I'm from Fort Wayne, Indiana. I grew up eating the most authentic Mexican around: Bandido's. Tacos were crunchy shells filled with ground beef, just like God Intended. Chicken Fajitas were the most exotic thing on the menu and proved your credentials as a world traveler. There were sombreros everywhere. It was a fairly popular restaurant back then, and I fondly remember the bland salsa and the tasteless chips. Since moving to Austin, I've expanded my horizons and learned a thing or two about "The Taco Lifestyle", but I haven't forgotten my Midwestern roots.
When I get a little homesick and I long for a crunchy, ground beef taco covered in shredded lettuce and yellow cheese, I head to Serrano's. Serrano's is a local Austin chain with 5 locations spread throughout the city. Since I work across the street from the downtown location at 11th and Red River, that is the one I've frequented the most. This is probably the most comfortable and attractive of their 5 locations. Located in Symphony Square, it has a beautiful, shaded limestone patio that overlooks the creek. Unusual for a lot of outdoor areas: it has real, metal patio furniture that feels substantial. Even though this is, perhaps, Serrano's biggest selling point, the patio is nearly always deserted at lunchtime, save for some grackles, pigeons, and me. I can't explain it, except to note that a good portion of the patrons are business-types.
Service is relatively mediocre; sometimes it is attentive, typically it is gruff with a hint of disdain. My dining companion was once served the wrong food, and when he pointed it out, they asked him if he wanted to be served what he actually ordered. There was no apology and no offer of compensation for the extra wait and hassle.
You've probably noticed I haven't mentioned the food, yet. That is because it is the least important part about Serrano's. It is serviceable, and it will fill your stomach, I can't say much more about it than that. The required chips and salsa were decent. It was not particularly spicy (which the name of the restaurant would imply), but both tasted relatively fresh and are a little above average, I think. I had the "Taco Grande" plate with two relatively large crunchy tacos filled with ground beef, shredded lettuce, and yellow cheese with a side of rice and beans. The beef in the taco was a bit greasy, and by the time I started the second one, the shell had become soggy and tore in two when I picked it up. This made eating the second one very difficult and messy. The rice and beans were typical.
The best thing I can say about Serrano's is that the $8 (!!) for the two tacos was a lot cheaper than a plane ticket home.
Serrano's : Symphony Square - 2 homesick stars - The Commish