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Best Thing I Ate This Week: Beef tartare tostada with ant aioli at La Condesa

Matthew Odam
Beef tartare tostada at La Condesa. [CONTRIBUTED BY LA CONDESA]

Discerning readers may have read my December piece about the most influential and important restaurants that opened last decade and wondered about the absence of La Condesa.

The downtown restaurant didn’t make the cut not because of a lack of import, but simply because of its opening date. My list focused on restaurants that opened between 2010 and 2019. La Condesa spilled out onto the sidewalks of the 2nd Street District in February 2009. It was too early for that list, and looking back it was almost completely ahead of its time. It certainly ushered in a new era of hip sophistication for Austin’s changing urban core.

With its bright urban Mexican art, endless glass and concrete, the space has endured and feels as cool and vibrant today as it did 11 years ago, even if the crowd is now almost completely unrecognizable to me. The New Waterloo restaurant felt like it lost its groove for a period, but executive chef Rick Lopez has restored it with a new energy that catapulted it back into my Top 20 last fall.

He’s sourcing corn locally from Barton Springs Mill along with heirloom varieties from Mexico to create the masa used in dishes like a beef tartare tostada special ($15), and using exciting and unexpected ingredients. Like flying ants. The insects give a slightly bitter note to a tangy aioli spread across the tostada. Vinegar spiked with pequin peppers hits with a spicy tingle, and I dig how Lopez counters the irony flavor of beef with a bright burst of citrus, pickled mustard seeds and a shower of chives. The complex combination is one of the most exciting ways you’ll find beef tartare being prepared at a Texas restaurant, proving that one of Austin’s OGs of the modern Mexican game is still on it.

Best Thing I Ate This Week archives:

Wild game Italian sub sandwich at Dai Due

Vegetarian barbecue jackfruit sandwich at Kinda Tropical

Crab and butternut squash at Vixen’s Wedding

Fried chicken sandwiches at Pollo Las Abuelas