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Austin’s Acclaimed Mexican Destination Nixta Faces Closure Over Bizarre Permitting Issues

The dining destination is temporarily shutdown due to a disagreement with the city over electrical boxes and air conditioning units

Two people standing in front of a colorful restaurant patio.
Edgar Rico and Sara Mardanbigi of Nixta Taqueria.
Mackenzie Kelley Smith
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.

Award-winning Austin Mexican restaurant Nixta Taqueria is temporarily closed for more than a week because of frustrating and costly permitting issues with the City of Austin.

Austin is in the middle of an extremely hot summer where the city just endured 45 straight days of over 100-degree temperatures and is still in the middle of an ongoing excessive heat warning. To combat the hot weather, the Eater Austin Award-winning restaurant has been blasting its air conditioning, using swamp coolers, and lots of fans for the primarily outdoor space. Then, on Wednesday, August 16, a City of Austin technician turned off and took out one of Nixta’s electrical boxes because “it was running a little too high,” co-owner Edgar Rico says, “and that we were using way too much amperage.”

The technician initially told the Nixta team it was a “simple fix,” stating that the restaurant had to call the city and request an emergency permit to ensure the power was turned on the following day. However, when Nixta’s electrician went to do just that, the permit was denied because the address had an old air conditioning unit that was installed in 2018 that was never permitted by the previous tenant. Nixta opened in 2019, having already obtained the required permits and approvals

Since the initial emergency permit denial, Nixta’s relationship with the City of Austin has devolved. According to Rico, various City of Austin and Development Services Department officials told the Nixta team contradictory information. “It’s just a shitty situation that spiraled has spiraled into something we never would have thought we would have gotten into,” co-owner and James Beard Award-winning chef tells Eater.

Councilmember Natasha Harper-Madison has been attempting to help the restaurant, arranging for a meeting with city officials. However, during that visit to the restaurant, officials told Nixta’s owners that the electrical box that they installed wasn’t up to code, “and that this building should have never been able to open even though we had a full perimeter inspection in 2019,” Rico says. They told the restaurant team that the new standard rate for Austin buildings is 200 watts and that Nixta’s building’s wattage was below that requirement.

As for the air conditioning unit, the City of Austin told the restaurant that they have to go through the entire permitting process from the very beginning again, from site plans “essentially like we’re reopening our restaurant from the beginning,” Rico says. “We’re like, ‘This is all easily avoidable, if literally, you just let us upgrade our electrical grids to meet their standard. But they’ve given us this whole knee-jerk reaction of, ‘This AC unit that was installed that wasn’t permitted that is in use.’”

Nixta is willing to throw out the air conditioning unit, but that isn’t an easy thing to do either. The restaurant would have to go through the entire demolition process, which requires permitting, engineering plans for the building, and a lot of money.

The City of Austin’s proposed temporary solution is to pivot to takeout orders, which Rico finds funny. “The — the only — option the city of Austin gave us was, ‘Hey, you guys should do to-go,’ like you can survive on doing to-go.” But without power, the restaurant can’t cook comfortably either. “They, in essence, told us you can do just do to-go out of there in a 120-degree kitchen.”

Earlier today, Rico said that a rep for Austin Mayor Kirk Watson reached out to talk about the situation. Rico was blunt about what happened and told the official that restaurants don’t have the time or money to be able to go through a lengthy process without cooking. “Restaurants can’t just chill for six months and just have money floating around in this magical bank account.”

When Eater has reached out to the City of Austin for comment, a city spokesperson shared the following statement:

“We have pulled together a cross-departmental team to provide a path forward. Overloading of the customer’s electrical wiring was significant enough to cause overheating and melting of the wiring. Fortunately, this was detected before further damage occurred. The restaurant will need to upgrade its electrical service and make other needed repairs to ensure safe operations, such as meeting fire code and accessibility requirements. Our expectation is that we will be able to find solutions that allow them to continue limited operations while critical electrical hazards and life safety issues are addressed. Our small business community is important to us, and we are committed to the safety of restaurant staff, customers, and the community.”

Rico also points out the irony of the city red tape when community public television station Austin PBS is releasing an entire television series this fall about Nixta and their restaurant compatriots at Cuantos Tacos and Discada. You are now shutting down the same business that you are trying to amplify throughout your community,” Rico says. “This doesn’t make sense.”

“We are in limbo,” Rico says. He and co-owner Sara Mardanbigi launched a GoFundMe campaign to help pay their staff’s salaries, all of the expenses related to attempting to rectify what the City of Austin is requiring of the business, and the costs of attempting to still make and sell food in the interim. They’re trying to figure out how they can at least still run Nixta’s tasting menu restaurant Flor Xakali by potentially borrowing a food truck from friend Luis “Beto” Robledo of Cuantos Tacos.

And because Nixta doesn’t have power, its location of community fridge ATX Free Fridge is closed and not accepting perishable goods since the appliance can’t turn on. However, the pantry portion is accepting non-perishable items like pet food, diapers, and the such.

Additionally, Nixta will run a burger pop-up at East Austin barbecue restaurant La Barbecue on Saturday, August 26, with further details to come later.

Update, August 25, 9:45 a.m.: This article, originally published on August 24, has been updated to clarify who Edgar Rico talked to at the mayor’s office, the nature of Austin PBS’s funding, and added a statement from the City of Austin.

Nixta Taqueria

2512 East 12th Street, , TX 78702 Visit Website