If you’re looking for the best Asian food in Austin, you can’t miss the dozens of gems hidden in strip malls all along North Lamar Boulevard. Ask for a recommendation, and you’ll get plenty: First Chinese Barbecue, Tam Deli, T&S, Thanh Nhi, TC Noodle House.
(A note about Titaya’s, the Thai restaurant that often falls on lists of the best restaurants in this area of Austin. The restaurant has been closed since Christmas, but the owners of the seven-year-old restaurant have said that it is just for a renovation and will reopen "in a couple of months.")
But across the street from the sprawling shopping center that houses MT Supermarket is another place to add to the list, Rice Bowl Cafe, a Taiwanese restaurant that serves traditional dishes alongside Americanized Chinese favorites.
One weekday earlier this month, I finally took a co-worker’s advice to make the trip from our downtown offices up to Braker Lane and Lamar Boulevard for lunch. (The restaurant’s website, ricebowlcafeaustin.com, features a nifty online ordering system for dine in or delivery within six miles.)
The polite server didn’t have to try very hard to upsell us from ordering just the plain green onion pancake to the beef roll ($7.50), which she said was one of the most popular items on the menu. Within minutes, when the dish — thin slices of roasted beef lightly coated with hoisin sauce, topped with lettuce and rolled up in a perfectly fried scallion pancake — arrived at the table, we could see why.
We followed the appetizer with the beef noodle soup ($8) and salt-and-pepper fish ($10), two other oft-recommended dishes. The dark, rich broth in the soup wasn’t as spicy as the menu advertised, but the deeply flavored, tender chunks of beef and slightly chewy noodles warmed the belly on a what turned out to be one of the coldest days of the year.
But the real star for me was the salt-and-pepper fish, half a dozen or so fillets that were coated in a thick batter and then deep fried. The super crispy fish were served on a bed of sauteed peppers and onions and topped with a generous amount of what I can only call "crispies," little crunchy fried bits of a mixture of garlic, ginger, salt and pepper.
You can’t go wrong with huge portions (one order of that salt-and-pepper fish would have fed my entire family), reasonable prices and solid food served in a simple, nicely designed space.