March 21st, 2012 CASEY JARMAN | Food Cart Reviews
 

Tex Mix

What Austin food trucks have that Portland food carts don’t.

dish_austincarts_3820TRUCKIN’ GOOD: Austin enjoys warm weather and delicious tacos. - IMAGE: Mike Grippi
The Austin food-cart scene is not all steak, tacos and steak tacos. In fact, on my visit to what’s often considered the nation’s No. 2 food-cart town (Portland is tops, natch), I even found a few items I can’t seem to track down here. Yup, Texas has us beat—on a few fronts, at least. Here are three items from Austin’s food-truck scene (they call them “trucks”!) we need here. 


Okonomiyaki
EAST COMES WEST: Japanese savory pancakes.
IMAGE: Mike Grippi
Michael Pearson was partying hard in Osaka, Japan, the first time he ate okonomiyaki, the Japanese savory pancakes he now serves from his East Austin cart. He had worked in restaurants long enough to make “a damn good guacamole and pretty good omelets,” so he decided to try to make okonomiyaki for his girlfriend. “It took me two hours at the Asian market and I almost quit, but it was pretty much what I remembered,” says the 31-year-old proprietor of Yoko Ono Miyaki. “Then I made it for my mom, a 64-year-old white lady, and she liked it. I thought maybe I had something. About 30 days later, I started a food truck.”

To Western taste buds, okonomiyaki tastes a bit like an inspired, textured cross between crab cakes and potato pancakes. It is dense and decorative, packed with roots, green onions, eggs and pork belly, though Pearson’s cart—one of two that serve okonomiyaki in the Austin area—also serves these amazing pancakes Texas- or Cajun-style (the former topped with a delicious lime-Sriracha sauce). It’s a beautiful-looking dish, with layers you want to eat as slowly as humanly possible.


Ice Cream Sandwiches
Austin is home to a number of cold-dessert carts—shaved ice and ice cream, especially—but Coolhaus is pretty special. Portland just might be the next destination for this design-your-own-ice-cream-sandwich cart chain with fleets in Austin, Miami, New York and L.A. I tried the seasonal Guinness ice cream packed between two double-chocolate and sea salt cookies (at the suggestion of a backward-cap-sporting brah who insisted that “it’s the shit”), and once I fit the thing in my mouth, I loved it.

Though Austin’s warm clime makes Coolhaus a natural fit, it’s easy to see the chain sending a truck to Portland. I mean, White Russian ice cream? Vegan chocolate banana truffle ice cream? Watch your back, Fifty Licks!


Breakfast Tacos
“What do people even eat in the mornings in Portland?” Amy McCullough, ex-WW music editor and current Austinite, asked me last week. “I mean, I really don’t understand what there is besides breakfast tacos.”

Ah, breakfast tacos—only nominally for breakfast and a staple of the Southwestern diet. In Austin, food carts are the delicacy’s primary peddler. Nearly all of them serve my personal favorite, the migas taco, which is packed with eggs, crispy tortilla strips and jalapeño wrapped up in a soft taco shell (or two of them if the cart is legit). Locals often recommend Torchy’s for out-of-towners (one restaurateur described them to me as the “Michael Jordan of Austin Food Carts”), though breakfast tacos are honestly kind of a hard dish to fuck up. And yet Portland has so few carts open for breakfast—Pepper Box and Chopollos are exceptions. Why is this? And can we change it ASAP? 

 
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