Guest post!! WHAT?!?! As an enthusiastic eater, aspiring food photographer, and active participant in the Austin food trailer scene, I appreciated it when the fine folks behind Food Trailers Austin offered to let me write a guest post about my recent eating adventures in the city of Austin. Here goes:
One of the things that I love most about living in Austin is that there is almost always some kind of event, festival, celebration, or activity going on that, quite often, involves indulging in some of the city’s best food and drink. Recently, three such events collided into what can only be described by this particular author as, “The Most Gluttonous Week of My Life.” It all began with the 20th Austin Film Festival, which featured parties (always accompanied by food, such as grilled cheese sandwiches from The Grilled Cheese truck), film screenings, and panels with filmmakers and writers. While the film festival was going on, I also found myself trying to squeeze in as many unique beer tastings and rare tapping events as possible, as the 2013 ROUND of Austin Beer Week BARRELED its way onto my calendar (I’ll stop now).
In the end, though, it was a brand new event to Austin that provided me with the most bang-for-your-buck, fun, and enthusiasm…along with boatloads of delicious eats! Truck By Truckwest (TXTW) was a citywide trailer food competition in which over 60 of Austin’s food trucks vied for a $10,000 business development grant. For six straight days, in a bid to win over TXTW badgeholder’s votes, some of the city’s best mobile food vendors offered free samples, discounts, and even a few menu items made special for the competition. Being a huge food truck fan, I jumped at the opportunity to explore Austin’s food truck scene (even moreso than I already do on my own) and get to try tons of food trailers that I had not been able to check out prior to TXTW. The list of participating vendors included some of Austin’s most popular food trailers, such as Chi’Lantro, La Barbecue, Gourdough’s Big Fat Donuts, and Way South Philly. Many of my own personal favorites (Via 313 Pizza, Cow Tipping Creamery, and Hey! You Gonna Eat or What?) were also up for the challenge, and I was excited to see how they would fare amongst the competition. I spent countless hours meticulously plotting out my plan of attack in order to get to try as many of the trailers and their offerings as possible.
My efforts were well-rewarded, as my final tally put me at 22 different trailers visited, for a total of 33 different visits…in SIX days. Obviously, there were some return visits to some trucks that very quickly won me over with their incredible food offerings (highlighted below). When you squeeze in a car accident that totaled my car, stitches in my forehead, and literally going from the hospital to more food trucks (via one of the many car2go smart car rentals sprinkled around the city), I would say that the event was absolutely exhausting, somewhat overwhelming, and WAY too many calories for one human being to safely consume. Overall, however, Truck By Truckwest turned out to be an incredible way to explore Austin’s mobile food scene and meet many of the kind and generous people behind this unique part of our city’s food culture.
I was very pleased to see a longtime favorite food truck of mine, Hey! You Gonna Eat or What? win the overall competition and come away with the $10,000 prize. I have visited this South Congress based, not-easily-acronym-able (H!YGEOW?) truck MANY times and have been blown away by owner/chef Eric Regan’s southwestern inspired sandwiches (including the Shiner Bock Beer Battered Monte Cristo pictured below). There is not a bad sandwich on the menu, and I am happy to see that his truck, along with so many others that participated in this competition, has already been able to see such an increased level of awareness in the city. Despite not winning the prize, I think that many of the trucks will see a benefit to the promotion and exposure that this event provided to these small businesses. I know that many of these trailers earned at least one very loyal customer. That, to me, is a big win.
For a breakdown of my TXTW experience (and what you really came for…THE FOOD!), please visit the full Facebook photo gallery HERE:
In the meantime, here are a few highlights of my own personal TXTW experience…
Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ: I had visited this relatively new (opened in early 2013) and relatively small BBQ trailer a few times prior to TXTW, but they really stepped up their game for the event, offering different menu items and specials for badgeholders each day. I am proud to say that I visited this truck 5 out of the 6 days of the competition, and because I missed that one day, I just went ahead and ordered the special for that missing day on another visit, as well (gotta cover all my bases, right? For research!!). The ribs here at Valentina’s (currently offered only on Wednesdays) were some of the best that I have had in the city. I also really loved the brisket tacos and homemade tortillas. Pitmaster and owner, Miguel Vidal, sat down with me and explained that he wanted Valentina’s to “serve food like my family used to make.” With food like what he and his crew are putting out, I wouldn’t mind being a part of that family.
Llama’s Peruvian Creole: Luckily, I work within walking (or biking) distance from the Llama’s food trailer, so this was another repeat stop on my eating adventure. Llama’s also has the distinction of being the first trailer that I visited on my tasting tour, even before I had picked up my badge at the Trailer Food Tuesdays event on opening night…so, I was hungry, okay?! Being quite unfamiliar with Peruvian cuisine, I took the opportunity to try the various daily specials offered by Llama’s. The definite highlights for me were the lomo saltado (stir fried beef tenderloin with vegetables and DELICIOUS garlic rice), pork belly sandwich (loved the aji Amarillo sauce and thin-sliced grilled sweet potatoes), and their unique twist on Peruvian ceviche…er, cebiche!
Burro Cheese Kitchen: Yet another trailer that I felt compelled to visit on multiple occasions (more on this in a bit), Burro Cheese Kitchen produces some killer grilled cheese sandwiches. During the fest, I was able to try out their spin on the croque madame sandwich, as well as a new item that was not normally on their menu, a whiskey apple sauce grilled cheese, with the sauce being made in-house by owner, Justin Burrow, and cheddar cheese, all served on delicious Easy Tiger sandwich bread. I, for one, hope that this sandwich makes more regular appearances at the truck because it was pretty tasty. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to Burro for their Friday special, a BBQ brisket grilled cheese sandwich that utilizes the spectacular chopped brisket from (fellow TXTW participant) La Barbecue. It was on this fateful journey to cheesey-lunch-goodness that my car was slammed into on IH-35. Thankfully, I walked away from the accident with just some bumps, bruises, and a few stitches (minus a car), and several of the food truck owners that I have become friendly with sent me their well-wishes. I have had the brisket grilled cheese sandwich in the past, but it was still a shame to miss it!
The Celia Jacobs Cheesecake Experience: While the sheer number of food trucks available at the Rainey Street food truck park may be a little overwhelming and not for the faint-of-stomach, I just can’t help but stop over for a perfectly portioned mini-cheesecake bite from Kim & Phyllis, the friendly purveyors of the Celia Jacobs Cheesecake Experience. Not only were these two ladies incredibly nice by offering kind words about my car accident, they know how to make some delightful little desserts. Badgeholders were entitled to a free NY-style cheesecake bite, which proved to be a great little bite, but only hinted at the potential of what these two can do, with an ever-growing roster of over 30 different cheesecake flavors that can be added to the menu from week to week. I made a return visit to purchase my own pumpkin pie cheesecake bite later in the weekend. No regrets!! Beyond the tasty desserts, Kim and Phyllis’s enthusiasm for the entire Truck By Truckwest experience was infectious. They made it clear that they were happy to have so many first-time visitors to their truck (and the surrounding park) and mentioned already fielding questions about large cheesecake bites orders for weddings, parties, or an average Friday night at my apartment. I hope that other participating food trailers see similar effects as a result of their participation in this competition. Can’t wait til next year!