I love chili rellenos. In any Mexican food restaurant, I search the menu for my delicacy of those stuffed and breaded peppers, which despite any particular description appear as everything from a specially imported pepper from the far reaches of South America to a bell pepper smaller than I could grow in my back yard garden.
An important thing to note is that I am not a food critic or even a foodie, standing around university hallways discussing how each of the five flavors (salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami—whatever that is) should be balanced in any meal. Therefore any opinions expressed here have only to do with my own tastes and experiences; in other words, if you don’t like what I say, you can kiss my rosy red rear end.
I recently ate chili rellenos in four Texas restaurants, most in the Austin area: Hula Hut in Austin, Trudy’s North Star in Austin, La Margarita’s in Round Rock, and Pancho’s in Arlington. My criteria includes quality of the food, environment, service, and my mood.
Hula Hut is a popular lakeside restaurant in Austin, which has among its attractions extensive outdoor seating and self-serve chips and salsa. In a place where 100-degree weather is common five months out of the year, outdoor seating isn’t a particularly promising venue for a 275-pound fat man (me). But the hour-long wait proved that it’s a fantastic restaurant though the fan above our table failed to turn. The wait staff was thorough even though the restaurant was overcrowded and all the orders were right. The chili rellenos were served with rice and beans and were pretty tasty. Eating them with sweat dripping off my brow was not so much fun, and the day was only salvaged by the enjoyment of my companions and our following stroll to the nearby Mozart’s Coffeehouse. I must also add that two peppers came with an order, giving me enough to take home and eat for lunch in the comfort of the AC the next day.
La Margarita in Round Rock has two types of stuffed peppers, chili rellenos made from Anaheim peppers and pablano de pollo made from pablano peppers. I had the latter since most chili rellanos I have eaten have been made from pablano peppers (Hula Hut’s was also Anaheim). The pepper was not breaded, and while it may have been purposeful, the pepper was undercooked. Thankfully, I had asked for the topping on the side, because the four pepper sauce was a thick, nasty concoction that I wouldn’t feed my dog (if I had one). The wait staff was irritated that the third person in our party did not arrive when we were seated (not as if they were crowded), and while the company was good, the restaurant was not. I should point out that others I know have had good experiences at this restaurant; I did not.
Trudy’s North Star is truly a star in my chili relleno world. Located at 183 and Burnett in Austin, it tops my list for recent chili rellenos devoured during my week-long foray into Mexican food. The wait staff was no small part of this, as my dinner companion was late—again—but I was seated without issue or attitude. I was curious about their “rotating tap” and was given a sample and offered another before I ordered a Kona Longboard, the first larger I’ve found tasty in years–I’m a dark beer fan. The fact that I remember my server’s name (Amanda) because of her friendliness and that two other of the wait staff offered to bring us chips or asked if we needed anything suggests that they enjoy working there. The chili relleno came topped, as requested, with suiza sauce, a wonderful blend that always thrills me just a bit and tastes fantastic. I highly recommend any of Trudy’s locations, and I have been told that their brunch buffet is something to behold. By the way, with extensive indoor seating, I didn’t break a sweat.
Pancho’s is Pancho’s. I’ve been eating their all-you-can-eat chili rellenos (among other things) since my college days. The chili rellenos are small and bready and filled with thick white cheese, and I place them on this list because I love Pancho’s Mexican Buffet and will continue to patronize them into my old age (which I think begins next year). My uncle and I visit this particular Pancho’s almost every time I visit him, which is not nearly as frequently as I (nor my pallet) would like. Can you believe they have no website?
If you have a particular suggestion for great chili rellenos, I’m always willing to try someplace new so feel free to share (or buy).