In Italy, a "sagra" is a festival where a community comes together in celebration of a local ingredient or dish?a tradition that fits Gabriel Pellegrini's enoteca and trattoria in both spirit and practice. Classic, bistro-style Italian cuisine joins local, Texan ingredients to create an entire menu worthy of commemoration. But that isn't to say all the ingredients are local?house-cured meats accent plates of handmade pasta, and imported Mediterranean cheeses join house-made mozzarella atop hand-stretched neapolitan pizzas bubbling gold in a wood-burning stove.
Shaking up Italian Tradition
Pellegrini's dedication to craft and quality carries over into the bar at Sagra. Shelves brim with liqueurs, grappas, and wines imported from Italy, but the bartenders grow their own herbs, make their own bitters, and infuse syrups and spirits in-house for cocktails such as the La Roma, a rye Manhattan infused with orange-flower peel.
Within the kitchen of Zandunga's trendy 11th Street location, Chef Edgar Torres integrates his experiences growing up around his parents' taqueria with his culinary training under a French chef to introduce a menu of Mexican morsels with European structure. The mojarra al mojo de ajo sears tilapia and a light garlic sauce with kisses from the sun before plating it with a scoop of huitlacoche risotto and watercress ($16). Meal makers inject enchiladas callejeras with fresh cheese and roasted corn before blanketing them in a spicy chili sauce ($12), and lobster curls up in homemade flour tortillas for baja tacos flanked by rice and black beans ($18). While today's Groupon is not valid for alcohol, Zandunga's guava margarita was named best frozen margarita in the Austin Chronicle's 2011 Critics Restaurant Poll.
El Chato means "the plain one", but there is absolutely nothing simple about the restaurant El Chato. The eatery is house in a 1958 Greyhound bus that has been converted into a bustaurant. Colorful Mexican murals grace the exterior of the vehicle, while inside a compact stainless steel kitchen cooks up platters of authentic interior Mexican cuisine. And El Chato's chefs are certain to let patrons know that these particular interior Mexican entrees are nothing like their Americanized counterparts oozing with Velveeta cheese and ground meat. The chefs instead boil and shred the meat they pack into their tacos, empanadas, and tamales; use only white cheese including asadero; and handcraft enchiladas by dipping them in chili sauce before frying them in oil.
The restaurant's hefty entrees are served up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and can be enjoyed amid the interior's cozy booths or on the outdoor patio illuminated by string lights and the moon, which they lasso in each night. Designed to be family-friendly, they also feature an outdoor playground set for children.
Rachel Davila has been combining personal hospitality with a menu of home-style Tex-Mex cuisine at Nuevo León since 1982. The super chile con queso ($8.49) adds a cape of taco meat and x-ray vision guacamole to the original chile con queso (small, $3.99). In the shrimp saltillo ($17.99), grilled shrimp rest in a special sauce flanked by two cheese and bean flautas, a cheese enchilada, and guacamole salad. Dent into the Nuevo León burrito ($8.69, $9.89 with carne guisada), a giant flour tortilla stuffed with beef and beans and smothered in chili con carne with a scoop of guacamole salad, so big even modern-day Paul Bunyan feels intimidated.
Moxie clothes torsos of all ages with unique custom tees imprinted with customer-selected images such as childhood drawings or childhood expense reports. Moxie manufactures buyer-illustrated shirts in infant's, women's, men's, and fashionably preripped Hulk sizes—and also sells a panoply of items not included in this Groupon, such as pillows, necklaces, and trinkets designed by Austin artists.
The story of Lucky J’s Chicken & Waffles begins with transformation. The eatery started as a food truck before rolling into its culinary cocoon, soon emerging as a brick-and-mortar location propelled by wings of fried, fluffy batter. Today, homestyle sides such as collard greens and fried pickle chips accompany a menu that mostly proceeds as follows: fried chicken, waffles, fried chicken with waffles, and waffles folded into tacos stuffed with fried chicken. It’s a simple concept, but it has earned the spot attention from the Atlantic, CBS News, and FOXBusiness. The Austin Chronicle called the chicken “both greasy and salty; this is not a criticism,” adding that, combined with waffles, which “have a luscious buttery flavor with a hint of sugar to them … the whole ensemble is sinfully delicious.”
In addition to classic, bone-in fried chicken served with waffles, waffle tacos come in combinations that are more surprising than a jack-in-the-box filled with firecrackers. The Brady’s bacon waffle conceals swiss cheese, hot sauce, and honey, whereas the Grandma Andy is stuffed with banana, Nutella, peanut butter, and honey. Surrounding feasters, the shop’s bright murals all originate from the hand of local artist Federico Archuleta, and include dueling guitars played by chickens and a woman eating chicken next to a chicken eating a waffle.