Like Houston, Austin in the past 10 years has undergone a tremendous transformation thanks to an influx of Texas transplants, tech and utility investment and widespread commercial as well as residential real estate development.
Such changes have led ATX’s signature slogan, “Keep Austin Weird,” to at times take on a desperate tone as if the city is on an irreversible course to becoming mundane or artificially bizarre. While such concerns are legitimate, this reporter is here to argue that at the very least, Austin’s food trucks keeping it weird. So if you’re considering a culinary-themed mini break to our state’s capital, but worry that your trip will be devoid of truly eccentric eats (#firstworldproblems), track down some of these trailers.
Accommodations are abundant in Austin, but for easy access to the city’s food truck hubs (5th/6th street neighborhoods and South Congress), I suggest using the Westin Downtown as your home base. Yes, it can be a bit pricy but remember you’re saving some pennies eating at mobile units rather than Uchi.
Although some may dismiss ‘fusion cuisine’ as, like, so 2010, the peeps at Llamas’ Peruvian Creole are nevertheless doing something right as evidenced by the long lines of loyal fans eager to soak up those dollar shots with the hearty plates of aji de gallina, shredded chicken in a creamy yellow pepper sauce with gold potatoes and half a hard-boiled egg, served over garlic white rice.
My favorite item from Llamas' menu, for its confluence of extreme protein and plant flavors, was the juicy twice-cooked pork belly saguche sandwich with slices of fried sweet potato, piquant salsa criolla, yellow pepper aioli, hoisin and a dusting of cilantro.
Fortuitously, two other of Austin’s weirder food truck dishes are located just steps away from Llamas’, Angry Egg Roll and Mama V’s Quezzadillaville. Go to the former for “The Grasshopper,” a deep-fried vegan egg roll stuffed with garlic cashews and cabbage that is oxymoronically the size of a burrito.
The curmudgeon inside of me was tickled pink to find that Angry Eggroll not only vends riled-up food, but also on that particular evening was manned by a gentleman who himself was rather irate over our current political climate. We exchanged some barbs about Trump and Cruz and he gave me a miniature peppermint patty to go with my egg roll. Win!
For service more amenable to Republican front-runners as well as equally off-the-beaten path savory treats, sashay over the Mama V’s, whose house speciality, the meatloaf quesadilla, is a happy marriage of midwestern comfort cuisine and classic Tex-Mex flavors.
If cake, glazed, and sprinkles are the only words that come to mind when you think about donuts, head to Gourdough’s on South Congress for some mind-blowingly delicious donuts adorned with all manner of funky toppings, including but not limited to: Heath bar chips, gummy rattlesnakes, jalapeño jelly, brownie bites and fried chicken strips. I’m partial to the Fatty Elvis, a life-preserver of a breakfast pastry coated with peanut butter frosting, grilled bananas and two strips of juicy bacon. “Love me tender,” crooned this donut, and I did.
Significantly more healthful curious trailer fare in the form of tartines (French open-faced sandwiches) are available at Tartinette, Whole Foods Market’s new food truck (parked permanently at the downtown flagship location).
At Tartinette, eclectic and mostly botanical topping combinations, such as crushed peas, pecorino and mint or roasted mushrooms with pistachios and Taleggio, are layered on thick slices of white or sourdough bread. They’re a far cry from other gut-busting truck food, and while not necessarily the stuff one craves after a night of alcohol-fueled debauchery, definitely refreshing the next morning.
Lastly, the most bizarre array of dishes can be found at Trailer Treasure, whose location (the backyard of an independent music venue) is central but a bit tricky to find. Chef Scott’s regular creations include tacos stuffed with locally farmed crickets, marinated black tip shark and kimchi slaw, then dressed with sweet curry mustard. If you’re adventurous but vegetarian, try the falafel with beet hummus, foraged greens and cucumber salad on homemade sourdough pita topped with avocado tzatziki sauce.
Is weirdness really going the way of all flesh in Austin? Not quite yet.