Where to Find Mick Vann's Favorite Inexpensive International Eats
1) Byblos Falafel and Deli (13000 N. I-35 #12-204, 490-1212): A new arrival out north, these folks are producing vibrant Middle Eastern fare that is so good I decreed it the best-in-category when I reviewed the restaurant. You're blessed with a dozen choices for sides, the juicy meats are all cooked to order, the ingredients all fresh, and everything is handmade, in house, by smiling staff.
2) Asia Cafe (8650 Spicewood Springs Rd. #115, 331-5780): Unapologetically and authentically Sichuan, this counter-service gem located in the back of Asia Market is my new favorite Chinese restaurant in town (with apologies to the rest). Lovingly embracing chiles and the mysteriously numbing Sichuan peppercorn, their twice-cooked pork belly, water-boiled beef, and ma po dofu make me swoon.
3) China Palace (6605 Airport, 451-7104): Foodie rumors led me back to China Palace after years of absence, to discover a long-lost diamond. Culinary treasures lurk on the "Chinese Menu": shredded pork and squid with mustard greens, hot and spicy wonton, and tofu knot with shredded pork are all there to reward a visit. The legend lives on!
4) Oaxacan Tamaleo (1300 W. Anderson, 289-9262): Bill and Leo continue their dance with greatness, producing some of the biggest Interior-Mex flavors at the best prices. The banana-leaf-wrapped tamales are so light they float off of the plate; lamb barbacoa melts in the mouth; the posole is a seductive bowl of spicy richness; the turkey in mole sauce complex and wonderful.
5) Le Soleil (9616 N. Lamar, 821-0396): It's laid-back and roomy with authentic Viet flavors and a huge menu. The shaking beef, the bahn xeo stuffed crepe, the hot and sour soup with catfish and taro stem, the pork meatballs in rice paper wrappers ... all the stuff of culinary dreams. You can make a meal of any of the fresh and minty salads.
6) MT Supermarket (7601 N. Lamar, 454-4804/4805): Finally, Austin gets a megasized Asian market busting at the seams with the wonderfully weird and obscure but oh so essential elements of any Far Eastern meal. If you can't find it here, you're not looking: produce, kitchen essentials and knives, sauces and components, duck feet, and seafood are staring you in the face.
7) Clay Pot Buffet (13000 N. I-35 #12-200, 833-8837): Austin gets its first all hot-pot Asian restaurant, with a nice assortment of appetizers (dumplings, wings, crab, sashimi, salads, etc.) to begin your meal and a selection of veggies, meats, and seafood cooked (by you) at the table in the simmering pot. Hands-on dining ... it rocks!
8) Crosstown BBQ (202 S. Ave. C, Elgin, 512/281-5594): A strictly no-frills place in a tin building run by Carrol Grady and Johnny Parks, considered by many as the finest barbecue in Texas. Tender smoky brisket, ribs to die for, succulent mutton, and juicy chicken join the best house-made sausage in Elgin, and the sauce is rich, spicy, and deep red. Always call ahead, in case they're out of food.
9) El Borrego de Oro #2 (3900 S. Congress, 383-0031): "The Golden Sheep" is an authentic treat, with a large menu of top-notch Mexican, homemade tortillas, cold beer, and strong 'ritas. Birria (shredded lamb, either as tacos or as a soup) is the classic Mexico City hangover cure; the pork with green sauce is magnificent. It's hard to choose wrong here.
10) Bombay Bistro (10710 Research #126, 342-2290): With a chef from Delhi, BB seduces the diner with aromas, complexly spiced flavor profiles, and a wealth of dishes offered nowhere else in the city. Tilapia fingers in chickpea-cumin crust, fish malabar from Kerala, and Baingan Bartha eggplant are all amazing dishes, and the breads excel.