Joann’s is at the beginning of the bustling part of Congress Street, just south of the Colorado River and famous bat bridge. It’s part historic hotel, part restaurant, all personality, named after owner Liz Lambert’s mom, “an elegant West Texas woman always in signature red lipstick,” and, according to the menu, holding a shotgun.
We walk in and I can’t stop looking around. Up front, there are stacks of colorful retro-style postcards advertising The Full Moon Swim and Bob’s Bizarre Burlesque Bingo. We proceed to the outdoor patio for dinner, past diner-style booths and a bar with red leather-covered swivel bar stools.
Outside, the diner feel transitions into a cantina, with a thatched roof bar built right into the back, just under a colored-class awning. We sit to look at the menu … and want everything. There’s a pecan-burning grill for the meat; house-made tortillas; fresh juices, and a tempting mezcal collection.
We are surprised when our waiter brings out a plate of four small biscuits, not chips. Thin layers of pillowy dough are delightfully unexpected. Accompanying chipotle honey butter is sweet, spicy, and just a touch salty.
Grilled corn and squash salad balances the biscuits with fresh textures. The grilled corn is layered with thinly sliced green squash and served with green goddess dressing, sprigs of dill, and cotija crumbles.
White bean hummus with grilled flatbread is served with toasted fennel seed and pepitas, a housemade green chorizo, and salsa verde. While flatbreads are not exactly what I thought we’d eat here, this is worth a re-order. The hummus is creamy but not overpowering, letting the fresh herbs and accoutrements stand out.
Entrees feature fresh, authentic Mexican flavors. Green enchiladas come with deliciously seasoned refried beans and salsa verde that is a little tangy with crunchy pickled onions. Even the rice is good to the last bite, with hints of lime and cilantro.
I’ve never seen a chile relleno like this one this before, wrapped in a layer of light, fluffy eggs. The filling has something like nutmeg or cinnamon mixed with beef picadillo, jack cheese, and salsa ranchera. The chile itself is huge and tender.
A green tamale is filled with spicy (but not burn-your-mouth) chorizo; a red one is adobo pulled pork. On the side, salsa fresca delivers heat that complements the subtler flavors of the tamales. Even the cabbage slaw is great: simple, fresh, and citrusy.
From the plates to the napkins to the bathroom sign, “all ways” is a theme here. It’s also just a little weird (this is Austin, after all). As we leave, Joann’s slogan catches our eye: “All Ways Welcome. So Close Yet So Far Out.”