Fonda San Miguel

Fonda San Miguel co-owner Tom Gilliland (left) and General Manager Danny Herrera stand next to the first artwork purchased for the interior Mexican restaurant when it opened in 1975.

Fonda San Miguel co-owner Tom Gilliland (left) and General Manager Danny Herrera stand next to the first artwork purchased for the interior Mexican restaurant when it opened in 1975.

For more than four decades, Fonda San Miguel has been helping Austinites differentiate between Tex-Mex cuisine and more authentic fare, according to co-owner Tom Gilliland.

A 600-person celebration held last October commemorated 40 years of business at the interior Mexican restaurant, located in North Central Austin off Burnet Road.

Gilliland, a Nebraska native who initially came to Austin for law school in the 1960s, said he found the space by chance and jumped at the opportunity.

By 1975 the restaurant had opened, and three years later he and Executive Chef Miguel Ravago owned the building outright.

“The restaurant industry has been really interesting to observe,” said Gilliland, comparing today to 40 years ago when barbecue and Tex-Mex eateries dominated the landscape. “If we were to open this restaurant today, I wouldn’t give us much hope to make it.”

But the restaurant has not only survived but thrived, overcoming what Gilliland calls an increase in out-of-town, corporate influence that has changed the local industry.

Regulars routinely frequent Fonda San Miguel, said Gilliland, who announced plans to potentially incorporate outdoor seating in 2016 to accommodate more guests.

“We’re trying to figure out what to do with that building [to the east of the restaurant] that the neighbors would feel good about, but there’s no plans yet, so nothing is definite,” Gilliland said.

Fonda San Miguel Executive Chef Miguel Ravago[/caption]

Meet the (namesake) chef

Executive Chef Miguel Ravago said he tries to incorporate authentic Mexican dishes from different states throughout the country. “I make food that I enjoy eating,” Ravago said. The menu rotates regularly, he said, with some favorites sometimes returning as temporary specials.

More than combo plates

Ravago said the only actual combo plate—similar to those served at Tex-Mex restaurants—offered at Fonda San Miguel is the Carne Asada A La Tampiqueña ($38.95), which includes a grilled strip of beef tenderloin served with guacamole, rajas and a cheese enchilada. Other Tex-Mex-like options include enchiladas, soups and salads.

Lots of seafood options

The Camarones Adobados (market price) includes adobe-crusted shrimp placed atop corn tortillas that are filled with rajas and served with chipotle black bean sauce. Another seafood option is the Pescado Veracruzano, a broiled fish fillet served in traditional Vera Cruz tomato sauce with capers, onions and Spanish olives.

Fonda San Miguel Tres leches cake[/caption]

Leave room for dessert

Ravago prides himself on the traditional tres leches cake ($8)—or Mexican wedding cake, he said—served at his restaurant. The dessert is topped with peaches and only a little cream, allowing the spongy cake to soak in the milky layer surrounding it. There are also French-inspired, Mexican-made crepes and other homemade treats available.

By Joe Lanane
Joe Lanane’s career is rooted in community journalism, having worked for a variety of Midwest-area publications before landing south of the Mason-Dixon line in 2011 as the Stillwater News-Press news editor. He arrived at Community Impact Newspaper in 2012, gaining experience as editor of the company’s second-oldest publication in Leander/Cedar Park. He eventually became Central Austin editor, covering City Hall and the urban core of the city. Lanane leveraged that experience to become Austin managing editor in 2016. He managed eight Central Texas editions from Georgetown to San Marcos. Working from company headquarters, Lanane also became heavily involved in enacting corporate-wide editorial improvements. In 2017, Lanane was promoted to executive editor, overseeing editorial operations throughout the company. The Illinois native received his bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University and his journalism master’s degree from Ball State University.