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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Food cart

Sun–Thu 5:00pm–10:00pm
Fri–Sat 5:00pm–11:00pm

Features Outdoor dining, veg-friendly
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx

Convention Center
85 Rainey St.
Austin, TX
(512) 474-2776
El Naranjo
Oaxaca’s best restaurant, reincarnated on the banks of Lady Bird Lake

The original El Naranjo was famous in Mexican culinary circles until the Oaxacan riots of 2006 drove its acclaimed chef out…and eventually to the shores of Lady Bird Lake. Even though she sits on the board of the Culinary Institute of America, most nights of the week you’ll find her expediting orders from this well-appointed trailer in the exploding Rainey Street area—at least until her brick-and-mortar opens (any day now).

Oaxacan cuisine is distinct even within Mexico. The region’s seven trademark moles (which El Naranjo rotates) are built around the smoky, earthy flavors of dry-roasted chilies, as well as herbs like hoja santa—a leaf whose licorice-y, almost tobacco-like aromatics wrap fish or tamales with a faraway fragrance. It is grown, along with an array of other rare Oaxacan flora, in the chef’s garden.

Mole verde sings of that garden, tomatillo’s soprano harmonizing with green chile. Mole colorado’s ancho and guajillo peppers receive evocative depth from bitter chocolate and the sweetness of dry-roasted tomato. Cochinita pibil is so heady with clove and cinnamon that it practically breaks out into Christmas carols. And if the food is this good—if somewhat inconsistently executed—coming from the limits of a trailer kitchen, we can’t wait to experience it at its fullest potential, when the cute cottage behind it is finished.

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