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Austin Tex-Mex Restaurant El Mercado Is Closing Its Downtown Location

Plus, an Austin pastry chef competes on a Food Network show, and more news

Two crispy tacos on a white plate with brown rice and a white container of salsa.
Tacos from El Mercado.
El Mercado/Facebook
Nadia Chaudhury is the editor of Eater Austin covering food and pop culture, as well as a photographer, writer, and frequent panel moderator and podcast guest.

Austin Tex-Mex mini-chain El Mercado is closing its downtown location sometime in the middle of March, as reported by KXAN. Owner Tony Villegas told the news channel that he decided to ultimately close the El Mercado Uptown location because of pandemic impacts. Its other two locations in Bouldin Creek along South First and Allandale along Burnet Road are remaining open. Villegas and his dad Camilo Villegas opened El Mercado on South First in 1985, as noted by Community Impact. The downtown location opened in 1993.

An Austin chef on TV

Oasthouse/District Kitchen executive pastry chef Dennis Van is a contestant on Food Network baking competition series Spring Baking Championship, which premiered on Monday, February 28. Van isn’t new to cooking competition shows: he won Sugar Rush on Netflix in 2018. All of the episodes will air on the Food Network and steaming service Discovery+.

Austin’s COVID-19 risk-based guidelines update

Austin has fallen back into Stage 3 of its COVID-19 risk-based guidelines, which allows people to gather indoors “with precautions” and outdoors without. Just five days ago, the city had moved into Stage 4, and previously had been at Stage 5 since early January.

Temporary Austin closure

Vegan ice cream retailer NadaMoo temporarily its Zilker shop as of Sunday, February 27. The announcement Instagram post explains that, because of “pandemic and workforce challenges,” the Nicholson family decided to close the location and figure out what they want to do going forward. The retail line of vegan ice creams will still be available in grocery stores. The NadaMoo Scoop Shoop opened in 2018, taking over former frozen sweets shop Venezia Italian Gelato.

Austin breweries win big at Texas brewery awards

The Texas Craft Brewers Guild hosted its first-ever brewery awards last month. The Texas Craft Brewers Cup awardees include Austin-area breweries such as Live Oak Brewing Company, Hold Out Brewing, Black Star Co-op, and Meanwhile Brewing Company, among others.

Political dining in Austin

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren stopped by Trudy’s South Star for a meal, per Reddit last week. This was ahead of attending a campaign rally for former Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, who is running for Congress, Ani’s Day and Night.

Barbecue restaurant caught on fire

One of the buildings making up barbecue restaurant Salt Lick BBQ’s Driftwood location caught on fire on Sunday, February 20, but the business was able to stay open for service, as reported by KXAN. San Marcos Corridor News reported that it was a grease duct fire, damages could be more than $25,000, and that no one was hurt.

Tracking Austin-area openings

Round Rock Donuts opened its second location in Cedar Park as of Sunday, February 20.

Kerrville Hills Winery is opening a new wine tasting room in the Hill Country. The Hill at Hye will debut in Hye at 11247 Highway 290 West starting on Wednesday, March 2. The appointment-only tastings will feature bottles from the winery, owned by winemaker John Rivenburgh with indoor and outdoor areas. The tasting room will be open from Thursday through Sunday, with seatings at noon, 2 p.m., and 4 p.m.

Tracking Austin events

As part of Drink.Well’s tenth anniversary, the North Loop bar and restaurant is offering a special cocktail menu inspired by pop star Taylor Swift. The drinks are rifts off Swift’s rereleased hit album Red: the All Too Well is made with sherry cask-aged anejo, scotch, rainwater Madeira, pineapple amaro, and wormwood bitters; the Red consists of rye, vermouth, pear brandy, apertivo, and bitters. There are two nonalcoholic drinks, including the Holly Ground. The menu is available as of Monday, February 28 through Sunday, April 10.

The next Taquero Takeover event at East Sixth Mexican restaurant Suerte features Barley Swine chef de cuisine Kevin Cannon, who will make stewed chicharrón and crispy pig ear tacos with hot sauce soaked pork fat. The event takes place on Tuesday, March 1.

Hidden South Congress cocktail bar Watertrade is running a month-long weekly pop-up highlighting female bartenders in honor of March being Women’s History Month. Every Tuesday, Watertrade bartender Nadia Hernandez will create cocktails with a different bartender making use of spirits and beverages from female-led businesses. First up is Frazier’s/Red Roses’s Danae Pasekro on March 1, then Slow Luck Zero Proofs Tacy Rowland on March 8, then Olamaie’s Erin Ashford on March 22, and finally original Otoko bartender Whitney Hazelmyer on March 29. Hours are from 6 to 8 p.m. within the South Congress Hotel.

Hotel and private members club Commodore Perry Estate is hosting a public bake sale on Saturday, March 5 for the forthcoming International Women’s Day. The sale will feature treats from executive chef Susana Querejazu; expect all sorts of pastries and breads, from tarts to sourdough, plus wines created by women winemakers and live music. The grounds will be available for on-site picnicking purposes. Proceeds will go towards the Austin chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier.

Tracking Austin expansions

Dallas chain Bread Zeppelin is aiming to expand into Austin with three restaurants, as reported by Austin Business Journal. The chain is known for its sandwiches made with chopped salad.

Restaurant reservations initiative

There’s a whole reservation initiative encouraging people to dine at independent restaurants in the month of March, run by Resy and American Express. The idea is that with the first millionth reservation booked on the site in March, the two companies will donate $500,000 to hospitality foundation Southern Smoke. Every millionth reservation after that will result in free meals for random diners at specific restaurants in the country. Austin restaurants on Resy include the Tatsu-yas, Launderette, Arlo Grey, Lin Asian, and many others.

Salt Lick

3350 East Palm Valley Boulevard, , TX 78665 (512) 386-1044 Visit Website

Round Rock Donuts

106 W Liberty St, Round Rock, TX 78664 (512) 255-3629 Visit Website

Commodore Perry Estate, Auberge Resorts Collection

4100 Red River Street, , TX 78751 (512) 817-5200 Visit Website

Oasthouse Gastropub

8300 N FM 620 Bldg E, Austin, TX 78726 (737) 222-5779 Visit Website


207 East 53rd Street, , TX 78751 (512) 614-6683 Visit Website


1603 South Congress Avenue, Austin, TX (512) 920-6405

El Mercado

203 Avenida Hipólito Unanue, Urb Santa Cruz, Lima 15074 974 779 517 Visit Website

NadaMoo! Scoop Shop

1701 South Lamar Boulevard, , TX 78704 (512) 359-8441 Visit Website


1800 East 6th Street, , TX 78702 (512) 522-3031 Visit Website