Don’t get me wrong, Austin is a cool city. Pockets of eclectic neighborhoods, tons of live music, a pretty lake with an awesome trail surrounding it and a booming downtown. But for me, it’s all about the food.
I was recently there for 4 nights and didn’t come close to trying all of the restaurants on my list. I did make a dent though, and every meal was awesome.
Torchy’s Tacos–there are a number of locations around the state, but this Mexican food truck doesn’t resemble a chain in any way. Homemade corn tortillas envelop a myriad of fillings, the queso fundido is topped with guacamole and salsa, and the street corn gets lost under a mound of ancho chile aioli, cilantro and crema.
Veracruz All Natural. This little food truck is as out-of-the-way as it gets. We rode our bikes there and waited in line, first to order and then while they made each taco to suit. It’s known for the migas taco, with tortilla strips, scrambled eggs and cheese, and it was worth the ride. The chicken mole and al pastor tacos were every bit as worthy.
Thai Kun. Recently named #8 best new restaurant in the country by Bon Appetit as a food truck, this Thai gold mine is one of several food truck/shacks owned by master restaurateur Paul Qui. The black noodles, fried and raw cabbage salad, peanut curry on baguette with cucumber salad, and tiger cry pork with rice were all fabulous.
La Barbecue. A worthy competitor of Franklin’s Barbecue. We stood in line for 90 minutes despite arriving 15 minutes before it opened, but that’s nothing compared to the up to 6 hours some have endured for a taste of Franklin’s brisket. It’s hard for me to believe it’s any better than this was. The brisket was thick and juicy (the sauce was bland but fortunately not needed since the meat had so much flavor) and the more than one pound beef rib stole the show. Unlike Kansas City barbecue, the sides are clearly an afterthought here. We tried the chipotle slaw and pinto beans, both of which were a zero.
Odd Duck. Bryce Gilmore has created a very cool vibe at this small plates restaurant south of town. Soft pretzels stuffed with ham and gouda and served in a jar filled with mustard bechamel, spiced butternut squash with goat feta, chimichurri, olives and wild rice, soft cooked duck egg with fried rice and mushrooms, flatbread with chorizo, goat cheese and shishito peppers, grilled bacon with corn pudding and mustard greens, goat confit with red chile, goat cheese and popcorn–we had a small sampling, but that gives you an idea of the creativity at work.
East Side King at Hole in the Wall. Another masterpiece by Paul Qui, this time in back of a bar. We shared fried Brussels sprouts with sweet & spicy sauce, shredded cabbage, basil, cilantro, mint, onion, jalapeño, beet fries with kewpie mayo, ramen, pork belly buns and spiced avocado buns. Another hit.
The standout of the weekend was Qui, Paul Qui’s brick and mortar restaurant that features both a casual bar and tasting menu, including as unique a vegetarian menu as you’ll find anywhere. We shared the regular and vegetarian menu so we were able to try 14 dishes in all–it was truly memorable. Dishes included such bites as lamb belly adobo with coconut vinegar, black pepper, tomato fresco and black, lime; yuzu caramel, jacks lettuce, aged cheddar, coffee bean and pine nut butter; matsuake, maitake butter, balsam fir, ogo nori; kimchi broth, ribeye, daikno, leek, bok choy, nori; filipino peanut curry with green bean, puffed rice and kimchi, graffiti eggplant, grilled pecan butter, gremolata , pickled shallot, gala apple, and even tuna briefly seared tableside on a binchotan. Unfortunately, it was dark and my pictures don’t come close to capturing once of my favorite meals of 2014.
Swift’s Attic. Not to be missed for brunch, or even just a cocktail, this industrial space has it going on. The food was very global, including such standouts as peanut butter and jelly pancakes with foie gras, fried quail with biscuits and red eye gravy, and Forbidden rice bibimbap with a poached egg.
Though I would definitely be happy revisiting any of the places we went, next time I’d also like to try another East Side King truck, Lenoir’s reasonably priced prix fixe menu, Bryce Gilmore’s Barley Swine, 24 Hour Diner, Sway, Elizabeth Street Cafe, South Congress Cafe and El Naranjo. And by the time I go back, I’m sure they’ll be another group of trendy new spots to add to my list.