El Patio serves tacos with a long history in Austin

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El Patio moved into its current home on Guadalupe St. in 1954. Since then, the restaurant has seen the likes of rock ‘n’ roll icon Elvis Presley and famous UT alumni Walter Cronkite, according to restaurant owner, Mary Ann Joseph.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Torchy’s Tacos may be students’ go-to taco eatery, but another taco option is just down the road. El Patio is a tex-mex dive that’s been feeding locals since 1954 and cooking some of the best tacos in Austin. 

Jamie Arriola, an El Patio server, said people are surprised by the tacos because they’re untraditionally flat and homemade. 

“People order our tacos and they get them and say ‘What is this? This is a tostada not a taco!’ And then we explain that we cook our own taco shells,” Arriola said. “But people like them, and most of the people eat it all.” 

While new customers may be surprised by the tacos, most of the patrons at El Patio have been eating there for years. 

After changing locations, names and menus, El Patio finally settled in its current home on Guadalupe Street 59 years ago.

Family employee Renee Joseph-Downer said El Patio has very loyal customers. The cycle of tex-mex continues through what is now five generations.

The customers and the wait staff consider themselves close with the owners. The servers respond to this family dynamic with their own loyalty, becoming a part of the El Patio family.

“For the last 25 years I’ve been eating here, and I’m still eating here. That’s how much I like it,” Arriola said. 

El Patio is owned by a family whose roots go back to the eighteenth century in Austin. Joseph-Downer said El Patio has a philosophy that stems from being a family-run business.

“We like for everyone to pull together,” Joseph-Downer said. “If a customer is seated in another waiter’s section, they will help each other even if that customer isn’t technically theirs.” 

Jaime Bolanos, another server, has worked at El Patio for 32 years. He said after all this time he still enjoys the food.

“We have a woman who makes our taco shells every day from scratch and deep fries them,” Joseph-Donwer said. “So it’s a homemade chip and from there we put ground beef, lettuce and tomatoes, guacamole, grated cheese, queso or chicken [on it].” 

The Perkin’s Special is one of the many taco-dedicated dishes on the menu.  

It comes with two tacos served with beef, lettuce, tomatoes and queso on top. The Perkin’s Special is a popular choice among customers who have a long history with the El Patio family. Joseph-Downer said the Perkin’s Special was named after a police officer with the same last name who knew her father for about 70 years. When Perkins ordered a taco, he would always order it with queso on top.

After customers eat the Perkin’s special or the David Special, an enchilada dish, the servers offer a free dessert of sherbet or homemade praline candy as they total the bill. 

See other stories as part of The Daily Texan's Taco Tuesday package:

"Taco Journalism" blog offers critiques on taco joints across Austin

Black bean tacos aren't just for vegetarians

Printed on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 as: Tantilizing tacos tempt Austin