Austin Food Trailer Explosion
July 29, 2009 8:22 AM   Subscribe

Can I get some sushi with my taco? Until a few years ago, Austin's culinary tradition seemed to be limited to breakfast tacos and BBQ. From these humble beginnings, however, has come an bizarre explosion of food trailers.

From kebabs to banh mi, there's something for everyone in the Austin food trailer scene. Take a stroll around South Austin, and you'll find crispy chicken cones from one of Austin's finest restaurants next to shiny cupcake stands.

Food writers from coast to coast are talking about the trend. Austin's best trailer purveyors have even battled Bobby Flay.

On the weirder side, someone's discovered there's always money in the banana stand. Ane some like the food so much, they've made off with the entire trailer.
posted by lunalaguna (51 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Best Wurst is actually really damn good. I had one a while back while smoking outside a club before a show just because it was there. I was expecting it to be, shall we say, gastrointestinal-problem-inducing, but it wasn't at all and was quite tasty too.
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:32 AM on July 29, 2009


For people who live in big cities and have a lot of street food options, it's hard to convey how much the trailers have changed the landscape of Austin, particularly the southside neighborhoods. We've always had taco stands, but Torchy's Tacos and Hey Cupcake came along and made it okay for the middle class and hipsters to eat trailer food. Torchy's has even opened up a dedicated "trailer park" on South First Street, with several stands and extensive seating. All of this has happened in about two years.
posted by lunalaguna at 8:39 AM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just a note: They're all closed on Mondays, as I found out two days ago.
posted by donkeymon at 8:39 AM on July 29, 2009




Austin's not the only place exploding with food carts.

Ha, yeah, I was just about to mention Portland's food cart scene, which has been garnering national media attention.

(Although admittedly the first of those links is to the NY Times which is totally stalking Portland in a kinda weird way that almost borders on creepy.)
posted by dersins at 9:02 AM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Since we moved to Austin about a year ago, the parking lot next to the big church on South Congress (one of the areas in the Flickr link) has gone from having pretty much just the Hey Cupcake! trailer at the far end to having at least 5 trailers on a full-time basis. It's kind of ridiculous, and the trailers are starting to fill up all the empty spaces around town, though I do feel like the explosion is much more concentrated on the south side.

I love it. Walking down to the taco truck that's just a few hundred yards from my apartment for a quick, delicious, cheap bite to eat is pretty fantastic. I need to check out some of these other ones, especially to see if the crêpe stands can meet the standards of the ones I ate at in Paris. Mmm.
posted by malthas at 9:02 AM on July 29, 2009


There is nothing to see in Austin. It is hot all the time. Please do not move here.
posted by kaseijin at 9:05 AM on July 29, 2009 [10 favorites]


The absence of food trucks, trailers, and the like is one of my biggest problems with Chicago. Really. Grr.
posted by aramaic at 9:05 AM on July 29, 2009


Thanks for those links dersins. I love the food here in Austin, and the food carts are a fun part of that scene, (shout out to Flip Happy, Mmmmpanadas, and Torchy's,) but the more I learn about Portland, the more it seems like they just do the same stuff we do, only better.

If I could line up a job there, I'd start packing tonight. As it is, I might move there without a job come next spring. I can't imagine doing another summer of week after week of triple digit temperatures.
posted by zueod at 9:32 AM on July 29, 2009


What about Lucky J's chicken and waffles?
posted by odayoday at 9:34 AM on July 29, 2009


I'll be visiting Austin this weekend -- time to hit up some food carts! Although I must make a return trip to Taco Deli, that place is awesome.
posted by m0nm0n at 9:35 AM on July 29, 2009


The recent explosion of food trucks in Los Angeles (Kogi, Border Grill, Let's Be Frank, CoolHaus (ice cream sandwiches with names referencing architects!), every last one of them twittering locations daily) made my friends and I wonder if a warm climate is necessary for these kinds of things. We couldn't imagine that it would make a lot of financial sense to start a business that by its very nature isn't rain-or-snow friendly in a place where rain-or-snow is the baseline for six months. Portland's food carts are interesting, although they seem to be mostly static, whereas Los Angeles's food trucks use their mobility to their advantage, enabling them to service a number of neighborhoods over the course of a week which I think is a large part of their success.
posted by incessant at 9:36 AM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


What about Lucky J's chicken and waffles?

Lucky J's is linked to in the Atlantic article.
posted by lunalaguna at 9:38 AM on July 29, 2009


Ok, on a more serious note, I do have to give mad props to our local food carts (even if I wish somebody would do something to staunch the influx of Californians).

m0nm0n - have you tried Torchy's? SooooOOoo much better than TacoDeli.

Also, much love to Kebabalicious, Lucky J's, Flip Happy, and Mmmmpanadas.
posted by kaseijin at 9:38 AM on July 29, 2009


The recent explosion of food trucks in Los Angeles (Kogi, Border Grill, Let's Be Frank, CoolHaus (ice cream sandwiches with names referencing architects!), every last one of them twittering locations daily) made my friends and I wonder if a warm climate is necessary for these kinds of things.

L.A. hasn't had an explosion of food trucks. It's had an explosion of hip food trucks. I'd be surprised if the above made up one percent of the food trucks in the city. It's the other 99% that make Los Angeles awesome.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:42 AM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't imagine doing another summer of week after week of triple digit temperatures.
106° F is the predicted high today in Portland. Though, to be fair, that's extremely unusual for Portland. *g* But from what my friends in Portland and Seattle tell me, there's practically no AC in residential areas. Even nice new expensive houses don't have central AC. Some of them have window units but they're still burning up

(When I lived in Chicago, my dirt cheap rented attic also didn't have AC but I survived with two giant box fans.)

I've never been but Portland does seem to be an awesome city. There's a lot of people trying to get Fort Worth to emulate the Portland model for an urban city; if we can get the streetcar soon maybe we'll have a chance.
posted by kmz at 9:47 AM on July 29, 2009


lunalaguna: We've always had taco stands, but Torchy's Tacos and Hey Cupcake came along and made it okay for the middle class and hipsters to eat trailer food.

Yes, this is exactly right, and I'm happy for South Austin and its vibrant novelty food culture. But I'd like to call attention to the joys of North Austin eating, particularly the stretch of N. Lamar between 183 and Braker, a wonderland of Mexican, Vietnamese, and Chinese food.
posted by cobra libre at 9:47 AM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


For the vegans and vegetarians: Cheer Up Charlie and Defresh Mode
posted by lunalaguna at 9:52 AM on July 29, 2009


cobra libre: For sure! Living up by the remains of NorthCross mall, I was overjoyed when one of those taqueria trucks finally decided to take up residence in a gas station parking lot not 2 blocks from my house.

Don't forget the great Indian food up North, too!
posted by kaseijin at 9:54 AM on July 29, 2009


More on topic, last time I was down in South Austin about a year ago, I'd only noticed Hey Cupcake!. I'll definitely try to check out the others next time. I remember there used to be (and probably still are) a bunch of food carts around campus at UT. I loved those. I was sad when one chain went away because apparently those running them were also involved with a theft ring that had been stealing DVD players from the libraries. No more $3 BBQ calzones.
posted by kmz at 9:55 AM on July 29, 2009


I used to eat the fried rice from one of those carts every day for lunch. It had this bizarro aftertaste that was nothing like fried rice. Or anything else, for that matter. But it was good.

And then one day, those silly cops with their silly laws about selling stolen goods took my unrice away.
posted by macmac at 10:10 AM on July 29, 2009


kaseijin - No, I haven't. Love to try it though. Where is Torchy's?
posted by m0nm0n at 10:18 AM on July 29, 2009


For people who live in big cities and have a lot of street food options, it's hard to convey how much the trailers have changed the landscape of Austin...

Thanks for clarifying. I was seriously confused by this post before I realized that it was a "hey this place that didn't have this thing before that everyone else already knew about, well, it has that thing now and WOW it's awesome!" post. Which is a totally cool post, and fine by me.

But at first blush I was ready to jump in and snark about the other new-fangled things the rest of us have like aeroplanes and wireless telephones!
posted by greekphilosophy at 10:24 AM on July 29, 2009


Bananarchy is no more. Great name, and yummy frozen, choco-dipped bananas, but there really isn't that much money to be had in banana-trailers.

I really like the Italian beef sandwiches from Chris's Little Chicago on S. Lamar.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 10:25 AM on July 29, 2009


My city (Worcester, MA) essentially banned food carts last year. You people are making me hungry and jealous.
posted by paxton at 10:39 AM on July 29, 2009


m0nm0n - have you tried Torchy's? SooooOOoo much better than TacoDeli.

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man. Torchy's doesn't have salsa doña like Tacodeli but it does have deep fried chocolate chip cookies. I eat at both way more than I should.

It is too bad Shuggies in the Torchy's Trailer Park closed. I liked their burgers.
posted by birdherder at 10:42 AM on July 29, 2009


Austin sucks, nothing to see here. ;)

I'm still upset about Shuggies closing. I miss my chicken & waffle brunches.
posted by jbelshaw at 11:04 AM on July 29, 2009


There is nothing to see in Austin. It is hot all the time. Please do not move here.

Oh man, is Austin really like that? Resentful natives who hate newcomers touching their stuff? I'm dreading that Nashville might turn into that.

We're getting a few carts as well, but it hasn't exploded yet.

There is a lot to see in Nashville. It is weird and friendly all the time. Please move here. And open more food trailers so that we can have more options.
posted by Toothless Willy at 11:09 AM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh man, is Austin really like that? Resentful natives who hate newcomers touching their stuff?

If Austin is anything like Portland (and it is, except for the weather), it's actually resentful recent transplants who hate more-recent transplants touching their stuff-- the contempt (and fear) of the "moved here five years ago" for the "moved here five minutes ago."
posted by dersins at 11:21 AM on July 29, 2009


there really isn't that much money to be had in banana-trailers.

Um, what? There's always money in the banana stand.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 11:31 AM on July 29, 2009


...and that's right there in the fpp. Sigh.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 11:32 AM on July 29, 2009


birdherder: True about the salsa doña. That is definitely the ace up TacoDeli's sleeve. I like it so much I had to reverse-engineer a recipe for it!

m0nm0n: There's one on S. 1st and one on Guadalupe near the UT campus!

dersins: It actually has more to do with the economic, legislative, and cultural difficulties that arise when people from larger economies (i.e. California) move into communities with smaller economies as soon as they become 'hip', and then the subsequent fallout when they depart en-masse years later for more hip pastures. But that's the subject of another FPP.

And on top of that, Texans have *always* been sore about people moving here and prattling on about how much better things are back in ______.
posted by kaseijin at 12:04 PM on July 29, 2009


Austin is the only area of Texas to which I would consider moving. mmm Austin.
posted by m0nm0n at 12:10 PM on July 29, 2009


Now I think I'm going to ask Mr Immlass to bring me home something yummy for dinner this evening, so thanks for this post. Also, I had no idea about the stands up north, so thanks to the folks upthread for mentioning them.

(And no, I won't be sore if y'all move here, just as kaseljin said, stfu about how much better things are back home. I felt that way in New Jersey, so I came home to Texas.)
posted by immlass at 12:12 PM on July 29, 2009


Huh. When I visited Austin I was pretty impressed with the concept of gingerbread pancakes...with lemon syrup.
posted by Miko at 12:17 PM on July 29, 2009


Huh. When I visited Austin I was pretty impressed with the concept of gingerbread pancakes...with lemon syrup.
Mmm, Magnolia's. At least, that's the first place I think of for gingerbread pancakes + Austin.

I really like the Italian beef sandwiches from Chris's Little Chicago on S. Lamar.

There's an Italian Beef place in Austin? Huh. I knew there were a couple of Portillos in California, but in general Italian Beefs seemed to be a regional thing that never made it national.
posted by kmz at 12:55 PM on July 29, 2009


Can I get some sushi with my taco?

I have a filthy, filthy, filthy, filthy mind.

That is all.
posted by rokusan at 1:07 PM on July 29, 2009


There's even trailer parks of food trailers!

(disclaimer: my photos)

The trailers are really a South Austin phenomenon. North of the river, they're not very common.

FWIW, the allure of Austin is quickly wearing off for me. Many Austinites believe that they live in a hip city, but most neighborhood centers are quite auto-oriented and not very walkable, even those close to downtown. IMHO, funky suburban ≠ urban. Indie record stores, coffeehouses, organic ethnic restaurants, consignment stores, mid-century home furnishing stores and tattoo parlors in aging shopping plazas and strip malls with hip or retro signage surrounded by tract houses with odd lawn art are still suburban in their form. Maybe Austin's built environment is the ultimate ironic hipster statement; drink some ironic PBR or Lone Star, get some ironic tats, get some sushi from an ironic trailer, and and park your Scion XB in the driveway of your ironic ranch house in your ironic suburban neighborhood.

Austin is certainly not a terrible city, but it's not the urban mecca so many make it out to be, either.
posted by elmwood at 1:13 PM on July 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


Ah, but do the have cholados?
posted by Diablevert at 1:25 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Elmwwod - I have to agree. I hate this little burb. Shall never be allowed to move, which makes it worse. Get tired of hearing how fucking great it is. If people didn't feel like they had to talk about it and convince people, I might start to think there was something there.

Which doesn't mean that there aren't neat things here. South Austin's food carts are good. The area is relatively bikeable and some of the food is worth riding to get.

I like Torchy's green chile and pork taco and their trailerpark taco.

I do have to give Giovanni's some love. They are parked at the mouth of my neighborhood and sell you a decent sized, well made pizza for cheap. His pastas are decent too. (This is not NY style pizza, nor gourmet. Merely mentioning appreciation for any pizza stand in Austin will bring down the wroth of all who disagree. All of our pizza is shit, we know it, we still like to argue about it.)

I've been looking for the Flip-Happy/Bobby Flay episode, but they never seem to show it on that channel. Bastards.
posted by Seamus at 1:35 PM on July 29, 2009


Food trailers are gaining popularity in small towns around Austin too.

A few weeks ago I had a delicious goats milk popsicle outside of Fredericksburg. We had a nice conversation with the owner, and she talked about the legal requirements of getting a license for a "mobile food profit vehicle". One requirement is that it actually was moved from time to time. I think she hits up farmers markets on the weekends to satisfy this.

I wonder if Austin's department of health has different rules, and perhaps a recent policy change has led to this explosion of food trucks/trailers? There are so many abandoned buildings that could be knocked down, paved over, and rented out for trailers.
posted by fontophilic at 1:59 PM on July 29, 2009


Ah, but do the have cholados?

You have sent me running to the Los Angeles Chowhound board. That looks fantastic.
posted by Bookhouse at 2:06 PM on July 29, 2009


re: Weather and Food Stands.

Come to Yale. We gotcher food carts. There's nothing like seeing a world-renowned MD in line at the burrito truck, between the construction guy and someone who just got x-rays done, with his armband still on. We also have a cupcake truck. In true New Haven fashion, it used to be an Italian bread truck.
posted by cobaltnine at 2:17 PM on July 29, 2009


Hell, SOUTH Austin (and further south!) always was where the real Austin fled to ... away from The Campus, away from the Capital ...
posted by aldus_manutius at 2:59 PM on July 29, 2009


Austin is certainly not a terrible city, but it's not the urban mecca so many make it out to be, either.

Hmm, guess it depends on your crowd, but when I lived there I didn't think of it as a City like SF or NY or even LA but more what you're describing, and it seemed a lot of others did too. Then again, I lived in North Austin which is a different crowd than downtown or south of the river.

But the funky-suburb vibe was exactly what I liked about it --- I hate cities, but true suburbia like where I grew up in Georgia is horrible. Austin was a nice mix, more stuff to do than a normal suburb but not as crowded and dense as a city.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:11 PM on July 29, 2009


You have sent me running to the Los Angeles Chowhound board. That looks fantastic.

Happy to oblige. Even if I do neglect my ys sometimes.
posted by Diablevert at 4:52 PM on July 29, 2009


I miss Austin.

There, I've said it.
posted by swift at 5:22 PM on July 29, 2009


There's nothing I like better than a nice sushi taco, if you know what I mean.
posted by w0mbat at 10:14 PM on July 29, 2009


No, actually, I don't. Would you mind explaining? Is it like ceviche in a tortilla, or something that I'm not quite picturing?
posted by dersins at 11:37 PM on July 29, 2009


dersins, that trailer doesn't do sushi tacos, it's a sushi trailer not far from taco trailers ("...get some sushi with my taco"). And I think wombat is using sushi taco as a euphemism for a female body part.
posted by junesix at 10:45 AM on July 30, 2009


Somewhat related: Calls for regulation on food trucks in Austin, from today's paper. I'm not sure whether the trailers fall under the same set of regulations or not. I'd be interested in finding out how they do dispose of waste, like the grease mentioned in the article.
posted by immlass at 11:30 AM on August 9, 2009


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