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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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#vegan ramen for dinner. Homemade bc it's so hard to get vegan ramen anywhere.

It’s difficult to find good vegan ramen in LA.  It’s easy to find vegetarian ramen, but usually since the noodles have egg in them, it’s hard to find vegan one. There’s Shojin, which has vegan ramen, but it’s expensive for what it is and not that delicious given the price.

Because of this, I made vegan ramen the other night. I received a lot of requests for a recipe after posting a picture of it.  As you know, I’m not so good about measuring things or writing down recipes, but here’s some hand-wavey instructions.  The tofu-like thing was store-bought. I’m not sure if there’s an equivalent in American super markets, but it’s called tofu bao in Chinese super markets and it’s basically tofu skin folded into layers and then deep fried so that the outer layer is nice and crispy.  You can sub in fried tofu, baked tofu, or inari.

Broth:

  1. Cut the whites of 3-4 scallions into 2 inch pieces.
  2. Cut the stems off 6-7 fresh shiitake mushrooms. (save caps for later)
  3. Cut up a daikon radish into 1 inch rounds.
  4. Heat up a soup pot with a few glugs of neutral oil. I used canola. When the oil is hot, throw in the scallion whites and shiitake mushrooms and sautee until both are browned.
  5. Add in the daikon radish, 5 cups of water, a pieces of kombu, and bring to a boil.
  6. As soon as the water is boiled, take out the kombu (save for later), cover, lower to a simmer, and boil for 30 minutes or however long it takes you to get the other ingredients ready.
  7. When the broth is ready to be ladled over the noodle, it’s time to season. Turn off the heat.
  8. Add in 1 tablespoon white miso paste (dilute this in a few tablespoons of hot water to make it easy to stir)
  9. A few glugs of high quality soy sauce
  10. A glug of mirin
  11. Salt to taste

Soy glazed shiitake mushrooms:

  1. Slice the saved caps of the mushrooms into thin, quarter-inch slices.
  2. Heat a glug of oil in a pan and when the oil is hot, throw in the mushrooms.
  3. Leave the mushrooms on the pan until browned on one side, and then toss to the other side. You want to get these mushrooms pretty dry and brown. It takes about 10 minutes.
  4. While the mushrooms are cooking, mix 1 teaspoons soy sauce and 1/2 teaspoon mirin.
  5. When the mushrooms are done, turn off the heat but leave the mushrooms in the hot pan. Push them together into a heap and slowly drizzle the soy sauce mirin mixture on, stirring slightly to evenly distribute.
  6. Set aside for noodle topping

Kombu strip topping:

  1. Take the saved kombu and slice it into thin strips.
  2. Toss with a dash of soy sauce, a glug of toasted sesame oil, and a dash of rice vinegar.
  3. Set aside for noodle topping

To assemble:

  1. Cook the noodle in boiling water according to package instructions.
  2. Drain the noodles and put in a large noodle bowl.
  3. Add in the fried tofu skin
  4. Ladle the broth over the fried tofu skin to warm it
  5. Top with the shiitake mushrooms, kombu strips, and sliced scallion greens

 

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I went back to Honey Badger Restaurant last night and ordered the niu rou mian because I was in the mood for noodle soup. What came out was a bowl of beefy, chewy noodles that surprised me in one way.

Niu rou mian with house-made noodles from #honeybadgerrestautant. #latergram

The broth was thicker than I expected, almost to the level of the thick Japanese tonkatsu broth. The house-made noodles were well coated in that thick, savory broth each time I dipped my chopsticks into the bowl for more. The flavor of the broth had more tomato than I was used to, but the tang of the tomato went well with the deeper flavor of beef.

Instead of large pieces of beef, the bowl had broken-down pieces of beef, almost of pulled-pork consistency, both tender and flavorful. The ample spinach was enough to give me massive muscles had I been in a Popeye cartoon.

Served on the side was a small cup of pickled cabbage, which I immediately dumped into the soup.

I came into Honey Badger with lowered hopes of a good bowl of niu rou mian just because I didn’t think a place that didn’t specialize in noodle soups would have good niu rou mian, but it was good enough that I would probably return for more.

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This newly-opened northern Vietnamese restaurant has a concise, focused menu featuring just a handful of noodle soups and an even smaller handful of appetizers.

Pho ngoon
The cha gio came two to an order and was of the rice-paper variety.  The rice-paper was fried to a shatteringly-crunchy texture and had a great tang to it. The filling is standard. The pickles that come with it, an afterthought.

Pho ngoon
The dac biet contains tender and not-so-tender pieces of beef and ample offal.  The tripe is cooked to perfection — neither too chewy nor too soft.  The noodles are of the thicker rice noodle variety, which I’m a fan of. The broth, being from a northern-style place, is more subtle than the ubiquitous southern-style beef broth. Absent are the spicy notes of cinnamon and anise. Instead, the broth has a fattier mouth feel and is on the blander side.

My meal also included a free lemon iced-tea thanks to their Grand Opening promotion. The tea was on the sweet side, even after the ice had mostly melted, but the lemon taste was refreshing after a mouthful of the rich broth.

Is this going to replace Golden Deli or Nha Trang in my viet noodle-soup rotation? Probably, not.

Pho Ngoon
741 E Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776

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When I was walking back from lunch on Saturday, another storefront caught my eye.  The exposed Edison bulb chandeliers and dark wood surfaces made me think this was going to be a hip coffee place on the rejuvenated Main street in Alhambra, but it was actually Honey Badger — yes, the same Honey Badger as the popular coffee, tea, and study spot just a few blocks down on the same street.

Honey Badger Restaurant, unlike Honey Badger Cafe, has more of a focus on food. Their specialty is their house-made noodles, and you know how much I like noodles. So much that I returned to the same area for dinner just so I could try out the restaurant, even though it was in their soft-opening* phase.

From the limited menu, Will and I ordered the Honey Badger wings, roulette peppers, garlic noodles, and eggplant noodles.

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The roulette peppers are fried shishito peppers tossed with a savory, slightly tangy sauce. None of the ones I had were all that spicy.

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The Honey Badger wings was my favorite dish of the night. The sauce was garlicky, salty, with a slight tang that made it hard to resist licking my fingers after the wings were done.

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The man who took our ordered recommended the garlic noodles only if we were garlic lovers, and boy, was right about that. The bouncy, chewy noodles were doused in a lot of garlic.  So much so that it was almost too garlicky for me, and I do love a bit of garlic.

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The eggplant noodles were a little more muted in comparison. I liked the slightly sweet taste of the eggplant noodles. While the noodles were of a great texture, even slightly stretchy, the slight sauce on the noodles made them a bit too sticky for me.

honey_badger4
To drink with our meal, Will ordered an iced chrysanthemum herbal tea, light on the sugar.  It was shaken with crushed ice and was a wonderful refreshing drink to have with the meal.  I went with the classic almond milk tea (also light on sugar) and it definitely hit the spot.  If the mug looks large in the picture, it’s because it is very large.

It’s nice to have a new, different spot to dine at in the neighborhood and I’m curious to see what their more established menu will bring.

Honey Badger Restaurant
555 W Main St
Alhambra, CA 91801
(free parking in a lot right next to the restaurant)

 

* Here’s my gripe about soft openings:  I understand that they’re useful for restaurants that want to try out their menu and staff, or still have a few kinks to iron out, but if that were the case, then the restaurant shouldn’t be charging full price.   If you want diners to help you test out your restaurant, then give them a discount, or make it free.  If that’s not financially feasible, then open it to only friends and family at a discount.  It seems like restaurants use the ‘soft opening’ term so that people are less critical about their dishes. I think it’s only fair that if a restaurant is charging full price, then it should be critiqued under the same standards as fully-opened restaurants.  It’s not a criticism of Honey Badger specifically — just restaurants who hide under the ‘soft opening’ term.

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