Today marks another leg of my journey to discover the best Austin Tex-Mex. When I first wrote about Maudie’s, I asked you to recommend restaurants that I should check out. Instantly, you blew up The Austinot’s Facebook, Twitter, and email accounts.
Thanks for all the suggestions. Hopefully you can see that I’m doing my best to make it to your favorite places in Austin. Due to popular demand, I most recently checked out Trudy’s Tex-Mex and Bar.
Trudy’s may be the most controversial Tex-Mex restaurant on my list. Small verbal skirmishes erupted whenever somebody mentioned its name. Our readers either praised it or condemned it for various reasons.
A business doesn’t attain that level of controversy without reason, so I had to settle the matter once and for all.
Trudy has a few restaurants across Austin, but I headed to its original location on 30th Street, right off of Guadalupe. You may have to do a bit of searching if you don’t know where it is.
The restaurant was created in 1977 and made a name for itself as Austin boomed over the next thirty years. By now, Trudy’s has found its way into every Austin Tex-Mex restaurant magazine and website.
The restaurant is split in half and hidden behind some bushes. The bar/patio area is located on the lower half of the property with the main restaurant area above it. The weird layout took a second for me to figure out, but overall it added a bit of secrecy and seclusion to the location. My photographer Haleigh and I were greeted as soon as we opened the door. The hostess brought us to our tables and our server was right behind her. Overall, the staff at Trudy’s was welcoming and prompt.
The atmosphere at Trudy’s caught me off guard. Normally, a Tex-Mex restaurant will strive for authenticity, but Trudy’s goes the opposite direction with their restaurant. You won’t find any soccer game commentated by loud Spanish men on the TV. You won’t find any pictures of the Lady of Guadalupe or other Mexian cultural trademarks either.
Instead, the restaurant obviously caters to the university crowd. Pictures of Marvel comic book characters hang on the walls, while UT sports teams play on the televisions. I didn’t hear one mariachi band, but I did hear a lot of Death Cab for Cutie, Coldplay and the Shins. Honestly, it turned me off a bit. I think the inauthenticity of Trudy’s is largely responsible for its controversial reputation. I walked in expecting a down-to-earth Austin Tex-Mex joint and found a college hangout instead.
I can’t really hold that against the restaurant, since they are located a block and a half from a campus with more than 50,000 students. It’s business.
How about their food, though? That is the end-all test of a Tex-Mex joint. Atmosphere and service can only go so far if the food isn’t worth the money.
As per usual, we started off with the salsa. If you read my last Tex-Mex post, you remember that I judge a restaurant according to a certain criteria. The salsa test is my first benchmark. Bad salsa can cripple a restaurant experience early, and the entree has to compensate in deliciousness. The salsa at Trudy’s isn’t mind-blowing, but it is good. I really liked how they offered both traditional salsa and salsa verde along with their chips. I don’t have enough salsa verde in my life, and it’s easy to forget how good it can be.
Overall, the menu is affordable. My carnitas tacos cost around nine dollars and Haleigh’s shrimp enchiladas cost around ten. Both dishes were well-prepared with quality ingredients. Much like our salsa, though, our main courses did not blow us away. My carnitas were tender, but they squirted grease and marinade across my plate with every bite I took. My dish came with a side of beans and Mexican rice.
Trudy’s goes out of its way to promote its drinks, and for good reason. They make ’em strong. Everybody around me (including our server, Phil) had tons of suggestions for different drinks. Trudy’s offers a Mexican Martini that is supposedly world-famous.
I opted for a frozen margarita, so I could compare it with the other restaurants I review for the Austinot Tex-Mex Food Challenge. The first sip of my margarita at Trudy’s caught me off guard, and I spent a few seconds coughing and catching my breath before stirring in some more lime juice. I am not big on margaritas, so take my opinion with some salt (pun intended). I really enjoyed their margaritas. The sweet/sour was smooth and complimented the lime and tequila well.
My bottom-line breakdown: Trudy’s Tex-Mex and Bar serves O.K. Tex-Mex and impressive drinks. The atmosphere is very laid back and college-oriented, which can turn off people who prize authenticity above all else. Get ready for some indie rock and polo shirts. This is the place you go for drinks with your friends, not for down-home Tex-Mex.