Food Trailers: How to Sample Austin, Tapas-Style

¡A tapear! Hundreds of mobile restaurants in Austin make trailer-hopping a fun and different dining experience

The Food Trailer craze has swept the USA – and Austinites, always on the leading edge of “funky” and “unique” trends, have embraced this way of eating. Many of the original food trailers in the southern US were traditionally a way to feed construction workers at lunch time – a bus or van equipped with various kitchen devices, a cook, and someone taking orders would pull up to a job site and sell fast and filling lunch out of the window. And until a few years ago, Austin’s food trailer scene was primarily tacos, burritos, and in the summertime, snow cones. Now the “food trailer” trend has taken the city by storm, and it’s common to find vendors selling delicious menu items like Japanese pancakes with shrimp and bacon, a Cuban sandwich, Venezuelan tequeños, or an award-winning chef’s version of the newest food trend to hit the streets.

Unique al-fresco dining, combined with menus that seem limitless in variety, and the transient nature of these food carts have helped fuel the rapid growth and popularity of this type of dining. Many of the more popular trailers can be found in the same location, day after day. Couples or small groups can ‘hop’ from trailer to trailer, sampling and sharing small plates from each. In this way, food trailers are Austin’s answer to Spanish tapas, though we don’t yet have a translation for the verb a tapear – “to go out for tapas.” In Spain, going out to dinner is a long, late, and social event. Groups may start at one bar to have a beer and some olives. Next they may venture to a city square to spend an hour at restaurant specializing in spicy potatoes or fried fish. Later, they may meet up with another group of friends to sit outside, have a bit of wine, and order an egg custard dessert to share. This ‘dinner-as-an-event’ way of dining has spread throughout the world, and now it’s common to find tapas restaurants in cities all around Europe and the USA.

But let’s get back to Austin – we’ve bypassed the traditional tapas idea in favor of mobile restaurants serving plates sized proportionally to their kitchen area. Though many vendors sell full meals of brisket, cheeseburgers, curry, or pizza, it’s more fun to sample a specialty item and move on to the next trailer. There are “trailer parks” spread around Austin where groups of 2-10 trailers can be found, open at various times for the breakfast rush, the lunch crowd, early dinner or late-night partiers. In fact, some trailers do their business only after midnight to feed the revelers looking for something to sober up on after a wild night on 6th street. Trailers are some of the first restaurants to quickly adopt new trends, especially those involving meat – Brown Butter Candied Bacon ice cream (Coolhaus), sandwiches with kimchi, duck liver pate, and pulled pork on sourdough (Three Little Pigs), and doughnuts topped with jalapeño jelly and Canadian bacon (Gourdoughs).

Here are a few unique mobile food vendors – be sure to check check their websites/Facebook/Twitter for the most up-to-date hours and locations.

Osaka Soul

Austin’s only okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) trailer. The main dish is similar to a stuffed pizza, or a pancake filled with grilled items like shrimp, kimchi, smoked bacon, or seasonal mushrooms. Current hours and location

Texas Cuban

Hot-pressed Cuban sandwiches with a Texan twist, served with traditional Latin-American side dishes. Here are one of the few places you can find fried plantain chips and Cuban croquettes in Austin. Current hours and location

La Boîte

A Parisian-Texan café serving espresso, traditional macarons, croissants, and sandwiches made with local ingredients – all inside of a metal shipping container. Current hours and location

More food trailer resources

List and maps of food trailers around Austin >>

Food journalist Anthony Bourdain visits Austin’s trailers >> Video

Barley Swine, an Austin eatery that made its way from food trailer to restaurant, is listed as one of the top 10 best new restaurants in America >> Article


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