After reading my 72 Hours in Austin post, you know what to see and do, but now it's time to eat, and there's some good eating in Austin. The food truck scene is huge. Still. I know in LA food trucks were hot a few years ago as we chased the Kogi truck around for those luscious short rib tacos, but now I can just go to the Alibi Room at my leisure. Sure, the trucks are still around here and in many other cities, but in Austin, it's part of their culture.
Many bars only have their liquor licenses so they create relationships with food trucks who often set up permanent shop behind, near or next to the bar for their own kind of a restaurant, which bring me to our first truck.
East Side King
East Side King at The Liberty is not easy to find. Your google maps will have you dead ending at a construction zone, hitting large cranes, and driving through a, let's say, not quite developed neighborhood. Ditch the car when you're close like we did, walk around the construction barriers, past the crew who was working hard on a Sunday, and eventually you'll find Liberty Bar. Look for the graffiti and the No Children allowed sign and you'll know you're in the right place.
Walk through the dark bar, but not before getting a local beer from one of the many selections Liberty provides. Continue outside to a cool tree covered patio with picnic tables and the East Side King truck sitting pretty in the back. We were the first one's to arrive and dug in to do a proper sampling of Top Chef winner Paul Qui's menu.
We went for the tongue buns and no, they're not shaped like a long tongue. Instead, they're cooked sous-vide and then roasted for a nice crisp exterior and flavorful center. The homemade peanut butter curry brings it all home with basil, cilantro and mint. Our first batch of pork belly buns was graciously retracted by the cook before we even stuck a fork in it. He though it was overcooked so brought us another one which was moist and salty, balanced by hoisin and cucumber kimchi.
Then there's the beet fries, because anyone can fry a potato, but beets take on another layer inside and out when cooked up. In case those beets don't satisfy enough of your veggie needs, you got your fried brussels sprout salad with a sweet and spicy chili sauce, cabbage, basil, cilantro and a deep fried bun that serves as a crouton. No one said it was going to be healthy, but it is tasty and satisfying.
East Side King, 1618 E 6th St., Austin
I was slightly hesitant about going the taco route in Austin because I feel like I'm pretty well covered in taco town LA, but after my carne guisa from Salt Lick at the airport, I knew I needed to dig in further.
Torchy's has several locations and we chose a truck to visit after our shopping adventure in SoCo. It was raining the day we went, but the good news is that you order at the truck, but then they deliver it to you in a nearby covered patio where you can bring your own drinks and enjoy.
The Democrat had shredded beef barbacoa with fresh avocado, queso fresco and cilantro. It was a decent taco, but sadly, didn't hold up to the great bold flavors I was thinking about from my Salt Lick taco. If Salt Lick can do that in the airport, I can only imagine what they can do on site.
I had to try the fried avocado taco and while the idea was interesting, it didn't fully hold up for me. The texture got soft quickly and there wasn't enough contrast in flavor, no matter how much I doctored it up. No doctoring was necessary with the green chile queso. It's pure decadence with a sprinkling of queso fresco, hot sauce and green cilantro on top. Torchy's was fine, but not memorable for me.
Torchy's Tacos, 2809 S 1st St., Austin (with other locations)
Last, but certainly not least is La Barbecue. La Barbecue has been at the top of many peoples' best Austin BBQ lists, not to mention best Austin food truck. They're doing a few things, and they're doing them well.
I had been warned about wait times in Austin's best BBQ spots, so a friend and I headed out on a stormy Saturday morning to arrive at La Barbecue at 10:30am for an 11am opening. There was about 40 people in line ahead of us. The first group in line arrived at 9am with personal folding beach chairs in tow.
Live music entertained us and everyone was friendly, swapping Austin food stories while we waited. La Barbecue also eases the pain of the line by serving free beer. Yes, free beer. It's a novel idea and was certainly appreciated since it took us exactly 2-1/2 hours to get to the window and receive our food. The beef ribs were sold out at this point, but we went pork ribs, brisket and sausage - all cut to order, hence the line.
You can grab a picnic table and eat there, but we ran home so we could eat on proper plates with nice wine and stemware. The ribs were meaty and tender. The best parts of the brisket were of course the fatty sections with the well seasoned crust. All of the meat packed a good kick, but the sausage could knock a lesser person down. Wow, it's spicy!
My mouth was on fire throughout the entire eating process and the chipotle spiced cole slaw did not help, but I couldn't be stopped. A Texan GSM aided in the cooling process as did the food coma nap that fell shortly after our meal.
La Barbecue, 902 E. Cesar Chavez St., Austin
But wait there's more! If lines and eating out of a food truck is not your thing, then I still have several unique brick and mortar restaurants for you to try in Austin, coming up next.