Trailers (No Trash)

Street food in Austin

Like many major cities, Austin has always had its share of street-food vendors. While local historian Richard Zelade has collected numerous newspaper anecdotes recounting the popularity of mobile tamale vendors in the Downtown Austin of the late 19th century, we've found that the scoop on the tastiest late-night comestibles of the modern era is circulated by word of mouth among the denizens of our current Downtown entertainment district. This story was inspired by myths of an impromptu banquet that magically appears at the corner of Sixth and Red River in the wee hours on weekends, by e-mails about the long lines at Go Bites, and by oft-told tales of the culinary delights of the elusive El Rapido and the hearty Kebabalicious, as well as our own regular visits to portable pleasure palaces somewhat farther afield. Over the next two weeks, our city will host a variety of events from basketball tournaments to rodeos to the South by Southwest Interactive, Film, and Music Festivals. The Chronicle Food staff – Mick Vann, Barbara Chisholm, Kate Thornberry, Claudia Alarcón, and myself – has come up with some good dining suggestions for all those thousands of hungry people who are likely to be afoot in the central city during the first few weeks of March. Walk hard, and eat hearty. – Virginia B. Wood

DOWNTOWN


Torchy's Tacos

Four locations:

511 E. Sixth, 474-7000: Monday-Thursday, 7am-10pm; Friday, 7am-3am; Saturday, 8am-3am; Sunday, 8am-10pm

520 W. Sixth, outside Little Woodrow's: daily except Wednesday

1207 S. First, 366-0537: Monday-Friday, 7am-10pm; Saturday-Sunday, 8am-11pm

2809 S. First, 444-0300: Monday-Thursday, 7am-10pm; Friday, 7am-11pm; Saturday, 8am-11pm; Sunday, 8am-10pm

www.torchystacos.com

Torchy's Tacos
Torchy's Tacos
Photo by John Anderson

Like successful local Mexican restaurateurs Matt Martinez and Maria Corbalan before him, Michael Rypka started his business as a mobile taco vendor. Unlike his predecessors, however, Rypka is keeping two mobile-vending locations operational even though he's recently made the transition to two brick-and-mortar restaurant outlets. Over the past couple of years, Torchy's has built its reputation on "damn good tacos," and that popularity has fueled the business expansion. Now Rypka and his busy staff are serving up good tacos at both ends of Sixth Street and at two locations along South First. The original outdoor location overlooking Bouldin Creek is still packing them in, but Rypka has just taken up residence in a small restaurant farther south that was once the home of the legendary Virginia's Cafe. We can only imagine that plenty of good cooking karma still exists there and that his tacos will be a hit.

For breakfast at Torchy's, we're particularly fond of the Ranch Hand ($3) – strips of tasty beef fajita meat with fluffy scrambled eggs. Later in the day, can't-miss options are the Green Chili Pork ($2.95) or the toothsome Baja Shrimp ($4), dressed with crisp, crunchy vegetables and just a spritz of lime juice. The chunky house guacamole is freshly made and tangy with lime juice, while the homemade chips are hot, salty, and impossibly thin. Regardless of which location you hit, you can't go wrong at Torchy's. – V.B.W.

The Best Wurst

Sixth & San Jacinto: Wednesday-Thursday, 8pm-3am; Friday-Saturday, 7pm-3:30am

Sixth & Red River: Friday-Saturday, 8pm-3am

(SXSW hours, both locations: Wednesday-Saturday, 10am-3:30am; Sixth & Red River only: Tuesday, 8pm-3am)

The Best Wurst
The Best Wurst
Photo by John Anderson

Depending on how the wind is blowing, you can usually smell Best Wurst before you see it, and "see it" is a misnomer; you usually see the line in front of it long before you get an actual glimpse of Jon Notarthomas hard at work in his 4-foot-by-5-foot kiosk. Since 1994 he's been wowing the Sixth Street creepers and stumblers with his excellent sausage sandwiches. Ask any bartender or employee on Sixth, and they'll agree that he cranks out the best cart food to be had Downtown.

As a New York City transplanted musician, Notarthomas was drawn to Austin for the tunes, but when he got here, it was the lifestyle that lured him to stay. But he missed the quirky food shops, the profusion of ethnic foods, and the sense of neighborhood and community found in a megacity like New York. This led him to open the Best Wurst: street food like he was used to, working a few nights a week, putting out a high-quality product at a fair price.

Notarthomas is poetry in efficient motion behind the griddle (no dirty-water dogs for this guy), assembling sausage sandwiches at superspeed while deftly dispensing low-key, witty banter. You get a choice of bratwurst, smoked Italian, jalapeño, and all-beef sausages (and sometimes a special flavor if the mood hits): They are large, chunky, juicy things served in a big, fluffy white-bread bun. For toppings, you get a choice of grilled onions, hot sauerkraut, Düssel­dorf mustard, and his special homemade curry ketchup (as good as Berlin's famous Schnellimbiss Curry 36). For a measly $3.75, you get a culinary treat that will stave off that late-night hunger in most excellent form. – Mick Vann

Roppolo's Pizzeria

Corner of Fourth & Colorado

Corner of Seventh & San Jacinto

The folks at Roppolo's have been around since 1989, when they relocated from NYC to open a pizzeria on Mesa Drive in Northwest Aus­tin. Realizing the late-night food scene Downtown was the way to go, they opened a walk-up window on Sixth Street, providing hearty pizza slices for hungry late-night revelers. Soon the lines were too long, and they've branched out into the mobile-truck business.

Currently, Roppolo's has two pizza trucks in addition to the walk-up window. Folks who frequent the Red River district can find the red pizza cart at the corner of Seventh and San Jacinto; those who prefer the Warehouse District line up on the parking lot on the southeast corner of Fourth and Colorado.

The big slices of pizza come in a variety of toppings and combinations and range from $3 to $4 depending on the toppings. These include traditional meats like pepperoni, Canadian bacon, Italian sausage, and ground beef, but among the veggie toppings, one can also have fresh tomatoes, spinach, artichoke hearts, and broccoli, in addition to black olives, mushrooms, and onions. The sauce is thick and tangy and well-spiced with oregano and basil. Best of all, they stay open baking pies 'til 3am, so enjoy the music, party on, and hit the red pizza trailers before you head home. – Claudia Alarcón

Kebabalicious

Corner of Seventh & Trinity: Wednesday-Saturday, 9pm-3am

I first encountered the Turkish delights of Kebabalicious on SoCo, at a shiny red trailer parked a few steps away from Hey Cup­cake! One day it was there; the next it disappeared, to my utter frustration. Later I came to find out that the "disappearing" truck wasn't really gone, but it's really the "traveling" trailer used for special events such as First Thurs­day. The permanent location is the blue trailer on the corner of Seventh and Trinity, at the opposite corner of the parking lot from Roppolo's. Granted, the site is quite funky, and I must admit I probably wouldn't hang out there late at night. But for those already in that part of town after a night of clubbing on Red River, it's the ideal place to put a delicious and healthy end to the late-night munchies.

The menu is small, but everything is fresh and well-prepared. The name might seem slightly deceiving since what they serve are not kebabs but awesome wraps filled with your choice of mild or spicy grilled chicken, beef/lamb combo, or falafel. Depending on how hungry you are, you can have your wrap in an 8-inch regular flat bread or pig out on the 12-inch King. There is also homemade hummus with pita triangles for dipping and a Turk salad for the veggie-heads. The wraps come packed with tender, succulent meat and abundant tangy cucumber tzatziki sauce. Add some feta for a few cents more, and cure your hangover before it even starts. – C.A.

Go Bites

603 Red River, between Emo's Lounge and Emo's Main: Thursday-Saturday, 6pm-4am (SXSW hours, March 8-16: 10am-4am)

When you turn north off East Sixth Street onto Red River in the bright light of day, the wooden service window tucked between the entrances to Emo's Lounge and Emo's Main does not look particularly inviting. As a matter of fact, it's probably the very last place you would expect to find really good food in the Downtown entertainment district. However, make that same turn at 2am some Saturday morning, and a long line of hungry late-night revelers queued up outside the window indicates otherwise. Readers had been e-mailing us about the wonders of Go Bites for several months now, so last week I tracked down owner chef Brenton Schumacher and dropped by to check out his bill of fare.

Schumacher is the chef/owner of both Go Bites and Pink Avocado Catering (www.pinkavocadocatering.com), which he operates out of a commercial kitchen in the Emo's building on Red River. (It seems there was once to be a Spanish tapas place in that location – the restaurant never materialized, but the handy commercial kitchen remains. Who knew?) While Schumacher and his crew cater all kinds of events and parties under the Pink Avocado banner, they consider Go Bites' late-night fare as "more recreational cooking – it's really just a way to have fun down here." The Go Bites menu is fun indeed – a line of sophisticated grilled cheese sandwiches ($4) on toasty, buttered white, wheat, or sourdough bread; tasty little sliders ($2) on white or wheat silver-dollar rolls; and marvelous hand-cut fries ($2 on the side, $3 a basket) served with a wonderful green-chile aioli. The food at Go Bites is simple, straightforward, fresh, and full of flavor – what more could you ask for after a night on the town? Perhaps a dainty Sweet Tempered cupcake? During SXSW, they'll have those, as well. – V.B.W.

SOUTH AUSTIN


Flip Happy Crepes

400 Josephine, 552-9034: Wednesday-Friday, 10:30am-2:30pm; Saturday, 9am-3pm

www.fliphappycrepes.com

Conventional wisdom dictates that a dining destination should have access to plenty of foot traffic and be visible to passersby. Location, location, location is never more important a real estate consideration than for a restaurant. Now consider if your restaurant didn't even have a dining room; how important would a perch on a thoroughfare be? Flip Happy's location, tucked in the tree-shaded parking lot behind the Carpenters Union Hall off South Lamar, flies in the face of this wisdom, and the throngs of diners that flock to the airstream trailer are the exception that proves the rule.

The location, while obscure and currently in the shadow of major construction, is nonetheless charming. Huge live oak trees provide a leafy canopy, and the shiny trailer is bedecked with colorful canopies and flags. Tables and chairs are scattered about the trailer, creating an impromptu outdoor dining room that fills quickly as fans line up for the savory and sweet French pancakes. The offerings are rich and indulgent, freshly made in the diminutive kitchen. Our favorites include chicken, goat cheese, and caramelized onion and the equally succulent chicken, Gruyère, mushroom, and caramelized onion. These aren't dainty dishes but hearty fare that will see you through the afternoon. If you do find room to indulge in dessert, toothsome choices abound with lemon, vanilla pastry cream, or chocolate fillings. Flip founders Nessa Higgins and Andrea Day Boykin have a devoted following, as the crowds attest. Their location defeats conventional wisdom as their crepes fly out of their trailer. – Barbara Chisolm

Deli Fresh

923 Barton Springs Rd., 925-5626: Monday-Friday, 11am-8pm; Saturday, 11am-6pm

www.austintricyclist.com

When Jeannie Gigliotti was a little girl, she wanted be the cotton-candy lady when she grew up. "I thought selling delicious treats out of a trailer would be the coolest job in the world!" she laughs. After a long career in a law office, Gigliotti finally has her dream job. She and her husband, John, have left their button-down lives to open Deli Fresh, a soup, sub, and salad trailer located in front of Austin Tri-Cyclist. "I'm ecstatic!" she beams. "It's the dream of a lifetime." Deli Fresh uses all original recipes that Jeannie spends hours researching and testing, and her soups have scored a direct hit with the Austin public. "I used to have a different soup every day," she reports, "but now I make two a day, because my vegetarian customers demanded it!" Gigli­otti's soup-making skills are bringing in customers by word of mouth: Creamy tomato basil, blanco enchilada, broccoli cheese and rice, minestrone, and rosemary chicken noodle make up just a fraction of her repertoire. Soups are $3 a bowl, and Gigliotti is happy to entice you with a 2-ounce sample.

Deli Fresh also serves custom-made chef salads ($4.85) and submarine sandwiches (6-inch, $3.92; 8-inch, $4.85). Just indicate the ingredients you want on either salad or sub, and it will be made just the way you like it. And in March, the Gigliottis will begin serving homemade gelato, as well. – by Kathleen Thornberry

DaVine Foods

1412 W. Oltorf, 448-3100: Monday-Friday, 11am-10pm; Saturday, 11am-12mid

www.davinefoods.com

DaVine Foods
DaVine Foods
Photo by John Anderson

DaVine Foods serves all-organic, natural whole foods in a laid-back and communal atmosphere. Almost hidden in a hippie-revivalist compound on Oltorf across from Office Depot, the restaurant consists of two state-of-the-art mobile-kitchen trailers and a covered-deck outdoor dining room. Since it opened last year, DaVine has tightened up its menu and expanded its hours. The pizza side of the business has really taken off, and they now offer specialty pizzas: The Mediter­ranean (tomatoes, spinach, olives, and feta), the Aloha (pineapples, spinach, onions, and olives), and Green (pesto, spinach, peppers, and kale). All are $10.95 for a small, $15.95 for a medium, and $20.95 for a large, and every ingredient is of the very highest quality. The crusts are made with sprouted, low-gluten spelt flour. "The sprouting process transforms the grain from almost pure carbohydrate into 80 to 90 percent easily assimilated protein," explains co-owner Leigh Recchia. "People have our pizza, or our Sunshine Burger and feel energetic all day." Their popular Sunshine Burger ($5.95) is made from spouted grains, nuts, and vegetables and is served on Ezekiel bread. Another new big seller is the Brandon Burger ($3.95), a hot vegetable sandwich on a sprouted seed bun with marinara sauce and cheese.

Salads ($5), hummus wraps ($5.95), and superfood pudding ($5) have remained on the menu alongside the bestselling pizzas, and all the sodas, teas, and other beverages served are organic. During SXSW, DaVine anticipates keeping later-than-usual hours, and my guess is the entire compound will be overflowing with hippies, hipsters, and music. – K.T.

Hey Cupcake!

1600 block of South Congress, 476-CAKE: Tuesday-Sunday, noon-9pm (or while supplies last)
www.heycupcakeaustin.com
Trailers (No Trash)
Photo by John Anderson

"In cupcakes wars, everyone wins." So observed our next-door neighbor Laura as we admired the buildup in the pastries race. We can't say what has sparked this nationwide obsession with cupcakes; maybe it's the single-serving size that prohibits overindulgence. Perhaps it's the whimsy of a cake you can eat on the run with your fingers. Each of us has our own reason, and it seems that each of us loves us some cupcake. The city is lousy with great bakeries that offer delicious versions of the taste treat, and some of the yummiest options can be found being peddled out of a silver airstream trailer on South Congress. The Hey Cupcake! menu is as simple and direct as its name. The cake varieties are vanilla, chocolate, red velvet, and carrot, with topping choices of vanilla buttercream, chocolate buttercream, and cream cheese for the red-velvet and carrot-cake options. We're vanilla fiends ourselves and partial to the strictly Vanilla Dream combo, but the chocoholics in our lives prefer the double dose, while many consider the red velvet the tops. Whatever flavor you choose, be sure to do the free "whipper snapper" upgrade: a shot of fresh whipped cream shot right into the cake. At two bucks a pop, it's an ideal indulgence in the spoils of war for your avenue stroll. – Barbara Chisolm

Giovanni Pizza Stand

2900-B S. Lamar, 656-7033: daily, 5-10pm

Trailers (No Trash)
Photo by John Anderson

Like many delightful discoveries, this one was made by word of mouth. Friends in the Barton Hills neighborhood raved enthusiastically about their pizza source housed in a trailer in a far corner of a gas station. It was when we had an occasion to sample a slice at a teen gathering that we gained an appreciation for the pie and made it our business to patronize them ourselves. The location couldn't be less promising: The trailer isn't a retro-sleek airstream or gaily decorated bodega. It's tucked into the corner of a gas station at the far-from-picturesque and busy corner of Barton Skyway and South Lamar. A couple of stools provide a perch while you wait for your pie's or pasta's preparation. To minimize wait time, orders may be called in for pick up. What the business lacks in style it makes up for in substance. Sitting atop a crisp, almost crackerlike crust, the tasty sauce was robust and thick. We topped it with fresh spinach, mushrooms, garlic, black olives, and red onions. Absolutely delicious! Despite the cold night, a steady stream of customers huddled around the fragrant trailer or sat in their idling cars, patiently waiting for the steaming pie to whisk home and take the chill out of the night. On more temperate evenings, the crowd can be thick with expectant and hungry diners. Word of mouth has spread in the Hills anyway; it's worth the journey south for those out of immediate range. – B.C.

Rosita's al Pastor

1911 E. Riverside, 442-8402:

Restaurant: Daily, 8am-10pm.

Trailer: Sunday-Tuesday, 8:30pm-1am; Wednesday-Friday: 8:30pm-3am; Saturday: 8:30pm-3:30am

Rosita's is a small, family-run restaurant quasi-hidden in the strip center with the bingo parlor on East Riverside at Royal Crest, about half a mile east of I-35. Depending on when you go by, their Al Pastor taco trailer that sits in the parking lot out by the street might be open; operating in the evening, it serves well into the late night. Not to worry, both venues serve the same excellent food.

The restaurant is concealed behind silver reflective window coverings, but when you get inside, you find a clean little spot with a rousing Mexican jukebox and a big-screen TV for telenovelas and Latino music videos. There's usually someone on staff who speaks English, but if not, point at the menu and nod. At both locations you'll see someone rolling out homemade flour tortillas, the best in town. A shawarma-style trompo vertical grill is visible in the restaurant kitchen but not inside the trailer; they must reheat the trompo-grilled al pastor in the trailer.

Look at the back page of the menu for the al pastor menu, their specialty. The fajitas, carnitas, and barbacoa are pretty good, but anything made with the al pastor pork is a must: glistening red from a dry chile marinade, citrusy with a tinge of pineapple, moist and tender. Perfection here is a double order of al pastor tacos ($1.25 each at the trailer), on their fluffy flour tortillas, topped with onion and cilantro and a slathering of their incendiary creamy jalapeño green salsa. Suck down a Mexican coke with the tacos, and get a rice horchata drink to go. It will barely put a dent in your wallet and fill your brain up with loads of happy eating endorphins. – Mick Vann

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