At 24th and San Gabriel streets, tacos with a pedigree and football with an accent
On Saturdays when the Longhorns are playing a home game — like they are this Saturday — the bars and restaurants of West Campus fill up like little stadiums.
We watched the steady buildup for the Colorado game from a patio table at Cuatro's, an indoor-outdoor sports bar with a menu of burgers, beer and cocktails with fresh juices, flavored vodka, sometimes even Red Bull. Plus lots of TVs. The most giant of those screens switched back and forth between college football and imported soccer, the latter a rallying point for the bar's vocal European clientele that afternoon. Whether that same group brought the dogs is anybody's guess. Cuatro's caters to well-behaved dogs and Englishmen alike.
Catering is something we got a fair amount of. Ordering was quick and to the point in eyeliner and knee-high boots, and the food came out with the game-day speed of a kitchen accustomed to battering pickle chips ($5.50) and getting them to the tables fast and smoking hot. Same with a dip of melted queso with ground beef, guacamole and pico de gallo ($6.50), which was weak in the seasonings no matter how fast it hit the table. Speed tripped up a 'Shlee Burger' ($9.50 with thin-cut fries), which arrived with the half-pound patty still cool at the core. Cooked to a proper temperature, the burger could have been a winner, with caramelized onions, avocado and Jack cheese.
But at heart, Cuatro's feels like a taco place. Not just any tacos, but fancy numbers with seared tuna ($9.50 for two) and grilled shrimp ($8.50), all of them served with green chile rice and black beans.
Fresh slabs of lightly seared tuna with mixed greens and avocado turn flour tortillas into salad flotillas, something more than tacos to look at, something less than tacos to taste, without much help from a jalapeno ranch dressing. Grilled shrimp gets the same greens-and-protein assembly, with the same flat flavor profile. Both deliver decent amounts of food for the price, and neither will threaten your game-day constitution after a few watermelon mojitos.
Just as fresh but more familiar to Tex-Mex palates, chipotle chicken tacos ($8) open up the senses with a little heat, balanced by creamy queso fresco. Perfect with a pint of Blue Moon beer with an orange slice. Just fine with two different kinds of football.
1004 W. 24th St. 243-6361, www.cuatrosaustin.com.
Rating (casual dining): 5.3 out of 10
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight daily; later by popular demand.
Prices: Appetizers $4.50-$9. Burgers and sandwiches $7 (veggie) to $11.50 (surf-and-turf). Salads $8.50-$10.50. Taco plates $6.50 (veggie) to $9.50 (tuna). Desserts $4.50-$6.
Payment: All major cards
Alcohol: Full bar, including regular and frozen top-shelf margaritas and specialty drinks such as a watermelon aqua fresca with fresh juice and Bacardi Limon and a Burnt Orange Crush with orange vodka, Cointreau, orange juice and Red Bull. Plus wine and about 18 beers on tap, including Guinness, Stella Artois and Firemans #4.
Wheelchair access: Yes
What the rating means: The average of weighted scores for food, service, atmosphere and value