SXSW is notorious for having free food at many shows, and I definitely enjoyed this aspect. At the British Music embassy, food was available nearly all day every day, ranging from tacos to trifle. The Barbados tent, on the other hand, was dishing out BBQ and the Dutch party had Speculoos and tea. However, the pickings were more slim at night time, and that’s when I took to the food carts. Austin is known for its competitive and varied food truck scene, even branching out into some more esoteric varieties.
The first food truck we tried was on our night of arrival – Mmmpandas. They served nothing but – you guessed it – empanadas – in my opinion one of the most perfect portable meals. There was a small variety of empanadas for sale, though the selection dwindled rapidly as the night wore on. One of my colleagues in fact snagged the last green chile chicken empanada. I ordered the ($4) spinach and cheese empanada.
After seeing many of the shows at venues around 5th and Congress, we frequented what I would like to call the “Food Truck Court” a small gathering of foodtrucks in a parking lot. Over the course of our stay there we indulged in many of their offerings. By far my personal favorite was a cleverly titled truck called “Coolhaus” – which combines playful Mid-century modern references with build-your-own ice cream sandwiches. The truck itself was tiny and had a very midcentury-modern sloped roof, as befitting the name.
An ice cream sandwich at Coolhaus runs $4, and allows you to choose the type of cookie outer layer (chocolate, ginger, oatmeal or chocolate chip) and a rotating range of ice cream flavors (Mocha, Mexican Chocolate, Pistachio, Vanilla), etc. We actually ended up eating at Coolhaus 2 nights in a row and I can safety recommend their ginger and chocolate cookies and the Mexican chocolate and coffee/toffee ice cream. In theory the sandwiches are portable, but definitely only if you eat very quickly (I opted to put the whole sandwich in a bowl to consume at a slower pace). The cookies were soft and fresh-baked and as if that wasn’t cool enough, the labels were even printed on edible rice paper.
Also in the food truck court was a rather well-known truck called Chi-Lantro. Chi lantro is a purveyor of tacos with a Korean Twist – such as bulgogi or kimchi tacos. We split a chicken bulgogi burrito, and enjoyed the vinegary tang of the kimchi with the usual taco fixins. Korean Quesadillas and loaded fries were also available.
The final stop in the food truck Court was The Peached Tortilla – an eclectic truck selling exotic tacos ($3) (Bahn mi, BBQ Pork) and sliders (like crab cake). However, they also had sweet potato fries ($3.50) an assortment of sauces (like peach mint and sriracha mayo). I was also impressed by their wide selection of esoteric canned and bottled drinks – including canned Thai iced tea.
On 6th street, right in the heart of all of the SXSW mayhem, another foodtruck caught our eye with it’s aesthetic sensibility. Housed in an airstream trailer with a giant Plexiglas cupcake on top, “Hey Cupcake,” serves nothing but cupcakes ($3). A small menuboard announces the flavors – including carrot cake, red velvet and a confection called the Michael Jackson – a chocolate cupcake with cream cheese frosting (my pick). While the hordes descended on the pizza stands we were happy with our choice to go sweet.
While I only scratched the surface of the Austin Food Truck Scene, it was easy to see why it was popular – Austinites are definitely spoiled for choice. Hopefully Chicago will someday reach such food truck heights. Which reminds me, we need to visit the Southern’s Mac and Cheese Truck very soon.