Hitting one of the city’s top trailers is at the top of most people’s lists of things to do in Austin, and for good reason: Austin does food trucks better than just about anywhere. And Austin food trucks are pretty much everywhere. Looking for some of the best Mexican restaurants in Austin? You’ll find many of them come on wheels. Feeling peckish after a few drinks at one of the best bars in Austin? Hit that parked trailer in the corner serving some of the most mind-meldingly good Thai food in Texas. And did we mention the tacos? Here, we’ve scoured the city to find the best food trucks Austin has to offer. The lines may be wildly long at times. And you’re going to get a bit of dirt on your jeans. But when you get to that window, the rewards are deliciously rich.
Best food trucks in Austin
Austinites can argue all day over the best pizza in town, but there’s no discussion when it comes to which is the most indulgent. Via 313 began as a humble trailer outside Violet Crown Social Club in late 2011, and their diet-destroying Detroit-style pies have since earned them enough of a following to warrant a second trailer on Rainey Street, plus two brick-and-mortar locations. For the uninitiated, Detroit-style is a square pie known for a thick pillowy crust, a slight ridge of caramelized cheese around the edge, and generous streaks of tomato sauce layered above the toppings. It’s hard to look past the double pepperoni Detroiter, but for a more delicate option try the Cadillac (gorgonzola, fig preserves, prosciutto di parma, Parmesan, balsamic glaze).
With respect to Micklethwait and La Barbecue, barbecue trailers are their own category altogether and it's unfair to lump the Texas tradition of low and slow brisket into the same category as Detroit pizza or lobster rolls. But Valentina's style of Tex-ican fusion makes them more than just your run-of-the-mill smokers. The owner's San Antonio roots shine through in both the preference for mesquite over Central TX oak, as well as homemade tortillas that house a truly belt-busting breakfast taco (don't skimp on the extra dollar, add brisket). The meats stand on their own by the snobbiest BBQ lover's standards, but even traditionalists can't resist taco-ifying them with sea salt lime guaamole or tomatillo habanero salsa.
Austin has many a wondrous taco trailer, but the king of them all is Veracruz All Natural. As the name implies, Veracruz strays far from the long past “roach coach” stereotype with an oasis-like atmosphere that began solely as a proprietor of heat-beating drinks like snowcones, smoothies and juices. Their pivot towards savory has earned unanimous approval from the foodie sect for some of the freshest-tasting Mexican food in town that still retains a homestyle authenticity. The migas taco is worth the sometimes lengthy morning wait, but for lunch the move is one of the juiciest al pastor tacos in town, or a hearty grilled tilapia taco topped with mango pico. Wash it down with a massive 32 ounce cantelope agua fresca.
Austinites’ patience for standing in line is legendary, but the wait at most brunch spots is still nothing compared to other hip avocado-toast outposts likes of Portland and Brooklyn. Paperboy’s giving them a run for their money, with a long but totally-worth-it wait that holds rewards like a pimento cheese B.E.C. on brioche and goat chorizo toast. The half-step away from traditional brunch fair manages to be both casual (you are in a dirt lot, after all) and elevated—there are few other places in town where pickled carrots and shaved radishes sneak their way into breakfast.
If there’s one spot that sums up the first wave of Austin’s trailer boom, it’s undoubtedly East Side King. Founded in 2009 by Paul Qui and Motoyasu Utsunomiya as a more casual side project from their work at Uchi and Uchiko, the trailer behind Liberty adorned with a psychedelic mural by Japanese punk rocker Peelander Yellow has spawned a pan-Asian empire of creative bar grub across the city. Although there’s now a brick and mortar, as well as several other offshoots, the original is still the best, thanks to now-classic dishes like the roasted pork belly Poor Qui buns, Thai chicken karage, and beet fries.
The melting pot of Los Angeles may have birthed the idea of Korean tacos, but Austin’s first tortilla-wrapped kimchi came courtesy of Chi’lantro, who since their first trailer launched in 2009 have grown to three brick-and-mortar locations with expanded menus. For a quick, cheap lunch on the go, it’s tough to beat their spicy pork burrito, but let’s be honest: the best time for their craveable cross-cultural eats is after the bars close. Unfortunately their fleet of mobile trailers is currently on hold while they expand their brick and mortar footprint, until they return we’ll be eagerly awaiting a tray of 2am kimchi fries.
Lobster rolls are a foreign food to most Texans, but not to the founder of Garbo’s, who named her trailer after her father’s lobster company. Her New England roots shine with a menu that features both of the region’s primary styles, Connecticut (warmed in butter) and Maine (mayo, celery, lemon), both excellent choices that taste more like they came out of a beachside kitchen than streetside trailer. If the lobster mac and cheese happens to be on special, don’t hesitate to indulge. Check their website for current location, as their pair of trucks are known to traverse everywhere from business parks to busy downtown corners to bar parking lots.
Back when food trailers were still novelties, Gourdough’s made national waves for their fried-to-order, meal-sized desserts. Recently their wacky doughnut thunder was stolen by the arrival of Portland transplants Voodoo Doughnuts, but the homegrown gluttons still deserve praise for introducing Austin to the savory pleasures of bacon and chicken strips-topped doughnuts, as well as classic sugar rushes like the grilled banana, cream cheese and brown sugar Funky Monkey.
One of the most important elements of Austin’s trailer boom was that it gave many old-school chefs an opportunity to flex their culinary muscles on their own terms. Luke’s evolved from a culinary biz that serviced venues like ACL Live, bringing a seasoned chef-centric approach to otherwise stoner-ish sandwiches. The burger is one of the girthiest in town, and the Korean BBQ rabbit might be Austin’s most creative hare-brained dish. But give equal consideration to the daily specials, which range from smoked brisket arepas to pork chop sticks.