When the food truck revolution hit Austin, it changed the culinary scene forever. As soon as entrepreneurs got word that the city was hot, a fleet of trailers rolled into town, seemingly overnight. From that chaos some culinary legends emerged (Franklin Barbecue, Odd Duck, and Via 313 all got their start on wheels), but even more fell flat.
That started to change when the novelty wore off and prime real estate became more scarce. Now, for a food truck to succeed, it has to actually be good. Who reigns as the best is a topic that is hotly debated — as seen in the Favorite Food Truck nominees for the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards.
It was an excruciating process, but our expert panel finally narrowed the field down to the top 10. Meet them below, then find out who takes home the coveted trophy at a lavish ceremony and tasting held on April 12 at Fair Market.
It’s difficult to think of a dish more alive than Dee Dee’s om gai. Rustically chopped chicken and zucchini swim in a chili paste broth scented with lemongrass, Thai basil, spring onion, and fresh dill, while impeccable sticky rice waits on the side to sop it all up. For much of its existence, Austin’s Thai food seemed numbingly the same. That all changed with a single dish.
Garbo’s Fresh Maine Lobster
Butter, mayo, a squeeze of lemon. It doesn’t take a lot to make a lobster roll. So then why do so many places mess it up? The reason is usually the lobster, something owner Heidi Garbo has in her blood (her father and uncle own a seafood supplier in Connecticut). Stripped of excess toppings or ill-advised sauces, Garbo’s rolls are what the ought to be — a showcase for all that sweet, sweet meat.
LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue
With its famous names and barbecue dynasties, Central Texas isn’t the easiest place for pitmasters to break out on their own. Former Freedmen’s chef Evan LeRoy is doing it by throwing out the rulebook. While what is served on the peach paper-lined trays comes from the meat market tradition, it is often in unusual cuts like beef cheek. And the sandwiches might come with a pile of kimchi. All of it expands the parameters of what Austin barbecue can be.
Luke’s Inside Out
A certain fast-food chain may claim to employ sandwich artists, but if any sandwich deserves to be in the Louvre, it would be one of the offerings off chef Luke Bibby’s wildly imaginative menu. Shrimp is drenched in a chipotle rosemary glaze, complemented with blue cheese, crunchy apples, and honey, while a banh mi gets a Texas twist with smoked brisket and toasted mozzarella draped falafel. No one in town is more adept with mixed media.
Austin is notorious for not really getting started until sometime after noon, but Paperboy's two locations consistently give locals a reason to set their alarms early (or at least stay up through the night). The all-breakfast menu is minimal, just five items at last check, but why would you need to greet the day with anything other than a bacon, egg, and pimento cheese sandwich or sliced sourdough spread with whipped ricotta and seasonal preserves?
This Manor Road gem doesn’t exactly have the feel of a mere food truck. For one, an employee greets you in line to explain the specials of the day. Afterward, you can order a glass of rosé across the yard at Butterfly Bar. More importantly, the house pasta — tossed in a slow stewed red sauce or simple Gran Padano cheese and olive oil — is consistently better than most of what comes out of much larger Cap City kitchens.
Peek into this South Austin trailer and you’ll find a photo of Guy Fieri on the wall. It may be a little tongue-in-cheek, but it does make sense. Under chef Teddy Bricker, the only guiding principle of the truck is taste, resulting in mash-ups like pho-tine made with rice cake “curds” or the "Water-burger" dressed with caramelized onion ranch and nam tok (a Thai meat salad). After all these years, we’ve finally found the exact location of Flavortown.
Three Little Pigs
One of the great mysteries of the local culinary scene is that Three Little Pigs still remains so unsung. It’s certainly not chef Raymond Tatum’s pedigree — he helmed Jeffrey’s for 12 years and was the executive chef at the much-missed Jean Pierre’s Upstairs. And it sure as heck isn’t the food, with dishes like cracklin’ meatloaf with cheese grits and collards, or the daily specials that take their cues from Asia and the Hill Country — sometimes on the same plate.
Some like it hot, some like it hotter, and some people aren’t happy until they break out into a sweat. Nashville-style hot chicken isn’t the Austin rarity it once was, but leave it to the chef of one of the most popular restaurants in town (Salty Sow’s Harold Marmulstein) to give the cult dish the attention it deserves, and the smarts to know those who didn’t grow up eating it usually need a side of cilantro mint sauce to temper all that fire.
Veracruz All Natural
Austin may be a taco town, but it didn’t know what it was missing until Veracruz owners Reyna and Martitza Vazquez rolled in. The fillings aren’t anything new — cheesy migas, al pastor, grilled tilapia, and chicken mole — but the sisters’ finesse with the seasonings make each of their versions stand out from the crowded field. No wonder a humble truck on Cesar Chavez Street has expanded into a mini-empire.