Austin drives street cuisine past the taco truck.
By Anthony Head
Sidewalk food vendors aren’t a new concept to Austin, but in the last couple of years, vintage trailers and boxy trucks retrofitted with commissary kitchens have sprung up to offer more eclectic street cuisine. Nowhere are these micro-restaurants more visible than on the 1600 block of South Congress Avenue.
In a gravel lot, across the street from some of the strip’s boutiques and restaurants, Hey Cupcake! serves a variety of its namesake treats from a shiny Airstream trailer. Hey Cupcake! opened near the UT campus in March 2007, but moved to South Congress a few months later. It now has a brick-and-mortar location in north Austin, plus satellite trailers throughout the city.
At the other end of the same South Congress lot, The Mighty Cone pushes street cuisine into gourmet orbit. Owned by the same team behind Austin’s iconic Hudson’s on the Bend, The Mighty Cone serves portable—and more affordable—versions of the restaurant’s signature hot-and-crunchy trout. The menu features a choice of chicken, avocado, or shrimp breaded in a mix of sesame seeds, almonds, corn flakes, and chili flakes—then deep-fried and wrapped in a flour tortilla. You can also get beef and veggie sliders and milkshakes. Out front, a half-dozen bright red picnic tables, shaded by umbrellas, comprise the al fresco dining room.
A few blocks west, on South 1st Street, Torchy’s Tacos enjoys a devoted following at its Trailer Park & Eatery overlooking Bouldin Creek. Owner Mike Rypka emphasizes that establishments such as his must be fully licensed and are regularly visited by Travis County health inspectors. Even with the stringent health-code regulations, he admits it’s a lot easier to set up a trailer than a restaurant. “It’s a great way for people to start a business. There are fewer costs and a little less risk. Plus, the trailers are mobile, so if one location doesn’t work out, you can just move a few blocks down and try it there.”
Those hooked on Vietnamese cuisine rave about the lemongrass chicken served in a French baguette at Lulu B’s Sandwiches, located in a spiffy trailer near Lamar and Oltorf. Vegetarians head to Counter Culture at Avenue F and North Loop, where they find organic and local ingredients in vegan versions of Philly cheese, tuna, and barbecue sandwiches. At Barton Skyway and Manchaca, Giovanni Pizza Stand serves up hot slices, whole pies, and half a dozen pastas.
With the record-breaking temperatures this past summer, it’s
no surprise that sno-cone trailers were among the more popular food outlets. On
Manor Road in east Austin, for instance, in a parking lot in front of El
Chilito restaurant, Hola Aloha served Hawaiian-style shaved ice with enticing
flavors like green tea and mango, lemon-lime ginger, and sugar plum—all made
with raw sugar- and agave-based syrups.
The choices go on and on for hungry Austinites and visitors alike—whether it’s grabbing a freshly made falafel and hummus from downtown’s tiny blue Kebabalicious trailer after some late-night clubbing; enjoying a crepe filled with spinach, feta cheese, and roasted garlic at Flip Happy Crepes after a dip in Barton Springs; savoring a coconut smoothie at Cheer Up Charlies after dinner on East 6th; or scarfing down fried chicken and waffles from the colorful Lucky J’s in north Austin.
I’ll admit I thought that trailer-prepared sushi would prove to be too much of a culinary stretch. But Sushi-A-Go-Go, a shiny Magnum trailer parked at a gas station on Manor Road, has a line of people waiting when I pay a visit.
From the November 2009 issue.