If you're visiting from Los Angeles or New York for South by Southwest, street food is just another day on the dirty boulevard for you. But for so many others - including the native population - the movable feast of walk-up food is an urban expedition with the flavors of Belgium, India, Turkey, Korea and the American provinces. Here are seven meals on wheels you're likely to walk past (or that might be worth tracking down) while you chase day parties and reunion rumors.
- Mike Sutter
Seventh and Red River streets. 945-8970. SXSW hours: 8 a.m. to 4 a.m. daily.
Glenn and Darrell Sims are unofficial downtown greeters, jovial men, two brothers who remind you of somebody famous, but you can't quite think who. An R&B star from the '50s? Charles Dutton in 'Rudy'? They're also serious men of barbecue, smoking ribs, brisket, sausage and pork chops in the shed just behind their wood-sided blue trailer, the one with cords of oak stacked to one side. Order a pork chop sandwich for $4 and get ready for smoky meat as big as a Motown single, bone and all, the bun almost too embarrassed to hold it together. Walk-around food? No, unless you're wearing a hoodie made of butcher paper. For the less-committed in your crew, there's chopped beef in sweet barbecue sauce ($3). Plates with potato salad and beans run $6 to $9.50. If a three-chord show at Emo's awakens your primal side, show it with a $5 turkey leg.
The brothers opened their trailer about a year ago, picking up a fast lesson in the economics of SXSW. "In three days, we made (enough to buy a couple thousand turkey legs)," Darrell Simms said. This year, they'll add early-morning breakfast tacos and lunchtime hours, delegating parking spots and holding court on their corner at the Red River gateway to Stubb's, the Red Eyed Fly and Club de Ville. Everybody gets some love. "It's my birthday," a down-at-the heels old gent announced on a Thursday night. A few minutes later, he had a big arm around his shoulder and a sandwich in his hand. "It's his birthday every day," Glenn Simms said.
The Best Wurst
Two locations. Sixth Street at San Jacinto Boulevard and at Sixth and Red River streets. www.thebestwurst.com . SXSW hours: Daily from 11:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. (or whenever when they run out of sausage).
The aroma of grilling onions, sizzling and golden, is the first thing that hits you as you approach the trailer. The brats, Italian and jalapeno sausages are lined up, ready to be cooked. The bratwurst bun was a hefty chunk of bread, substantial and not soggy. Curry ketchup added a special kick. The $4 price tag is fair considering how big it is.
- Emily Macrander
Locations vary. One afternoon at Second Street and Congress Avenue, another day down by the University of Texas. Late nights at Fifth and Colorado Streets over by Antone's. Who knows? Maybe the trailer's outside the club you're in right now. Check daily at twitter.com/ChilantroBBQ .
This is an idea that sounds good on paper: Mexican food with a Korean streak, a kimchee-and-cilantro mix-tape. In reality, it comes off more like everyday tacos and wraps with a little sesame and ginger. In a town awash in real-life al pastor palaces, Chi'Lantro hardly makes a wave. This is not to overlook the good parts: the window service is friendly, the food is made fresh on a grill right there in the trailer, a high-fructose rainbow of drinks radiates from a bin of crushed ice in front, and the price is right for a quick fill-up. A $2 chicken taco with Korean chili soy vinaigrette and crisp greens made the best impression, more creative than its starchy $5 burrito-wrap cousins with rice and a choice of beef, pork or chicken. I thoroughly enjoyed a burger made with tender sliced beef and cheese topped with spicy red sauce, served as a $6 special with crisp, hot fries dusted with spice. A $5 quesadilla with beef and a thick layer of cheese was missing the caramelized kimchee mentioned on the menu, which encourages you to "Spice it up!" by adding the fermented cabbage to anything Chi'Lantro sells. Speak up. It might make the difference between middle-Mex and real Seoul food.
Seventh and Neches streets, next to Lovejoy's. SXSW hours: noon to 3 a.m.
Sometimes people fail by trying to do too much - attempting to be all things to all people - when they'd be better-served following a simple rule: Stay in your lane. Meaning: Do one thing and do it well. The folks at Frietkot apparently got the memo. The name (meaning 'fry cart,' which, having spent so many summers in Bruges , is no news to you) might be tricky for some, but the mission is not - serve delicious, hot, crispy fries. You can personalize the regular ($3.50) and large ($4.50) bags of hand-cut potatoes by dusting them with a variety of salts (dill pickle and Madras curry being my favorites) for less than $1. But the real flavor experimentation comes in the form of Frietkot's homemade sauces (a creamy bacon aioli and rich, sweet ancho barbecue sauce stood out for me) that can be mixed in with the fries or come in a sidecar. And, if simple fried and salted potatoes dunked in your choice of more than a dozen sauces doesn't satisfy your craving, you can always add queso or some Lovejoy's chili ($1.50, regular, $2.00 large), ya drunk.
- Matthew Odam
G'Raj Mahal Cafe
91 Red River St. 480-2255, www.grajmahalcafe.com . Hours: 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily.
This trailer is different from most Austin mobile restaurants because of its extensive seating and waitstaff. It's a BYOB, sit-down Indian restaurant without walls. The space, tucked away in the mostly residential Rainey Street neighborhood, is also home to an ethereal bike snake that can seat 100 people. The menu is pricey for trailer food (entrees $9-$14), but there are a lot of options. We ordered fried vegetable samosas ($4 for two) and a basket of warm and buttery naan bread ($2) to start. We moved on to dark, spicy jalfrezi with lamb ($12) and raisin-sweetened korma with chicken ($11). We finished with creamy, frozen house-made pistachio-cardamon kulfi. Need a nightcap? Clive Bar and Lustre Pearl are just down the street.
Hot Dog King
The yellow truck at Eight and Red River streets. SXSW hours: Hours during SXSW: 11 a.m. to 'late' (3 a.m.?).
The Hot Dog King rolled in from Chicago just more than five years ago and dropped anchor on Red River Street, instantly making himself a favorite go-to for late-night post-concert stumblers. Located in the parking lot next to Beerland, the King, whose name might conjure images of Elvis but who looks more like a Midwestern Philip Seymour Hoffman , serves a few variations on the all-beef hot dogs you'd expect from a native of Chicago. But he really sets himself apart from the lifeless, dirty-water dogs of a tired street vendor with his menu of a dozen meals on a bun. Save yourself the trip out to Elgin by digging on the small town's most famous export - the sausage, piqued and fatted with jalapeño and cheese for $5. Enjoy a taste of the (slightly) exotic with a venison Polish sausage that's full of flavor and comes hand-sliced. And for vegetarians, there's a vegan, organic tofurkey dog, Though it does seem like a sin to skip out on encased meats from this Red River royalty.
East Seventh and Trinity streets. www.austinkebab.com . SXSW hours 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.
There might be no empirical evidence supporting my claim that Kebabalicious is the best street food in downtown Austin, but that doesn't make it any less of a fact in my book. Inspired by Turks whom they met while logging serious kitchen hours in Europe, friends Chris Childre and Kristian Ulloa opened the late-night trailer near East Seventh and Trinity streets 31/2 years ago. Kebabalicious became such a hit that the guys parlayed their success into a second trailer at Second Street and Congress Avenue, but they're shutting that one down through the rest of SXSW . The staple of European street foods, the kebab features spit-roasted lamb and beef or chicken (word of advice: go with the former) in warm pita and comes topped with fresh, crunchy tomatoes and lettuce - which have no business being up at the late hours during which Kebabalicious usually operates - along with a homemade tzatziki and tangy red sauce that carries varying degrees of spice. Vegetarians are no afterthought here, as they can choose from the falafel kebab (which holds up admirably against its meaty brethren), featuring lightly fried plum-sized garbanzo-bean balls and hummus. Expect long lines at the food trailer that helped usher in quality street dining in downtown Austin, but if you ask any local in line, they'll tell you that it's worth the wait.
More walk-up food in the SXSW zone (wheels optional)
• Bad (Butt) Fajitas and Gyros, a cart at 422 E. Sixth St.
• Chupacabra, a hot-dog cart outside the Chupacabra Cantina, 400 E. Sixth St.
• East Side King , an eclectic Asian trailer in the backyard of the Liberty Bar at 16181/2 E. Sixth St.
• Gourdough's, a gourmet doughnut trailer at 1219 S. Lamar Blvd.
• Hoeks Death Metal Pizza, a storefront at 511 E. Sixth St.
• Hog Island Deli, a storefront adjoining the Lavaca Street Bar at 407 Lavaca St.
• Izzoz Tacos, a trailer at 1207 S. First St.
• Jack Pizza Co., a storefront at the Jackalope, 404 E. Sixth St.
• La Casa Del Fuego, a taco trailer at West Fourth and Lavaca streets.
• Lucky J's Chicken and Waffles, a trailer at Sixth and Waller Streets.
• LuLu B's, a Vietnamese trailer at 2113 S. Lamar Blvd.
• The Mighty Cone, a meat-and-tortilla trailer at South Congress Avenue and Monroe Street.
• Moo Moo's Mini Burgers, a trailer at 1210 Barton Springs Road.
• Odd Duck Farm to Trailer, a grill trailer at 1219 S. Lamar Blvd.
• Roppolo's Pizza , a trailer at West Fourth and Colorado streets.
• Roppolo's Pizzeria , a storefront at 316 E. Sixth St. 476-1490.
• Rosalie's Roppolo's Pizzeria , a storefront at 414 E. Sixth St.
• South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery, a lot that includes Torchy's Tacos, Man Bites Dog and the Holy Cacao dessert trailer at 1311 S. First St.
• Stony's Mobile Pizza Kitchen, a van at East Sixth and Red River streets.
• TaKorea, a Korean barbecue trailer. Location varies. See twitter.com/TaKorea .
• Trailer Perk, a coffee and sandwich trailer at 1602 E. Sixth St.