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.
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.
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.
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.
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.