Full of Life & Color: Gabriela’s Downtown

Lauren Castro

Gabriela’s Downtown won my heart this year. Located in East Austin, the restaurant gives the option of dine-in or pick up curbside, allowing you to enjoy the Mexican cuisine wherever you choose. As a self-proclaimed local Austinite of over two years, I’ve been looking for the perfect place to take family or friends that come to visit. I’ve finally found the place. With great outdoor seating and a fun family atmosphere, Gabriela’s Downtown is full of life and color. 

When scrolling through Austin foodie accounts, Gabriela’s drinks can be found. Because Christmas is just a few days away, the restaurant is celebrating with two signature Christmas drinks. Adorned in a ceramic Santa mug, the Coquito drink is creamy and cinnamon-y. Next, the frozen mangonada is a show-stopper. The yellow and red swirl paired with a chamoy tamarind-candy straw is one of the best drinks on the menu. In between drinks, you have to try the Mexican candy shot. With the taste of a pink lemonade tequila, this shot goes down too easy. To end the night, I ordered the Pepino Amor- my new favorite drink. I will spend my life trying to replicate this refreshing drink.

We got the whole tour of the appetizers, starting with the choriqueso. As yet another insta-worthy Gabriela’s dish, this queso is plastered on social media feeds. A bubbling skillet of Mexican cheeses and spicy pork chorizo, the appetizer is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. It’s also served with a side of homemade corn tortillas that brought me back to the nice family cookout of my dreams.

I mean, c’mon. Just look at that pull. I’m drooling. 

The appetizer that will keep me up for the next few nights is the salsa sampler. The flavors were all so complex and different that I’ve never had anything that has tasted similar in the past. Displayed in a row, the salsas got hotter as you moved down. Starting from top to bottom, the first presented itself thicker and had more of a tomato-base when compared to the others. Flavorful and smooth, this salsa had strong notes of a paprika-like seasoning. Next up was Gabriela’s version of a salsa verde. With the flavors of fresh lime and tomatillos, the salsa was vibrant and tasted…green. Now for the salsa that truly left me speechless– the third, smoky salsa. I coined each salsa my own names and this one was quite the challenge. I got a nice chile flavor but maybe a hint of barbecue. This salsa is the most interesting of them all. Last but not least, the avocado-based salsa was the perfect pairing of spicy and creamy. I wanted to eat this one with a spoon and got a wasabi feel from it.

The Mexican street corn felt like a warm hug. I felt like I was at my grandma’s house and she just fed me a warm soup while laying under a wool blanket. I can say nothing else but that this creamy and cheesy dish is the #1 thing you should order if you’re stuck on deciding.

For the first main course, we indulged in tinga de pollo tacos. The chicken had great chipotle flavor and did not disappoint. The sour cream was a bit overwhelming but if you are into that, this is the dish for you. The sides, charro beans and rice, were phenomenal. Great flavor and the perfect amount of spice. It was as if the rice absorbed all the flavor instead of the seasonings laying on top.

One of my favorite dishes at Gabriela’s is the Cubana torta. With hand-breaded and pan-fried beef, ham and sausage sandwiched between two pieces of bread, the Mexican favorite is dressed with vegetables and the greatest amount of cheese. You have to try one of their tortas at least once. I believe the sandwich truly captures real Mexican flavor. Also, you can’t overlook the fries.

After talking to the queen herself, Gabriela Bucio, I could feel the love and the care that she has for the restaurant that she shares with her brother. Everything is so fresh and vibrant, truly feeling as if the food is putting on the show rather than the atmosphere. Each bite was met with wide eyes and a nod in approval, making me dream of my next visit.