Explore Austin – Takeout 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!

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.

Old School: Asiana

CapMetro stops near Asiana: William Canon/Circle S, Stop ID 552 on Route 333, Route 486

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. 

New School: Julie’s Noodles

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. 

Explore Austin – Deep Fried Comfort Food in East Austin

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!

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.

Old School: Hoover’s Cooking

CapMetro stops near Hoover’s Cooking: Dean Keeton/French, Stop ID 1643 on Route 20

Hoover’s Cooking has been a fixture on Manor road since 1998. The eponymous restaurant embodies Chef Hoover Alexander’s upbringing. The native Austinite grew up on many of the classic soul food dishes served on the menu today. That, coupled with his years working in professional kitchens (including the historic Nighthawk restaurants), drives the loyal following at Hoover’s.

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.

Order Hoover’s Cooking online now

New School: Bird Bird Biscuit

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.

Order Bird Bird Biscuit online now

Explore Austin – Austin Black-Owned Barbecue Spots with Soul

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: BBQ, Beats and Life

CapMetro stops near Slab BBQ: Research/Burnet, Stop ID 4691 Route: 383

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.

Brown’s BBQ: Old School for the Soul

CapMetro stops near Brown’s BBQ: 2008 Lamar/Hether, Stop ID 2326 Route: 3

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.

Explore Austin – Austin FC Game Day Eats

We’re celebrating getting back to what we love this summer and we want you to join in on the fun! Not only are we offering FREE weekend rides from June 5 – July 4, but we’re helping you kick off the fun with some delicious recommendations. Our foodie friend Ali Khan is helping us highlight restaurants across Austin, new and old, that you need to know about and that you can easily visit using CapMetro.

Welcome to the first installment of Explore your Austin, where we take you around town to sample old school and new school restaurants, all accessible by CapMetro. My name is Ali Khan and if you watch Food Network and Cooking Channel, you’ve probably seen me on shows like Cheap Eats, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and recently, Spring Baking Championship.

For the last five years, I’ve also been an Austinite. And I’m here to celebrate the Austin food scene and its unique character. Austin was cool way before it became hipster chic, so there are restaurants representing days gone by that are well worth your time and attention. The city is also a draw for culinary talent and new ideas and I intend to put the spotlight there, too. 

Everything we feature here will be accessible by CapMetro. Why? Because as any city grows, so come growing pains like traffic, parking, gas prices, etc. I’m a believer in public transit and believe it’s a great way to explore and connect with your city.

And with that, let’s talk about what’s happening in Austin right now: Austin FC and where you should eat before and after the games. The two restaurants we’re featuring this week are Huckleberry, a seafood truck near Q2 Stadium, and Mi Madre’s, an iconic Austin Tex-Mex restaurant near MLK Station.

How to Get There

CapMetro stops near Huckleberry: Kramer Station, 2415 Kramer/Brockton and 2236 Braker/Kramer

CapMetro stops near Mi Madre’s: MLK Station, Dean Keaton/French and 2314 Manor/Maple

photo via MLSsoccer.com

Where to Eat Near Q2 Stadium

As much as I get fired up at the games, I’m just as hyped for the food options before and after. While the stadium has plenty to offer, here are two of my picks for before and after an Austin FC match. Because if you’re like me, the pregame and postgame is just as important as the game-game. 

Huckleberry is a relatively new offering to the Austin dining scene. Parked on Braker Lane by Circle Brewing Co., the Huckleberry food trailer is about a 15-minute walk to the stadium. It’s worth schlepping a few extra steps to nosh on quality seafood, which just happens to pair so well with the beers next door at Circle Brewing.

Partners Reese Melinda and Chef Davis Turner grew up with a tradition of backyard Gulf seafood parties and wanted to bring that here to Austin. Despite opening during the pandemic, the two stayed the course and are now just starting to blow up, as Austin FC fans discover their tasty fare.

When you try the Shrimp Roll, you might be raving, too. Texas Gulf shrimp are perfectly poached for a quick three minutes before leaving the flame but not the pot. The carryover heat brings the shrimp to temp before they get sauced in a bath of scratch-made lemon aioli, vibrant fresh dill and fried capers.

What separates a great recipe from a great meal, besides execution, is top-notch ingredients. A cornerstone of the Huckleberry concept was sourcing great seafood from the Gulf. When you read a farm’s name on a menu, you sometimes cotton to the time and energy that went into creating the supply chain that brings the purple carrot to the hip restaurant on East 6th street. Even more challenging is creating a sustainable Gulf seafood supply chain. At Huckleberry, you get just that.

You’ll taste it in the Black Drum Fish Sandwich, which goes beyond simply a Filet-O-Fish on steroids. There’s something a bit more meaty and satisfying to the flavor profile of Black Drum when compared to more mild-mannered fish like cod. When fish is fresh, it’s just far more interesting.

I’ll play the part of a proper food critic for a sec and say that the fries don’t match up to the previous dishes. But hey, you’re eating at a food truck, and expecting Kennebec potatoes hand-cut and fried to order is simply asking a bit too much.

The fries are very forgivable when one tastes the watermelon salad or the charbroiled oyster flight featuring five different toppings. The former is the ultimate edible summer heat wave reprieve, and the latter, in particular the Oyster Rockefeller topped with caviar, was one of the more decadent bites I have ever had, either at a food truck or on a white tablecloth. 

Not surprisingly, all of this comes with a price. The sandwiches run $13-14, with sides around $6, and there are platters that sail past the $30 mark. But… it’s quality seafood with the promise of sustainability. And that means something, whether you’re sitting in a hip dining room or at a picnic table in your Austin FC jersey. 

I should add that the smashed burgers are pretty reasonable and there is a kid’s menu too. But trust me on this, if that shrimp roll sounds remotely appetizing, you’re gonna be a Huckleberry regular. 

Legendary East Austin Tex-Mex

Switching gears for a taste of old school Austin brings us to the east side and Mi Madre’s. A local Tex-Mex staple, Mi Madre’s has garnered a loyal following spanning 30 years of business. Aurelio Torres and his wife Rosa, opened Mi Madre’s in 1990 with a lot of heart but not a lot of money. The restaurant business is fraught with stories of frustration and failure. To hear Aurelio reminisce over his three decades in the biz, it sounds like none of that ever entered his mind or deterred his spirit to succeed.

I’ve spent a few years meeting memorable characters in the restaurant industry, and let me tell you, Aurelio is up there with the very best. His success and Mi Madre’s loyalty are tied into his spirit as much as, if not more than, the food. Ask any Austinite about the breakfast tacos at Mi Madre’s and you will know that their food is pretty darn good.

You could start with the UT Longhorn’s football team who get Mi Madre’s catered during their spring training. Or ask any “hurting” east sider on a Sunday morning who needs a hangover cure in the form of miguitas. College football players and hungover hipsters may not have a lot in common, but clearly there is common ground when it comes to refried beans.

Me? I’m a barbacoa man. Barbacoa is from the Mex end of the Tex-Mex spectrum (Tex-Mextrum? SpecTextrum? Best Western?). It was Mexican food before Mexico existed, and barbecue before the word barbecue existed; and you know that was long ago, because without barbecue, Texas couldn’t exist yet. Even now, barbacoa refers to almost as many kinds of slow-cooked meat as its Anglo counterpart, from cochinita pibil in the Yucatan to cow’s head in South Texas, with lots of braised goat and lamb in between. Around here, we’re usually talking about the sort of braised beef that I have fallen for, head over heels, since moving to Austin. Mi Madre’s version calls for beef cheeks to be braised for 10 hours. They double wrap the cheeks in foil so the meat is immersed in rendered fat. That plus some fresh pico de gallo and their house green salsa and I’m set.

While the menu is rooted in Tex-Mex classics, Mi Madre’s is more than just a genre of Mexican-American cooking. Aurelio and Rosa opened this restaurant when the east side came with its share of issues. There was a higher crime rate. And there certainly wasn’t the same kind of foot traffic that businesses would typically want.

That didn’t matter too much to Aurelio and Rosa. They needed to make a run of what they had, namely the restaurant and who they could serve. They would serve anyone who came through the door. If they couldn’t pay their tab, Rosa would say to them, “pay me tomorrow”. Back then and even now, some buildings would get hit with graffiti. Except Mi Madre’s. Then, as now, Mi Madre’s earned the respect of the neighborhood.

If you’re coming after an Austin FC game, fair warning that you might miss the breakfast tacos which get cut off at 3pm. All will be right, though, because the barbacoa tacos are still available along with some hearty plates like the chicken mole enchiladas or the crispy fish tacos. 

The fish tacos, which feature tilapia, aren’t at the level of seafood found at Huckleberry, namely sustainable. But there is sustainability happening at Mi Madre’s, and it’s in the form of community. 

Mi Madre’s is the Austin many locals and old-timers do in fact long for. Before the national press and real estate developers zeroed in, Austin was a funky little city that welcomed an eclectic mix of folks. Some may lambast the change and lament for days gone by. Being a transplant, I can’t share the sentiment, per se, but I can understand where it comes from. 

But here’s the thing: folks like Aurelio are still here. And you can support this part of Austin and take a big bite of the new, namely that shrimp roll at Huckleberry. I pressed Aurelio a bit about his thoughts about the neighborhood changing and moving on. His response? “Why swim against the current?” While I love his outlook, I hate imagining an east side without Mi Madre’s. 

That’s why I’ll be at knocking back some tacos and a pitcher of margs at Mi Madre’s. It’s that part of Austin that I don’t want to see fade away. So while you get ready for an exciting chapter of Austin to begin, with MLS teams and Gulf shrimp rolls, take a bite and a sip of what made it special way back when.