Two of the best dining options in west Austin are found in the same parking lot
“Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”
I don't usually associate the Grateful Dead with wooded neighborhoods, office parks and food trucks, but here we are.
The western reaches of the Austin area have never been known as a bastion for diners seeking exciting options.
But over the past year, serendipity stepped in to help make a small parking lot in the mostly residential Lost Creek neighborhood an unexpected food-lovers' oasis.
Isaac Flores, who returned to Austin from New York City with his wife, Kelsey Sammataro Hutchins, in 2018, was looking for a home for Sammataro, the pizza concept he created with a few friends last year. His brother-in-law, Devon Hutchins, told Isaac and Kelsey about the lines his Woody’s Shave Ice trailer had inspired on a small pad off Lost Creek Boulevard last summer.
Kruewan Chiangthuek had been cooking the food of her native Thailand in Austin for 13 years, the last six out of her trailer, Thai Kruefha in East Austin, when a friend training at a Muay Thai gym in Lost Creek told her about the same small lot just west of Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360).
Both Sammataro and Thai Kruefha joined Woody’s around the turn of the year, giving the Lost Creek neighborhood one of the densest collections of great dining options in the area.
Flores and Hutchins moved back to Austin — she grew up in Lost Creek and he lived here for more than a decade before moving to NYC — to focus on their new businesses. Kelsey was starting an interior design firm, and Flores is a partner in Western Grace Brandy.
But Flores couldn’t shake his love for pizza. He worked at Home Slice Pizza from 2008 to 2011, and the owners of Austin’s top NYC-style pizza joint turned him onto some of the Big Apple’s legendary spots (Lombardi’s, Di Fara, L&B Spumoni Gardens) during a staff trip to New York.
After managing bars in NYC for almost a decade, Flores decided to follow his passion for pizza and open Sammataro, named after his wife’s Sicilian family.
Flores wanted to chase his idea of the perfect pizza, built on a foundation of a sturdy yet not stubborn NYC-style crust, so he tapped chef friend Townsend Smith to partner in Sammataro. The former Brooklyn neighbor had cooked throughout the city and was spending the pandemic baking sourdough bread in Connecticut.
Smith, who still lives back East, came down and took Flores and his small team “to pizza school,” says Flores, showing them the ways of making the desired dough. The group started a pop-up selling pies from a friend’s East Austin driveway last fall and now operate Sammataro from the lot in Lost Creek.
Flores puts his dough through a 48-72-hour cold fermentation process at an offsite commissary. He then bakes the 16-inch pizzas in a low-domed, wood-fired oven, realizing his dream of a fantastic pizza with a bubbled and charred edge run through with a crunchy base that gives just the right amount of wiggle and pull. The nascent pizzaiolo says the style is intended as an homage to his two favorite NYC spots, Lucali in Brooklyn and Scarr’s Pizza in the East Village.
The standard Sammataro pie, with slices that snap into a neat fold, comes with a covering of high-quality, low-moisture mozzarella and milky pools of fresh mozzarella, suspending fans of basil atop a zippy tomato sauce that pops with acidity and sweetness. The pies manage a precise balance of cheese, sauce and dough, which makes them super crushable without leaving you feeling desperate for a nap.
The trailer offers about 10 toppings that, at $3-$4 a pop, can make the price of the baseline $21 pizza escalate quickly. But after adding pepperoni with a sharp bite to one pizza and salty Spanish anchovies and roasted shallots (for a pizza version of a wildly popular pasta dish found in the recipe pages of the New York Times) to another, I was too satisfied with the texture and flavor profiles to find myself quibbling with the price of the pizzas that could each feed three adults.
The reception from the area has been so strong that Flores and his partners are already looking at restaurant spaces on Bee Cave Road, and Flores also plans to open an operation in East Austin, about which he’s vague but enthusiastic in discussing.
Those who lived in Austin before Google and Facebook did probably remember Gene Kobboon’s downtown restaurant Thai Passion, located in the historic building attached to the One America Center.
Chiangthuek cooked there for seven years after arriving from her hometown of Khon Kaen in the Isan region of Thailand. When Thai Passion closed in 2014 after an almost 20-year run, Chiangthuek opened Thai Kruefha, a food trailer she operated for six years at Kenny Dorham’s Backyard on East 11th Street.
Her friend who pointed her to the lot next to the former Muay Thai gym (now home to Westlake Taekwondo Academy) could have a future career in commercial real estate. There are very few Thai options in the area, and the Lost Creek neighborhood is home to a captive audience usually forced to deal with the highway if they’re looking for a great from-scratch meal.
Despite her Isan roots, Chiangthuek’s truck generally eschews that region’s pungent and herbaceous flavors for a roster of dishes more closely associated with Central Thailand.
The yellow curry ($11) glows with the spice mixture's hallmark turmeric, with notes of ginger and coriander billowed by the rounded sweetness of coconut in a curry studded with potato, carrot and onion. The dish (as with the trailer’s other curries and rice and noodle offerings) comes with a choice of chicken (best with the yellow curry), beef, pork or tofu, with shrimp costing $3 more.
I ordered those plump shrimp in an excellent pad see ew ($10), the broad flat rice noodles slicked with umami and vibrating from their hot, smoky toss in the wok along with knobs of tender broccoli. The egg in that dish stayed lithe but toasty, which is how it also arrived in the ubiquitous dish of pad Thai ($10), the tangle of thin noodles bound together by a slightly sour sauce and given crunchy relief from chopped cabbage and a finishing shower of crushed peanuts.
The dishes all had a depth of flavor and a freshness that is sometimes lost in high volume Thai kitchens. Those welcome indications of home cooking were also present in a pineapple beef fried rice dish ($11) dotted with carrots, peas and juicy diced fruit in a bowl of rice aglow with yellow curry. It, like Thai Kruefha’s other selections, is the kind of dish that should make Lost Creek the envy of other residential areas craving more diversity in their dining options, and one that should give delivery services in the area a rest.
If you go
Sammataro: 1158 Lost Creek Blvd. 512-690-1547, sammataro.pizza. Walk-up, call-in and online ordering available, and open-air picnic table seating on site. Hours: 3:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 3:30 to 9 p.m. Friday; and noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Thai Kruefha: 1158 Lost Creek Blvd. 512-547-7281, facebook.com/thaikruefha. Walk-up and call-in ordering available, and open-air picnic table seating on site. Hours: Noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.