Austinites seriously love keeping Austin weird, and that’s the kind of patriotic philosophy that extends to their food culture. So when the country saw the advent of the food truck, an already unconventional and fairly in-your-face means of disseminating a challenging style of gastronomy, it was very Austin to jump behind the wheel and keep trucking. Now, wheeled restaurateurs are rolling into hurried corners of the city, particularly the very trendy South Congress Avenue, doling out delicious and fresh grab-and-go gourmet, while still keeping it very weird. Weird, in a good way – and anyone who hits up these five fine gourmet food trucks will agree.
Tacos and trucks just seem to make sense with each other – tacos are practical and adjustable to suit any meal, easy to make in a compact area and ideally consumed on the go. These and more reasons explain why this classic staple shows up on mobile eatery menus all the time. However, while it’s easy enough to make tacos, it’s hard to do them well. Torchy’s Taco was the brainchild of a former executive chef. They spent their first few years experimenting and their following years kicking ass and winning awards. Try Torchy’s politically minded tacos: the Democrat is stuffed with shredded beef barbacoa topped with fresh avocado, queso fresco, cilantro, onions, and a lime wedge; the Republican has fiery grilled jalapeño sausage, shredded cheese and pico de gallo, while the Independent is loaded up with hand-battered and fried portobello mushroom strips with refried black beans, roasted corn, escabeche carrots, queso fresco, cilantro and avocado.
Bizarrely, Biscuits + Groovy opened in 2010 as a vegan and vegetarian truck and though not a hint of that initial animal-protecting appears to exist in their white pepper gravy, maple bacon, cheese and buttermilk concoctions, but if you ask politely, all of their biscuits and a substantial part of their groovy come with a vegan alternative. That’s right: vegan gravy, vegan chorizo, vegan sausage, vegan bacon, tofu scramble and vegan cheese. It’s still a far throw from your yoga teacher’s type of vegan – there’s no salad, no quinoa and some lingering amount of guilt. Three fluffy and thick buttermilk biscuits under a blanket of white pepper gravy loaded up with sausage, jalapenos, colby jack cheese and hives? Guilty, but worth it. Those who really know what this place is about might drop off a mixtape or CD at the window and get one from a stranger in return.
For generations, man has roamed the earth attempting to answer this one eternal and inherently biological question: "Hey! … You gonna eat or what?" And since by the end of the day, you are indeed going to eat, if not for pleasure than for sustenance, it might as well be something absolutely decadent. Cue the shiner Monte Cristo, which is kind of like a regular fried ham and cheese Monte Cristo sandwich but beer-battered with shiner bock around layers of pit-smoked ham and mesquite-smoked turkey, cheddar and provolone cheese and served with homemade cherry and fig jelly. It is this very all-American ambition and ingenuity is applied to all of their classic sandwiches: their Lonestar BLT is created from thick cut applewood-smoked bacon, fried green tomatoes, lettuce and homemade poblano pepper aioli on ciabatta.
It is both a blessing and a curse that there aren’t more places like Gourdough’s, a little donut shop that runs out of a vintage Airstream trailer with some picnic benches out front. Austinites know that any time they have a rough day, they can get a hit of instant pleasure with the Flying Pig donut with bacon and maple syrup icing, or the Mother Clucker, a fluffy and perfectly balanced sweet and savory donut heaped with fried chicken and honey butter. Austin’s tourism has probably boomed in the last three years that Gourdough’s has been around, aided by vocal and gastronomically discerning celebrity chefs and media personalities like Anthony Bourdain, Austin Monthly Magazine, Men’s Health Magazine and others.
Since Chi’lantro is an actively moving mobile eatery, it’s best to catch it while it’s hot. Luckily, their spicy kimchi, sriracha, Chi’Lantro salsa, it’ll be hot for a while. This eclectic Korean and Tex-Mex fusion truck offers everything from tacos, fries, burgers, burritos and quesadillas but with a hit of cilantro and Korean BBQ – it is precisely their mixed allegiances that gave them the name Chi’Lantro, a portmanteau combining the words "kimchi" and "cilantro". Their basic fries are studded with Korean peppers, garlic salt and served along with Sriracha-spiked mayo, but their biggest seller is loaded with caramelized kimchi, a mound of Korean bulgogi, grilled onions, cheddar and monterey jack cheese, cilantro, sriracha, mayo and sesame seeds – no match for the late night munchies.