Fed Man 55: Sazon (55)

Mike Sutter’s Top 55 Austin Restaurants
No. 55: Sazón
1816 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-326-4395, www.sazonaustin.com.
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Friday. 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 08.16.12
My second life as a food writer began at Sazón, mostly because I could pronounce huitlacoche. Say it with me: “weet-lah-KOH-chay.” Excellent; here’s your fork.
Sazón is where I took my boss to talk about the American-Statesman restaurant critic’s job in 2008. This is how much of a lock I did not have on the job: I had to pay my own check. So Sazón was a kind of courtship, a restaurant I chose because it approached an Austin core value — Mexican food — with the fearless embrace of the whole country, not just the border it shares with Texas. Cochinita pibil, ceviche, mole. And huitlacoche, the noble smut with many names: corn truffle, el hongo del maíz and “what the hell is this black stuff on my corn.”
Always ask for huitlacoche empanadas ($10.29) at Sazón. They’re as earthy as truffles, more robust than mushrooms. And always have a backup, because if Margarito Aranda can’t get it fresh, he won’t serve it. His cochinita pibil ($11.29) is a good backup. It lets the subtleties of roasted pork come through before the xni pec sauce does its work to bring out the “nose of the dog” slow-building heat. Pink onions that are pickled just enough to leave the crunch intact make this plate a taco builder, with corn tortillas made in-house.
Aquas frescas ($3.29) are an event, served in 20-ounce schooners like redneck beer glasses. Horchata is usually like powdered eggnog, but here it’s alive with the friction of milled rice and fat cinnamon spice. Creamy, cold and refreshing. Mango does its tannic tango, bringing everything the fruit has to offer — except the strings.
Chicken with Oaxaceña mole ($11.79) lets the rich smoke-red sauce convey the royal side of the Mexican flavor rainbow, helped by toasted sesame that does more than dot the monochromatic sauce with points of light. That sauce blankets a chicken-leg quarter roasted with care to make it easy to pull apart, a dish both simply executed and made complex by centuries of fine-tuning.
Some of my best memories of traveling in Mexico are the bountiful ceviches of fresh fish “cooked” in their glasses by the transformative power of lime juice. At Sazón, those aqua fresca schooners are filled to the top with a loose chop of fleshy white fish, onion, tomato and jalapeño for $10.29.
Sazón is a good place to start this list of Austin’s Top 55 restaurants, because it made writing the rest of it possible. And now you can pronounce huitlacoche, too.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
Mike Sutter’s Fed Man 55: Austin’s Best Restaurants