The Austin Chronicle

Recipe: Mars’ Rice Paper Shrimp and Five-Spiced Baby Back Ribs

Add the Chinese BBQ sauce and get transported back to this "uniquely incendiary" eatery

Recipe and stories by Joel Fried, October 27, 2023, Food

It was hard to decide what excited and delighted you more about a visit to Mars restaurant in the Nineties. Was it the sleek interior with intensely deep red walls? Or was it the talented and dynamic kitchen that had complete freedom (and a tandoori oven) to globe-trot and create any dish they could imagine with delicious results?

Virginia B. Wood described the interior as "uniquely incendiary" and she had a point. Mars was sexy. The candlelit dark booths were cozy and romantic. Each one felt like a private chef's table due to its proximity to the open kitchen. Elegant light fixtures hung from a blue ceiling with stars. However, it was the walls that I truly remember. It took a team of painters almost two months to layer and texture seven different colors of red to create walls so intense customers could feel them as much as see them. One step into Mars and it was obvious this was not another cafe slinging Tex-Mex or barbecue. This was something new and different.

Georgia Coleman, the original owner, chose the tiny house on San Antonio because she had grown up nearby in Clarksville and her father's law firm had been a few doors down. The address had also been home to the original Oat Willie's, which for some reason was also the forwarding address for many musicians. It wasn't uncommon to see Doug Sahm and other local troubadours swinging by Mars to pick up their royalty checks and mail at the restaurant's bar.

The interior provided the perfect stage for the unique food the kitchen produced. Tim Kartiganer, Georgia's partner and Mars' original chef, had just returned from California. He'd worked in some notable Los Angeles kitchens that showcased ingredients not common in Texas restaurants at the time. The food was never stuffy or pretentious but it was adventurous. Tim would search MT Supermarket for things that looked cool and then teach himself how to cook it. His first menus included items like a beef tenderloin with soy mushroom reduction, lamb kofta, Thai bouillabaisse, hummus/baba ghanouj with herbed naan, and five-spiced baby back ribs glazed with a Chinese barbecue sauce.

Shortly after Tim and Georgia sold Mars to Lori Simon, she hired a chef named John Bullington. Together, they carried on the culture of culinary adventure and kind treatment of the staff. While every restaurant in this article is greatly missed by longtime Austinites, the loss of Mars places a marker for when Austin changed from a sleepy laid-back town brimming with live music to the more polished and modern version we know today.

"Mars represented a period that was special. When it closed, Austin went the way of tweezers," Bullington commented. There is no doubt that the food is fancier, the chefs are better trained, and they execute with more discipline than we did back in the day, but that also comes with more pressure. We were not cooking under the judgment of social media and heavily funded PR teams. Bullington said he was always able to keep things in perspective: "At the end of the day," he deadpanned, "all the hard work, all the stress we put into our jobs just ends up in the toilet. We are nothing more than glorified poop artists."


1610 San Antonio (1992-2007)
1400 S. Congress (2007-2008)

Five-Spiced Baby Back Ribs With Chinese Barbecue Sauce

Recipe serves 3-4 people.


2 racks baby back ribs

5 star anise

2 cinnamon sticks

2 tablespoons cloves, whole

5 árbol chiles

1 ounce salt

1 ounce brown sugar

water to cover

barbecue sauce

½ bunch cilantro, chopped

½ bunch scallions, chopped


Cut ribs into 4 rib sections.

Place ribs and rib seasonings in pot. Cover with 1 inch of water.

Bring to boil and simmer 30-40 minutes or until tender.

While ribs simmer, assemble the barbecue sauce (see below).

Remove from liquid and place on a baking tray.

Baste generously with the barbecue sauce on both sides.

Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes until shiny. Reglaze halfway through.

Remove from oven. Reglaze and serve with garlic mashed potatoes.

Garnish with cilantro and scallions.

Barbecue Sauce


4 tablespoons hoisin sauce

4 tablespoons plum sauce

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon sambal chili paste

1 tablespoon garlic, pureed

1 tablespoon ginger, freshly grated


Mix the ingredients thoroughly until smooth.

Rice Paper Shrimp


1 package rice paper

15 shrimp, large, peeled

1 red bell pepper, julienned

1 serrano, sliced thinly

bowl of water for softening rice paper


Dip rice paper in water and place on a dry tea towel or kitchen towel.

Place some portion of vegetables on rice paper and top with 1 shrimp.

Wrap by folding in the sides and roll up tightly, like a burrito.

Pan sear on each side, 1-2 minutes per side until shrimp is cooked through and paper is crispy.

Serve with wasabi dipping sauce.

Wasabi Dipping Sauce


2 tablespoons wasabi powder

2 tablespoons sake or water

½ cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon ginger, grated

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar


Whisk all ingredients until smooth.

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