Explore Austin – Fusion Edition

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. Head to our Trip Planner to get started!

Fil N’ Viet

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. 

Ma’Coco

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.