By Michele Stevens Bernard, TSB Lifestyle Editor
When searching out foodie finds in Austin, don’t be afraid to explore. If you look close enough, you will find food trucks, mobile venders and even the occasional backyard bar in just about every nook and cranny of the city. On a recent weekender to Austin, I took the opportunity to check out the South Congress Avenue food truck court. While exploring, I also happened upon mobile venders caravanned together in the East 6th St. Business District, as well as, in pretty much every vacant lot and random parking lot along the way. At one point I even stumbled upon a residential street full of historic homes turned restaurants and backyard bars.
Located south of Town Lake and extending south to Oltorf lies South Congress Ave., or SoCo to you hipsters out there. The South Congress Ave. area is one of Austin’s more colorful neighborhoods, a reclaimed historic area that boasts eclectic shops, legendary nightclubs, restored motels and a street fair atmosphere with a great northern view of the state capital standing sentry amidst the Austin skyline. A keen observer traveling south on Congress is sure to notice the random mobile venders tucked into a variety of vacant or near vacant lots or butting up against various businesses along the way. I personally noticed a taco trailer sharing space with a gas station, as well as the fried-chicken vender I’d heard tale of from the Travel Channel tucked into a sweet little space located at 1101 S. Congress Ave. Here’s a link to the aforementioned fried chicken vender.
To get the most bang for my buck, I decided to stop at the popular SoCo Food Court located between Monroe and Milton. If you are new to the area, you’ll recognize the food court by the large number of colorful umbrellas shielding rows of diner filled picnic tables fronting the even more colorful food trucks, silver bullet trailers, and re-purposed yellow school buses pressed into service in the name of a veritable United Nations roll call of cuisines.
In addition to what one might expect in a Lone Star food court such as Texas barbecue and shaved ice, patrons of the SoCo Food Court will also find Louisiana Cajun cuisine, Indian food, and Thai food just to name a few. And, while the line to the shaved ice was a long as it should be on an August Saturday afternoon in Austin, the longest line of all was the one leading up to Hey Cupcake!, a silver-bullet trailer distinguished by the big pink cupcake twirling atop the roof of the mobile establishment.
After enjoying the South Congress vibe, I was back behind the wheel and ready to see what else the city had to offer. It wasn’t long before I happened upon the East 6th Street Business District. While Austin’s 6th Street is legendary for its nightlife and is wildly popular with college co-eds and shall we say seasoned alums alike, this was the first time I’d wandered to this particular part of the famous street. I noted numerous foodie finds in this area in the form of both interesting looking cafes, as well as, food trailers nestled between vintage buildings.
As I made my way back to my hotel sitting on the banks of Lady Bird Lake, I noted an abnormal number of cars parked in what appeared to be a nearby residential street. I wound my way into the neighborhood. What I discovered was Rainey Street, a block of small framed homes, circa 1930-something. Thanks to a loophole in city zoning intended to attract businesses to the Austin Convention Center area, restauranteurs have descended on the area, converting these houses into a cornucopia of eateries, lounges and backyard bars. Interestingly enough, I found a handful of residents sandwiched in between the multitude of homes turned business. I noted a couple of taco trucks pulled into the drive-ways of what appeared to be houses still occupied by residents, as well as one enterprising young man standing in his front yard holding a hand-painted piece of cardboard reading, “Park Here $5.00”. Rainey St. is located southeast of the downtown area near Lady Bird Lake between River and Driskill. Click here to read more about this interesting neighborhood.
Finally, when planning your next trip to the capital city, learn more about the fascinating food truck and mobile vender scene. Check out websites such as BestAustinFoodTrucks.com to read the latest reviews. This particular website also has a handy map that tracks the location of your favorite mobile eateries.
Stay tuned for my final installment, TSB’s Austin Foodie Finds: Feeding The Soul coming next.