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#dailycortado @dinosaur_coffee and a new book!
I was sipping a cortado at newly opened Dinosaur Coffee on Sunset a few days ago when I noticed something different in the popular drink served in a gibraltar glass.  It was slightly sweet.  Not as sweet as a drink from Starbucks — it was more like a sweet aftertaste.

At first, I thought they had sweetened the milk because the foam tasted sweet.  When I asked the woman behind the counter what was different, it turned out that the regular cortado at Dinosaur Coffee is more like cortadito.  They add a pinch of turbinado sugar to the ground espresso beans so that when they’re brewed, the coffee that’s extracted also has some of the sugar.

I was not expecting the sweetness, but it was a pleasant surprise. It’s also possible to get just a regular cortado without the sugar, as long as you remember to ask for it.

On the other side of the spectrum, Dinosaur also offers a bitter cortado, doctored up with their house-made coffee bitters.  The only difference from a regular (non-sweetened) cortado I could taste was the more fragrant aroma.

 

Dinosaur Coffee
4334 Sunset Boulevard,
Los Angeles, CA 90029

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Disclaimer: I was invited by a friend to Ramen Champ and did not pay for my meal.

When I first walked into the small ramen restaurant, what caught my eye was the bold black on white drawings on the wall.  If you look carefully, you’ll see a narrative created by noodles.  While plenty of places are nice to look at, I’m glad to say that Ramen Champ has both style and substance. It’s a rare thing to have a place offer vegan ramen. It’s a rarer thing for this place to not only be a normal restaurant offering non-vegan options, but also have one of the best bowls of ramen in LA.

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The tonkotsu ramen here is not for the faint of heart. Literally.  The amount of pork packed into this bowl of ramen should come with a warning label like the ones on roller coasters. The rich soup is less of a broth and more of a porky gravy that coats each strand of chewy noodle to make a perfect mouthful.  The toppings include curling slivers of green onion, crunchy slices of radish, a soft boiled egg, sliced pork belly, and a drizzle of garlic oil.  As much attention should be paid to the flavorful, slightly sweet, soft slices of pork as to the broth.

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Then there’s the soft boiled egg.  Oh, that egg! The soy-seasoned egg easily gives way to a molten yolk that barely manages to stay together.

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On the other end of the spectrum is the vegan ramen*.  I’ve had a lot of vegan ramen in my life and this is the best.  The mushroom broth is seasoned so that the sometimes overwhelming taste of mushroom is brightened and actually tastes like a ramen broth, including that oily mouthfeel.  The toppings — hen of the woods mushroom, seasoned slices of tofu, radish, and green onion, all work to create a cohesive bowl of ramen.  One of the shortcomings I always see in restaurants attempting a vegan ramen is trying to get too creative by throwing kale, broccoli, spinach, or even sesame paste in.  Ramen Champ doesn’t fall into those traps and instead stays focussed on giving vegetarians a taste of what everyone else is eating.

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I would have already been happy if this place offered good ramen, but the non-ramen dishes on the menu were notable as well.  The mushroom tempura has shimeji mushrooms in a delicate and crunchy batter accented with a few shiso leaves.  The vegetable curry (which also happens to be vegan) is made with a fragrant house-made curry powder which is worth trying if you’ve only had the stuff that’s come out of an S&B can.

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Then, if that wasn’t enough, there are also house-made condiments to jazz up the ramen.  For a little heat, try the sriracha infused chili oil, which made my mouth do a double-take.  I heard there will also be a house-made Japanese seven-spice (togarashi) in the future.

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With all these tasty options to order off the menu, and the attention and care put into even minor things like condiments, I won’t be surprised if Ramen Champ ends up having lines like its forerunner, Eggslut.  It does make me sad that this will probably be one of the few times I’ll be able to just stroll in and pull up a stool under the monochromatic mural and slurp a bowl of ramen without having to wait or battle crowds.

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Ramen Champ
727 North Broadway #203
Los Angeles, CA
Ramen Champ

* Normally, this option appears as vegetarian ramen on the menu, but if you’re vegan, make sure to let the server know so that the egg will be left out and the usual noodles will be swapped out for eggless noodles.

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Bread, pastries, and beer next to a creek. What could be better? While I unfortunately only had time and stomach space to eat a pastry from Easy Tiger, I liked what I ate.  So much so that I forgot to take a picture of it before taking a bite out of it.

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It’s called a Tiger Claw and it’s like a bear claw, but better. It’s not as sticky sweet, and it’s filled with a spicy, sweet, and savory mix of crushed pecans and some sort of warming spice. If you’re like me in that you don’t like pastries to be too sweet, it is the perfect thing. And yes, it has a nice kick.

Easy Tiger
709 East 6th St.
Austin, TX 78701

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When a friend asked if I could pick up a few bottles of beer for him if I happen to be at Jester King Brewery, I was initially doubtful. I hadn’t planned on visiting the brewery and didn’t even know it existed, but after a few quick searches, it became a place I knew I had to visit while I was in Austin.

Jester King Brewery is a 25 minute drive from the city center, through beautiful, rolling, Texas hill country.  One may think it’s another one of those trendy breweries boasting of farmhouse beers, but this brewery is actually in a farmhouse. They have a variety of beers, some more suited to my taste than others, but all of them are available to drink in small sample sizes.

The Lana without cheese @stanleysfarmhousepizza

Right next to Jester, in another farmhouse-like structure is Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza.  Their brick oven pizza is of the thinner-crust variety and pretty damn good.  They have non-Jester beers on tap if you’re looking for something different.

The Penelope @stanleysfarmhousepizza

While the beer and the pizza are both great, what makes them even better is the idyllic setting.  There are picnic tables and benches scattered throughout the property whether you want to sit under a roof, or under a canopy of trees, or under the sun.  The wide open space and scattered cornhole games is perfect for a lazy afternoon eating pizza and drinking beer.  It’s even kid and dog friendly.

Could not ask for a better way to spend the afternoon!

So after my friend introduced me to this place, I thought it only fitting that I bring back a couple of bottles for him. And of course I couldn’t help bringing a few bottles home for myself.

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Jester King Brewery
13187 Fitzhugh Rd
Austin, TX 78736
(512) 537-5100

Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza
Ceres Park Ranch
13187 Fitzhugh Rd
Austin, TX 78736

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The food trailer utopia of Austin can be overwhelming to navigate because of all the different options.  Fortunately, we were limited on two criteria: it had to be delicious, and it had to have vegan food.  I forgot how, I stumbled upon it, but once I read that Baton Creole had vegan beignets, I knew that we had to visit.

Beignets that happen to be #vegan @batoncreole

The beignets aren’t marketed as being vegan — they just happen to be so. Straight out of the fryer and dusted with ample powdered sugar is the best way to enjoy them.  There’s not much to say about the beignets other than it’s as delicious as fried dough ever is.

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What was a pleasant surprise was the savory food offered by this trailer.  The trailer had me at vegan jambalaya, but then I noticed it was also deep fried.  What the heck? What came out was both delicious and unique.  The jambalaya was battered, stuck on a stick, and deep fried to a crispy shell perfection with a soft, hot, sticky interior.  The rice and spicy tofu filling worked really well in this deep-fried form.  Another plus was that it looked appetizing.

The people working in this trailer are super nice and friendly and just a pleasure to talk to, which really made our meal stand out.

Baton Creole (food trailer)
907 E 6th St, (actually in the trailer park on 6th & Wallter st)
Austin, TX 78702

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I ran out of coffee beans a few days ago and thought, “Oh, no problem. I’ll just stop by Radio and get a cortado and two breakfast tacos before work.” Nooooooo. Unfortunately, they were all the way in Texas and I’m in California.  Radio Coffee and Beer wins the award for MVP: Most Visited Place in Austin.  One day, we even went to it twice: once in the morning for coffee, and then again at night for beer.

The perfect  Austin breakfast @radiocoffeeandbeer. Cortado, Stumptown cold brew, migas, and breakfast tacos.

Radio Coffee and Beer is a cafe (and bar) conveniently located off of the 290 (aka Ben White).  It’s on Manchaca, which I was shocked to learn was pronounced “MAN-shack” and not “man-CHA-ca” like someone who grew up in Los Angeles would expect.  When the weather is good, it’s a treat to sit on the patio sipping a cortado or a glass of nitro cold brew. I don’t know if it’s because of the beer glass or the nitro, but the cold brew tastes just like a chocolate stout.

While the espresso drinks and cold brew at Radio are great, I would advise against ordering any of the brewed coffee.  The hard water coming into the cafe makes brewed coffee taste a little soapy, which is most noticeable in a mug of brewed coffee.

At night, Radio turns from a cafe into a bar.  The wifi is shut down at 5pm, there’s a bluegrass band playing on Mondays, people are encouraged to sit on lawn chairs on the grass facing the bandstand, and a general sense of calm that only sitting outside with a cold glass of beer can bring on.  I had a nice chat with a family sitting on a picnic bench near ours while watching people sip beers.

And if a good glass of coffee and beer is not enough, there’s also the Veracruz All Natural food trailer that shares Radio’s patio.  It’s not fast food, but it is good food.  My favorite order for mornings is migas on flour tortilla and a breakfast taco with egg and bacon.  For those not in the breakfast taco mood, they do a mean chicken molé taco.

Veracruz also has a handful of vegetarian and even vegan options, but be prepared to repeat your order a few times because none of the vegan orders are pre-entered into their system, so they have to manually put in adjustments.  We didn’t realize till the day we were leaving that ordering migas without eggs or cheese is $3.00, but ordering a breakfast taco with salsa, avocado, and tortilla chips is only $2.50.  One of the women working there helpfully suggested the later.

A part of me is deeply saddened that there’s nothing like the one-two combo of Radio and Veracruz near me. But another part is slightly relieved because that is not a combination that my waistline needs every day.

Radio Coffee and Beer
4208 Manchaca Rd
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 394-7844

Veracruz All Natural
(same spot as Radio, same hours as Radio)

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I was in Austin for a couple of days last week.  Besides eating a lot of breakfast tacos, I tried out a lot of other new spots and a couple of old favorites that I was glad were still around.  One thing I could not get over was how vegetarian and vegan friendly most places were. It definitely made eating out with Will a lot easier. And the quality of the food was in some ways better than the average place in Los Angeles.

I was going to make a simple list of places to eat in Austin, but since I have so much to say about each place, I figure a short post about each would do them more justice. So first up:

 

East Side King

Maybe not as well known as the quintessential breakfast taco, but ESK is one of my favorite places to eat in Austin.  If you’re over 21 and don’t have a child, I recommend the original trailer behind Liberty Bar in (duh!) the east side.  Sure, some may say the neighborhood can get a little rough, but man up and visit that place.  Get a tall glass of beer, walk back to the patio, and anything you order from the truck will be delicious.

Because we had a toddler with us, we couldn’t go to the Liberty Bar location, but the brick and mortar spot on Lamar sufficed. To first-timers, I recommend the classic bento to get a little bit of the greatest hits: beet fries, brussels sprout salad, Paul Qui’s buns.

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I’ve eaten pretty much everything on the menu and my favorite thing is the tako taco.  Octopus taco may sound chewy and tough, but this was not at all. The thin slices of octopus braised in butter was well…buttery soft and the acidic punch of the pickled onions and vegetables brought this to a whole other level. Don’t like the yonic shape of the crispy taco scare you away. This taco is great.

What I love about ESK is that while each dish is a flavor explosion in your mouth, it’s not some obscene umami bomb. You could tell some thought went to how flavors and textures are combined. And unlike some restaurants, this one isn’t afraid to have a handful of vegetarian things on the menu that actually taste good to omnivores.

East Side King (south lamar)
Suite 101, 2310 S Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 383-8382

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