I like to sit down at a proper table when I eat. And after closing the door on fifteen years in the restaurant industry, I like to be served. Sometimes I feel the phantom pain in my side when I see a defeated waiter struggling to get through a shift—but for the most part, I’m just happy it’s not me. So the thought of traipsing through sweltering downtown Austin like my ancestors crossing the Egyptian desert with matzoh in their pants made me wary. I imagined when I set off on a food trailer crawl that I might be disappointed with greasy funnel cakes and toxic yellow lemonade. And where would I pee? What I stumbled upon is an entire subculture of dedicated food artisans leaving their tire tracks all over town.
One of the newest additions to the food trailer scene is Chi’Lantro, a name derived from two cultural staples: kimchi and cilantro. The fusion of Korean and Mexican food had me all a Twitter, which is a good thing because it’s the only way you can track this trailer down. With locations that vary like the changing winds, I have to credit a friend’s i-phone for my spicy pork taco with Korean soy vinaigrette salad and salsa roja. I can’t get too attached though, as this newcomer is already revamping their menu along with their ever-changing locale.
Torchy’s Tacos is a benchmark of Austin’s food trailer scene. They are “living the taco dream” by serving up an array of tortilla-stuffed concoctions—from classic breakfast tacos to more daring fare like The Brushfire, filled with Jamaican jerk chicken, grilled jalapeños and diablo sauce. Founder and Executive Chef Michael Rypka mortgaged his house and maxed out a couple of credits cards in pursuit of the perfect taco. And it’s paid off. The homemade salsas were a knockout, and I have to give the guy a hats off for continuing to locally source the majority of their products and meats.
Small But Mighty
Big flavors can come out of a little trailer. Leave it to The Mighty Cone to come up with a wacked-out creation of cornflake, almond and chili-crusted chicken tenders in a tortilla cone with mango-jalapeño slaw and ancho sauce. They do a similar version with fried avocado, which very well may be the original sin of the 21st century. The Mighty Cone is an extension of Hudson’s on the Bend, one of Austin’s favorite restaurants known for their 7-course tasting menu and extensive wine list. The trailer outpost captures a similar culinary fearlessness without bleeding the pocketbook and a portion of proceeds are donated to the Sustainable Food Center and other local charities. Now that’s mighty.
I took a small break at one point to try on some fright wigs at Austin’s premier costume and novelty shop, Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, in case I wanted to return to the scene of the crime later that night. But there were so many more food trailers to hit, I never saw the same one twice. Here are a few of the highlights:
Holy Cacao—Cake balls you say? Yes. A mash up of cake and frosting, molded onto a lollipop stick and dipped in chocolate. These balls know how to roll.
Man Bites Dog—There’s nothing teeny about these wienies, with names like “My Big Fat Greek Dog” and the “Abe Froman.”
Odd Duck Farm to Trailer—By sourcing from more than a dozen local farmers, Odd Duck is committed to farm-to-trailer cuisine, featuring items like roasted brussels sprouts and pork belly and grilled quail with farm potatoes.
While I doubt I’ll ever refuse an invitation to a leisurely meal over flowing bottles of wine and attentive staff, I was immensely satisfied with Austin’s trailer food. This loose network of renegades is serving up some spectacular cuisine and reminding us that great food can come on a silver hubcap just as easily as a silver platter.
Check back next week for the final installment in Roo de Loo’s Texas Tuesday series, where he visits Austin’s urban farms and the restaurants that feature their products.