Now that Texas Highways' July story on Austin has hit the stands, I'm reminded that one of my favorite â€˜restaurant rowsâ€™ in town is an admittedly unattractive stretch ofÂ Lamar Boulevard north of 183, where you can find dozens of interesting restaurants serving Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Pakistani, and Indian fare.
Just a few blocks north of the Lamar/US 183 intersection, on the west side of the street next to a Korean Presbyterian Church, is Tam Deli, which is famous for its banh mi and vanilla custard-filled cream puffsâ€”dishes that are culinary reminders of Vietnamâ€™s long French occupation. Drive north a quarter mile or so, and on the west side of the street, and in two strip malls between Peyton Gin Road and West Rundberg Lane, youâ€™ll find an interesting assortment of options for adventuresome diners, including Mariscos Los Jarochos, a Mexican seafood joint with a menu in Spanish; a tiny, hole-in-the-wall Korean place called Together that serves a great smoked mackerel and beef bulgogi; two fascinating Indian grocery stores; Shalimar Indian restaurant, and a Vietnamese place called Thanh Ni.
Cross Rundberg going north, and youâ€™ll find yet another mash-up of ethnic influences jammed together in a spiritless strip mall, including Agha, a narrow and spotless place that serves Indian and Pakistani smoothies, ice-cream desserts, and fruit juices; Lucky Bakery, a Hong Kong-style bakery that makes killer curry buns and does a brisk business in birthday cakes;and Â the Cuban Sandwich CafÃ©, where a simple ham-and-cheese sandwich satisfies on a summer day.
Across the street from all of this wonderfulness, next to a huge disco called Rodeo and a Japanese karaoke parlor, is a tiny Indian grocery story called Taj Grocer and perhaps my favorite Indian restaurant in Austin, Swad.Â You must forgive the plastic cutlery and greenish lighting, and instead marvel at a menu of Southern vegetarian Indian street food. My favorite thing there is the onion and potato dosaâ€”a giant crepe made of rice-and-lentil batter, stuffed with onions and potatoesâ€”all for less than $5.
Keep going north, and on the west side of Lamar, about midway between Rundberg and Kramer Lane, and youâ€™ll find a place called T&S Chinese Seafood. I learned about T&S a few years ago, and back then the rumor was that chefs often visited T&S late-night after their own kitchens shut down. I donâ€™t know if thatâ€™s true, but the food is really good here, and itâ€™s open late. For dinner, I like the salt-and-pepper shrimp, but be sure to order a vegetable dish as well; I like the mushroom-and-Chinese broccoli combination. The dim sum on Sunday is also fun.
Finally, continue just a few blocks north, and on the east side of Lamar, youâ€™ll find Chinatown Center. This is a shopping complex anchored by Austinâ€™s largest Asian grocery store, MT Supermarket. I love going to MT for crazy greens, unusual fruits, and condiments from around the world. MT also has a huge selection of housewares, ranging from monstrous plastic bowls for preparing noodles for a crowd, rice cookers, pretty sake sets, and all manner of ladles, spoons, strainers, and other interesting items. Some of my vegetarian friends come here to stock up in the frozen-food section. I also like MTâ€™s selection of Chinese and Japanese ice-cream products; in particular Iâ€™m addicted to these popsicles made of red beans; theyâ€™re sweet and great for dessert but also have 6-7 grams of protein.
Other interesting shops in Chinatown Center include a Chinese herbalist (the dried ginger here is terrific); a salon dedicated solely (pun intended) to Chinese foot massage; a dessert and sandwich shop called Short nâ€™ Sweet (try the durian yogurt if youâ€™re feeling adventuresomeâ€”it smells like a locker room but tastes delicious); two banh mi shops called Lilyâ€™s Sandwich and the Baguette House; a Korean barbecue place called the Korean Grill (go with a group and cook your meal at a tabletop grill); and a highly regarded Vietnamese noodle place called Pho Saigon.