By Garce Salem | The Austin Chronicle
If you weren’t looking for it, you could miss it. Paul Qui’s much-anticipated SouthBites food court, full of food trucks hand-picked from Austin and beyond, has no signage, no fanfare, nothing at all, in fact, that touts the wildly popular chef as its curator. SouthBites is all about the food.
The set up is simple: over a dozen trucks parked around a bunch of picnic tables and a small bar inside a fence. Perhaps that’s better than a big neon archway with Qui’s likeness in light bulbs, and certainly more in keeping with his personal style. In fact, the casual feel of the gathering spot takes little attention away from the eclectic and mouth-watering selection of food.
First, if you can get in, we suggest parking in the lot at the Mexican American Cultural Center(600 River Street), where there are city meters. Walk the length of Rainey Street to Driskill Street, where you’ll find the entrance (or break in the fence) to the SouthBites food court. Our best advice is to walk the loop of trailers first and then decide on what to eat. There is much to choose from here, so more than one visit is warranted. The trailers open at 11:30 am and keep serving until 2:30 am, so there is plenty of time in a busy day of panels and showcases to hit the court.
SouthBites has no admission fee; just pay for what you eat and drink. We arrived right at the start on Sunday morning, and found the park with only a handful of visitors and the trailers open and ready to go. We found a perfect cafe latte at popupdownunder, the smart little Australian stand, which also offered traditional Tim Tam cookies ($1), tender biscuits with both chocolate filling and coating, and Lamingtons ($3), little sponge cakes coated in chocolate and grated coconut.
Once thoroughly caffeinated, we started with chef Qui’s East Side King’s trailer. Of four items we opted for a sweet bun and pork belly ESK special ($6) with pickles, onions, and cilantro, and crispy little egg rolls on lightly-dressed greens with a spicy mayo sauce ($6). Next, we ventured toForeign & Domestic’s truck offering a menu of three sweet and three savory items. Here we chose the Roasted Vegetable Frito Pie ($6). F&D‘s dish was a fun, healthy-feeling play on the traditional with roasted beets, black beans, Frito chips, cheddar cheese, green onions, and what looked like a dollop of sour cream, but was actually a tangy horseradish sauce that delivered a satisfying pop of flavor.
Keeping to our fairly-healthy ordering pattern, we wandered to Cazamance, where West African fusion reigns, and tried their Couscous Moroccan ($5). The serving was packed with cranberries, parsley, tomato relish, nestled on a hearty bed of mixed greens with cucumber slices. It was light, flavorful, and not what I’d expect from a food truck during South by Southwest.
We left with several sweets in tow, including, of course, a red velvet cupcake from Hey Cupcake! for my daughter. She discovered lots of food options to her liking but few fellow visitors her age. “There are lots of people with badges here,” she informed us. “That’s how you know it’s South by Southwest. Oh, and all the scarves.” Apparently, if you want to blend in like a local, tuck your badge into you jacket and ditch the big scarf.
Whether you’re local or not, a visit (or two) to this understated, but sophisticated mashup of food trailers is worth every step you’ll most likely have to walk to get there. Check out the full list of SouthBites trucks and what they’re offering in Virginia Wood’s On the Range blog.