Fed Man 55: El Meson (51)

Mike Sutter’s Top 55 Austin Restaurants
No. 51: El Mesón
2038 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-442-4441, www.elmesonaustin.wordpress.com.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday. 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday. 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 08.23.12
“My name’s Buck, and I don’t mean to be no a—hole. But I’m drunk, and I could use a ride home.” One of the memories I wish I could flush out of my head, courtesy of the little retail compound on South Lamar where El Mesón sits. In days past, you could buy a used sportcoat at Amelia’s, get your trampoline repaired, buy a neon sign at Hayward and meet a guy like Buck at the Horseshoe Lounge all in a short walk between storefronts.
The Horseshoe’s still there, but vintage clothes and replacement springs have given way to Barley Swine and Lick ice cream and Henri’s cheese. But this isn’t a lost Austin lament. In fact, the new El Mesón in the former neon shop is an extension of a modest 10-year-old taco shack on Burleson Road, and Old Austin runs on tacos al pastor. Here, they come three to an order, in tiny corn tortillas with a spicy-sweet achiote stir-fry of diced pork and pineapple dressed with onion and cilantro for $6.50. The same treatment applied to shrimp ($7.29 for three) makes a Tex-Mex counter-argument to the California fish taco, an argument won with a blazing avocado cream salsa. This El Mesón isn’t a walk-up taco counter like the original, but fans of that shop’s cochinita pibil will find a full plate of the slow-roasted pork with rice and beans for $9.79, plus Mexican specialties like chicken mole verde ($9.79), pescado a la Veracruzano ($14.50) and chile relleno en nogada ($15.99).
During happy hour (Monday-Friday from 4 to 6 p.m.), El Meson offers its appetizer repertoire for half-price. Already a solid value for $6.50, guacamole is a steal at $3.25, starting with a bowl of mashed avocado to which you add tomato, jalapeño and cilantro to your liking, ready to scoop with double-thick tortilla chips and side dishes of red and green salsa and hot pickled escabeche with zucchini, cauliflower and carrot.
El Mesón makes the Fed Man 55 on the strength of its interior Mexican cooking and its happy hour bonanza. It’d be higher on the list if it didn’t still feel half-finished, like a kid wearing his father's shoes. One year in, I couldn’t catch anybody’s attention to seat me, so I gave up and left. Two years in, the website has the wrong hours and no menu for the newer place (see them below), and the building itself has no sign, relying on a plain blue-and-white board underneath the neon horseshoe in the parking lot, right where we left Buck in 1989.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
Mike Sutter’s Fed Man 55: Austin’s Best Restaurants