Iron Cactus, the glass-framed Mexican restaurant downtown, is like the new girl who arrives an innocent and is ravaged by every cad in town. Come on, you were one of them. You leered down the circular stairwell, guzzled your margarita, and spit over the railing of the patio.

But once the pack moved on, this Austin transplant dusted itself off and got stronger. The food got tighter, as did the service. It’s not all combo plates; there are upscale lobster tacos and ahi tuna ceviche. Queso, lusciously creamy, had a tang that said “real cheddar”; when it cooled, it did not harden into orange plastic. Chips came with two salsas, and margarita martinis were served with a shaker from which you could pour your drink yourself (bliss for control freaks). It is not without flaws. Mixed grill with fajita beef and chicken, sausage, and shrimp made a good argument for solo shrimp, as the meats were dry and overdone. And the guacamole was greasy. But rice and beans, the telltale staples, impressed. The rice came flecked with corn kernels and cubed carrots, and the beans boasted good bacon flavor. These days, the only attitude at the door is friendliness. Customers get seated with a smile, and a server hustles over with water and cheer. It’s a quirky staff that manager Mark Nevarez has assembled—no cookie-cutter servers here. They come from all over, and so do the customers, who are just as likely to be in town on a conference. It makes you feel like you are in a true-blue big city.

Get contact information for Iron Cactus.