This post is part of our Hidden Gems series, which is brought to you by Basil Hayden's bourbon. Spicy, unexpected, and full of potential. Just like your plans tonight.

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

Beet fries. That's all Robyn and I needed to hear to get us to East Side King when in Austin recently. The food cart, covered in a brightly-painted cyclops design, is nestled in the backyard of an East Austin dive bar, The Liberty. It's yet another mobile food business launched by restaurant chefs: in this case sous chef Paul Qui and sushi chefs Moto Utsonomaya and Ek Timrek from Austin's much raved-about contemporary Japanese restaurant Uchi.

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Some have called it the everyday man's answer to Uchi. It opens nightly from 7 p.m. to 1:45 a.m. and a good chunk of the menu involves the word "fried." Like those beets.

Even lifelong beets naysayers might change their mind after trying these ($5). The beet cubes are first roasted then fried, developing a thin shell that gives way to a creamy soft center. It's beet candy. And you can't stop dipping them in the lump of Kewpie mayo served alongside, which is sprinkled with shichimi tougarashi, a reddish blend of red chili peppers, Sichuan peppers, sesame seeds, and other spices. It makes you wonder we've spent so long associating fries with just potatoes.

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Another good use of the word "fried" is in this salad. Yeah, how often do you see those two words together? The fried brussels sprouts salad ($5) salad by name only, is an overflowing pile of the crunchy green orbs and purple cabbage shreds in an Asian sweet-spicy dressing with a hodgepodge of herbs that's in many other ESK dishes: fresh cilantro, mint leaves, basil, onions, and semi-mouth-igniting jalapenos. Something about the combo of heat, crunch, roasted-then-fried mini cabbages, and the sweet tangy sauce, makes you want to shovel all of this in your mouth.

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Another favorite was the Thai Chicken Karaage ($7), a pile of misshapen dark chicken pieces with perfect crackly fried skins, that gets spiked with same tangy-sweet-heat mix of herbs and jalapenos. This is some of the best food you'll ever have from a trailer. They seamlessly integrate multiple Asian flavors to make something that tastes sort of new and familiar at the same time. Plus, you get to wash it down with a cheap Shiner inside.

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East Side King

1618 1/2 E 6th Street, Austin TX 78702 (map)
512-422-5884
eastsidekingaustin.com

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