Food Cart Crawl – Austin, Texas
Within moments of entering the Austin city limit’s it is clear to see that these people are awesome.
Austintonians love their food carts and it’s not hard to see why. What’s not to enjoy about a freshly prepared meal out of a truck on the side of the road– a wonderful truck that uses fresh corn tortillas for their expertly prepared tacos or fresh blackberries for their sorbet or who bakes their cupcakes each day, fresh, instead of sticking them in a fridge for a week. Who wouldn’t want their food cooked that way?
To explore the mouthwatering and mind-changing possibilities of the food cart, we set out on a local tradition known as the food cart crawl, whereby we selectively mapped out “top-tier” food carts throughout the city aiming to sample a piece of what each had to offer, without exploding from excessive food intake, of course. What happened as we tasted our way through the city was part epic, food-lust fueled experience and part life-altering, taste bud entrancing magic, but ask those who enter into the food cart crawl and live to tell the tale and they’ll tell you, more than any of that, it’s a whole lot of super tasty, Austin-themed awesomeness.
After a midday trip to Barton Springs Pool, a wonderful 900 foot natural limestone pool in Zilker Park, of which I unfortunatly have zero pictures, we headed out on our “crawl.” As is the case with all tasting experiences, like tapas or tasting menus, we wanted to start off with lightly flavored dishes and progressively move towards more heavily flavored items as the day wore down.
As it turns out, we couldn’t have picked a better place to start than Edible Earth, a newly opened vegan food cart, where we chatted with the owner, sipped sun tea, and ate fresh blackberry sorbet, all of which were perfect compliments to the continuously glaring and, at times, over-bearing mid-morning Austin heat.
“Sun tea made with green tea, lemons, and oranges”
“Fresh Blackberry Sorbet”
After our refreshing visit to Edible Earth, we headed off on a harrowing, death-defying journey across the parking lot (hey, I said we mapped them out not that they were far apart) to Izzoz Tacos, a new age Tex-Mex taco trailer run by John who serves an assortment of tortas n’ tacos spiced up with a little attitude and more than enough knowhow.
To call these tacos “good” is not only wrong, it’s downright insulting. These tacos defy words and are, without a doubt, among the most delicious street food we had in the entire country, in competition with only The Odd Duck, a farm to trailer establishment located, oddly enough, only miles away in Austin. In fact, these freshly inspired tacos, like the Fried Avocado, with its layers of perfectly peppery arugula, wonderfully tangy and smoky chipotle sherry sauce, Cotija cheese, and flash-fried avocado, and The Padre, a traditional carnita pork taco, topped generously with rich slices of avocado, sweet roasted pineapple, and tangy tomatillo salsa, make me quiver with excitement just thinking about them. Not to mention the fact that it literally pains me that I can’t visit for lunch more often, as in, everyday. So, John, until we meet again some day or you kindly accept my begs and pleas for you to allow me to work for you (hint hint), I proudly salute to you for making, what is, without question, one hell of a taco.
“Fried Avocado Taco”
Looking for something a little different following our terrific Tex-Mex taco tasting, we headed over to a popular Vietnamese cart known as Me So Hungry!, a feeling which, as it turns out, is perfectly captured by the scheming oriental woman plastered on top of the Ninja Turtle green paint job of the truck.
“Me So Hungry”
Me So Hungry is famous for their Banh Mi, a traditional Vietnamese sandwich made with a french baguette and filled generously with pickled carrots, cabbage, cucumbers, cilantro, chili peppers and a meat, usually pork, chicken or ham which has been grilled, roasted, or charbroiled.
While this was my first time tasting a Banh Mi, I’m not at all unfamiliar with the flavors of grilled meat and vegetables and I happen to know a great sandwich when I see one. This is a great sandwich. The contrasting flavors and textures of the crunchy baguette, caramelized pork, and super fresh vegetables are the kind of stuff unforgettable food memories are made of and, conversely, what food related crime will be committed for if I don’t get my hands on another one of these very soon.
Amidst chatting with the owner of Me So Hungry and asking for a refreshing drink to cool me and the now sun burnt Brittany down from the unbearable Texas sun, I learned that Cheer Up Charlies, a nearby bar with more than enough lesbian appeal, specialized in a fermented mushroom drink known as Kombucha.
Now, I consider myself to be a pretty adventurous person. Can I be a little timid, at times? Sure. Am I off climbing Everest, swimming with sharks, or trying to tickle bears? No way. In truth, I might hesitate to do more than a few things that might put myself into even possible mental or physical danger, but some things are just worth it. New food experiences happen to be one of those things. So to satisfy this craving, alone, without trepidation, and in clear violation of the rules of the “crawl,” I headed off into the mystical void of experience to track down the mysterious mushroom drink they called Kombucha.
As I walked into the bright white and turquoise brick building I was met by an unmistakable menacing glare. It was the glare of young hipster women, artfully inked and sporting trendy ‘alternative fashions’, and only young hipster women, that resided in this low-key and surprisingly not very cheerful bar. Welcomed was the opposite of how I felt. In fact, really the only vibe that I got was one that screamed in an all-to-stereotypical, startled, husky female voice, ”woah, what the hell is he doing in here?!”
But before you wrongfully accuse me of being even the slightest bit intolerant, let me be clear. Seeing as no one specifically told me, I have absolutely zero proof that Cheer Up Charlies is a lesbian bar nor do I have even the slightest problem with it if it is. All that I ask is for a little warning next time. That way I can make Brittany go, for the comic appeal, that’s all.
According to Wikipedia, Kombucha is “a fermented tea that is often drunk for medicinal purposes,” Although there’s currently no scientific evidence to support the purported benefits of the mushroom tea, I believe in them.
The drink– lightly carbonated, tart, slightly sweet and lacking in any noticeable fermented flavor– is served on tap at Cheer Up Charlies and is loaded with healthful items like Yerba mate, green tea, a small amount of vinegar from the fermentation and, I’m sure, more than enough antioxidants to count.
The flavor is pretty intense, though, and certainly not for the faint of heart. To me, you have to really want to be healthy to get more than a few sips of this stuff down. Although the sun melting the ice down did make this one easier to palate, unlike a few others we’ve now tried without ice.
Surprisingly refreshed from the Kombucha experience, we headed off to what would be our last destination on the crawl and, not surprisingly, the only one that Brittany really lobbied for– the cupcake place. And when I say lobbied, I mean lobbied hard. Repeatedly reminding me that, before days end, we’re getting cupcakes! … or else.
To match her excitement and save me from the … or else part, we headed over to Hey Cupcake! to take a bite out of their famous red velvet cupcake.
What we found was not only a place that was passionate about serving gourmet cupcakes, but also one that has become rooted in Austin culture, sitting as the silver bullet trailer lined up alongside other food stands, restaurants, bars, and shops which cover the curbs of the district known as South Congress, in South Austin.
I’m not sure if there’s a better way to end a limestone pool and fantastic food filled summer Austin day than to sit down and eat a couple of freshly baked cupcakes, sip on a bottle of cold milk, and listen to the rustic twang of a beat up acoustic guitar. I’ll let you imagine…
“Red Velvet Cupcake (front) Strawberry and Chocolate Cupcake (back)”
Music to “crawl” to Matt the Electrician – Made For Working