Austin is home to an abundance of restaurants, bars, food trucks, breweries, and much more, all of which mirror the innovative city. To help navigate through the seemingly endless food and drink options, Eater is turning to some of Austin’s most talented chefs to share their recommendations in a recurring feature called Dining Confidential.
It’s not surprising that Iliana De La Vega, co-owner and head chef of El Naranjo, believes a good Lebanese restaurant is exactly what Austin’s dining scene needs. Having spent her entire culinary career honoring her family roots in Oaxaca, Mexico with traditional dishes in Texas, she values a dining scene with a diverse selection of traditional, ethnic cuisines.
After political troubles forced her and her husband to close the original El Naranjo in Oaxaca (which opened in 1997), the couple moved to San Antonio, and then Austin. That’s where the pair opened a new version of the restaurant right on Rainey Street (which she describes as "fun and lively"). While the yellow house building serves many of the same traditional Oaxacan dishes made at the original El Naranjo, she says, she expands by drawing inspiration from other Mexican areas.
When De La Vega is not in the kitchen cooking up her favorite Oaxacan items — think moles, chiles pasilla and tlayudas with ever-important chilies — she has her go-to restaurants for out-of-town visitors. This includes Kreuz Market (out in Lockhart), Uchi or Uchiko for something fancier, Chez Nous (510 Neches Street), Thai from Titaya, and Wu Chow’s modern Chinese. “I like to treat them by visiting places that they cannot find” in their home cities, she explains.
But there is one restaurant that stands out amongst the rest: the locally-driven cuisine at Wink is her absolute favorite. If she had one last night to dine in Austin, you’d find her there.