Cocktails and Bites at Papi Tino's in Austin

Aren't your favorite places to eat and drink almost always the ones you stumble onto--or into--when you're wandering around without a plan? Last weekend my husband whisked me away (literally whisked--I wasn't even allowed to bring my laptop) for a long weekend in Austin. Our Saturday plan to go wine-tasting in the Hill Country got derailed, so instead we headed downtown for a good, old-fashioned Saturday bar crawl.

My husband, Josh, and I were joined by our friend Pete. The three of us kicked things off at B.D. Riley's on East 6th, then headed east under the freeway, all the way down to the 1300 block of East 6th to see what kind of out-of-the-way fun we could find. We happened upon two places--the first a hole-in-the-wall-looking bar, and the second the house just next door, with a front yard full of white cloth-covered tables. A waiter was clearing tables at the small house/restaurant and asked if he could help us. When we told him we were looking for the best Bloody Mary in the neighborhood he pointed us to the bar next door. Honesty goes a long way in our book, so we walked right up and took the table he had just finished resetting. We couldn't see a sign anywhere, and when we asked him where we were he answered, "Welcome to Papi Tino's!"

Our Bloody Mary plan was quickly revised when we saw Papi Tino's cocktail menu, which is heavy on tequila, mezcal, and sangria. A drink called the "Devil's Bowtie" caught my eye: House-infused mixed berry tequila and St. Germain with fresh lime juice and agave nectar, with a splash of habanero-infused tequila. My favorite cocktail on the planet is the Pliny's Tonic at Anvil, which is similarly infused with heat from peppers, so there was no doubt I would order the Devil's Bowtie. I don't normally do "pink," but the sweetness of this cocktail is balanced by a very hearty dose of heat from the habanero pepper. My companions reported their margaritas to be delicious, but why drink a margarita when you can have a Devil's Bowtie? We sat outside and enjoyed relative privacy on a late Saturday afternoon, people-watching and chatting with our waiter about the menu.

Our goal for the day was to graze, drink, and move on, so we only ordered a few small bites: A ceviche to share and a taco apiece. Bright and sweet thanks to fresh mango, the ceviche came in a small wooden turtle that looked exactly like an old roach dish ashtray we used to have--bonus points for nostalgia, and I didn't feel like I was eating out of a roach dish ashtray at all. The mango combined with tart lime juice created a nice marinade for the seafood. The seafood was well-marinated, not just tossed with some lime juice; the fruit flavors were distributed evenly throughout the dish. The chips were thick-cut and tasty, but I will admit I prefer a thinner chip just because they are less filling.

We arrived just as the $2 taco menu was ending for the day, but our waiter put in the order quickly enough for us to take advantage. I ordered a single chicken taco which consisted of a warm, homemade corn tortilla topped with tangy, spicy shredded chicken, chopped cilantro, and pickled onions. It was a perfect four-bite taco that tasted great with my cocktail and gave me legs to make it to the next bar.

As the three of us lingered over the last dregs of the ceviche, enjoying the warm sunshine and deciding on our next stop, a wedding party-slash-marching band paraded up the street and back, heading into the bar next door. I can't guarantee you'll get to see a wedding march, but between the food and the people-watching I hope you'll give Papi Tino's a shot the next time you're in Austin.

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Christina Uticone