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Austin Cantina

December 28, 2008

IT’S NORTH-BY-SOUTHWEST at this tiny Ballard crossroads of Austin and Seattle, where Texas Pot Roast and pollo en mole are made the Northwest way—from grass-fed beef and local chickens, of course. Proprietor Jefe Birkner is a Chicago-born Jew whose stint in Texas stayed with him even after he relocated to Seattle. So he found a space—the 30-seat joint once home to Dandelion, now stocked with Texican tchotchkes—and trained a talented crew to turn out the food he was longing for: silken chipotle and garlic shrimp, righteously cooked and seething with fire; Texas “caviar,” a feisty salad of black-eyed peas and corn in a garlic-chili vinaigrette; and, of course, tacos, where fillings like falling-apart beer-braised pot roast and brown-sugary pork shoulder (all-natural, naturally) conspire with beans and rice and a sweet-tart Washington apple chutney to deliver spirited regional harmonies. Served up at killer prices for lunch and dinner with legendary Texan tunes on the soundtrack (and gospel music for Sunday brunch), under the hospitable eye of an uncommonly affable owner who cultivates regulars like…well, like flies on a slopped hawg.

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