Sunday, May 5, 2019

First Look: Artipasta

If you have followed me here or on Instagram, you may know that I do love a nice big bowl of carbs! Especially when it comes to fresh pasta. (RIP La Dolda Pasta.) So I was very excited to hear about a food trailer called Artipasta, located at The Thicket food park, at the northwest corner of South First and Dittmar in far South Austin, which does in fact make their own fresh pasta.
Artipasta ravioli and carbonara
Artipasta at The Thicket
One of my BFFs and I met for earlyish dinner there last Saturday. I had heard great things about their carbonara (crispy pork and pasta? sign me up!), and saw it on their website's menu. However when we got there, it was no where to be seen on the menu board or specials. Confused, I consulted with the gentleman in the trailer. He said it was an off-menu item, but he could make it for me though it would take a little longer. I said sure! He also wanted to make certain that I was going to eat it on the premises, as it would not travel well (raw egg), and I certainly appreciate his concern for the integrity of his food! My friend wanted ravioli, and after a brief discussion, she told him dealer's choice.

Artipasta carbonara
When our food finally came, we were not disappointed. The pork in the carbonara was super-crisp without any grease.The fresh pasta itself  -- in this dish spaghetti -- was a perfect al dente. I think I would have liked a touch more pasta water mixed with the raw egg to make it a bit more creamy in consistency, but the flavor was there for sure. And yes, this would have been a congealed mess if it was packaged to go.
Artipasta ravioli
Ravioli with ricotta, balsamic and rosemary
My friend's dish was (I think I have this right) chicken ravioli with fresh ricotta, rosemary, and a balsamic reduction. A little heavy on the oil on the plate, but the tastes were great and she ate the entire thing, as did I.
Artipasta cannoli
Amazing cannoli!
We tend not to shy away from dessert, especially when there's cannoli! These were large and delicious. No regrets here! I should add, I ordered the cannoli when we initially ordered the pasta; they said they'd keep them back in the trailer until we were ready for them which was great.
Artipasta food trailer at The Thicket
Artipasta at The Thicket
I really enjoyed The Thicket's atmosphere; about five food trucks sit on a circular perimeter; the inner circle has trees and underbrush (hence the name Thicket, I presume) along with picnic tables. There's also a small performance stage, and it was a family and dog-friendly environment. I realize now, I didn't take photos of the surroundings but you can get the idea from their webpage.
Artipasta logo

Overall, we really enjoyed the food and the atmosphere, and judging from the number of people we saw placing orders or picking up to go food, they appear to be doing well! I wish Artipasta had a salad or other greens offering on their menu, as I would have loved something healthy to accompany the pasta. (It also would have given me the opportunity to order a pasta dish that I could eat half of and take the rest home for later.) To their credit, they do have a caprese salad (basil, tomato + mozzarella) on the menu, but the board said sold out when we were there. Constructively, I'd like to see a clearer menu of their regular items posted online. Per one of their Instagram posts, they apparently sell their fresh pasta, which makes me very excited!

And as Artipasta has posted on their website:
Life is a combination of magic and pasta. 
-- Federico Fellini
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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Update: Fat Dragon

I first visited Fat Dragon last fall, and wrote about them in December, as part of an Asian food binge at the time.  They invited me for lunch this week to try some of their new menu items, and I thank them for the opportunity and hospitality!

Soy braised salmon is one of their new items. It's a big 16 oz portion and the skin was crisp!
For my vegetarian friend, vegetarian dumplings are a nice option. In the lower basket are beef and leek ones.
I added a little julienned ginger and chili oil to my beef + leek dumplings. Extremely tender beef. I forgot to ask for them pan fried, but they were still delicious.
Hong Kong style braised tofu and veggies.
From previous meals at Fat Dragon, here are a couple of my faves: dry fried green beans.
Lamb cilantro dumplings are amazing.
Crispy pork belly gua bao.

Go visit Fat Dragon at 183 and Spicewood Springs!
8650 Spicewood Springs, open Tuesday - Sunday 11 am - 9 pm

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Best Mexican Food in Austin, Updated for 2019

Click here to see the full Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide! 
** Post updated for 2019 ** 

Mexican or Tex-Mex? What’s the difference you ask?

I think of Mexican (or interior Mexican) as more chicken and pork than beef, thick flavorful sauces like mole, and while not edible, beautiful ceramic plates and tile work. Tex-Mex is more cheese and bean-centric, nachos and plastic tortilla holders. Think chicken enchiladas in mole sauce vs. cheese enchiladas with red chile sauce. Here’s a great article explaining some of the differences on Serious Eats (and written by a former Austin Food Blogger Alliance member). Some places serve both types of dishes, and that’s okay, there's bound to be crossover! And I don't claim to be an expert, I just know good food when I taste it! 😉

Added April 2019: Here's an article from Eater Austin explaining some of the different Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes and where to get the best ones!

Here’s my guide to the best Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants in Austin!

Interior Mexican
ATX Cocina, 110 San Antonio Street (Downtown)
Modern Mexican food in an upscale setting. Heirloom corn from Mexico, from which they make their own tortillas and masa; gluten-free establishment. Pretty much everything we had was spot on; you can read my full blog post here
ATX Cocina pork carnitas tacos
Pork carnitas tacos from ATX Cocina's happy hour menu
Borrego de Oro, 3900 South Congress (South) 
Definitely a diamond (or should I say piece of gold?) in the rough; just north of Ben White/Hwy 290. One of the few Mexican spots that I see with lamb.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Borrego de Oro chipotle cabrito
Borrego's chipotle cabrito, which was absolutely OUTSTANDING! The meat just fell off the bones.
Curra's 614 East Oltorf (South)
Popular spot, known in part for their avocado margaritas; prepare to wait on the weekends. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

El Naranjo, 85 Rainey Street (Downtown)
What started as a food trailer on Rainey Street has graduated to a brick and mortar, run by Oaxacan Chef Iliana de la Vega. Dinner and weekend brunch; fine dining.
El Naranjo mole negro de oaxaca
Niman Ranch Pork Chop with Mole Negro de Oaxaca
Fonda San Miguel, 2330 North Loop (North Central Austin)
This iconic spot has been a mainstay of fine dining in Austin for over 25 years; the beautiful hacienda and all it’s gorgeous tile work and decor is worth the price of their delicious margaritas. Try their traditional dishes like mole or cochinita pibil. Dinner and Sunday brunch; fine dining.
Fonda San Miguel margarita
Fonda's margarita
Habanero, 501 West Oltorf (South)
Mom and Pop place just off South First Street, open breakfast and lunch daily, and dinner on Friday and Saturday only. 

Hecho en Mexico, 6001 West William Cannon Drive (Southwest) and 4300 North Quinlan Park Road (Steiner Ranch/West)
This family-run establishment is also known for their monthly tequila dinners. Lunch and dinner.
Hecho en Mexico
Tacos al Pastor at Hecho en Mexico
Juan In A Million, 2300 E. Cesar Chavez Street (East) 
A neighborhood staple since 1980, very popular, especially on weekends.

La Condesa, 400A West 2nd Street (Downtown)

Trendy, modern Mexican in the heart of downtown. Great little outdoor patio to watch the people go by while sipping on a sangria, margarita, or cerveza.

La Mexicana, 1924 South First Street (South)
Mostly known as a Mexican bakery, they also have great inexpensive tacos, tortas, gorditas, and street foods. Open 24 hours, which comes in handy when you're jet lagged from an international flight.
La Mexicana breakfast tacos
Fat and inexpensive breakfast tacos at La Mexicana
Manuel's, 310 Congress Avenue (Downtown) and 10201 Jollyville Road (Northwest)
Their tortilla soup never disappoints, and I've always been a fan of their chicken mole. Lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch at both locations. 
Manuel's enchiladas de mole
Manuel's enchiladas with mole sauce
Papalote,  2803 South Lamar (South), 3632 South Congress (South) and 13219 North Hwy 183 (Northwest)
The South Lamar location only has a handful of tables, and does a lot of carry out business. Street foods including tacos, tortas, and tlacoyos; known for the vegetarian cauliflower taco. Daily, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Great spot for a quick meal, not to be overlooked by other area taco places.

Sazon, 1816 South Lamar (South)
One of the few spots that serves huitlacoche; they have indoor and outdoor seating, nice happy hours.
Sazon tacos al pastor
Sazon's pastor
Suerte, 1800 E. 6th Street (East)
New trendy spot on the eastside, brunch with tacos, tostadas and doblado was quite good, but the palmier with cajeta is not to be missed!
Suerte brunch beef tongue taco, shrimp tostada, grilled doblada
Shrimp tostado, beef tongue taco, and chorizo + potato stuffed doblado.
Taqueria Chapala, 4201 S. Congress Ave. (South)
Looking for awesome chilaquiles? Look no further.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Veracruz All Natural, Several trailers plus a brick and mortar
This popular food truck offers plate specials on weekends, like these mole enchiladas with plantains and chilaquiles.
Veracruz All Natural mole
Mole enchiladas at Veracruz

Tex Mex
Chuy's, Six locations
The original on Barton Springs Road is what started it all, now with multiple locations nationwide. The tortilla soup is still a staple for many. Daily, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Chuy's sangria
Cocina de Consuelo, 4516 Burnet Road (North Central) 
Try the huevos rancheros and enchiladas. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, closed Saturdays.
DK Maria's Legendary Tex-Mex, 1807 Slaughter Lane (Far South)
They took over the former Tres Amigos spot at Slaughter and Manchaca, and have incredible thick tortilla chips and a jalapeno/avocado sauce that's amazing. Pictured here, Anselmo's Grilled Fish, which on this day was a drum with veracruz sauce; hearty portions. Large venue, great for groups.
DK Maria's Legendary Tex Mex Anselmo's Grilled Fish
Anselmo's Grilled Fish at DK Maria's
El Dorado Cafe, 3300 W. Anderson Lane (North Central)
This family-owned establishment has quickly earned its buzz. I went for lunch and the place was packed! Salsa X, calabacitas, and Esme's Magic rolled enchiladas with mashed potatoes amongst the standouts. I really wish this place was south!
El Dorado Cafe Esme's Magic Enchiladas
Esme's enchiladas at El Dorado
Fresas, 915 N. Lamar Blvd (Downtown; drive through/carry out) and 1703 S. 1st Street (South Austin)
I recently had a very solid meal at the South 1st location with excellent service, which had been my bone to pick before. But they are back in my good graces. While known for their chicken al carbon, the posole was outstanding.
Fresas posole
Posole from Fresas

Joann's Fine Foods
 1224 S. Congress (Downtown/South) 
I debated whether or not to include this in my Mexican foods post, but yes, as they say online: "The menu is a tribute to diner culture featuring Tex-Mex favorites and California inspired healthy options." And the beef picadillo enchiladas were delicious. Here's the link to my full blog post.
Joann's Fine Foods hash brown nachos
Joann's hash brown nachos
Matt's El Rancho, 2613 South Lamar (South) 
Serving some of Austin’s most popular Tex-Mex since 1952. Lunch and dinner daily; closed Tuesdays.

Maudie's Tex MexSeven locations

Multiple locations around town, popular happy hours. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Nachos compuestos for $5 during Maudie's happy hour!
Mr. Natural, 1901 East Cesar Chavez (East) and 2414 South Lamar (South) 
This is the spot for vegetarian and gluten free options; tamales, migas, and rellenos. Both locations, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, closed Sundays.
Mr. Natural's stuffed pepper
Trudy's,  Four locations
A popular spot near UT campus, and now with multiple spots around town, try the stuffed avocados. Daily, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

If you've got favorite dishes at any of these places or suggestions for other spots, leave a note below! Buen provecho!

And check out my City Guide picks for the ultimate South Austin restaurants!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

First Look: Joann's Fine Foods

How fine was Joann's Fine Foods, the new Mexican/California foods entry from local hospitality group McGuire Moorman? Pretty fine! I am honestly a bit surprised to say I liked the food as much as I did.

This retro diner has moved into the South Congress spot that was previously Snack Bar (and El Sol y La Luna for those of us who have been living in Austin for more than a hot minute), adjoining the Austin Motel. So given their pretty central location in the midst of trendiness and tourism, and their pedigree (the team behind June's All Day, Josephine House, Clarks...) the menu prices are on the high side. Like $32 for chicken fried better be a huge portion!

Having studied the menu before visiting, I was a touch apprehensive given the pricing but knowing they can command those prices due to their physical location. But folks, Happy Hour is the time to go! {Weekdays, 4 - 6 pm, 25% off all food as well as drink specials.} My friend and I had liquid libations and an early dinner.
Lolita Sunrise, which matches the colors of the bar. 😉

Hash brown nachos were kind of a revelation, especially for my friend who is ALL about potatoes in all varieties of dishes. Nice textural combo of the toasty hash browns, firm beans, silky queso, sour cream(y), and fresh pico.

Grilled corn + zucchini squash with a green goddess dressing, cotija cheese, and jalapenos. And the acid
from the lime was perfect. Looking at the menu, it also mentions dill, which I see a tiny bit sprinkled on top.
If I were a dill lover I would have been disappointed, but I did not miss it at all.

Beef picadillo enchiladas, which aren't really photogenic, but fortunately they were delicious. The rolled tortillas were crisp and the picadillo had some nice zing to it! Add queso and yum! 

We don't really pass up the opportunity for dessert and this coconut tres leches hit the spot.
 Not too rich, though I wish the coconut on top had been toasted. 
The beautiful bar counter, complete with old-school plastic letter sign board. 

The booth area, as seen from the restroom alcove.
And from the booths, looking towards the bar. There's also a large outdoor seating area to the back left in the photo.
All in all, a very successful outing, and I was even shocked to find (albeit annoying) back-in parking right out front. Open since October, Joann's serves food from 8 am - midnight daily, and will undoubtedly be a destination for many during SXSW and beyond. 1224 South Congress, across from the Continental Club.

Friday, January 25, 2019

First Look: Darcy's Donkey

Darcy's Donkey red ale
Hi Sign Red Ale
A friend whose food tastes I trust visited Darcy's Donkey on Barton Springs Road (in the old Austin Java location) just after they opened in October and had some very mixed things to report. So I went for happy hour last week with an open mind but with some trepidation. Fortunately, we left stuffed and happy, but I wouldn't be me without mentioning some pros and cons encountered along the way.

First off, the name. I wouldn't know this place is an Irish pub just from it's name, and their website doesn't appear to offer clues as to its origin. But further digging found an article from the Austin American-Statesman explaining that the Irish owner is into a sport called donkey derby, and Darcy is a popular Irish name. Go figure on both.
Darcy's Donkey

When you walk inside the pub, the bar is straight in front of you, and there are like 5 steps to your right that go to the main dining area and the restrooms. There's no hand railing which may be a bit difficult for people of different abilities (or dare I say sobriety levels) to navigate.
Darcy's Donkey
The archway is where the stairs are. There is a handicap access door at the top of the stairs that leads to the ramp outside. Wooden stools are cute, but not comfortable.
There is bench seating that runs the length of two walls more or less, and small tables and short bars stools. And when I say short bar stools, I mean fit for an 8 year old, not an adult, and at 5'1" I know I am not much taller than many 8 year olds. I had been warned that the wooden stools were horribly uncomfortable, and yes, I can confirm that. And I only sat on one for about 15 seconds before my friend and I moved into the corner where the benches come together so we could each have a padded cushion. Much better.

Our young lad of a waiter was very sweet though we wondered if he was new. We ordered the entire happy hour food menu.
Darcy's Donkey happy hour menu

We also had the Cashel Blue Cheese Fondue (queso) which was incredible! Like, I am still dreaming about it! Sorry the photo isn't so great. Nice dense Irish soda bread, roasted head of garlic, chopped figs, and behind the fondue bowl were some pecans. The menu says candied pecans, though I don't recall if ours were in fact candied.
Darcy's Donkey Cashel blue cheese fondue

The prime rib sliders were also delicious, but a word of warning: the food is served on small metal trays and when placed on a highly varnished wooden tabletop, your food may end up partially in your lap if you try to cut said food. Fortunately no meat was lost and no clothing was harmed but the tray did almost go slip sliding away. Two sliders for $7 is a steal!
Darcy's Donkey prime rib sliders

Waffle chips were tasty, but they are cut waaaay to thin and they practically shatter in your hand as you pick one up.  The boxty pizza wasn't bad, but it wasn't really to either of our liking. Maybe a bit too soggy?
Darcy's Donkey boxty pizza

I really wanted one of the shepard's pie, but I was really too full after cheese and meat to order one. So I must go back! There are also a multitude of pratai, or potato, dishes that look intriguing, and how can an Irish pub mess up potatoes, right? Who else has been to Darcy's and what did you eat?