In part two of his series on Austin’s casual dining scene, David Latt rounds up some of the standouts, from the best doughnuts in town to a trailer that takes bacon love to the extreme.
Austin prides itself on keeping it weird.
For its food scene, that can mean taking familiar foods on a journey into unfamiliar territory.
Chi’Lantro BBQ puts Korean barbecue into Mexican tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, reminiscent of the popular Kogi BBQ trucks in Los Angeles.
Lucky J’s Chicken & Waffles, now with a brick-and-mortar restaurant as well as a trailer, uses waffles as tortillas. The taco fillings are an eclectic mix: the Lucky J (fried chicken), Waffle Breakfast Taco (bacon, egg, potato, onions and cheddar), Chili Cheese Fry (potato, onion, cheddar and chili sauce) and Grandma Andy (bananas, peanut butter, Nutella and honey).
For more food truck ideas, check out Texas Culinary Travel: Austin Food Trucks & Mobile Food Experiences, Part 1
A popular trailer, Gourdough’s (Tagline: “Big. Fat. Donuts.”), on South Lamar at Lamar Square reinvents the humble doughnut with a wink and a nod.
Reading the menu board leaning against the side of the Airstream trailer, you know you’re not at a Dunkin’ Donuts.
At Gourdough’s your choices include the Mother Clucker (fried chicken strip with honey butter), Miss Shortcake (cream cheese icing with fresh cut strawberries), Slow Burn (habanero pepper jelly with cream cheese topping), and Son of a Peach (peach filling, cinnamon, sugar & cake mix topping).
Locals talk excitedly about the Flying Pig (bacon with maple syrup icing). The flavor combination of crispy-salty-maple syrup sweetness can’t be beat … unless you add bacon.
Insider’s Tip: A warning about service in Austin, which can be laid back to the point of non-service. After a friend and I had ordered our Flying Pigs, the order-taker said in passing, “Oh, hey, just to let you know, we’re out of forks.” He only had plastic knives, so good luck trying to eat your heavily laden doughnut without getting messy.
People in Austin are passionate about food trailers. Many recommendations come by word of mouth.
At Patika Coffee on Congress between 2nd and 3rd streets, I was sipping a nicely brewed cup of black coffee, talking with co-owner Andy for suggestions which led me to El Naranjo, one of my favorites.
Walking away, a man tagged along to say if I wanted to know about another great food trailer, he had one for me.
“You have to go to Odd Duck on South Lamar,” he said with a smile. “The pork belly sliders are amazing and the grits with duck egg. But, you know, just about everything is good.”
Unfortunately, on this trip I wasn’t able to sample the food at Odd Duck Farm to Trailer because they only serve dinner and getting there at night wasn’t going to work.
Odd Duck serves tapas sized portions featuring ingredients from local, farm-sourced ingredients. Priced between $4-$6, with the recommendation of two to three items, a meal can get more expensive than one might expect from a trailer.
More great food experiences: 10 Culinary Festivals For The Foodie Traveler
In Austin, food trucks materialize everywhere, the way mushrooms pop up on a wet lawn. Driving around town, you’ll stumble on groups of food trailers that create a country fair atmosphere.
Only a few blocks from the Congress Street Bridge and Austin’s tourist-popular bat colony, a cluster of food trailers have a thriving business feeding the workers in the nearby office buildings. In the morning, locals line up at Patika Coffee for their morning caffeine fix and breakfast snacks. During the afternoon lunch rush, customers form lines in front of Turf N Surf Po’ Boy, decorated to look like a bayou surf shack, the ingeniously constructed Sushi Box and Kebabalicious with Turkish-style kabobs and salads.
Just east of I-35 on East Sixth Street at East San Marcos, chicken wire fencing encloses an encampment of six trailers. Strings of light bulbs stretch between the trailers, giving the cluster of trailers a good-natured carnival feeling at night.
The food sold here is eclectic by anyone’s definition.
The Local Yolk is, as you’d expect, mostly about eggs.
Serving deviled eggs, egg salad and tofu (no egg) salad, as well as fried egg sandwiches with unexpected toppings (pesto-mozzarella-tomato, hummus-black olives-feta cheese, cream cheese-avocado), there is also a sandwich with tuna fish and jalapeños.
Just across the dusty lot, Pig Vicious anchors the encampment with an “I like bacon” attitude that embraces BLTs along with peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, bacon-wrapped fried pickles, and even bacon shakes.
Parked nearby, as if to correct a cosmic imbalance created by bacon-crazed Pig Vicious, The Vegan Yacht, run by husband-and-wife team Danielle and Mike, serves up good-tasting veggies even meat eaters rave about.
Seafood is represented by Bits & Druthers which holds its own with fish and chips and coleslaw with thin slices of radish. Everything they serve, including the mayonnaise and all the ice creams, they make in house (or maybe more correctly, in trailer).
The block of South Congress between East Monroe and East Milton has an even larger gathering of trailers.
In the middle of the pack, Diner on Wheels bills itself as a Southwestern diner serving sweet potato fries, hot dogs and burgers, as well as tacos with delicious, homemade, charred green chile sauce.
More foodie adventures: Culinary Travel: Best Barbecue In The West
The Mighty Cone is famous for serving chicken, shrimp or avocado and combinations thereof, coated in a batter of sesame seeds, chili and corn flakes and eaten in large soft tacos inside paper cones.
Wurst Tex specializes in grilled brats and assorted sausages.
Next door is Coat and Thai and Bar-B-Que-T, which is outfitted with Astro turf and ATM machine for the convenience of customers.
If you want a cup of coffee, stop at Star Co. Mobile Coffee House & Café and stay for dessert at Austin Frigid Frog, with over 60 snow cones including cotton candy, cherry and fun flavors like Tweety Bird and Frog-in-a-Blender. At the popular Hey Cupcake!, the most-ordered item is the Michael Jackson—chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting.
Come back next week for part three of the Austin culinary series, including establishments that have made the transition from trailer to brick-and-mortar restaurant.
By David Latt for PeterGreenberg.com. Visit David on the Web atMenWhoLiketoCook.com.
Related Links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- Texas Culinary Travel: Austin Food Trucks & Mobile Food Experiences, Part 1
- Off The Brochure Travel Guide: Austin, Texas
- 10 Culinary Festivals For The Foodie Traveler
- Culinary Travel: Best Barbecue In The West
- Ask the Locals City Guide: San Antonio, Texas
- Culinary Experiences: The Truly Local Restaurants of Cabo San Lucas & San Jose del Cabo
- Traveling The Kentucky Bourbon Trail