1894 (vault); 2009
Michael Hsu Office of Architecture
Joel Mozersky Design
Contemporary, Neo-Brutalist


La Condesa is a Mexican restaurant and bar that includes a dining room in a historic underground vault as well as an upper level, open-air event space. Multiple levels of dining rooms and bar seating overlook the Second Street District and Austin City Hall.


Inspired by the bohemian La Condesa neighborhood in Mexico City, this fixture of the Austin culinary scene serves up artisan tequilas and sustainable, locally sourced interior Mexican cuisine. Built atop a local historical landmark, the restaurant epitomizes the melding of art, architecture, and cuisine into a singular experience.

La Condesa was one of the first upscale restaurants to grace the redeveloped Second Street District after the construction of Austin City Hall. Seeking to create a pedestrian-friendly shopping and entertainment district, the City of Austin oversaw a complete overhaul of the area: converting the one-way street to slower two-way traffic; building wide, tree-lined sidewalks; and encouraging the construction of mixed-use buildings, shops, restaurants, and cafés.

As part of the district’s redevelopment, the historic general store across the street (look for the painted “J.P. Schneider & Bros.” sign) was preserved and converted into a barbecue joint. During construction, the old Schneider flour storage vault was discovered beneath the corner that was to be occupied by La Condesa. Recognizing the unique character of the vault, the architects incorporated the space into their design—a feat made possible by 50 structural piers that carry the weight of the building above. Architect Maija Kreishman, AIA and her team designed the stairs down to the vault to “sit very lightly to illustrate that the vault was there before.” Inside the vault, uplighting highlights its shape and original materials.

Above ground, the restaurant features authentic interior Mexican dishes prepared with ingredients from sustainable sources, while the bar hosts a bevy of artisan tequilas focused on local brands. The design was imbued with the same spirit, as local artists and artisans worked closely with the architects to craft every inch of the space. The main dining room is dominated by Sodelitas, a mural created by artists Joseph Philips and Jana Swak out of colorful, textured billboard scraps sourced from Mexico City. Throughout the space, lighting installations double as works of art.

Floor-to-ceiling sliding glass windows inspired by the atmosphere of its namesake neighborhood open to seating areas on and above the sidewalk. The concrete platforms by the entrance were formed using rough boards with gaps that allowed the concrete to ooze between the joints. Inside, a bright blue, sculptural staircase cuts through the floor above the dining room. Glass surrounds the stair, allowing for what the architect describes as “a fusion of art and architecture.” Indeed, to visit La Condesa is to appreciate the coming together of food, art, and culture—as well as the people whose hands have made it. – Sara Alicia Costa, AIA

Photo Credits:

Paul Bardagjy (1-6)