The nightlife scene continues to heat up on Austin's Rainey Street, a former residential byway in the shadow of downtown. Transformed in recent years with bars, restaurants, and food trucks, Rainey Street draws crowds interested in craft cocktails, local beers, and food ranging from authentic Oaxacan fare (at El Naranjo) to Indian (at Raj Mahal). And now, Rainey Street boasts Austin's first food truck devoted to Southeast Asian Noodles, DFG Noodles.
I recently joined some friends at DFG to explore the menu. Seated at picnic tables amid a motley fleet of food trucks offering pizza, falafel, and other fare, we ordered an assortment of dishes (nothing on the menu costs more than $10), and toasted to summer with icy-cold Topochicos. From the appetizer menu, we especially loved the DFG "taco", made of amazingly savory slices of honey-soy-glazed pork belly, cucumber, and cilantro wrapped in a pan-crisped flatbread called Malay Bread. Owner and Chef Cheryl Chin, a former Singaporean television star who once worked as Steven Seagal's personal chef (the two met in Austin on the set of the film Machete), explained that Malay bread is a Singaporean adaptation of an Indian/Pakistani flatbread called Roti Prata.
We also sampled some of DFG Noodles' main dishes, including a spicy noodle soup called the Emperor (soft noodles with tofu, and crispy fried onions in a light curry), the Scholar (stir-fried noodles with pork belly, spiced ham, bok choy, and crispy onions), and a dish called the Slow Time Special, which Chef Chin said she has cooked since she was a teenager (noodles, pork belly, bok choy, onions, and other goodies topped with a fried egg). Yum!
DFG has been open less than a month, and I predict success. In fact, I found myself so besotted with noodles that the next night, I accepted my husband's invitation to try the ramen at East Side King at the Hole in the Wall, one of Chef Paul Qui's ventures.
Yoshi's Chicken Tortilla Ramen at East Side King Hole in the Wall. Photo by Lori Moffatt.
Qui, who is all over the blogosphere and twitter-sphere thanks to the June 20 opening of his Austin restaurant Qui, relies on his former Uchiko colleague, Chef Yoshi Okai to preside over the menu. Along with ESK standards like Thai Chicken Kara-ge (deep-fried chicken thigh in a spicy-sweet sauce with basil, cilantro, mint, onion, and jalapeno; $8), curry buns (tofu with golden curry, vegetables, and julienned fried potatoes ($5), and the addictive beet home fries (deep-fried roasted beets with kewpie mayo and green onion; $7), Yoshi brings his personal specialty to the table: ramen. And these ramen soups are amazing.
My husband and I ordered the Sapporo Beer Bacon Miso Ramen ($8) and the Chicken Tortilla Ramen ($8) and spent dinner pushing our bowls back and forth across the table, slurping enthusiastically. (Turns out it's polite to slurp your ramen.)
Forget the salty, monochromatic ramen you may have eaten as a broke student. These are beautifully complex soups, layered with sophisticated and exotic flavors. We especially loved the Chicken Tortilla Ramen, loaded with chicken thigh, avocado, corn, pickled yellow onion, jalapeno, garlic, and lime. Next time, I'll try the kimchi pork ramen, which comes with pork belly, kim chi, soybean sprouts, tofu, and garlic chives.
Unlike the ESK locations at the Grackle, Shangri-La and the Liberty (all trailers connected to bars on East Sixth Street), ESK Hole in the Wall has seating in a traditional restaurant setting. It's an affordable and delicious experience. I highly recommend it. In fact, if you go I'll say you're using your noodle.