Experience Truckloads of Tastiness At Austin

Experience Truckloads of Tastiness At Austin
Austin-ites cannot live their tacos , Photo Credit: Shutterstock
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From breakfast to dinner with snacking in between, a culinary trail in Austin must not be missed. We have a taco-induced coma to prove it

Sharmistha Chaudhuri
October 14 , 2018
12 Min Read

The tortilla was freshly pressed, hot off the griddle; the scrambled eggs were soft and fluffy; the pico de gallo (or just plain ol’ Mexican tomato salsa) had the right combination of salt and lime juice; the shredded cheese, avocado and the crunch of the tortilla chips heightened the experience. Eaten altogether, the migas combination is a melody of flavours at the very first bite. Not too salty, not too crunchy, not too chewy—just right. I knew at that moment, the bite of my very first ‘real’ taco, that my soft-shelled taco-less life had been meaningless. That may be a bold statement, but in all sincerity there is a reason why Austin survives on tacos.

Every time I find myself in the ever-growing capital city of Texas, I leave with my stomach craving more. Austin draws people. Some relocate for better living opportunities, a move that is driving up real estate prices as Californians and New Yorkers flock to the city; for many it’s the music, it’s not by chance they call Austin the live music capital of the world; but for a large number of people, it’s the delicious food prevalent in all parts of the city, breakfast tacos to smokey barbecues, fine dining to coffee, not to mention, a flourishing food truck culture.

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Austin is witnessing one of the country’s fastest growths in the food truck scene. It helps that the weather is perfect for the outdoors and it coincides with the casual attitude of Austin-ites. While many trucks are standalones, many together make up a food truck park while some, riding high on success, open up bricks and mortar. Close or next door to many food trucks, one finds bars. There is a sense of symbiosis among the businesses and locals, which makes the food truck atmosphere lively and experimental—buy your food, get a drink and sit outside on benches in the common area. There might even be a live music performance underway to tap your feet along to as you bite into deliciousness. It’s a win-win situation for all.

BREAKFAST

Austin-ites love their food and they know exactly what is needed to start the day—breakfast tacos. This staple is a mix of neighbouring Mexican tradition and American flavours. Personally, I always favour the flour tortillas over traditional corn as its chewiness and flakiness pairs really well with the stuffing. One can find a breakfast taco all over the city, but to taste a delicious one that has taken Texas by storm, a stop by Veracruz All Natural (veracruzallnatural.com) is a must. Its co-owners, sisters Reyna and Maritza Vasquez, opened a tiny trailer about a decade ago, but as the demand for their tacos grew, so did their reputation. With four locations in and around Austin today, their empire shows no sign of slowing down. I headed to the truck on Manchaca Road, next to Radio Coffee and Beer (radiocoffeeandbeer.com).

The bright blue truck was a welcome sight for my hungry eyes. It’s funny how my body functions when crossing oceans—others get jet-lagged, I get hungry. A chalkboard by the trailer window listed the menu. I had to taste the migas after having read so much about it, and then decided to order the Pastor, Migas Poblanas and the fish tacos alongside. The brand (yes, let’s call it that) is focussed on serving fresh, homemade produce, so you need to wait. Find an empty picnic table in the common area, pick up an espresso from Radio (or draught beer) and wait to be fed.

One of Austin's most colourful and popular food trucks, East Side KingAbout 15 minutes later, the buzzer went off and, soon, four delicious-looking tacos were on the table making me forget all about the better half sitting opposite. It was the moment of truth. One bite into the migas and I swooned. The better half looked up from his taco to inquire if everything was all right, I could only nod—I finally understood why Veracruz All Natural had become a hungry Austin staple. The detailing and freshness work in tandem to elevate the humble taco. The sisters, originally from Veracruz in Mexico, knew they had a winner long before word-of-mouth publicity gained them a following.

What really impresses me about Austin-ites is they favour home-grown businesses. Tacodeli (tacodeli.com) opened shop in 1999 and has since expanded all over Texas. Not a food truck, but they have a steady following despite shutting their shops after lunch time. The Shrimposito (technically from their lunch menu) is a favourite. Many a time, hungry for no reason, I’d stop by their shop on North Lamar to devour the spicy grilled shrimps in a fresh flour tortilla.

Also, don’t forget to try Torchy’s (torchystacos.com). Started in a trailer in 2006 by chef Mike Rypka, their logo of the baby devil with a pitchfork can be seen all across the city. It’s a popular haunt for the large student population studying at University of Texas in Austin. Try the Trailer Park taco, which has fried chicken, but do ask them to ‘make it trashy’—no lettuce and more queso instead. You’ll thank me later.

A fresh and organic breakfast at PatikaIf tacos aren’t tempting enough, brunch is always a good idea. Patika (patikacoffee.com) in South Lamar serves organic, sweet and savoury options. Initially a cart, it’s now a brick and mortar, but the food and coffee will make you want to come back. Try the avocado toast with a poached egg or even the breakfast sandwich with all frills—the runny yolk will combine all the flavours in every bite.

In Austin, people often work out of coffee shops. Sometimes, the atmosphere gets so quiet that you look up in astonishment if there’s been a sudden alien abduction. In India, we are used to noise, and more so at eateries where loud groups can dominate the whole floor. Though the silence takes some time to get used to, the coffee is always a winner. Thunderbird (thunderbirdcoffee.com) on Manor Road, Houndstooth (houndstoothcoffee.com) near Hyde Park or even Jo’s (joscoffee.com) near Downtown—all have a sound customer base. Personally, Jo’s stands out for me because of the ‘I love you so much’ graffiti on its side wall. Their Turbo is a bestseller but it’s the graffiti one comes for.

LUNCH

The very thought of the Lone Star State draws up an image of cowboys and barbecue. While one can try out leather boots and cowboy hats at Allens Boots on South Congress Avenue to go back in time, the meat reference is very real. Texans don’t mess around with their barbecues. In fact, each part of the state has a unique style and in Austin, that is, central Texas, it’s more about the rub rather than the sauce. For the meat to shine, it must be smoked for hours over a combination of woods like pecan or oak, while accompaniments like beans, bread and potatoes are relegated as secondary.

When in Austin, not trying the brisket is sacrilegious. Franklin Barbecue (franklinbbq.com), often hailed as one of the best in the country, has been growing its fan base since 2009. The lines are long and it is best to head there early, just to taste James Beard-winning pit-master Aaron Franklin’s creations. Even the late Anthony Bourdain and the former US president Barack Obama had doled out accolades. However, the trailer was shut during my travel so, instead, we headed to La Barbecue (labarbecue.com). Apart from the queue in front of the East Cesar Chavez brick and mortar (est. 2012), always a good sign, it is a company run by women in an industry that is predominantly male. As we joined the long line, which was slowly inching closer to the door, craft beer kept us company, the smell of fresh barbecue wafting out the chimneys making our stomachs growl in anticipation. It was 90 minutes later that we reached the counter. The chipotle sausages and beef ribs had been sold out by then, but thankfully not the brisket. Texan appetites can be overwhelming, so instead of buying it by the pound, getting smaller portions made sense. With a portion of brisket, the last of pork ribs, pulled pork and a side of ’slaw and pickles, we stuffed our faces as if we’d never seen food before. Owner LeAnn Mueller’s father, Bobby, was a James Beard winner in 2006, and while the recipes honour him, they are given a twist to cater to a newer generation. The brisket was ever so succulent, the salty-savoury rub highlighting the tenderness of the smokey meat. If my stomach permitted, I would have been there all day, but sadly, even the tasting platter proved too much.

Micklethwait's vintage trailerIf more slow-cooked smoked meat is on your mind, head further down the street to Micklethwait Craft Meats (craftmeatsaustin.com) that operates out of a vintage Comet trailer. The old-fashioned trailer itself is Instagrammable but pit-master Tom Micklethwait’s drool-worthy sausages on social media had me hooked long before the visit. The best option to savour a variety in small portions and be in barbecue heaven is to get a three-meat plate with an option of two sides (I chose brisket, but obviously, sausage, ribs, chips and grits).

DINNER

Texan chefs and restaurants are often in the list of James Beard nominees. Austin has its fair share. Chef Laura Sawicki of Launderette (launderetteaustin.com) fame was on the 2018 list of outstanding pastry chefs. Located in a renovated laundromat in Holly Street, the café rustles up delicious gourmet New American dishes. But do save room for dessert. The white chocolate semifreddo and the apricot sticky toffee pudding with chamomile ice cream are winners. I believe their birthday cake ice cream sandwich is also a fan favourite.

Enjoy a date at Odd DuckIf it’s a date you have in mind, reserve a table at Odd Duck (oddduckaustin.com)—Bryce Gilmore’s restaurant now stands where his original trailer was. He firmly believes in the concept of farm-to-table as everything is sourced locally. The ceviche was the star—fresh redfish with leche de tigre that acts as the citrus marinade to cure the fish, will whet the appetite. The buttermilk-fried quail with shishito peppers and the pork belly will make you want to lick the plates clean. Gilmore got a James Beard nod in the best chef category for one of his other restaurants—Barley Swine—this year.

Another great place to try Asian fusion is The Peached Tortilla (thepeachedtortilla.com). Originally a truck but a brick and mortar today on Burnet Road, I loved their charred brussels with bacon jam, spicy kimchi arancini balls and the Hainan chicken. Adapted from Chinese immigrants, Hainan chicken is one of Singapore’s national dishes. This one tasted familiar yet different than the ones I’d consumed in many of Singapore’s food hawker centres during layovers.

Eating piping-hot dinners from food trucks under the clear, dark skies with the twinkling of fairy lights can be quite magical. When the sun sets, Austin lights up. The city offers so many flavours that it can get difficult to choose. If it’s Thai on your mind, head to the Thai Kun (thaikun.com) trailer, set up next to Whisler’s bar. Choose the grilled pork and the fried chicken, make it mild, spicy or super hot, and then relish the familiar Southeast Asian flavours with an Old Fashioned from the bar sitting at the patio.

Pasta and appetisers at Patrizi'sMy favourite Italian food truck is Patrizi’s (patrizis.com) outside The Vortex theatre. The theatre, food truck and Butterfly bar make up a nice trio on Manor Road. As we entered the complex, we picked up strains of music floating out of the theatre. The patio was warmly lit with Austin-ites milling about with drinks. Families sat together at the communal tables, couples cosied up as the wind rose, and the smell of fresh pasta filled our nostrils. Patrizi’s has been serving Austin handmade pastas and scratch-made sauces for half a century. Their menu is a winner. Be it a vegetarian option or one with meat, the family takes extra care to serve you a meal you’ll remember. Pasta has always been a comfort food, and just like my time in Italy, Patrizi’s takes me back to a meal I had at a local family-run establishment in Milan years ago, the flavours still fresh on my palate.

With plates of Pomodoro and Great Leopold (pasta with pesto, pumpkin seeds and chilli), a negroni and Whisky Sour on the table, music in the background, and bright lights strung from poles, we ate in peace, one forkful at a time, as Austin permanently etched itself in my memories.


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