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Jun 17, 2010 01:58 PM

San Francisco foodie LOVING the food trailers!

The one thing I did not know about Austin is that it is famous for its food trailer culture. Strewn about town are hundreds of converted trailers, Airstream campers, and shipping crates, all serving specialty food. Not necessarily located in any one particular spot, there are trailers parked on corners devoted to Banh-Mi, BBQ (no surprise there), cucpcakes, and doughnuts. In some cases, two trailers share a small spot adjacent to a strip mall and in other cases, there are rows and rows of trailers, stacked up against one another on main streets. Driving along Lamar Boulevard we passed one under a tree, then three blocks later, a cluster on an empty lot. Musicians set-up and perform, families gather for picnics, and college friends meet over gourmet coffee. With Austin being the college town that it is, I am jealous they have such a fabulously accessible amount of food at such great prices.

The original intention was to hit Gourdoughs for Fried Dough Ho, but unfortunately, they seemed to be closed in the afternoon. No worries, we are going to keep trying! Instead, lunch beckoned in the form of a classic Cubano sandwich from The Texas Cuban. Hot pressed and grilled on garlic Cuban bread was ample grilled pork tenderloin, ham, swiss cheese, provolone cheese
& pickles. The guy who is part owner asks if you want regular mustard, spicy mustard, or mayonnaise. What was really cool for me was the availability of REAL Dr. Pepper — known as Dublin Dr. Pepper — as it is the only plant left which still makes Dr Pepper with real sugar and not corn syrup. A truly spectacular sandwich, we ordered the $12 version which was advertised to feed two while it easily could feed three (we both took home parts of our uneaten sandwich). I can’t remember the last time I ate a Cuban sandwich this good. Served alongside three sliced, fried plantains, the crunch from the bread complemented the creamy melted cheese and two pork products. I loved the snap of the pickle inside as well.

Right next door to The Texas Cuban is La Boite, a small pastry shop. Stylishly situated within a shipping crate, this unassuming stall offers the best macarons I have ever tasted. Sadly, my pictures did not come out but Jane and I shared a total of four flavors; blueberry, lemon, caramel with fleur de sel, and peach. We started with the lemon which was a mistake only in that the use of lemon balm in the cream made the blueberry, tasted immediately afterward, less pronounced. But even in San Francisco — amongst die-hard foodies and gourmands — have I not had a macaron quite this spectacular. By the time we got home, our two other flavors, the caramel and peach were close to destroyed but still exceptional. Jane even scraped the caramel out of the bag to get every ounce.

Our last jaunt was on a strip of trailers that contained an even larger selection; cupcakes, pies, tacos, and our last tasting of the day, the Frigid Frog Hawaiian shaved ice. With bizarre flavors like Tigers Blood and Spiderman available, on our 90° day was capped perfectly by a small offering of shaved ice. I ordered a mint mojito which, while a tad on the sweet side, was still greatly enjoyed on this windy, sweltering day.

Pics on

La Boite
1700 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

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  1. We here in Austin are well aware. Please take a look at this post about the board:

    9 Replies
    1. re: agoodbite

      Yes, but since many people visit your fair city, there are others who like to read outsider's views and experiences, don't they? At least we do in San Francisco. We appreciate what visitors think of our food scene and it helps build content on CH for those who are coming from out of town and might like to know what a tourist thinks and where a visitor eats.

      1. re: CarrieWas218

        Love hearing your take, Carrie! Please keep it coming while you're in town. Great pics, too!

        1. re: CarrieWas218

          I'm having a hard time getting what you thought was so great about what you ate. What made the cuban sandwich stand out? You said the bread had a good crunch, but how was the pork cooked?

          What was so spectacular about the macaron? Was it the filling? Did you find the meringue light and crispy? What was the flavor combination?

          I'm glad you enjoyed the trailer scene. The details about the chow would've been more useful.

          1. re: agoodbite

            You are correct, AGB -- so overwhelmed with the quality of the food I've been experiencing, details did somewhat fly out of my pea-sized brain...

            On the sandwich, the pork was well-prepared, tender and in small, moist chunks. The entire sandwich was juicy and moist -- versus so many Cubans I have had which were ultimately on the dryer side. Despite getting full, it made me coming back for "one more bite," even though I had designs towards saving half of it for breakfast the next day. The cheese was melted and gave me multiple attempts at pulling out long strings of melted goodness and the offering of a spicy mustard versus regular shows a level of thoughtfulness in the preparation.

            The macarons at La Boite (versus those I have had in San Francisco), were slightly larger; both in width and height. They were significantly lighter with a better tooth to the foot. The lemon cream was the standout with its brightness and tanginess and Ive never had a caramel macaron which was actually comprised of CARAMEL (versus a caramel-flavored cream). The blueberry was a draw to the beautiful swirled colors in the meringue itself, even if the pungency of the blueberry cream was not as strong as I would have anticipated.

          2. re: CarrieWas218

            the best street food is of course in the poorer working class neighborhoods--you mention the Oaxacan trailer (Naranjo I presume) and I've got to tell you, that place was a major ripoff, and not that good--you're much better off going to a place like Tacos El Rico (Felix & Vargas) or Al Pastor on E. Riverside or one of 20 other much better and cheaper taco trucks throughout the city. Ironic, since 5 years ago, I lived in the SF Bay Area, and I found that the best Mexican food BY FAR (and please, don't tell me about that lame stuff in the Mission district) were taco trucks catering to migrant workers picking grapes in Napa & Sonoma fact, there was one we found in Boonville, Mendocino County, which we checked out, right before hitting the nearby brewery tour...some of these upscales places are good (Odd Duck, Boite and Bahn Mi in particular), but street food in Austin has a long rooted history that goes back decades--if you don't go to one of these places like Tacos El Rico, whose chefs have 30-40 years of experience each, you're really missing out--this is slow food at it's best!

            1. re: taliesin15

              Taliesin - I agree with you. I was raised on the Mexican border in San Diego and the further away I moved from the border, the less I enjoyed Mexican food. The exception was my 7 years living in Napa and eating the vineyard workers' food. I live in San Francisco and there is only one place that I bother eating Mexican food in the Mission and that is only once or twice a year, when I have an abject craving that is just barely sufficed.

              I regret that I didn't get to any of the places you recommended, but I'm determined to come back to Austin soon! It was great fun!

            2. re: agoodbite

              I've lived here for a decade, regularly read this and other forums, and completely appreciate it. While I'm familiar with the most famous of the trailers, I still haven't tried (or seen much written about) Texas Cuban, so that's pretty awesome information.

              Just please don't go to Uchi and reference California in your review =)

              Uchi Restaurant
              801 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

              1. re: agoodbite

                I love seeing the city through the eyes of a visitor! Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and delightful photos - please keep them coming.

              2. The original comment has been removed
                1. Thanks for this wonderful post and for the pics. I'm putting Texas Cuban on my must-do list for lunch. I'm happy you were not discouraged from further posting on this board.

                  I'll probably get bounced if I don't say something relevant, so, ummm, be sure to check out the food trailers at Longhorn Food court just south of campus.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: rusty_s

                    Here is my report from Gourdoughs (with a link to pictures on the bottom):

                    When I first thought of coming to Austin, it was for a mere vacation getaway and nothing more. It was not intended to be a grand culinary getaway and there was no particular destination eatery that I had intended upon delving into (well, except *some* form of barbecue). But then I learned about Gourdoughs. This was going to be THE fried dough destination for the Ho and it was a slight disappointment to discover they were not open in the afternoon, during my first attempted visit. Apparently Gourdoughs is becoming so famous that even Tony Bordain stopped by a week or so before me.

                    No matter. Going back was not a problem and in the early evening, a crowd was already starting to form. Located within a converted Airstream trailer on one of the more manicured and stylized corner lots where these trailers seem to be situated, we debated the extensive menu for the ultimate fried dough experience. I peered inside the trailer and saw two young guys, working hard over the frying vats, pulling out monstrously-sized raw doughnuts.

                    There was a significant debate on what flavors to order as the menu is extensive and bizarre. It was a given that the savory offerings had to be ordered; both the Mother Clucker, a giant doughnut topped with sliced fried chicken strips and honey butter and the Flying Pig, the doughnut with maple syrup icing topped with crisply-fried and curled bacon. Unlike Voodoo Donuts maple bacon bar, where the bacon is lied across the bar in limp, cold strips, here the bacon is almost a decorative flower of ribbons, perched atop the offering, almost precariously, just stuck in with the maple syrup acting as a glue.

                    Of the two savory doughnuts, the Flying Pig was the clear favorite. The amount of grease used to fry the chicken strips in the Mother Clucker was too prevalent and I was only able to taste hot grease and barely any of the subtle honey butter flavor. But I could see how this doughnut would be favored by college kids with its ample protein and sugar combination. But the Flying Pig, on the other hand, was well-balanced and perfectly fried. Not too much grease or residual oil and delightfully crispy bacon.

                    Initially, we decided upon two sweet versions of the Gourdoughs doughnuts, Son of a Peach with peach filling, cinnamon, and sugar and cake mix topping as well as the Dirty Berry, a classic doughnut with chocolate icing and grilled strawberries. As I was ordering, I asked the guy if there was anything truly exceptional that I was missing. He heartily recommended Granny's Pie with caramel, pecans, bananas, and chunks of graham crackers.

                    Quite frankly, outside of the novelty factor of these doughnuts, I was not that impressed. Don't get me wrong, at the time I was more than giddy at their opulent size, variety of toppings, and shear ingenuity of thought. But were they truly great tasting? Not really. I found them overly sweet and complicated. The peach especially was so sickly sweet as to be inedible for me. Of the three sweet ones, I did enjoy Granny's Pie the best as the caramel was of exceptional quality and I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the crunchy nuts and graham crackers with the soft dough and bananas. But a mere bite or two sufficed. The toppings themselves obscured the quality of the fried dough itself.

                    If I lived in Austin, I am confident I would enjoy these as the culmination of a date; something to go and share with someone for fun and levity, with no intention of ever finishing one. There is too much of a reminder of fried candy bars or Twinkies at state fairs. Yes, one can do such a thing for the novelty, but it is hardly something one would want to eat often and being the Ho that I am, I am more intrigued with offerings that wouldn't give me a coronary. It was definitely the most over-the-top and memorable Fried Dough experience I have had and for that, I am thrilled. But do I feel the need to do it again? Not really.

                    Pics on Fried Dough Ho:

                  2. unfortunately you are one of the few that has had a solid meal there. I eat at trailers every week, have been there several time and never had anything that was really solid. There are a lot of better places to eat trailer food and get a good sandwich. Try the Jalopy at 15th and San Antonio. Blows Texas Cuban away.

                    1. The original comment has been removed
                      1. Wished I had known more beforehand -- and had more time! Tonight, my hostess is having a pot-luck and tomorrow we are doing one of the local BBQ joints. So far this is no plan for Sunday, but the few trailers we have looked into visiting are not open on Sundays and I fly home Monday morning. But here is the continue of yesterday's adventure:

                        I am beginning to learn that a die-hard foodie visiting Austin should probably ignore most of the restaurant and set about hitting the food trailers. While San Francisco has a handful of specialty taco trucks — we boast a crème brûlée truck and one that serves frogs legs — but nothing as expansive and diverse as Austin’s food trailers. Even my hostess has been surprised at the shear number that has popped up in such a short time.

                        Our first round of visiting trailers occurred during lunch time. It was an attempt to hit Gourdoughs that we learned that not all of the trailers are open during the day and that an early evening venture was going to be necessary. Our first stop was at East Side King, located behind a bit of a dive bar, Liberty. Unlike most of the other trailers I saw, this one was hidden from view and you would have to know where it is and when it is open (after 7:00 p.m.). I was also informed that Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, it is open until 2:00 a.m. and many of the local chefs can be found heading there after their own establishments have closed down. The bar is amenable and has a great selection which also enables the diners to grab a drink while waiting for the trailer to open.

                        Of all the trailers I visited, this was one of the smallest in size and one of the most artistically decorated and what came forth was incredibly impressive. Quite a lot of food was ordered for not a lot of money starting with Poor Qui Buns, roasted pork belly in steamed buns with Hoisin sauce, cucumber kimchee, and green onions. Delightfully tender pork belly, nestled within perfectly steamed buns. So often the buns are over steamed and turn gummy, but this was not the case here. With just enough accountrement and buns to not overpower the meat, these were a great offering. Besides the pork buns, there was also an order Derek’s Favorite Chicken Buns, the same perfect buns holding small bites of tender fried chicken with a touch of spicy Thai mayo.

                        Considering the giant Cubano sandwich I ate earlier that day, I was happy for some vegetable options. A Fried Brussels Sprouts Salad was a bit on the spicy side for me. Since Brussels sprouts are not in season, it was not a surprise that they were more of a part of a whole, than a showcased single ingredient. Served with shredded cabbage, alfalfa sprouts, basil, cilantro, and jalapeño, there seemed to be more cabbage and seasoning than anything. I did appreciate the bit of fried steamed bun as a “crouton” though. We also shared the Green Papaya salad and Beet Home Fries. The green papaya salad was quite good — about what I have had at better restaurants in San Francisco — and the fried beets were just plain interesting. I don’t think I can remember an occasional when I have ever had a deep-fried beet and the crispy exterior complemented the firm, tender interior. Served with classically Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise (yes, it IS different!) and a bit of Shichimi tougarashi, these were quite a treat.

                        Eric was the guy working the trailer the evening I visited and he was accommodating despite my sneaking in to get photos, answering questions and doing all of the prep, cooking, and service himself. What surprised me was the fact of tableside service. Yes, we were given a number after we placed our order and I assumed we would be called when our order was ready. Heck, there were easily a dozen people there, waiting for food. Instead, Eric brought the food out himself when he easily could have just called from the trailer and had us pick up our own food. Also, our entire meal was under $30 and that just blows me away.

                        Despite being mostly full from East Side King, stalwart gourmets that we are, Jane and John drove me over for my much-anticipated Gourdough’s visit. And while we were waiting for our pile of fried dough, we were able to sample a few of the offerings from Odd Duck Farm to Trailer. Jane informed me that the proprietor of Odd Duck, Bryce Gillmore, cut his culinary teeth in his father Jack’s kitchen of Z’ Tejas Grill. This may have given him a little advantage which the people of Austin would be crazy to not take advantage of. While waiting for doughnuts, Jane ordered two dishes, a slice of grilled zucchini bread atop which sat some freshly-sliced grilled peaches, a bit of goat cheese, and a large chunk brunoise of vegetables, zucchini mostly. This combination showed integrity of ingredients and thoughtfulness on the part of the chef; the peach was just firm enough to hold up to grilling while still depicting ripe flavors that complemented the creaminess of the goat cheese.

                        Another open-face dish was shared, ciabatta toast served with chunks of rabbit leg, grilled squash, eggplant, and goat feta. Again, there is a great deal of consideration given to the combination of ingredients. There is ample freshness in the vegetables with juicy, delectable rabbit. No hint of dryness was detected in the meat, juxtaposing well with the bright vegetables and slightly charred flavor applied to the bread, giving a great crunch against the tender meat.

                        At this location, we saw many showing up with their own wine and beer and it saddened me that I may not be able to go back to this particular trailer before my departure. The two dishes we tried were a total of $10 and their entire menu could be had for a mere $32; again, a screaming deal. Tiring so much of the $28 entrées in San Francisco and other, large cosmopolitan cities, this form of dining — if truly manageable with food and labor costs — is a sign of how things SHOULD become. I am a huge fan of small plates and lots of flavors and I have often lamented that even the small-plates restaurants have to contend with dramatic overhead, thereby driving up the costs, making it not even that cost-effective way to dine. To scour the trailers of Austin is an enviable way for foodies to taste through literally hundreds of trailers with innumerable variations of a potential meal.


                        1. re: CarrieWas218

                          Gordough's is simply not good. They don't maintain the temperature of the fat, nor do they maintain the cleanliness of the fat. They start with cheap, primary ingredients so the end result is doomed from the get go.

                          Yes, they have a great gimmick but that's it. If you want top notch donuts the story starts and ends with Mrs. Johnson's. In business for almost 70 years, this is one of the great southwest donut shops.

                          1. re: scrumptiouschef

                            Apparently, I am being taken to Mrs. Johnson's tomorrow evening. I can't wait. And I was taken to Ken's today which I will write up in short order. I've also heard of a place that serves a burger on a doughnut, but it is unlikely that will make it into my schedule on this trip.

                            1. re: CarrieWas218

                              Carrie, I particularly enjoyed your reports! I do hope you get to try Franklin's BBQ trailer (in case you're not burned out on straight up meat) and Flip Happy's Cuban Crepe. Franklin's BBQ uses the pit from Austin's former best BBQ spot, John Mueller's BBQ. It's proprietor Erin worked for John, bought and hot rodded his pit, and has now set out on his own with delicious results. I say it's the best BBQ in town hands down. So do 400 other people on yelp. If you go, ask for a crusty slice of brisket and a bit of pulled pork and one rib, if you want something that won't kill you the rest of the day. At Flip Happy, the cuban is a scrumptious mound of hot pulled roasted pork, swiss cheese, pepper sauce, and diced dill pickle in a crepe that just WORKS beautifully. 6 dollars. a not too heavy meal. Another gem in this city is the roast beef and cheddar cold deli sandwich at Little Deli off of woodrow in north central Austin (crestview). This isn't a truck, but it's arguably the best cold sandwich in austin. closed sundays. And you might also need to try a pork tamale at Antojitos Hondurenos on 7901 Cameron Road. Sublime. Cheap. The real deal.

                              Little Deli
                              7101 Woodrow Ave, Austin, TX 78757

                              1. re: slowcoooked

                                Slowcooked - thanks so much. I am having a great time and am being whisked off this afternoon to the Salt Lick for 'cue. The evening plan is to try and see the Bats off the bridge before we go to the evening doughnut shop.

                                Still don't know what is on the slate for tomorrow's eating, but I am kinda hoping for the Oaxacan trailer.

                                1. re: CarrieWas218

                                  re: The Oaxacan trailer

                                  Like store bought tortillas pulled from a plastic bag and heated up for service? Then El Naranjo might be the pick for you.

                                  If you prefer tortillas made from scratch and either patted, pressed or rolled per order then there are dozens of options around town.

                                  I predicate my Mexican food dollar on several factors with tortillas being right at the top of the list. I enjoyed El Naranjo but it is a second tier taco cart. It has the potential to be very good but their use of Fiesta tortillas as the base for their tacos consigns them to "b" level.

                                  1. re: scrumptiouschef

                                    Well, we found out the Oaxacan trailer is not open on Sundays and considering we just finished an afternoon at Salt Lick, it is unlikely that particular trailer will be seen before my visit.

                                    No biggie, actually. I grew up on the San Diego/T.J. border so most Mexican food away from a border does not impress me too much.

                              2. re: CarrieWas218

                                There's a place in Austin that serves a burger on a doughnut? I can't believe I've not heard about that! Do you know the name?

                                BTW, I'm enjoying reading your reviews. It nice to hear a fresh viewpoint.

                                1. re: stephanieh

                                  I know the trailer at the Gibson does. It's on south Lamar across the street from the Alamo Drafthouse.

                                  1. re: stephanieh

                                    I have been told it is a Round Rock doughnut and the restaurant is on south Lamar, near Uchi (my host thinks it is in the strip mall across from Gourdoughs), but does not know exactly which place. I've asked a woman on FB who has had it and will report back when I know!

                                    Uchi Restaurant
                                    801 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

                                    1. re: CarrieWas218

                                      on the same side as Uchi actually. the donut burger is really tasty, and far more subtle than one might expect. a single donut is sliced in half and grilled. the grilling seems to take away some of the sweetness.

                                      Uchi Restaurant
                                      801 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

                                      1. re: thereman

                                        Here's what I've been told: It's at a new place on Lamar called 'Gibson' and the trailer out on their deck is called.... The Trailer.

                                        1. re: CarrieWas218

                                          The grilling does take away some of the sweetness, and adds some savory, I don't think this burger would work if there wasn't any bacon on it. We all know that bacon plays so nicely with sweet stuff :->

                                          1. re: malarkey

                                            Wow! Thanks everyone! I'm so going to have to try that!

                                            Malarkey, my motto's always been 'everything's better with bacon'!