medium as ordered, was just right, and our friend Melina applauded fried tilapia over wild rice ($7.99 on the special lunch/early dinner menu). A “Southwest pizza” app of artichokes, corn, red peppers, black olives and cheese on toasted tortilla ($7.99) pleased the vegetarians in the group, which was a good thing, since meatless options were few and far between.
Our boss picked up the tab. Bless him. Lunch shouldn’t set a body back more than $15 to $20, though.
4950 U.S. 42 • 423-1990
At Lolita’s, it’s all about the avocado burrito
Lolita’s Tacos, a bright spot in the culinary landscape of Poplar Level Road near the Watterson, is a great place for lunch, but it’s a good idea to show up early. The other day, the tiny eatery’s handful of tables were already filling up by 11:30 a.m. Many of the diners, it seemed, had come on pilgrimage to get Lolita’s trademark favorite, the avocado burrito.
The no-frills eatery’s Formica-topped tables, some with attached curved benches, signal a fast-food eatery of bygone years. The decor hasn’t changed since the place opened back in the ’90s. But people don’t come to Lolita’s for the decor. Mostly they come for good, affordable and filling Mexican-style food with a Los Angeles Chicano accent.
Order at the counter in the back — English is fine — and they’ll holler it on back to the kitchen in Spanish. A sign down by the credit card reader notes a 10-cent charge for using a credit card. It’s the standard fast-food Mexican lineup: tacos, (Sonora, Mexico-style, with two soft corn tortillas served open-face and topped with your choice of meat, onions and cilantro), plus burritos, enchiladas, rice, beans and taquitos.
You can get your burrito enchilada-style, which means slathered with spicy red enchilada sauce and melted cheese. Or you might walk on the wild side with my top recommendation for Lolita’s — the avocado burrito, a treat that I haven’t spotted anywhere else around town.
Mary ordered two tacos — carnitas (roasted pork) and carne asada (roast beef chunks) — expecting tiny rounds as per the norm in ethnic taquerias. These were at least twice that size, though, making for a filling meal. You can get red chile sauce in your choice of “hot” or “mild.” The latter was still more than piquant enough to kick up the somewhat dry but flavorful meats. The carnitas already had some heat built in, with hot green chile bits riding along with the meat and onions.
Jan ordered her avocado burrito plain, without the enchilada sauce and cheese option, opining, “Why mess it up?” If the slogan “Burritos bigger than your head” wasn’t already taken, Lolita’s could credibly claim it. The avocado — likely a whole one judging by the size of the finished product — was blended with chunky mild tomato salsa and lots of fresh cilantro (maybe a whole cilantro plant). Then it was all wrapped in a fresh, large flour tortilla. Basically, it had all the ingredients of guacamole except the salt, plus enough cilantro to satisfy the most ardent cilantro freak. The verdict: “Generous, fresh and scrumptious.”
Total for two tacos, the avocado burrito, a large fountain drink and generous tip still left change from a $20.
4222 Poplar Level Road