CapMetro stops near Fill N’ Viet: 12th/Leona, Stop IDs 2856, 1105 on Route 6
Often the word “fusion” invokes strong feelings among opinionated foodies. And more often those feelings are negative; a reflex reaction brought on by the trauma of failed restaurant concepts and half clever dishes. I avoid using the word too often unless a place really gets it right. Fil N’ Viet is one of those places.
Last week I met Kevin and Rosie Troung, the chef couple who created Fil N’ Viet; a food trailer born out of the pandemic, their courtship and marriage. This delicious fusion of Vietnamese and Filipino cooking is home to Austin’s best fried chicken, by way of whole joint wings.
The menu at Fil N’ Viet is indeed fusion, but not just clever culinary ideas. It represents Kevin Troung’s Vietnamese heritage and Rosie’s Filipino upbringing. For what it’s worth, Kevin is first generation Vietnamese-American who hails from Oklahoma City, which has a substantial Vietnamese immigrant population. Rosie immigrated from the Philippines.
Fil N’ Viet was also built from moments. Like when Kevin would cook Vietnamese dinners for Rosie on a date. Or when Rosie took Kevin to the Philippines and exposed the chef’s palate to Filipino street food stalls. It’s a dating scene out of a Netflix docuseries.
The Sisig Báhn Mì is perhaps the definitive fusion item on the menu at Fil N’ Viet. Even casual eaters might know of the Báhn Mì, Vietnam’s national sandwich and a fusion food in its own right. The French colonized Vietnam and brought their love of patê and the baguette to Vietnam.
All the classic elements of a Báhn Mì are present here: the baguette, the mayo, the pickled carrot and daikon, even Vietnamese patê. But the star protein is in fact Sisig: a staple Filipino pork dish where chewy fatty morsels of pork are simmered till crisp and made lip-smackingly irresistible with Filipino lime and umami rich Maggi seasoning.
I’ve become a big fan of Sisig lately, making my own version at home with pork belly. It’s so rich and decadent, the mere idea of it in a sandwich evokes the words cheat day. But at Fil N’ Viet, the sandwich is surprisingly not meat heavy. In fact, it’s balanced enough to make this a reasonable weekday lunch for even the most hunched over their computer type of office worker. Just make sure you get your steps in.
Kevin and Rosie chose all the dishes I tried, including this ceviche. The couple are very sweet, down to earth people, but part of me suspects they wanted to show off with this dish. Chunks of buttery yellowtail that could pass for sashimi quality on most any menu are doused in sugar cane vinegar, coconut milk, Thai chilis, cherry tomatoes and fried shallots. I would be stoked to eat this at a big-ticket type of restaurant like Uchiko. This is one of those dishes that justifies the babysitter tab. I was impressed. While the fried shallots speak to their fine dining background, the ceviche bears a Filipino name, Kinilaw, and is in fact a Filipino dish in origin. And here I was thinking they were trying to be just another hip food trailer in East Austin.
I had zero intention of trying the wings, but with each dish I became more surprised and intrigued with what’s happening at Fil N’ Viet. These whole joint fried chicken wings were in fact the best fried chicken I’ve had in Austin. And I write this post having just eaten Spicy Boys, whose bone in chicken was previously my fav. OK, OK — I’ll say it’s close, but these wings …
Honestly, I’m not sure how much I want to give away here. In fact, I’m keeping my mouth shut save for what you can read from the menu. The twice fried wings are tossed in Sinigang seasoning, which is actually a Filipino soup. The seasoning features tamarind and citric acid, adding that lip smacking sour yummy goodness that I have found defines some of my fav Filipino dishes.
I am keeping my eye on these two and so should you. Fusion might be an off-putting word to arrogant foodies but when it comes to people and culture, it’s a beautiful thing. Fil N’ Viet is in fact more than a fusion of two cuisines, it’s the fusion of two people and two chefs.
Calling all restaurant investors: Check this spot out. Calling all lovers of fried chicken: The cluck stops here. Yeah, that was a weak ending but trust me, you too will have a tough time following up these wings.
CapMetro stops near Ma’Coco: Plaza Saltillo Station, Stop ID 5535 on MetroRail 550
At first glance Ma’Coco might seem exactly what it is: an homage to Baja California/San Diego-style Mexican food. Is that fusion? It is if you’re bringing it to Central Texas and the land of Tex-Mex. Chips and queso are kind of the rallying cry around here despite a fair number of respectable eateries serving “Interior Mexican.” You know: Mexican food that seems to be a bit popular on the other side of the border.
It’s fusion because San Diego’s contribution to Mexican cooking, namely marrying off Carne Asada with French Fries, is certainly an act of food fusion. The likes of which you will find at Ma’Coco in spades. And when you try the Carne Asada fries, I don’t think you’ll miss the chips and queso all that much.
Meet Javier Equiha and his sister Judith. Two Californian ex-pats who ditched their gigs at Google and in the TV biz to find a slower pace of life. That’s saying something if working in the restaurant business is considered the more relaxing option. The first Ma’Coco location opened in Bastrop, with this location in East Austin opening just one month ago.
In a month’s time and despite no restaurant experience prior to opening Ma’Coco in Bastrop, Javier and Judith are putting out great food. My spread here includes San Diego Mexican classics like Carne Asada fries and the California burrito: Carne Asada and fries stuffed in a flour tortilla. But that Baja California seafood fare, well that is where Ma’Coco really shines.
The Shrimp Gobernador just might the be the catch of the day. Plump shrimp carefully sauteed till tender grace a handmade tortilla that is embossed with melted cheese. Named after a governor from the Mexican state of Sinaloa (where the dish was invented), the shrimp taco is very popular both in Tijuana and in Southern California. When you get ‘em right, it is easy to see why. This is the dish you will keep coming back for.
Remember when I said the Shrimp Gobernador might be the catch of the day? Well that’s because the Tuna Tostada is also a very strong contender. The marinade really captivated my palate. Soy sauce and Salsa Inglesa (think Worcestershire sauce) pack in savory glutamates, enhancing the tuna’s beef-like flavor profile. Add to that a scratch-made aioli spiked with chipotle, a dollop of avocado tomatillo sauce and sesame seeds and you have all the elements of a must order dish. The Tuna Tostada might not be a revelation on a menu in 2021, but execution at this level at a laid back eatery should be noted and repeated often.
These are the dishes that got me excited to try Ma’Coco in the first place. Steak and french fries in burrito form and on a plate, begging to be shared. I think the latter version is most compelling, where the abundance of cotija cheese really sets the dish off with an addicting pungency. These dishes are fine, but the seafood dishes are what really surprise and impress you.
There’s also a full bar! And PS — parking ain’t great. So taking public transit to Ma’Coco is as much a no brainer as choosing to eat there. Buen provecho, Austin, a taste of San Diego and Baja has arrived, and it is now fused to the east side.
MetroRail is a great service, and people have been relying on it for more than a decade to go into work, get to Austin’s many special events or simply find a spot to grab food and drinks with friends late on a Friday night. And this year has seen a host of new train lovers with the opening of Q2 Stadium and the first season for Austin FC.
It’s a perfect way to get to the soccer game with everyone in great spirits and getting ready for the game.
But you have to know, no one gets to have fun at the game (or at the brewpub or at the office … if you’ve got one of those kinds of offices) if you don’t get there safely.
Operation Lifesaver’s Rail Safety Week comes every September — this year’s is Sep. 20-26 — and we’d like to remind you of the absolute need to keep safe behavior around rail tracks at all times.
According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, a person or vehicle is struck by a train at a highway rail grade crossing every four hours? Trains can’t stop quickly. A freight train that is traveling 55 miles per hour can take more than a mile to stop, even if an emergency application of the brakes is applied.
Our MetroRail trains generally travel slower than that, but they’re still very large vehicles moving very fast. Don’t try them. They’ll win.
Follow these tips to stay safe and help reduce the number of incidents at rail tracks:
Stop if you see flashing red lights.
Only cross at a designated public crossing. Crossing at any other place is trespassing, illegal and dangerous.
Never walk around or behind lowered gates at a crossing.
Only cross if gate arms are up, lights have stopped flashing and bells have stopped ringing.
Be safe and be smart. If you are going to the game at Q2 Stadium, please look out for the flashing lights and rail arms and NEVER trespass by walking along tracks outside of designated public crossings.
The current Explore Austin: Takeout Edition! I’ve got two spots, Asiana Indian Cuisine and Julie’s Noodles that absolutely rock for takeout. So if dining out isn’t an option for you, call it in to-go and head over to Julie’s or Asiana — both accessible by CapMetro.
Being of South Asian descent, I take my curries, rice and naan pretty seriously. And seriously, the Indian food scene in Austin is not exactly stacked like it is for barbecue or breakfast tacos. Still there are a few places that do more than scratch the itch.
Asiana is located off William Canon and Interstate 35. This place has been on my radar for a minute with good references from foodies in the know, and folks in the South Asian community. At first glance you’ll see the typical popular North Indian fare like Chicken Tikka Masala and the omnipresent lunchtime buffet (currently closed due to Covid-19). But the menu is deep.
How deep? Let’s just say this is what I ordered for lunch. Yeah, that’s pretty deep. Of course, I wanted to get a range of dishes to appeal to a broad base, so I ordered big. First up was an item off the Indo-Chinese menu: Gobi Manchurian.
Like the name implies, this dish is Indian Chinese fusion but this isn’t some food truck fad. The proximity of these countries to each other means this fusion was inevitable. Asiana’s Gobi Manchurian features batter fried cauliflower sauteed with garlic and ginger, tossed in a sticky sweet sauce. This dish looks and bears some similarity texture wise to Orange Chicken or General Tso’s Chicken, though the aromatic bouquet of Indian spices takes your palate well south of the Himalayas. Oddly reminiscent of Buffalo Cauliflower bites your vegan friend demanded you try, the cauliflower stands up well to a good fry and a flavorful sauce. This is a must order dish! When I scooped it up with a piece of garlic naan, I was thinking this might be one of my top bites of 2021.
The bowl on the right should be familiar enough, even to the novice Indian restaurant goer. If you were to guess this dish as either Chicken Tikka Masala or Butter Chicken, you’re close! This in fact is Asiana’s Butter Chicken—a dish I often make at home. Butter Chicken is a ubiquitous Indian restaurant staple and while many South Asians like myself can claim it as less than authentic (the dish is more an invention for British colonizers) you wouldn’t be hard-pressed to find more than a few Desis who love the dish regardless.
For the record, Asiana uses chicken tikka: yogurt marinated cubes of chicken that are cooked in a Tandoor oven. The Tikka is then tossed in this creamy tomato sauce that is perfumed with Garam Masala and the like. I’d be lying if I didn’t prefer my home version, but I have to say the chicken in here is remarkably tender. No easy feat as chicken breast, while popular, is often overcooked, yielding chewy and dry meat.
Sitting at the top of the picture is Goat Biriyani. Biryani is the Paella of South Asian cooking, very popular in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The aromatic savory rice dish is a culinary cornerstone of weddings and religious festivals. It’s flat out special and not easy to make, let alone make well.
I chose goat because of all the biriyani’s listed, this one came with a warning: “contains bones”. That is how you know it’s legit. If you’re lucky like I was, you’ll get a piece of bone with marrow you can slurp out. Long before bone marrow became an “it” dish at en vogue restaurants, we South Asians were slurping up marrow like there was no tomorrow.
Asiana lived up to the hype, and to my hopes that there is indeed a solid Indian restaurant in Austin. Really good Indian restaurants in Austin are few and far between, but when South Asians find them, they stick with them. One customer I met drives 30 miles from Steiner Ranch just for the Goat Curry. He is also from Dehli. That’s serious loyalty from the community, folks!
So who is responsible for all this? Pandiyan Kaliyamoorthy, who is originally from the state of Tamil in India, has been in the restaurant game for 15+ years and he still has customers from his previous restaurant in Round Rock coming to eat at Asiana. Yup, Asiana has its fanboys and girls and now I’m one of them.
Pandiyan has been an Austinite for a few years now. Since we’re deep in the pandemic and ordering takeout more than ever, I asked Pandiyan what his fav carryout meal is in town. He replied “the black bean burrito at Chuy’s”. I instantly smiled. Not because of his order—Pandiyan is a vegetarian and black bean burritos are kinda the pinnacle of vegetarian Mexican next to chile relleno—but because in that instance I realized that the man who made me some legit Goat Biriyani is a fellow Austinite who I could run into at Chuy’s. Austin may not have the deep Indian restaurant game that Houston or Chicago does, but we got a few special ones and that can be just enough.
CapMetro stops near Julie’s Noodles: Ohlen/Research, Stop ID 3125 on Route 324
Before moving to Austin some 6 years ago, I spent 20 years in Los Angeles where I developed a deep love for Dim Sum. Julie’s Noodles isn’t a proper Dim Sum restaurant with carts that are wheeled around the dining room, but they do offer a respectable Xiao Long Bao, or soup dumpling, that has become synonymous with a dim sum craving and a staple at the House of Khan.
Originally a food truck parked by UT, Julie Hong, the restaurant’s namesake, opened the brick and mortar in 2016 in North Austin. Julie’s Noodles developed a loyal customer base with noodle soups and handmade dumplings. The latter were actually requested by the UT fan base. Turns out the kids were on to something.
Julie’s Soup Dumplings have a thick exterior so you might need a little effort when you pierce the dumpling to release the broth inside. Pros know that releasing some of the broth will keep you from burning your mouth and allow some of that soy sauce, black vinegar and chili oil to intermingle.
In case you’re wondering, soup dumplings are a delicacy from Shanghai where gelatinized broth (aspic) is folded in with a meat filling, in this case crab and pork. The dumpling is then steamed, turning the aspic to liquid gold. By now you can see what this food has such devoted following.
My son absolutely loves the Chopped Pork Noodle Soup. In what clearly is a portion meant to be shared, he can demolish at least half and almost all the noodles. He is also 9 years old and believe it or not, can at times be a picky eater.
My son’s love for the soup just might be tied to its pure simplicity. Pork broth fortified by chopped spareribs add protein and flavor. Noodles might be the most universal food man has ever created. And just enough cabbage to sneak in some vibrancy along with nutrients, but we don’t need to tell my son that.
This dish was recommended by Johnny Xing, Julie’s grandson. The spicy hot pot features beef and tripe (my personal customization but you can go for one or the other) along with boiled vegetables that are fried and cooked with a special sauce whose recipe is a mutual creation of Johnny’s Dad and Julie. When I asked about a signature dish, this is what he suggested.
I went into my adventurous mode and ordered the Tripe Spicy Beef Hot Pot. Cow stomach is a delicacy in many food cultures and the Chinese are no different. Thinly sliced beef and tender tripe soak up a mouth numbing Szechuan peppercorn sauce. Wood ear mushrooms, tofu, cabbage leaves are just a few of the tender vegetables that are paired with the savory meats. Not only am I hooked on spicy hot pot, but I have leftovers for days. The $27 entrée (usually $22 but I did beef + tripe) looks more like a catering order – easily enough for 6-8 servings.
Julie’s has been a takeout go-to of mine for three years strong. Reasonable prices plus my son’s near weekly cravings make a stop at Julie’s a no-brainer. This food travels very well too. In a life where I seldom eat the same meal twice, I eat at Julie’s all the time. In fact, being a pandemic takeout story, I asked Johnny where he likes to get takeout. His answer? Julie’s Noodles. And there you have it.