8120 Research Blvd., Suite 104-B
Austin, Texas 78758
Phone: (512) 419-7554
Hours: Tues.-Fri. 11 a.m-10 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (Closed Mon.)
Austin is lucky to be home to a seemingly unending array of Latin-inspired restaurants, ranging from Tex Mex to Interior Mexican to Brazilian and everywhere in between. One of the newest members of this tasty club is Al Sur Latin American Bistro.
We visited Al Sur on a recent weekend evening. The restaurant has been open for only about two months, and is located near the intersection of Highway 183 and North Lamar Blvd., in a space recently occupied by Drakula Romanian restaurant.
Apart from the one-of-a-kind wall sculpture crafted by local artists at Blue Genie and inspired by a Honduran museum piece, the interior at Al Sur is unassuming and no frills. However, the meal we had surprised us with some unexpectedly elegant notes.
While perusing the menu, we were provided with tortilla chips and two salsas–one a tangy tomatillo, and the other a rich, smoky chile negro. We started off with an order each of chicken and beef empanadas. The empanadas were crisply fried without becoming too greasy. The beef versions featured a sort of beef picadillo with a taste of potatoes.
The chicken empanadas tasted as though the chicken had been stewing all day in a delicious tomato-flavored sauce. They were tender and packed with flavor. The empanadas were served with a zesty chimichurri sauce that offered just the right zip to the fried pastries.
We also tasted the Tacos Al Cochinita al Achiote. These featured shredded pork with an achiote sauce that included cilantro and onions, as well as habanero pepper. The reviews on the tacos were a bit more mixed than the empanadas, with some of us feeling they were overwhelmed by too much smokiness. However, we all agreed that the handmade tortillas were divine (and held up well to the juicy filling), as were the generous grilled pepper strips, which packed a spicy punch.
Our entrees required a bit of a wait, but were presented to us by the owner and the chef himself, who apologized for the delay, but assured us that he had taken a bit longer because he wanted to hand make each dish to perfection. I think I speak for everyone at our table when I say that every dish was well worth the wait.
First, we sampled the Filete de Res en Mantequilla Café de Paris (which the owner told us was his favorite dish). This entree featured an 8 oz. filet mignon cooked to order in a rich, savory sauce. The filet was one of the most delicious steaks I’ve had in the city, and at $14.95, puts some $50.00 steaks in this town to shame. It was beautifully cooked, tender, and juicy. Everyone wanted to taste it again and again. The accompanying steamed vegetables were crunchy and well-seasoned, managing to avoid the throw-away side dish that often plagues the “vegetable of the day” on many menus.
We also tasted another filet option, the Filete a las Tres Pimientas. This filet was served with a rich, peppery sauce that was akin to a silky a jus. This filet was also expertly prepared to juicy tenderness.
One of my favorite steak restaurants is the Corduas’ Churrascos in Houston. I’ve always loved Churrascos’ blending of finely cooked steaks with the zest flavors of South America. Al Sur managed to present two filets with craftsmanship and unique flavors easily equal to those prepared in the Churrascos kitchen (and for a fraction of the price).
One of the most interesting and delicious dishes we tried was the Pescado Emapnizado en Salsa de Mango. This dish featured a lightly breaded bass filet that was flaky and delicate. The breading was well-seasoned and understated enough not to overshadow the fish. The mango was incorporated with reserve, offering a subtle zest, rather than taking a starring role. The fish was served with a refreshing rice prepared with a generous amount of finely chopped cilantro that was fluffy, earthy, and unexpected.
The final entree we sampled was the Suprema de Pollo. This dish featured an expertly grilled chicken breast stuffed with poblano pepper, mushrooms, and herbs. The bite of the peppers was balanced by a silky blue cheese sauce. This surprising combination made for a sumptuous, imaginative dish with mature flavors and delicacy. The accompanying rice independently lacked flavor, but when mixed with the remaining blue cheese sauce, was delicious.
After our impressive entrees, we couldn’t leave without sampling the desserts. We chose two dessert options. First up, was a fluffy Tres Leches cake. This marvelous version of the familiar confection was drizzled with strawberry sauce and included a luscious dulce de leche.
The second dessert was equally lovely and mouthwatering. The Crepas de Cajeta featured airy crepes with a cajeta sauce similar to dulce de leche and finely chopped pecans. Both desserts were universally loved at our table.
Don’t let the strip-mall location or understated interior fool you: there is serious talent and craftsmanship in this kitchen. Although the service kinks are still being worked out, and a couple of items strayed a bit, overall, our entire party was pleasantly surprised by the unique flavors, extremely reasonable prices at Al Sur. Everyone agreed that the meal was unexpectedly elegant and delicious. (Al Sur also serves lunch every day except Mondays, with the lunch offerings including a number of entree, sandwich, and soup options).