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.
It’s Ali Khan again and you’re gonna want a stash of wet wipes for this installment of Explore Austin. We are talking about two of Austin’s best restaurants for deep fried comfort food today, specifically in the heart of East Austin. Golden brown and delicious eats that stir the soul. When I moved to Austin in 2015, I anticipated a strong serving of soul food to go along with all that BBQ and Mexican food. Yet when I got here, fried chicken wasn’t exactly coming out of the faucet like brisket or breakfast tacos.
Then I did some digging. Nothing like a little good old fashioned trial and error until I could come across two fine establishments to get my comfort food fix. Like always we will be featuring an old school Austin restaurant and a new school game changer. Last chance to get those wet wipes.
CapMetro stops near Hoover’s Cooking: Dean Keeton/French, Stop ID 1643 on Route 20
The Airport location is now closed, but the location on Manor road is still going strong. Recently they expanded, adding a marketplace that offers some of their popular entrees in a grab and go format, to be reheated at home. My move is to grab a booth and get good and comfy with the Southern Fried Pork Chops.
I ordered the Southern Fried Pork Chops in “Hoover size,” which serves up three chops and two sides. The boneless pork loin chops are pounded, breaded and fried. Inside, the meat is juicy and reminds me of some of the better Italian cutlets I’ve had on the East Coast. The mac and cheese is of the nostalgic variety (no fancy cheese here) and the sweet potatoes? They stick to your ribs. To share this plate among two hungry adults is pretty reasonable. For a mere $20, I can fully endorse this as Cheap Eats approved.
My favorite part about Hoover’s was chatting with some regulars. At the completely off hour of 3:30pm on a Thursday, I met two people who were also waiting for the doors to open. The gentleman I spoke with was born and raised in East Austin and could attest to the years of service Hoover’s has put into the community. Hoover’s is currently inching to 25 years of service but feels like it’s been there much longer. If you’re looking to eat like a true East Austinite, look no further. Just make sure you eat a light breakfast.
CapMetro stops near Bird Bird Biscuit: Manor/Walnut, Stop ID 1640 or Stop ID 1580 on Route 20
I first came to Bird Bird Biscuit when they opened in 2018. I had come off a six month tour of US restaurants (shooting Cheap Eats) which included stops in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and of course Texas. Needless to say, I had had a lot of biscuits.
So maybe I was in biscuit burn out when I first tried out Bird Bird Biscuit, because I didn’t return till 2019. Or maybe it was destiny because when I returned, I landed on my official order: a slightly tweaked version of the Queen Beak which co-stars some of breakfasts’ greatest hits. The results were as game changing as much as my order was gut-busting. I felt like I had come into my own when it came to ordering “right” at Bird Bird Biscuit. Turns out Bird Bird was coming into their own as well.
Bird Bird Biscuit is the creation of Ryan McElroy and Brian Batch, though if you privately ask either one of them, they will credit the other. Ryan started out in the restaurant business with Thunderbird Coffee, an Austin coffee joint whose original location is actually down the street. Brian started working at Thunderbird at 2008, a good 10 years before Bird Bird Biscuit would launch. Clearly, these guys work well together.
Remember when I said Bird Bird was coming into their own? Here’s the thing: Bird Bird in 2021 pumping out better food than in 2018. That’s not to say that the initial product wasn’t good; they started out with a great recipe. It’s more a reflection of a philosophy. As Brian put it, “Like a jazz musician playing a standard over and over again,” he has improved the biscuits. He credits his dedication to the craft of coffee making. The meticulous nature of making small changes can yield big results. And you’re never “finished” – it’s a constant work in progress.
Like biscuits, the fried chicken also started out with a strong recipe. And Brian sought to make stronger. “The brine alone is clutch,” says Brian. Without giving too much away, Brian also says that the dredge is key as well. Whether its biscuits or chicken, texture is key.
But I can’t let them take all the credit. Do yourself a favor and give my order a try: start with the Queen Beak. Add bacon. Add egg. Add cheese. And don’t forget the napkins. This biscuit sandwich, which already contains fried chicken, chipotle mayo and honey, can take on a plate of breakfast too. Why? This is a sandwich bearing biscuit. The biscuit holds all that together but still manages to stay fluffy and delicate.
As much as I am won over by something as simple as chicken ‘n biscuit becoming the focus for a constant work and progress, Bird Bird Biscuit is more than that. Bird Bird is built out of the relationship of Brian and Ryan to make great things. What started out as a quest to serve up better food to go with coffee is, in fact, one of the better fried chicken experiences in town, putting a new spin on comfort food. But what makes this “Golden Brown and Delicious” story really golden is the friendship and work philosophy of Ryan McElroy and Brian Batch.
Stay Gold fellas. And the rest of you, order the Queen Beak with all the breakfast. It’s so worth it.
Welcome back to another installment in our Explore Austin series with Food Network’s Ali Khan! Ali is checking out notable restaurants around Austin that you can visit using CapMetro as you get back to what you love in our great city. Don’t forget that weekend rides are FREE through July 4th! Head to our Trip Planner to get started!
Hey guys, Ali Khan here with another installment of Explore Austin. Today, we are talking about barbecue; specifically barbecue for the soul. So what exactly does “barbecue for the soul” mean? Well, more that just a round of up best BBQ joints in town, I wanted to focus on the culture of barbecue and it being around Juneteenth, feature some Black pitmasters who are frankly the blood, sweat and tears of barbecue.
Get ready for some saucy ‘cue, but no bibs necessary. And even though it’s hotter than the surface of the sun these days in Austin, you’ll be glad to know that both our barbecue spots feature access to air conditioned dining. That’s a game changer for the next couple months at least.
Lastly I’ll add this before we dig in: there’s no shortage of great barbecue in Austin and while we all have our favs, keep in mind that barbecue is more than just melt-in-your-mouth brisket. It’s a longstanding culture whose traditions transcend any Yelp rating. A barbecue spot worth its salt has a story and lineage behind it that’s just as important as the rub on the brisket or the wood in the smoker. Get ready to for two good stories, kissed with smoke and cooked with love.
Slab BBQ has two locations, I went to the one off Research blvd that’s a 5 minute walk from a bus stop. In fact it’s not too far from Q2 stadium, in case you’re looking for a third spot to hit up before or after an Austin FC game.
Starting out as a food trailer called Sugar Shack, owners Mark Avalos, Raf Robinson, Jason Hernandez Chris Osbourne and Chip Gourley evolved their distinct barbecue vision into Slab, which is an acronym for “Slow, Low and Banging.” What sets Slab BBQ apart from the old school barbecue joints like Black’s or craft barbecue places like La Barbecue, is the influence of Memphis and Carolina styles and a focus on bold barbecue sandwiches. There’s Alabama White Sauce in the BBQ Chicken slider, and the overall experience at Slabs highlights sauces take cues from the sweeter and tangier side of barbecue.
Pro tip: while you can order meats by the pound, you’re here for the sandwiches. A sandwich called “The Donk” includes every meat on the menu and weighs in at a full pound. Others are named for Black pop culture icons, the like the “McDowell.” Yup, you’re looking what the McRib could (and should) be if it was made with a Pitmaster’s love and actual ribs (Chef Mark removes the bones after smoking). Not only is the sandwich’s name a reference to the movie Coming to America, but it’s Mayor of Flavortown approved! Slab was featured in a 2019 episode of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives.
Along with the McDowell, I’d strongly consider the “El Jefe.” As a total Texas transplant with zero affinity nor nostalgia for queso, this is the second time queso actually made sense to my palate. Not surprisingly both times involved brisket. Nothing about Slab’s BBQ is traditional, not the sandwich combos nor the sincere adoration for hip hop. Wu-Tang Clan references adorn the bathroom doors and they have a sandwich named C.W.A. which stands for Chicken With Attitude and a clear tip of the cap to arguably the most iconic Rap group ever, N.W.A.
If it’s not obvious by now, Slab’s has a culture that stands out in the world of barbecue. Like the hip hop references that coat the walls at Slab’s, the culinary POV here samples different genres and remixes the game a bit. Jason Hernadez, one of Slabs’s partners, said “we aren’t trying to be biters.” That they are not. While barbecue sandwiches itself may not sound game changing, I challenge you to find sandwiches that are this bold by design yet actually deliver with genuine smoked meats.
For you BBQ heads, I’ll also add that the their smoker is a Southern Pride, featuring a gas assist that fires up Oak and Pecan. The words “gas assist” might shake the confidence of some purists, but I got plenty of smoke from the chopped brisket and the meat was pretty darn juicy too.
Like rap and hip hop, barbecue aficionados put an emphasis on the old school. But keep in mind, you can’t have an old school without someone striving to be new school. As chef Mark Avalos puts it, “everyone wants to be on Texas Monthly; we wanted to be on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives.” That’s new school barbecue thinking right there, folks. Now come get your BBQ sandwich on.
Switching gears to the old school, I found myself finally trying Brown’s BBQ on S. Lamar Blvd, a trailer situated in the parking lot of Corner Bar. Daniel Brown did pop-ups for years before opening Brown’s BBQ. His pop-ups though weren’t exactly the chef-driven, Instagram-hyped sensations they are now. In the early 2000s, the self taught pitmaster would set up for Austin City Limits Music Festival in the lot at Barton Springs Saloon.
Back then, regulations were a bit looser and Daniel was able to serve the kind of Central Texas barbecue he was brought up on to the scores concert goers who would travel to Austin’s famed music festival. One of his regulars was from Denmark, who would visit Brown’s barbecue set up when he was in town for the festival. Eventually city regulations regarding food vendors became more strict and Brown’s had to shut down. That customer from Denmark came back one year to Barton Springs Saloon, asking, “what had happened to the bbq guy? That was my favorite part about ACL.” The bartender responded that Brown’s had to shut down. Daniel happened to be there when this conversation took place, which was when he decided he need to come up with a more permanent set up.
When I met Daniel Brown, he was wearing a t-shirt that said “78704”, which is the zip code where Brown’s BBQ resides and where Daniel grew up. Born and raised in Austin, his barbecue style is connected to Lockhart TX, where his dad worked the pits at Chisolm Trail. Daniel learned the art of barbecue by watching his dad, simple as that. In a barbecue world that, nowadays, is no stranger to fine dining chefs and an ever-evolving global pantry, Daniel Brown’s barbecue is steeped in tradition. Even though the trailer opened in 2012, make no mistake that the barbecue at Brown’s is old school Central Texas.
Brown’s BBQ makes the round ups on sites like Eater as a place to go for some bang for your buck. Still, being listed along with craft barbecue joints like Micklethwait means your brisket has to stand up. Out the gate I’ll say right now this brisket is pretty darn juicy and you can’t go wrong with ordering some up. Brown’s also does boudin, a cajun sausage that’s stuffed with rice, pork and sometimes liver, a staple in Louisiana and East Texas as well.
The link was respectable too, moist like brisket, though its a finer grind than my preference. Daniel says “a true test of a BBQ joint: how do they do the chicken and ribs? If they can do that they can do BBQ”. I tried both and was partial to the chicken. The St. Louis cut spareribs were huge and quite fall off the bone too. The smoke and bark was little light on the ribs but played well for the chicken. My big takeaway from all the meats is that Daniel doesn’t like it dry.
For the BBQ heads, here are the deets: Daniel uses a custom smoker that he built and post oak that he chops on his own to keep his costs down. I’ve interviewed a lot of chefs over the years and Daniel Brown could take the cake for being exactly he puts out on the plate: a legit taste of Texas.
“I am the C and the Y in country,” Daniel said. “The smoke runs through our veins.” And by “our,” he’s referring to his daughter Amaris, who has not only worked at the trailer since high school, but is poised to take over, which Daniel alluded to more than once.
It’s not easy to take over the family business, nor is it always in the cards for the next generation. So I had to ask how Amaris felt about doing this work and ultimately taking over. I should add here that even with a window AC unit which Brown’s has, making barbecue in a food trailer in the Texas heat is HARD WORK. Still, Amaris said, “I love it,” with zero hesitation. In the Brown family, smoke certainly does run through the veins.
As a Texas transplant who fell for craft barbecue first, I gotta tell you that if you’re craving a taste of old school Central Texas barbecue, I’d skip Lockhart and head to Brown’s BBQ; it’s a way shorter trip. Even if you take the bus!
And there you have it: two barbecue joints for the soul. Old school bbq and new school bbq, both rooted in the culture of the cuisine. Something to chew on as we honor Juneteeth with more awareness and reverence for the contributions African Americans have made to the most American of cuisines: barbecue.