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[Austin] Food Trailers


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#1 Carolyn Tillie

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Posted 17 June 2010 - 02:01 PM

The one thing I did not know about Austin is that it is famous for its food trailer culture. Strewn about town are hundreds of converted trailers, Airstream campers, and shipping crates, all serving specialty food. Not necessarily located in any one particular spot, there are trailers parked on corners devoted to Banh-Mi, BBQ (no surprise there), cucpcakes, and doughnuts. In some cases, two trailers share a small spot adjacent to a strip mall and in other cases, there are rows and rows of trailers, stacked up against one another on main streets. Driving along Lamar Boulevard we passed one under a tree, then three blocks later, a cluster on an empty lot. Musicians set-up and perform, families gather for picnics, and college friends meet over gourmet coffee. With Austin being the college town that it is, I am jealous they have such a fabulously accessible amount of food at such great prices.

The original intention was to hit Gourdoughs for Fried Dough Ho, but unfortunately, they seemed to be closed in the afternoon. No worries, we are going to keep trying! Instead, lunch beckoned in the form of a classic Cubano sandwich from The Texas Cuban. Hot pressed and grilled on garlic Cuban bread was ample grilled pork tenderloin, ham, swiss cheese, provolone cheese
& pickles. The guy who is part owner asks if you want regular mustard, spicy mustard, or mayonnaise. What was really cool for me was the availability of REAL Dr. Pepper — known as Dublin Dr. Pepper — as it is the only plant left which still makes Dr Pepper with real sugar and not corn syrup. A truly spectacular sandwich, we ordered the $12 version which was advertised to feed two while it easily could feed three (we both took home parts of our uneaten sandwich). I can’t remember the last time I ate a Cuban sandwich this good. Served alongside three sliced, fried plantains, the crunch from the bread complemented the creamy melted cheese and two pork products. I loved the snap of the pickle inside as well.

Right next door to The Texas Cuban is La Boite, a small pastry shop. Stylishly situated within a shipping crate, this unassuming stall offers the best macarons I have ever tasted. Sadly, my pictures did not come out but Jane and I shared a total of four flavors; blueberry, lemon, caramel with fleur de sel, and peach. We started with the lemon which was a mistake only in that the use of lemon balm in the cream made the blueberry, tasted immediately afterward, less pronounced. But even in San Francisco — amongst die-hard foodies and gourmands — have I not had a macaron quite this spectacular. By the time we got home, our two other flavors, the caramel and peach were close to destroyed but still exceptional. Jane even scraped the caramel out of the bag to get every ounce.

Our last jaunt was on a strip of trailers that contained an even larger selection; cupcakes, pies, tacos, and our last tasting of the day, the Frigid Frog Hawaiian shaved ice. With bizarre flavors like Tigers Blood and Spiderman available, on our 90° day was capped perfectly by a small offering of shaved ice. I ordered a mint mojito which, while a tad on the sweet side, was still greatly enjoyed on this windy, sweltering day.

I'm here several more days and am looking forward to adding to the report! Pictures over here.

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#2 theabroma

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Posted 17 June 2010 - 04:32 PM

Ah, yes. Those macarons. But the pistachos would be even more improved with a pistachio buttercream to join them ... I found the dark chocolate ganache wonderful, but a bit muscularly steroidal as it overwhelmed the delicate pistachio. I have never had Gerard Mulot's macarons, but I cannot imagine that these lag far behind.

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#3 theabroma

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Posted 17 June 2010 - 04:35 PM

Oops! Take a look at www.laboitecafe.com for photos of the site, their menu, and photos of the shipping container as it began and how it finished up. Carolyn, you might also want to check out the El Naranjo trailer on Rainey street just south of 1st and west of the I-35 southbound frontage road. Chef Ileana de la Vega, who founded and had to close its namesake in Oaxaca due to the political madness there, has a trailer and is converting one of the old Rainey St. homes into a restaurant. Her moles, among other items, are not to be missed.

Regards,

Theabroma
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#4 Carolyn Tillie

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 03:21 PM

I am beginning to learn that a die-hard foodie visiting Austin should probably ignore most of the restaurant and set about hitting the food trailers. While San Francisco has a handful of specialty taco trucks — we boast a crème brûlée truck and one that serves frogs legs — but nothing as expansive and diverse as Austin’s food trailers. Even my hostess has been surprised at the shear number that has popped up in such a short time.

Our first round of visiting trailers occurred during lunch time. It was an attempt to hit Gourdoughs that we learned that not all of the trailers are open during the day and that an early evening venture was going to be necessary. Our first stop was at East Side King, located behind a bit of a dive bar, Liberty. Unlike most of the other trailers I saw, this one was hidden from view and you would have to know where it is and when it is open (after 7:00 p.m.). I was also informed that Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, it is open until 2:00 a.m. and many of the local chefs can be found heading there after their own establishments have closed down. The bar is amenable and has a great selection which also enables the diners to grab a drink while waiting for the trailer to open.

Of all the trailers I visited, this was one of the smallest in size and one of the most artistically decorated and what came forth was incredibly impressive. Quite a lot of food was ordered for not a lot of money starting with Poor Qui Buns, roasted pork belly in steamed buns with Hoisin sauce, cucumber kimchee, and green onions. Delightfully tender pork belly, nestled within perfectly steamed buns. So often the buns are over steamed and turn gummy, but this was not the case here. With just enough accountrement and buns to not overpower the meat, these were a great offering. Besides the pork buns, there was also an order Derek’s Favorite Chicken Buns, the same perfect buns holding small bites of tender fried chicken with a touch of spicy Thai mayo.

Considering the giant Cubano sandwich I ate earlier that day, I was happy for some vegetable options. A Fried Brussels Sprouts Salad was a bit on the spicy side for me. Since Brussels sprouts are not in season, it was not a surprise that they were more of a part of a whole, than a showcased single ingredient. Served with shredded cabbage, alfalfa sprouts, basil, cilantro, and jalapeño, there seemed to be more cabbage and seasoning than anything. I did appreciate the bit of fried steamed bun as a “crouton” though. We also shared the Green Papaya salad and Beet Home Fries. The green papaya salad was quite good — about what I have had at better restaurants in San Francisco — and the fried beets were just plain interesting. I don’t think I can remember an occasional when I have ever had a deep-fried beet and the crispy exterior complemented the firm, tender interior. Served with classically Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise (yes, it IS different!) and a bit of Shichimi tougarashi, these were quite a treat.

Eric was the guy working the trailer the evening I visited and he was accommodating despite my sneaking in to get photos, answering questions and doing all of the prep, cooking, and service himself. What surprised me was the fact of tableside service. Yes, we were given a number after we placed our order and I assumed we would be called when our order was ready. Heck, there were easily a dozen people there, waiting for food. Instead, Eric brought the food out himself when he easily could have just called from the trailer and had us pick up our own food. Also, our entire meal was under $30 and that just blows me away.

Despite being mostly full from East Side King, stalwart gourmets that we are, Jane and John drove me over for my much-anticipated Gourdough’s visit. And while we were waiting for our pile of fried dough, we were able to sample a few of the offerings from Odd Duck Farm to Trailer. Jane informed me that the proprietor of Odd Duck, Bryce Gillmore, cut his culinary teeth in his father Jack’s kitchen of Z’ Tejas Grill. This may have given him a little advantage which the people of Austin would be crazy to not take advantage of. While waiting for doughnuts, Jane ordered two dishes, a slice of grilled zucchini bread atop which sat some freshly-sliced grilled peaches, a bit of goat cheese, and a large chunk brunoise of vegetables, zucchini mostly. This combination showed integrity of ingredients and thoughtfulness on the part of the chef; the peach was just firm enough to hold up to grilling while still depicting ripe flavors that complemented the creaminess of the goat cheese.

Another open-face dish was shared, ciabatta toast served with chunks of rabbit leg, grilled squash, eggplant, and goat feta. Again, there is a great deal of consideration given to the combination of ingredients. There is ample freshness in the vegetables with juicy, delectable rabbit. No hint of dryness was detected in the meat, juxtaposing well with the bright vegetables and slightly charred flavor applied to the bread, giving a great crunch against the tender meat.

At this location, we saw many showing up with their own wine and beer and it saddened me that I may not be able to go back to this particular trailer before my departure. The two dishes we tried were a total of $10 and their entire menu could be had for a mere $32; again, a screaming deal. Tiring so much of the $28 entrées in San Francisco and other, large cosmopolitan cities, this form of dining — if truly manageable with food and labor costs — is a sign of how things SHOULD become. I am a huge fan of small plates and lots of flavors and I have often lamented that even the small-plates restaurants have to contend with dramatic overhead, thereby driving up the costs, making it not even that cost-effective way to dine. To scour the trailers of Austin is an enviable way for foodies to taste through literally hundreds of trailers with innumerable variations of a potential meal.

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#5 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 04:46 PM

Thanks Carolyn and theabroma. I have eaten at a couple of trailers on my last trip and plan to hit more next time. I'll look forward to the new restaurant that Chef Ileana de la Vega is starting.

#6 Carolyn Tillie

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Posted 18 June 2010 - 09:20 PM

Richard, we were going to go to Ileana's restaurant yesterday and just plain ran out of time (that, and the fact that her trailer is across the town from all the ones we were visiting).

There is a *chance* that we might be able to hit it on Sunday, if it is open. Today was relegated to a pot-luck and Saturday has been scheduled with my one visit to a barbecue. I'm still hitting a bunch of Fried Dough establishments and Sunday is my last day here with nothing yet planned, so we'll see.

Keep your fingers crossed for me!

#7 jsmeeker

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Posted 19 June 2010 - 08:29 AM

Thanks for starting this topic. I had thought about doing it myself a few weeks ago after my trip down to Central Texas for a BBQ run. But I really only had limited experiences with the food carts/trailers. But I did post about it briefly in a master food trailers topic over in the Food Traditions and Cultures forum.

Really, I need to get back down to Austin later this year and spend a lot more time exploring that food scene. I had a good experience with the two different taco trucks I hit.

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#8 Carolyn Tillie

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Posted 19 June 2010 - 12:10 PM

Jeff, by all accounts the thing to do is to look beyond the taco trucks; there is a Oaxacan truck that is getting great reviews, the Odd Duck Farm to Trailer is *outstanding*, that Cuban sandwich is the best I've ever had, and it saddens me that I may not get to hit any more before my departure!

Oh, and the macarons at La Boite are better than any I have eaten in San Francisco.

#9 jsmeeker

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 06:51 PM

Oh, I agree to look beyond them. But that's what we happened to spot in the areas we were and what seemed to be the most appealing We didn't really go trailer "hunting" on this trip. But we will on the next one.

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#10 kathryn

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Posted 27 March 2011 - 04:43 PM

I recently spent 11 days in Austin for SXSW and chased down all of the food trucks I could find.

Pueblo Viejo: The little taco truck at the East Side Drive In became a brunch destination a few days in a row. They served us good breakfast tacos and also had quite friendly service. I really liked the woman working there--the bottled water wasn't cold and they offered to put it into the freezer for a few minutes for us. Their salsa was also quite good as well, both the red and green (tomatillo?). Loved eating breakfast outside in the sun at the East Side Drive In. Unfortunately their hours seemed a bit inconsistent. My husband went on a Wednesday morning around 8:30am and they said they'd be open, but they weren't. I'd come back but am still on a search for great breakfast tacos downtown near the Convention Center.

Pig Vicious: Excellent deep-fried, bacon wrapped pickles with a chipotle-esque ranch dressing. One of the best ways to start off your Saturday morning. Talking to the guy working there is a trip, too. I wish I'd had more time to try other items but I kept ending up at the East Side Drive In more around mid-day instead of at night...or very late at night after they had already closed. Great atmosphere, great signs, though. Loved the concept and the name.

Odd Duck: Wow. I see what the fuss is about now. The pork belly slider with sauerkraut and shaved turnips and aioli -- fatty, crispy heaven between a bun. The creamy, cheesy, perfect goat cheese grits with a poached duck egg, wild mushrooms, and grilled turnip was a punch in the face of sweet umami flavor. Fresh shrimp, perfectly cooked and so sweet, served with arugula, broccoli, texamati rice, sherry vinegar, and gruyere cheese was great but my friends didn't think much of the salad/rice combo. Venison sausage with sweet potato salad, cheddar, aioli, and pecans was great and gamey. Amazing. I think the only thing I didn't care for was the grilled quail with cabbage, ricotta, carrots, and brussels sprouts, which was hard to eat and didn't really seem to come together conceptually. But overall I loved this food truck. And they were out of 1/2 the menu by the time we rolled up around 6:30pm on a Saturday. I'd definitely go back. So great. It's a toss up between Odd Duck and Uchi for the best meal I had while in Austin.

Gourdough's: Very good doughnuts, but a bit too intense for my liking. My husband and I split the flying pig: maple icing and bacon. Delicious but very intense, especially after dinner at Odd Duck. The doughnut was huge and un-finishable, although I tried. I ended up leaving a single piece of bacon. We loved the ODB cream-filled doughnut holes rolled in coconut shreds and ate them all up. Basically perfect, especially right out of the fryer. My friend took a few bites of her 'banana pudding' inspired doughnut dish but couldn't finish it. Seems like the doughnut holes are the way to go here, shared between a few people. I'd definitely go back but be more careful about the quantity I ordered.

Old School BBQ (a food... bus): I had a chopped brisket sandwich during the Foodspotting Street Food Festival event. Loved walking up to the school bus and ordering BBQ, as the smoker let out its delicious fumes across the parking lot. Unfortunately, the brisket itself was tender but wasn't as flavorful as I wanted it to be, nor as fatty. It was good but not great. They had a more limited menu for this event, IIRC, and I'd like to go back and try the regular brisket not during SXSW.

Lucky J's: I loved this chicken waffle "taco" so much I had it three times. Soft pliable taco, sweet maple syrup, hot sauce, and a crispy chicken tender. I think the only thing that was missing was a bit of butter on top. I actually talked some friends into visiting the 6th St/Waller location after drinking one night, and they fell in love as well. I also found it to be the perfect SXSW Music Festival food, that could be eaten while walking.

Chi'lantro: I had the beef bulgolgi tacos twice and really liked them. The lettuce slaw with sriracha sauce really hit the spot, particularly. Sweet, meaty, and spicy. I could probably eat those beef tacos every day for a week and not get bored of them. Unfortunately, I didn't get to go back a whole lot because they were participating in a 25c taco promotion and the lines were insanely long much of the time.

Patika Coffee Truck: A nice iced coffee in the sun. Not the best I've ever had (we were told to go to Medici instead) but we were being lazy and wanted to sit outside.

Ugly Banjos: Jimmy Crack chicken sandwich and fried Oreos. At first glance it seemed like your typical chicken sandwich with tomato, lettuce, and cheese. Then came the pickled jalapenos and honey truffle butter, which really make the sandwich sing. Every once in a while I'd get a sweet, buttery, crispy, spicy bite. Thumbs up. Molten Oreo goodness, battered, and deep fried? My husband was skeptical and ended up eating 2 1/2 of the cookies himself. So good!

Peached Tortilla: I ate an amazing banh mi taco that I had at a party they were catering. I asked what the server's favorite taco was and he got very excited about making me the banh mi taco, and even spent a bit of time finding a huge, nice piece of pork belly in the tray for me. Loved the combination of the fatty, delicious pork belly and daikon, carrot, cilantro, and Sriracha mayo toppings. Great contrasting flavors. I'd definitely go back. One of my friends actually ate here four times in four days!

Austin Daily Press: I had an OK black forest ham and cheddar cheese sandwich that was a little dry, but I did have it on the run. But on Red River, you really don't get the good Austin food trucks, right?

Cool Haus: I had a sandwich with chocolate cookie and pecan ice cream inside after getting out of a particularly overcrowded concert. The ice cream was good but a bit too sweet to my taste. The cookie was excellent and very chocolatey. However, when the two were combined, it felt like the ice cream was too soft, and slid out of the sandwich every time I took a bite. I liked but didn't love my ice cream sandwich.

Taqueria Rodriguez: Very nice ladies who were parked at 5th and Trinity behind the PureVolume house. I walked up about noon one day and asked if they made breakfast tacos since the sign didn't indicate so. The answer was in the affirmation and I had two nice chorizo and potato breakfast tacos. Very conveniently located, only $4, and while not as good as Pueblo Viejo, they were pretty good regardless.

Coreanos: They were out of the beef short ribs, so I had one chicken taco and one pork taco. Neither impressed me, as I felt that Peached Tortilla had better quality of pork and the chicken seemed a bit dry. Of course, it might be unfair to compare as I didn't get to try the beef tacos but I felt a little disappointed. I'd rather go to Chi'Lantro or Peached Tortilla, though.

Along Came a Slider: Really great and high quality food truck where you could see them cooking all of the burgers to order and kicking butt. My slider was excellent. I ordered the W Pig: pecan coffee rubbed pork shoulder, Texas pinot noir BBQ sauce, with jalapeno slaw. My first bite I wasn't sure I liked the coffee rub, but by my second bite, I was in love. Yum!

East Side King: Pretty good pork buns but not as good as Momofuku's. The bun itself didn't seem quite as fluffy and while I liked the crispy pork and pickle, the crispiness of the pork make it hard to eat the bun. Same for the pickle, which was cut too large. It was tasty but I wouldn't order it again, I'd probably try something else. I did like the atmosphere a lot.

Between Odd Duck, Lucky J's, Pig Vicious, Chi'Lantro, Peached Tortilla, Ugly Banjos, Along Came a Slider, and Pueblo Viejo, it's hard to choose a favorite. I only regret not being able to try more like G'raj Mahal, Cazamance, Local Yolk...
"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure

#11 jsmeeker

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Posted 04 April 2011 - 12:27 PM

Hi kathryn,

That's a great write up on the food carts in Austin during SXSW. I just got back from Austin/Central Texas for primarily a BBQ run, but we hit up some carts in the evening.

On Friday night, made it to the park that has Odd Duck and Gordoughs. I got a few things from Odd Duck.. The polenta with duck egg and the grilled quail. Both were excellent. I hade a taste of some doughnuts from Gordoughs. Tasty. But they were super duper sweet. One bit was enough. But my friends really loved the doughnuts. The third trailer there is "Trey's Cuisine" I didn't sample much from there, but from what my friends sampled, it seemed to be a mixed bag. After that park, we headed into downtown and wound up at 6th and Nueces. Three carts at that intersction. One Taco, Peached Tortilla, and some other place.. I had stuff from One Taco on a previous trip to Austin, so I went over to Peached Tortilla and got a catfish taco. Pretty tasty.

On Saturday, the plan was to hit the park at 1600 S. Congress. But we ran into this giant car show type of event. Tons of traffic. Took us a long time to crawl northward on Congress. When we got to the park, we knew parking was going to be impossible. So, we abanonded that plan and headed to Sixth Street on the east side of I-35. I knew there were some places in that area. Parked near one, but there really wasn't anyone there. Looked like it catered to more of a later night crowd. But a quick check on an iPhone app showed that indeed, there was ANOTHER cluster a block closer to I-35. So, we walked down to the East Side Drive Inn. Much more active there.. So, that was our place to dine Saturday.

Good selection of stuff. I had some tasty pork meatballs in a saffron broth from a Spanish Tapas type of place called Latasca. Then I moved onto the Bits and Druthers trailer for some really outstanding fish and chips. Since I was there with a few friends, I was able to get some nibbles from other place. One of those trucks was "Love Balls" which was serving Japanese food. Got to sample Takoyaki, which are fried octopus balls. Later on that night, after knocking back a few beers at a bar in the "main" part of the Sixth Street scene, we hit of Chi'Lantro for a late night bight. I've had food from here before, but I wanted some again. Got Korean beef tacos. Very tasty. I don't like kmichi, but a friend ordered their kimichi fries and raved about them.

Overall I am very impressed with the cart/truck/trailer scene in Austin. They really got it going on down there.

Overall, very successful.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"
jmeeker@eGullet.org


#12 DanM

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Posted 04 August 2012 - 02:28 PM

Bump! Is there anything new in the Austin Food Truck scene? I think this will be a fun adventure for my 2.5 year old foodie.
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