Forty Acres of Fresh, Ethnic Eats: An Update

Mick Vann teaches you a lesson on UT's campus-area restaurant resurgence.

For many years, the UT campus has been the stronghold of bad fast food and even worse dorm cafeterias, which catered to the less than demanding tastes of the average student. If food was cheap and fast, it didn't matter how it tasted or if it expressed the least bit of creativity. Lately around UT, there seems to be an upswing in the quality of the food available. It's still inexpensive, but the restaurateurs are making strides in offering some great tasting, nutritious food that's actually made from real ingredients.

An anchor for this new trend is O's Campus Cafe, nestled in the main lobby of the A.C.E.S. Building at the corner of 24th and Speedway (232-9060). O's is operated by the same folks that bring you Jeffrey's and Cippolina over on West Lynn, and the quality of the food they produce at those two venues carries over to the New American menu they feature at O's (and at surprisingly moderate prices).

Open Monday through Friday only, O's serves a simple breakfast of assorted tacos, French toast, pastries, and breakfast plates. At lunch they attract the hordes with a nice selection of such hot sandwiches as a superlative burger, blackened tilapia, and roasted veggie with portobello mushroom (seven choices, $4.25 to $5.25). The cold sandwiches (five choices, $4.25 to $4.50) offer such delights as a cilantro tuna salad made from real tuna. Daily you will find a different sushi, soup, entrée salad, pizza, casserole, and entrée of the day, and the food comes out rapidly, with the highest price on the menu barely nudging $7.

O's has proven to be so popular that they have opened kiosks serving limited selections from their changing menu on Speedway across from the Welch Chemistry Building, and at the north base of the Tower. Bottom line is that O's has earned the reputation they have garnered by serving healthy, unique, and delicious food at fair prices.

Another popular spot is Chipotle on the Drag at 2230 Guadalupe (320-0238). This is the only independent concept (originally from Colorado) that has ever been purchased by McDonald's, and what Chipotle features is high-quality ingredients presented in a simple but unique concept. They have marinated and grilled meats (fajita chicken, beef asado, pork carnitas, and barbacoa) and a vegetarian option, all available as burritos or tacos. The pork is Niman ranch, free-range, hormone-free meat, and Chipotle is the only restaurant of its kind in the nation serving it.

You decide what you want on your tortilla as you quickly cruise down the line, picking from lime-cilantro rice, veggie black beans, pinto beans, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, and guacamole. You also have a selection of five salsas from mild to piquant to add, and the prices range from $4.75 to $5.50. The design of the space is slick, loud, and industrial, and in keeping with the concept, all made with green-building principles.

There has also been an explosion in the ethnic variety of the cuisines found around campus, with all parts of the globe covered. Latin America is further represented by a branch of Arturo's Mexican Restaurant in the basement of the Fine Arts Building (475-6530), and the arrival of the delicious Sampaio's Restaurant at 2809 San Jacinto (469-9988). Don't forget tasty Chango's interior Mexican taqueria (3023 Guadalupe, 480-8226) and the very inexpensive new Taco Shack (29th and Guadalupe, 320-8889).

Japanese treats and trendy bubble tea can be had at Momoko (705 W. 24th, 469-0086), while there are several Chinese options to choose from. Veggie Heaven (1914 Guadalupe, 457-1013) is the best of that lot by far, followed by Hoa Hoa (Dobie Mall, 505-0155), Panda Express (24th and Nueces, 457-9701), Sun Hing (478-6504), and Magic Wok (474-7770), which sit across from each other in the 2700 block of Guadalupe. Chinese noodle requests can be filled by Yen Ching Noodle House (2910 Guadalupe, 472-4754) with homemade noodles and fantastic Ma Po Dofu.

Thai food is represented by the wildly popular and incredibly excellent Madam Mam's (2514 Guadalupe, 472-8306). Here you'll find out-of-the-ordinary and authentic homestyle dishes, huge portions, and nice prices. Next in the Siam style are Thai Kitchen (3009 Guadalupe, 474-2775) and Satay's Thai Noodle House (2602 Guadalupe, 474-2562).

For Korean it's Oma's Kitchen (Dobie Mall, 472-8018), a nice little mother-and-daughter operation. Burger Tex II (2912 Guadalupe, 477-8433) has the best burgers near campus, but there you'll also find a killer Korean bulgogi burger for a song. Vietnamese can be located at Wok N Go (2200 Guadalupe, 476-7997), which has plates, bowls of bun and pho, and a buffet that packs them in. Also try Pho (1908 Guadalupe, 482-0146) for bun and pho options.

Pleasant Italian food can be found at Piccolo (29th and Rio Grande, 476-5600) and at Milto's (29th and Guadalupe, 476-1021), which has a mix of pizza, Greek, and Italian. Middle Eastern fare is represented by Kismet (411 W. 24th, 236-1811), which is our favorite of the bunch, and Longhorn Po' Boys (Medical Arts and 26th, 495-9228). Tom's Tabooley (2928 Guadalupe, 479-7337) has a menu of treats and is a great option for bulk Mideast party fare.

Chicago ethnic (if that can be called a category) can be had at the new Lucky Dog outlet located in the basement of the Student Union building on campus (232-1785). They've got the best hot dogs in town, including the excellent "Chicago-style," as well as a surprising mix of sandwiches. World Beat Cafe (600 W. Martin Luther King Blvd., 236-0197) is a funky dive with very authentic West African food.

When I started working at UT nine years ago there were few restaurants to choose from at lunchtime, and even fewer ethnic choices. If you were hungry and didn't want to eat fast food or schlep your way through a cafeteria line, it pretty much meant hiking to the car, taking too long for your lunch break, and facing the task of finding a parking place when you got back. Today it only requires a short hike to freshly prepared options, including a wealth of delectable items from all around the globe. The kids today at UT just don't know how good they have it!

Sign up for the Chronicle Cooking newsletter

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

If you want to submit a recipe, send it to food@austinchronicle.com

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Food Reviews
A Trio of Mediterranean Dining
A Trio of Mediterranean Dining
Just when you thought you couldn't possibly get any shawarma, right?

Wayne Alan Brenner, Sept. 4, 2020

Hot Sauce: Your Lifestyle Is the Target
Hot Sauce: Your Lifestyle Is the Target
What does your favorite condiment reveal about who you are?

Wayne Alan Brenner, Aug. 28, 2020

More by Mick Vann
Guantanamera Cuban Cuisine
Guantanamera Cuban Cuisine
Good things come in small packages

May 8, 2015

On the Cheap: Taquito Aviles
Taquito Aviles
Getting our goat on Braker

Feb. 20, 2015

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

University of Texas, World Beat Café, Lucky Dog, Student Union, Piccolo, Milto's, Kismet, Longhorn Po' Boys, Tom's Tabooley, Arturo's Mexican Restaurant, Fine Arts Building, Sampaio's Brazilian Restaurant, Chango's interior Mexican taqueria, Taco Shack, Momoko, Veg

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle