What's New on the Local Trailer Cuisine Scene?
Trailer parks are everywhere, but it's not what you think
Austin's trailer cuisine scene is constantly expanding – it seems there are hot, tasty, new mobile dining destinations to check out every time we leave the house. Mobile food vending makes sense when you figure the difference between borrowing $500,000 or more to open a new restaurant in a new or existing building and spending $10,000 for an hip Airstream trailer and a few thousand more for groceries, equipment, and rent on a commercial kitchen and a parking space. Voilà, you're in the food business! Our active and delicious mobile food scene has attracted plenty of national attention – check out stories featuring Austin food trailers everywhere from the Food Network to CNN and Bon Appétit to The New York Times. In preparation for the greatly anticipated March tourist invasion, Chronicle contributing Food writers Mick Vann, Claudia Alarcón, Rachel Feit, and Kate Thornberry chose neighborhoods known for their mobile food offerings and set out to discover what's new on the local trailer cuisine scene. Bear in mind, the operative word for these businesses is "mobile" – in order to maximize their profits over the next few weeks, some of them are likely to be set up in one place during the day and somewhere else in the evening. Keep an eye on Twitter, Facebook, and their websites for changes in location, and go chow down! – Virginia B. Wood
Downtown & East of I-35
Start your day at Trailer Perk (1602 E. Sixth, 474-7400, www.facebook.com/trailerperk) with hot breakfast sandwiches and bialys (picture a ham, egg, and cheese bialy), hot and cold Texas Coffee Traders coffee drinks, and a variety of gourmet sandwiches and cool drinks for lunch. Down the block, Asian fusion treasure East Side King (1618½ E. Sixth, www.eastsidekingaustin.com) is located in the back patio of the bar Liberty. It has incredible steamed buns filled with crisp fried pork belly, hoisin sauce, cucumber kimchi, and green onion and also a dish called Tori Meshi: deep-fried chunks of chicken thigh with sweet & spicy sauce, fresh basil, cilantro, mint, onion, and jalapeño served over steamed jasmine rice infused with ginger and garlic oil. A veggie meshi is made with fried brussels sprouts. I could eat the beet fries all day. Be sure to check for a daily special; we loved the beef tongue buns with peanut-butter curry.
DownTown Burgers (350 Trinity, 476-7100, www.downtownburgers.com) serves breakfast tacos, coffee, and pastries beginning at 8am during the Festival and its locally famous burgers from 11am until 4am (it'll go back to 11am-9pm after South by Southwest). Chi'Lantro (www.chilantrobbq.com) offers the coolest Korean Tex-Mex around. Amazing burgers that change daily (Hawaiian bulgogi with pineapple, for instance), plus beef, pork, or chicken tacos, quesadillas, and burritos filled with Korean-style marinated meats spiced with Chi'Lantro salsa (a Korean chile soy vinaigrette with onions, cilantro, and green onions) and topped with shredded lettuce and roasted sesame seeds. The concept is genius, and the flavors over the top. The usual lunch spot is the parking lot at Second & Congress, but dinner venues vary. During SXSW it'll be part of a few events on Sixth Street as well. Follow Chi'Lantro on Twitter (@chilantrobbq) to find out where it is.
Kebabalicious (www.austinkebab.com) has opened a second, daytime trailer at Second & Congress, serving the same European-Turkish street food that's made it wildly popular among late-night partiers in the Red River district (Seventh & Trinity). After 8pm, Austin Daily Press moves from 1207 S. First to its late-night location (Ninth & Red River, 644-2959, www.austindailypress.com) and even delivers hot-pressed sandwiches to nearby bars. Word has it that the grilled-cheese sandwich has brought more than one hard partier back from the dead. Down the street, Frietkot (Seventh & Neches, @austin_frietkot) is a new purveyor of Belgian-style fries served with a variety of sauces, from house-made mayonnaise and ketchup to ancho barbecue sauce and horseradish mustard. "Dust" toppings like Madras curry, dill pickle, and spicy Creole cost an additional $0.75. The friendly folks at BBQ Heaven (519 E. Seventh, 299-7461) in the Twin Liquors parking lot dish out delish 'cue staples like brisket sandwiches, sausage wraps, and other meaty delights until the wee hours. The popular fried chicken and waffles from Lucky J's have a new location at Sixth & Waller (296-9914, www.luckyjs.com), which is still serving the same crispy, mouthwatering chicken and homemade waffles, plus waffle tacos(!) and other whims. It'll be open expanded hours during SXSW, so check Twitter for details (@luckyjsaustin).
The happiest news for Mexican food lovers is the opening of El Naranjo Mobile Austin (85 Rainey, 474-2776) from internationally known chef Iliana de la Vega, who formerly had an acclaimed restaurant of the same name in Oaxaca, Mexico. Look for Oaxacan street staples like molotes, tostadas, tacos fritos, and more, plus daily specials like mole and tamales. Just down the street, G'raj Mahal (91 Red River, 480-2255, www.grajmahalcafe.com) serves a big menu of tasty Indian specialties with many vegetarian options. These dishes from Goa – the western Indian state colonized and long occupied by the Portuguese that is known for its outstanding seafood curries – are unique. This place actually has table service – it's one of the fanciest trailers I've seen – and delivers to the busy bars in the immediate area, with plans to cover more locations. – Claudia Alarcón
UT Campus Area
Hat Creek Burger Co. (UFCU Disch-Falk Field during UT baseball home games, www.hatcreekburgers.com) Burger perfectionist Drew Gressett started with a trailer Downtown that now feeds hungry Horns fans and also has a permanent home at 5400 Burnet Rd. The main ingredient here is all-natural, never-frozen Angus beef patties (single or double) with a grilled bun and your choice of condiments and cheeses. Fries are fresh, skinny, and skin-on, while malts and shakes are made with Blue Bell ice cream, and sodas come with crushed ice. Basic stuff, but done so right.
At Lucky J's (MLK & Rio Grande; Sixth & Waller, 296-9914, www.luckyjs.com) the slogan is "chicken for strength and waffles for speed," but a platter of these beauties will ground you like an anchor. Expect crispy waffles and crispy chicken in various sizes, with maple syrup for a little extra. For a post-partying feed, it's hard to beat the combo of sweet and savory. It ain't Harlem, and it ain't Roscoe's, but it is delightful.
Chi'Lantro (23rd & San Antonio during the day; Downtown at night, www.chilantrobbq.com) Okay, imagine a spiced-up and delectable bulgogilike marinated and grilled Korean meat (beef, pork, chicken, or tofu), and then stuff a taco or burrito with it. The quesadillas are similar, topped with meat of your choice, caramelized kimchi, and cheese, or maybe you want it in a burger. Rice bowls also! Popular wherever it parks and sets up shop (check the Twitter account and website for locations).
Franklin Barbecue's (3421 N. I-35, 653-1187, www.franklinbarbecue.com) Aaron Franklin started out as a backyard master and slid right into professionalism when he set up his trailer. Smoked over oak, his delicious Angus brisket is tender, with a peppery crust and thick smoke ring. Pulled pork, pork spareribs, and medium-coarse peppery sausage round out the package. Good stuff. – Mick Vann
South First Street
On a lot overlooking Bouldin Creek, Austin Daily Press (1207 S. First, 848-5215, www.austindailypress.com) serves hot-pressed sandwiches on crunchy bread with various fillings like caprese (mozzarella, tomato, and balsamic pesto) or pastrami, cheddar, and horseradish mayo for starters. You can add avocado, jalapeño, bacon, or tomato to any sandwich for $1 each, and it also features lunch specials, salads and soups. This trailer is open daily, 11am-8pm.
In the same creekside space, Izzoz Tacos (1207 S. First, 326-4996, www.izzoztacos.com) raises the taco and torta bar up a big notch. After chef John Galindo's family sold their Wimberley steak house, he began saving money to open his trailer dream "where good friends make tacos & good tacos make friends." With such amazing creations as the Slowrider, tender beer-braised beef topped with cotija cheese, caramelized onions, and cilantro and the ancho chile slow-roasted pork torta, with chipotle aioli, pickled slaw, and red onions, it's easy to see what he means. Whatever you do, don't skip the hand-cut garlic french fries.
Just a block down the road is the South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery, founded by the folks from Torchy's Tacos (www.torchystacos.com) and now also home to Man Bites Dog (1311 S. First, www.manbitesdogaustin.com), the neighborhood's favorite hot-dog spot. The first key to the success of Jeremiah Allen's creations is the brioche buns, followed by high-quality sausages and sauces. You can mix and match to make your own or try menu favorites like the Buffalo Hottie, smothered in spicy buffalo-wing sauce, blue cheese, and green onions or the Cuban, pork sausage wrapped in ham with sweet pickle relish, spicy brown mustard, and Swiss cheese. Any dog can be made with veggie wieners, too.
Tiny Holy Cacao (1311 S. First, 851-CAKE, www.theholycacao.com) specializes in cake balls, fresh-baked cake chunks mixed with frosting and rolled into balls, dipped in chocolate, and skewered on popsicle sticks. Wash them down with hot or cold chocolate drinks and Blue Bell shakes, or completely indulge the sweet tooth with the popular roast-your-own s'mores.
Just in time for all the seasonal hoopla, Cafe Racer (603 W. Live Oak, 281/620-6442, www.caferaceraustin.com) has moved onto the long-vacant lot at the corner of South First and Live Oak. Featuring inventive, upscale breakfasts, gourmet sandwiches, and grilled entrées, this spot also has the added benefit of a spacious, green lot and comfortable seating at picnic tables. – Claudia Alarcón
South Congress Avenue
Ever since Hey Cupcake (1600 S. Congress, 476-CAKE, www.heycupcake.com) opened its shiny Airstream trailer on a vacant lot a few years back, SoCo has been a favorite destination for street food enthusiasts. With the opening of Hudson's on the Bend's the Mighty Cone trailer (1600 S. Congress, 383-9609, www.mightycone.com) in 2009, it has become something of a pilgrimage site. For the past year, Mighty Cone has consistently drawn crowds with a taste for Hudson's signature crunchy chicken, avocado, and shrimp wraps topped with fruity cabbage slaw and creamy ancho dressing. New to the scene on that block is the Turf Grill (1603 S. Congress, www.facebook.com/pages/Austin-TX/Turf-Grill/263105514900), which specializes in hot deli-style sandwiches piled thick with meat and plenty of good fixin's. The Damn Good Reuben is ... well ... a damn good Reuben. In the same block, Muck N Dave's BBQ trailer (@MuckNDavesBBQ) opened just two weeks ago. This spot smokes its brisket for 24 hours over oak and serves ribs and sausage along with the usual sides – beans and coleslaw.
Another newbie, Cutie Pies (1600 S. Congress, 589-7979, www.cutiepiewagon.com), has already attracted a loyal following for Jaynie Buckingham's melt-in-your-mouth individual-sized crusty confections. With more than 500 pie recipes in her repertoire, she usually offers different varieties every few days, but you can always count on her award-winning buttermilk pie, unless it sells out. And after all those high-calorie snacks, treat your body to a little love in the form of Mambo Berry's (www.mamboberry.com) fresh juices, smoothies, and frozen yogurt.
A couple of blocks to the north of the 1600 S. Congress trailer flock, there's a new movable feast taking shape at Congress and Gibson, next to Hotel San José and Austin Pets Alive. Don't miss Crepes Mille (1318 S. Congress, 919-2416, www.crepesmille.com), specializing in offbeat combinations and fillings (such as Panang curry or chipotle pork) that magically work. The pork floss crepe has people swooning. Smokilicious Bar-B-Q (1318 S. Congress) is a barbecue trailer that offers brisket, chopped beef, and pulled pork. It also prepares barbecue-stuffed baked potatoes and breakfast tacos.
The list of SoCo trailers wouldn't be complete without mentioning Taqueria Star (343 S. Congress) at the northeast corner of Congress and Riverside. The tacos al pastor are truly fine, made with achiote-spiced pork and fresh pineapple, then topped with plenty of fresh cilantro, onion, and lip-smacking green salsa. It offers plenty of vegetarian options among the standards as well. – Rachel Feit
Half a block east of the Lamar & Barton Springs intersection is the so-new-it-doesn't-have-a-phone-yet Moo-Moo's Mini-Burgers (905 S. Lamar, www.gotmoomoos.com). With hand-cut fries, hand-formed beef patties, locally baked buns, and shakes made with Amy's Ice Creams, Moo-Moo's is giving the nearby burger competition a run for their money.
A few blocks south on Lamar at Treadwell, a trailer enclave (with ample parking) has sprung up featuring three diverse trailer success stories: Gourdough's (1219 S. Lamar, www.gourdoughs.com) serves "big fat donuts" with a variety of fillings, from the savory (fried chicken and honey) to the diabetic-coma-inducingly sweet (marshmallow with chocolate fudge icing, all dipped in actual fudge). Two steps away, Austin Brevità (1219 S. Lamar, 440-7500, www.austinbrevita.com) provides the beverages with a full array of organic, fair-trade espresso drinks, hot chocolates, smoothies, and Italian sodas. The trio is completed by Odd Duck Farm to Trailer (1219 S. Lamar, 695-6922, www.oddduckfarmtotrailer.com) where chef Bryce Gilmore serves locally sourced gourmet fare directly to the consumer for extremely reasonable prices (grits with beer-braised rabbit and farm egg, $7; grilled jumbo Gulf shrimp with green garlic, $6). Dinner only.
Traveling a little farther south brings us to the Texas Cuban (1700 S. Lamar, 294-9259, www.texascuban.com). Hot-pressed Cuban sandwiches have taken off big, and the cooks inside this trailer are usually going full throttle. Although it specializes in the popular grilled pork tenderloin sandwiches (served with plantain chips), Texas Cuban also serves hamburgers, papas rellenas, croquettes, café cubano, and café con leche. (Bring your greenbacks, though, as this trailer is cash-only.) Just behind Texas Cuban up the hill is La Boîte Cafe (1700 S. Lamar, 377-6198, www.laboitecafe.com) a repurposed cargo container where the finest French pastries in Austin can be found. In addition to the remarkable patisserie, La Boîte serves stellar-quality gourmet sandwiches and a full complement of espresso drinks, as well as iced tea and soda. Best we can tell, all the trailers in this area are likely to stay put. – Kate Thornberry
Trailer Perk, East Side King, Liberty, DownTown Burgers, Chi'Lantro, Kebabalicious, Austin Daily Press, Frietkot, BBQ Heaven, Lucky J's, El Naranjo Mobile Austin, G'raj Mahal, Hat Creek Burger Co., Franklin Barbecue, Austin Daily Press, Izzoz Tacos, South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery, Torchy's Tacos, Man Bites Dog, Tiny Holy Cacao