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20131112-101334.jpgI’d challenge anyone vaguely familiar with the concept of “fun” to find a more appropriately named event than Fun Fun Fun Fest. This was my third consecutive year attending and every year it continues outgrowing the societal norms of your stereotypical music festival. Akin to all music festivals, Fun Fun Fun Fest hosts multiple stages, food vendors and an impressive lineup of diverse artists – for example, Cut Copy (Australia), MIA (Sri Lanka), Snoop Dogg (Compton) and MGMT (Connecticut?) were among this year’s headliners. But what you won’t ever see at your ACLs or Coachellas are things like an entire stage dedicated to established comedians like Sarah Silverman and Doug Benson, a huge half pipe where skateboarders and BMXers of all ages and skill levels come to play, a photo booth in a porta potty and a hydraulic cannon that shoots out tacos and tamales at crowds of hungry, excitable festers. After a few years of following the music festival circuit, I’ve found Fun Fun Fun the most refreshing. It’s still relatively young and small compared to its elders, but it always improves and grows without losing its youthful spirit. For instance, you won’t see many kids or parents who go merely for the sake of going. No one brings blankets. No one brings lawn chairs. People just come to party. People just come to Fest.

This year was particularly special to me because some of my best friends from Wisconsin came down for the weekend in hopes of seeing some great music and escaping the miserable snow that accompanies their sad existence during those unforgiving Midwest winters. They were greeted by sunshine, live music juxtaposed against a gorgeous backdrop of the Austin skyline and lots and lots  and lots of booze. Some highlights from this year’s festival include: A mechanical bull, a free after show with Twin Shadow, kimchi french fries from my favorite Korean food truck and exclusive access to a VIP tent sponsored by Jameson and Absolut. Here were some of my favorite snaps from the weekend:
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SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!

As some of you may remember, a few weeks ago I read a powerful book about the atrocities of factory farming and the benefits of a vegetarian diet and decided to abstain from eating meat for a while. This isn’t necessarily a permanent change and I’m not labeling myself as a full-fledged vegetarian – I just simply made a personal decision to be more mindful about where my food comes from. I’m super proud of myself for trying to be a more conscientious and responsible citizen of the world, but I also chose the worst possible time to inact this lifestyle change!

Why, you say? Well, dear friends, this past weekend was Weekend 1 of Austin City Limits Music Festival – three fun-filled days of live music, sunshine and debauchery, and easily one of my favorite weekends of the year. Every year, my ACL weekend consists of enjoying live music, incurring credit card debt from $9 Bud Lite Tall Boys and without fail, gorging on delicious, decadent FOOD.

It’s common knowledge that music festivals spend a lot of time (and money) curating lineups of diverse talent to play their stages, but one of the greatest features of ACL is Austin Eats – a showcase of some of Austin’s best restaurants, eateries and food trucks that are a vast departure from the corny dogs and funnel cakes you’d normally find at a concert of sporting event concession stand. Every year, each Austin Eats vendor creates a small menu of tasty, reasonably priced dishes that are quick and easy for festival patrons to eat on-the-go, and since attendees spend 8 or 9 hours at ACL each day, it’s not uncommon to grab meals or snacks 2 or 3 times a day from this Holy Grail of an outdoor food court.

This was my first time experiencing a meat-free ACL and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Austin has always been a vegetarian-friendly, health-conscious city, so I knew there would probably be plenty of options for me to choose from. Since Weekend 2 of the festival starts tomorrow, I thought I’d share some of my favorite vegetarian menu items for anyone interested. (Of note, I also included some meals I enjoyed outside of the festival this weekend in case you’re visiting Austin for the first time and wanted some additional recommendations.

And lest we forget, always stay hydrated. I’m proud to say, no animals were harmed in the production of the copious amounts of alcohol I drank this past weekend.

DAY 1

For starters, ACL could not have kicked off at a more opportune time because coincidentally – the first day of ACL just happened to be National Taco Day! What better way to celebrate than with some of Austin’s best breakfast tacos? My friends and I stopped by Tamale House East, a friendly neighborhood haunt that specializes in super cheap, but flavorful breakfast tacos among other tasty Mexican fare. Hidden behind some warehouses and train tracks east of I-35, Tamale House is a diamond in the rough – even Anthony Bourdain stopped by a few months ago!

Potato, egg and cheese breakfast taco and mimosa from Tamale House

I decided on two, no frills potato, egg and cheese breakfast tacos with tomato topped with smoky Tamale House salsa. Of course, the tacos were accompanied by a refreshing mimosa to cleanse the palate. A breakfast of champions if I’ve ever seen one.

BONUS: While at Tamale House, we spotted the infamous Taco Cannon! For those of you living under rocks, the Taco Cannon made its debut at Fun Fun Fun Fest last year – a hydraulic, multi-chamber t-shirt cannon like apparatus that propels tacos into crowds of rowdy festival-goers. The Taco Cannon was a smash hit at last year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest –  but for whatever reason, last year’s taco vendor Torchy’s Tacos decided to opt out and create their own device for their own promotional purposes. According to the Austin Business Journal, in light of this treason, Transmission Events decided to take their business elsewhere for this year’s Fun Fun Fun and I’m glad Tamale House agreed to supply the ammunition. This taco arms race is getting out of control!

Magic Shroom from Torchy’s Tacos

After enjoying our lunch-time breakfast, we headed to Day 1 of the festival. After reliving some high school memories during Jimmy Eat World’s set and crushing on Houndmouth’s female keyboard player, we decided to refuel. The second meal of National Taco Day was coincidentally, another taco. Ironically, said taco was from the treacherous Torchy’s Tacos. Though I’d choose Tamale House in a Taco Cannon shoot out any day, Torchy’s is still an Austin mainstay that turns out pretty decent tacos. I decided on the Magic Shroom – a loaded, portabello taco on a flour tortilla that filled me up in time for Vampire Weekend.

DAY 2

On Day 2, I decided to branch out of my taco comfort zone and try some different delicacies. We started the day off with spirited chick rockers HAIM and laidback Swedish trio Junip, and my first meal of the day was of the Mediterranean persuasion. Tino’s Greek Cafe is known for their mouthwatering gyros, tabouli and falafel – so for meal one, I went with a hearty falafel wrap on warm pita with lettuce, tomato and tangy tzatziki sauce. Saturday afternoon featured some of my favorite musical acts – Grimes, Portugal. The Man, Passion Pit and Kendrick Lamar and as you can imagine, one works up quite an appetite after an electrifying Kendrick Lamar set – so my late night snack was an avocado and black bean torta from hip, modern Mexican restaurant La Condesa.

Falafel Wrap from Tino’s Greek Cafe

Avocado Torta from La Condesea

DAY 3

You don’t have to attend a three-day musical festival to feel the familiar Sunday hangover slash excuse to go to brunch and drink more, and just because the government shut down, it doesn’t mean that Sunday Funday has to stop. The weather was gorgeous on Sunday, probably the most beautiful we’ve had this year – so my friends and I unanimously decided on an outdoor patio to pre-game our final day of ACL. Hands down one of my favorite new spots in Austin is Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden – complete with 105 taps and an unbelievable selection of exotic sausage, bratwurst and meats, this place is a must for newbies. Plus, Banger’s resides in the heart of Rainey street, an adorable neighborhood of local bars outside of downtown. On nice days, families bring their dogs, polka bands grace the outdoor stage and friends eat, drink and be merry – for the super devoted, Banger’s will even pay for your tattoo if you agree to permanently mark your person with their logo that combines a beer stein, sausage and cowboy boot. I had my understandable misgivings about the brunch selection since the Banger’s menu is known for its pig roasts, venison and sausage. But to my pleasant surprise – there were great vegetarian options to choose from as well. Per my waitress’ recommendation, I went with the Veggie Benny – a poached egg on an English muffin topped with avocado, fresh tomato and crunchy chipotle-dusted shoestring potatoes.

BONUS: Though popular for their selection of beer, Banger’s features one of the best brunch cocktails in Austin – The Manmosa – one liter of bubbly orange juice goodness that guarantees the haziest day drunken delirium and/or restful afternoon nap. Naturally, my party of five decided to end the weekend like Grown Men – So cheers to the Manmosa and Cheers to Men! (They were so heavy, I could barely hold up my stein glass)

Veggie Benny from Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden

The Manmosa from Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden

Grown Men

Not gonna lie, heading to the festival after that feast was pretty rough – we were all uncomfortably full, but also blissfully content and filled with champagne-induced day dreams. But we all rallied like the Grown Men we are and embarked on the final day of ACL. Some of the best music was on Sunday – reliving high school again through Chris Carrabba’s new band, Twin Forks and chilling through folk songwriters The Lone Bellow – it turned into quite a beautiful afternoon. Later that afternoon, Divine Fits, The National and Tame Impala melted our faces off and before finishing off the night with Phoenix and super group Atoms for Peace, I decided on Indian cuisine for my ACL Last Supper. I went with a spicy Chana Masala wrap from Lambas Royal Indian Food, which was packed with tender chickpeas and flavor. I know this photo looks kinda gross, but the Chana Masala wrap was one of my favorite eats of the weekend.

Chana Masala Wrap from Lambas Royal Indian Foods

EPILOGUE

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention booze. After all, you can’t spell alcohol without ACL – so I’d be negligent if I didn’t talk about how to stay (de)hydrated during ACL. The aforementioned $9 Bud Lite Tall Boys were certainly a daily staple, but there were certainly other ways to add variety to your alcohol intake. ACL is pretty strict about what you can and can’t bring into the park, so pocket shots are a godsend. These miniature packets of whiskey, rum and vodka can be easily concealed in a purse, backpack or cargo short, so my friends and I stocked up on them for the weekend. You can buy them from most local liquor stores and they mix super smoothly with refreshing Sweet Leaf Tea.

Also, if your taste in beer is a little more refined than Bud Lite or Budweiser – right next to the Austin Eats food court, ACL housed a shaded oasis flowing with craft beer and huge projection screens that were showing the weekend football games. The Barton Springs Beer Hall had eight brews on tap for the same price as the canned Tall Boys sold around the park, so my crew alternated between craft and domestic. The craft beer obviously tasted better and the Beer Hall provided a welcome break from the relentless UV rays, but the Tall Boys were also easier to carry, harder to spill and more accessible since they were sold at multiple booths around the festival grounds. At some points, the Beer Hall was almost as popular as some of the ACL stages – especially during that soul-crushing Cowboys Broncos 99-point game on Sunday afternoon. *Shudders*

Pocket shot and Sweet Leaf Mint and Honey Green Tea

Barton Springs Beer Hall at Austin City Limits

Well, I hope that preview was sufficient for anyone planning on attending Round 2 of ACL this upcoming weekend. I’m still detoxing from last week’s shenanigans, so I’m planning on staying in – but it is only Thursday. Looking ahead, I’m not sure if meat will be in my future or not. But I can confidently say that this past weekend’s experiment showed me that I can still partake in delicious cuisine and destroy my liver without diluting my overall ACL experience.

For you Weekend 2 Attendees – Have fun and be safe. And most importantly, eat, drink and be merry!

“Wild animals, with true natures and pure talents. Wild animals with scientific-sounding Latin names that mean something about our DNA. Wild animals each with his own strengths and weaknesses due to his or her species.” 

-Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox is probably my favorite Wes Anderson film; its humor, whimsy and perfectly cast group of voice actors comprise one of the most clever, heartfelt movies I’ve ever watched. Though it’s a PG-rated, animated film based off of a children’s book, the quote above has always stuck with me. In spite of himself, Mr. Fox is sly, wily and clever simply because he’s a wild animal. As a wild animal, it’s in his nature to hunt, sneak and steal in the same way it’s in rabbits’ nature to run, burrow and hop. It’s the same concept as the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog that Ryan Gosling so aptly retells in the movie Drive. The scorpion stung and therefore, killed his friend the frog simply because its his nature. Foxes, scorpions, leopards and their unchanging spots – How many adages are there in the English language that convey the message that animals act upon instinct, and animals behave the way they do because its just in their nature?

I bring this up because it reminds me of a particularly personal struggle I’ve faced for about six years. When I was a junior in college, I read a glossy pamphlet no larger than an index card that was handed to me by some grassroots, unshowered yuppie on a street corner. In summary, the literature touted the health, environmental and most obviously, animal welfare benefits to a vegetarian diet. Being not swayed, but fascinated by these arguments, I spontaneously decided to experiment with vegetarianism for a week.

I didn’t research the subject any further nor was I particularly compelled to stop eating meat for the rest of my life. I love meat. I always have. I love barbecue. I love burgers. I grew up frequenting a steak house my uncle was an accountant for during my formative years and was never unnerved by the hanging ducks and reeking fish that welcomed (and stared at) me when I’d regularly accompany my mother to the Chinese Super Market. I had no intention of removing meat from my diet for longer than seven days, and even doubted that I could abstain from it for that long.

However, the first week went by remarkably quickly. It was actually pretty easy – so easy that one week turned into a month, and eventually two years. I rarely craved or missed meat and never had trouble finding menu items at all of my favorite dining establishments. In fact, as a college student, being vegetarian was an ideal situation for practical reasons alone. Being less expensive than most omnivorous fare, saving those extra dollars for beer money was a welcome perk. And as someone who is notoriously unskilled in the kitchen, subsisting on primitive meals like cereal and grilled cheese was a pretty easy existence. Without holding any particular moral convictions against eating meat, living without it was surprisingly very doable.

I admit, every now and then I’d cheat during those two years – I’d crave the weirdest things. I’d rarely want a burger or chicken nuggets like I expected, but usually culinary oddities like sushi, lox and bagels or New England clam chowder – things that didn’t really have vegetarian equivalents in genre or texture. I was never that strict about whether my food was cooked in chicken stock or alongside other meat either – I just generally didn’t eat meat, and I was fine with it.

I didn’t eat a lot of vegetables either. People often ask if I lost weight during that extended dietary experiment, and in all honesty, I probably gained a few pounds – there is a surprising amount of food that contains no meat, but also next to no vegetables or anything of nutritious value – pizza, grilled cheese, mac and cheese, cake, pasta, ice cream and candy to name a few. Whatever the reason, I considered myself 98% vegetarian with very few qualms or slip-ups.

After those two years, I slowly started incorporating meat back into my diet. I could have stayed loyal to it if I only cared about my own well being, but eating is rarely a solo endeavor. The real reason I regressed was because it confused the hell out of my peers, and most importantly, my family. Watching my sweet mother toil and stress about what I could and couldn’t eat was painful and unnecessary, especially during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. So when I visited my folks, I would just politely eat whatever they prepared for me. Then after I graduated, I took a job that required me to travel and I subsisted on fast food and take-out almost every day, making it harder to survive solely on french fries and fruit and yogurt parfaits.

I’ve gone back and forth with these meat-free experiments ever since – my sister acutally finds it quite funny, and it is. For me personally, being a conscious eater and citizen of the world is much more about dramatically lessening my consumption of meat rather than eliminating it all together. If everyone only ate meat every other day, or perhaps even once a day – I truly think the world would be a better place. Unfortunately, that level of societal change will never happen in our life time and Americans are getting unhealthier, fatter and greedier every day – so I’ve been internally faced with the dilemma of being against The Problem with no hopes of lasting impact or being part of The Problem because it’s a hopeless cause and meat is well, delicious.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer has been on my reading list for years; I loved reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Everything Is Illuminated  and have always found Foer’s wit, humor and style of writing very enjoyable. So now, nearly 4 years after it was published, I sat down and read the damn book.

This particular book struck quite a chord with me; rather than merely sharing statistics, facts and data about why we should or should not eat animals – the author looked upon the subject matter very thoughtfully and very personally. He too went back and forth between different dietary choices in his young adult years and never made a concrete decision on the matter. Motivated by the birth of his first child and having legitimate parental concern for what was best for his son’s health, Foer dove into multi-year research project to learn about how our food is produced, uncovering the ramifications of continuing to consume animal products at the current rate. Though this was a non-fiction book that was beautifully researched and meticulously edited, Foer truly made this work a story, which is probably why I identified with it so closely.

He discusses the culture, history, tradition and meaning of food and the social and emotional implications of sharing meals with friends and family members. Furthermore, he takes a philosophical approach on many issues that make readers second guess their beliefs. If Americans love their cats and dogs so much and give millions of dollars to the pet industry, why don’t we ever think twice about eating other animals? The thought of torturing said dogs and cats or eating them is abhorrent because they’re our pets. NFL quarterback Michael Vick even served time for his dog fighting escapades – but pigs and chickens can be pets too, and just because they just happen to be delicious, it’s okay that we eat them, and we don’t seem to mind that their treatment and slaughter is unsanitary, violent and sometimes sadistic beyond belief.

I think it’s important to note that this book is less about whether it’s wrong for humans to eat animals. After all, animals eat animals. If you really think about it, some animals technically eat humans. This book is more about unveiling atrocious factory farming practices – how this irresponsible system is destroying our planet, diminishing our health and not to mention, not only killing our animals – but making them suffer. Humans have engineered them into unnatural genetic mutations that produce optimal meat and lay the most eggs with limited amounts of space, light and feed. We rarely consider the terrible working conditions of employees in the slaughter house or the amount of pollution factory farming produces – quite literally, animal shit that gets sprayed into the air we breathe and the water we drink. It’s pretty gruesome stuff, but it’s the machine that is capitalism, which is why it depresses me when I think about it.

I think that’s the hardest part for us humans to grasp – we don’t think about it. We don’t think about how the animals we eat are raised, transported or slaughtered. We also don’t think about how deformed and disgusting they are in the current system; some chickens and turkeys can’t even walk because they’re so grossly overfed. Most factory farmed animals can’t even reproduce naturally anymore, which is probably the most sobering contradiction to evolution there is. Humans have literally altered some species to the point where they can no longer continue existing without our help. It’s like playing God in the Jurassic Park model – we have such control over other living creatures, yet act so indifferent towards their welfare.

My hope for the world is a sea change in how we control our intake of animal products. For example, Foer profiles several responsible, sustainable farmers who love their land, love their work and absolutely love their animals – even if they are raised for slaughter. Unfortunately, these heroes are the Davids to the Goliaths that are factory farming corporations, and unlike the Biblical tale, these underdogs are losing the battles. Being humane stewards of the earth is a principal almost all religious and political belief systems agree on, and the way our country raises animals is contradictory to all of the progress we’ve made. Factory farming is no longer about feeding the world; it’s about making money (and making people obese, asthmatic and allergic to things), and I’m having a hard time reconciling not necessarily my beliefs, but what I know is wrong with the food I love to eat.

Sure, it was easy being a vegetarian the first time around, but I’m not a college student anymore. I’m an adult and I live in a city with a flourishing food culture, and I love food. I love trying new restaurants. I love going out to eat with my friends. And *sigh* I still love meat.

I’m sure you’re wondering why my obsession with Fantastic Mr. Fox has transformed into an unexpected diatribe about my personal dietary dilemmas and the horrors of the factory farming system. Perhaps, it’s because I can’t quite determine whether humans are really that different from wild animals. Is it really our nature to tamper with nature? Is it natural to pump ourselves with man-made chemicals and hormones? And is it really in our nature to torture other living things that clearly have the capacity for intelligence, emotion and creating social hierarchies? We’re supposed to be intelligent and civilized, walking upright, speaking language and twiddling our ever-dexterous opposable thumbs. So if we are such evolved creatures, how can we consciously keep consuming animal products so thoughtlessly and irresponsibly? Or at least how can I after reading 350 some-odd pages of compelling truths about eating animals?

I’ve never been a radical – liberal yes, but never extremist. Sometimes, I associate PETA more with terrorism than activism in the same way I group pro-lifers who bomb abortion clinics in a similar bucket. What I’m saying is – I will probably never completely stop eating meat. I highly doubt that I could ever go vegan. My mom would probably very easily talk me into eating her unapologetically greasy Asian stir-fry, and I couldn’t imagine Thanksgiving without watching the Cowboys with my dad followed by a wonderful tryptophan-induced nap. But I can tell you, I will always know in the back of my mind how disgusting my food really is and I can tell you that I’ve never had a harder time separating the source from the end product than I do now. For now, I’m going to focus on eating meat much less – perhaps, never preparing meat for myself or for others.

I don’t want to label myself as a vegetarian because I’m obviously going to be a terrible one. Again. But I do want to be a conscious, informed and socially responsible omnivore (or pescatarian or lacto-ovo what have you) – and I can only hope that one day my eating habits can influence the behaviors of others, or even the world, and lead to less guilt and regret.

One interesting fact that you might not know about me is that I have a huge girl crush on smokin’ hot Sports Illustrated model Chrissy Teigen. Not only is she gorgeous (which is what ignited my initial attraction to her), but Teigen is interesting, smart and a hilarious person to follow on Twitter and Instagram.
Fun fact: Chrissy Tiegen retweeted me once and it was probably the biggest social media interaction I’ve ever had with a celebrity (I’ve been fortunate enough to experience a few from the likes of iconic rapper Bun B and my favorite producer Diplo).
Anyway, in addition to her constant (yet entertaining) social media activity, Chrissy Teigen also has a mouthwatering food blog where she chronicles her adventures in culinary school and different recipes she and her fiance John Legend love to cook. I’m not sure how Teigen manages to maintain her bikini-ready physique with some of her dietary choices, but I certainly admire a model who openly says that it’s okay to treat yourself and love food. It’s so refreshing compared to the rail thin runway models who survive on celery or Kate Moss’ ass backwards “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” mentality.
Anyway, Chrissy Teigen is inspiring to me in more ways than one – this year, she and John Legend decided to spend their holidays in Tokyo and essentially ate nothing but Japanese-style ramen noodles for a full week. It can’t be a coincidence that I too am constantly eating ramen and tirelessly trying to unearth new spots in Austin that serve this flavorful noodle dish.
As you can tell from my favorable reviews of Ramen Tatsu-ya and East Side King, I have a soft spot for Japanese noodles. Last week alone, I tried 3 different ramen dishes in the span of 5 days. Something is wrong with me.

Squid ink curry ramen from East Side King

Miso Not Ramen from Ramen Tatsu-ya

A lot of my peers asked if I’d tried Kome ramen yet, saying it was comparable to Ramen Tatsu-ya, some even making bold statements claiming that it was better. Acclaimed for its sushi and only serving ramen during lunch, I was excited to try this place out on one of my Friday lunch breaks.
Turns out the reviews were right – it was just as good, better in some ways. I can’t determine which dish I prefer since they’re both so delicious, but I will point out some advantages that I really appreciated about my dining experience at Kome.
Tonkatsu Ramen from Kome

Tonkatsu Ramen from Kome

Food – Both dishes were comparable in taste, but Kome definitely put more ramen and toppings in the bowl. Ramen Tatsu-ya makes you pay extra for corn, hot sauce, even extra noodles. I simply got more value out of my Kome ramen.
Ambience – I got seated right away at Kome and didn’t feel crowded or stuffy. One of the drawbacks about Ramen Tatsu-ya is their seating model. The little restaurant is always cramped and crowded – I realize they don’t have much room to sit and high demand which is why there’s always a long line of patrons waiting to order and get seated. But the line files through the middle of the restaurant, right between the main tables where the majority of customers sit and dine. People who are already seated and trying to enjoy their meals are eye level with the belt loops of other customers waiting in line, which is a tad uncomfortable. Plus, there is always the risk of a waiter carrying heavy bowls of steaming hot soup tripping or running into you as they weave their way around people waiting in line.

Ladies room in Ramen Tatsu-Ya

Ladies room in Kome

Bathrooms – Both restaurants have awesome bathrooms. Who wouldn’t like this schizophrenic graffiti in Ramen Tatsu-ya? However, Kome took the minimalist design approach. I think the toilet paper wrapped in Japanese newspaper was a subtle, but nice attention to detail.

Best chopsticks I’ve ever used

Chopsticks – Kome’s utensils are the sharpest and most balanced chopsticks I’ve ever eaten with. Unbelievably easy to use.
Anyway, I don’t know if I’ll ever kick my ramen kick. Possibly when the weather warms up a little, but for now I’m eating it on a weekly basis and it’s wonderful.

Chefs Paul Qui and Moto Utsunomiya at new East Side King at Hole in the Wall via Thrillist

Hands down, the best food I’ve discovered this year is Paul Qui’s series of East Side King food trucks. Rightfully earning the title of Top Chef Texas and demonstrating excellence in Asian cuisine, Qui has been rapidly expanding his culinary portfolio. In the short time since he won the competition, Qui has certainly left quite an imprint on the city of Austin. Qui’s food trucks are among the top recommendations I give Austin newbies who want to try something local or check out the flourishing food cart scene in our weird city.
If you follow me on any of my social networks, you have likely been inundated with mouthwatering photos of East Side King’s Asian-inspired street food. The dishes are flavorful, unique and it’s not uncommon for my friends and I to drop $50 or more and ravenously feast (Of note, the menu items are totally affordable – we just collectively order a large variety of dishes and share). There’s something for everyone; there are items appropriate for either a full meal or a light snack at the bar depending on your varying degrees of hunger. There are plenty of vegetarian options as well.
Here are a few photos of my favorite East Side King delicacies:

Chicken karaage and Liberty Rice at the Liberty location

Pho Buns and Fried Rice Balls from the Shangri-La location

Before & After (from Left to Right): Shrimp Ebi Ebi Tacos, Pho Buns, Fried Rice Balls, Spicy Edameme and Chicken Skin Buns at Shangri-La location

Another Before & After shot from the Shangri-La location

Paul Qui finally opened a brick-and-mortar East Side King location on the UT Campus and my friends and I finally tried it out last night. Featuring a full service bar, similar menu items from his food trucks and the addition of a few Ramen noodle dishes, the new East Side King restaurant lived up to my expectations! The ambiance of the restaurant is hip, fun and inviting – perfect for late night cravings for UT students and grown adults who want to enjoy a pitcher of beer and good food. The restaurant is connected to the Hole In the Wall dive bar off the main campus drag, and as a faithful alumni who’s extremely familiar with the UT campus – I can honestly say that I’ve never been to that establishment. But with East Side King out back and its pinball machines, cool artwork, pitchers of Sapporo beer and savory Ramen noodles – I have a feeling I might stop in for a drink one of these days.

East Side King at Hole in the Wall

 

Personal favorite dishes at all East Side King locations. Try them out – you will thank me later.
Food truck at Shangri-La
  • Spicy Edamame
  • Ebi Ebi Tacos
  • Pho Buns
Food truck at The Liberty
  • Poor Qui’s Buns
  • Tongue Buns
  • Tori Meshi
Restaurant at Hole in the Wall
  • Tori Meshi
  • SapporoBeerBacon MisoRamen
  • Squid Ink Curry Ramen

Me and Paul Qui at The Grackle

One day, I was fortunate enough to run into Top Chef Texas himself. In spite of all of his talent and success, he’s probably the friendliest, humblest and most unassuming entrepreneur/reality show TV star/famous chef you’ll ever meet.

I hope everyone enjoyed their much-needed and well-deserved long weekend because I know I certainly did. I paid a long overdue visit to my underwhelming suburban hometown, ate too much turkey and spent some (but not enough) quality time with friends and family. As I’m sure you’ve experienced, no holiday is devoid of at least some stress or frustration – so I listed a series of pros and cons summarizing my holiday. Cons aside, ultimately, it was wonderful.

Pro
Naps – The greatest thing about visiting my suburban hometown and staying with my easygoing old parents is the over abundance of free time. To put it simply, there were just multiple occasions where I had nothing to do. There were no errands to run, no work to attend to and only a few friends to visit. When nothing on TV or my bookshelf looked particularly stimulating, I’d simply just take a nap. As a gainfully employed member of the workforce, I rarely have time to sleep just for the hell of it. I napped at least once a day over Thanksgiving break and it was fantastic (on Thursday it was obviously tryptophan-induced). And yes, that’s my bedroom where I spent a good portion of my formative years. My mother so kindly collected every mismatched pillow and stuffed animal in the house when making my bed and preparing my room for me.

Con
Football – Last week, I watched that new Bradley Cooper/Jennifer Lawrence movie, Silver Linings Playbook. I loved the movie, I loved the cast and I loved the humor – ultimately, an excellent, excellent film. However, an ongoing plot point in the movie involved superstitious behavior affecting the final outcomes of Philadelphia Eagles football games. Since I watched that film, EVERY single one of my teams lost on Thanksgiving and the days following. The Cowboys lost. The Longhorns lost. The Packers lost. But Oklahoma and Texas A&M won. Fucking Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro compromised the fate of my football allegiances and I’m borderline hysterical. Hopefully, my Fantasy Team wins this week as our league heads into playoffs. Believe it or not, I’m counting on the Eagles’ wide receiver to clench this week’s win for me. According to Silver Linings Playbook, “DeSean Jackson is the man.” Therefore, DeSean Jackson better show up tonight and break this awful losing streak that almost ruined the holiday for me and my family.

Pro
Megabus – I decided to test the Megabus waters for the very first time. Thanksgiving traffic in Central Texas is a nightmare so I thought the holiday warranted an opportune time to try this alternative mode of transportation. The fact that I didn’t have to drive and sit through 5 hours of stop-and-go traffic was a godsend. For $40 round-trip, my friend and I watched 2 discs of the Friday Night Lights TV series, ate snacks and napped multiple times. It even had a reasonably clean bathroom. I don’t mind long commutes – traffic and distance are factors far beyond my control. However, if I have to spend 5 hours in traffic, I’d much rather multitask, watch movies, read or sleep than be alert, focused and bored the entire time.

Con
Megabus – In spite of the pros I just detailed, this mode of transport definitely has some room for improvement. Operationally, Megabus left something to be desired. Long lines, poor communication and logistics just led to a frustrating experience on top of a commute that was already abnormally long. Luggage could have been unloaded more efficiently. The check-in process could have been expedited. There were just a lot of easy fixes to what I considered very trivial problems. I can’t judge Megabus fairly from this one journey, especially because I chose the busiest weekend of the year to try it out. If we’re evaluating cost vs. reward, it’s ultimately still a great service with a few understandable, but fixable glitches.

Pro
Family – I’m fortunate that I live close enough to my family where I can always return home for the holidays or any other occasion that warrants a short, weekend visit. I don’t have to deal with expensive holiday travel or taking precious time off, and for the most part, I can see my parents, sister and big extended family with little to no hassle. I’m blessed with a big, loud, loving family, and as my generation grows older, my family continues expanding and becoming closer knit as my cousins marry and have children. Though I’m on the fence about reproducing (the expense, the responsibility and the stress are not things I look forward to), the kids are always my favorite relatives to visit because they grow up and significantly change every time I see them. It pains me that my personal favorite cousin/nephew, Nicholas, will soon approach the age where it’s uncool to give hugs and hang out with his elders, so I’m cherishing these last few years where he still looks up to me and genuinely enjoys spending time with me. Thankfully, Baby Benjamin has quite a while before he starts rejecting my affections. Ha.

Con
Holiday weight 
– This is a no brainer, but I ate my weight during our family’s Thanksgiving feast and I ate my feelings during all of those miserable football games I mentioned above. A lot of people ask if my family conducts a traditional Thanksgiving, and we do. We don’t cook rice or potstickers or duck though many Asian families do, but every year my parents fry up a batch of eggrolls to snack on while people prepare food in the kitchen or watch the afternoon football games in the living room. As you can see, these delicious morsels are swimming in delicious grease. I’m lucky I didn’t pop any buttons off my jeans or you know, have a heart attack. Good thing New Year’s resolutions are just around the corner.

For the overwhelming majority of my 25 years, I’ve equated Ramen noodles with what most of you would equate Ramen noodles with – the affordable and convenient pre-packaged cup noodles that serve as staple items in virtually every college student’s pantry. However, I was recently introduced to a traditional Japanese Ramen eatery here in Austin and I’m never going back to those economy-sized packages of MSG and beef/chicken/shrimp flavored powder.

Ramen Tatsu-Ya has only been open a little over three months and has certainly lived up to its cult-following calibur hype. Currently, the restaurant is only open five days a week during dinner hours and there’s usually a line of eager patrons patiently waiting out the door. Though this line may look intimidating, I’d advise against giving up and trying again later because the line actually moves reasonably fast. Once you finally reach that sacred cash register at the front counter, it’s pretty smooth sailing from there.

Your food comes out hot and fast and though the waitstaff is busy, they’re also friendly and super attentive. The food is also a force to be reckoned with – the traditional Tonkotsu broth is a hearty, creamy, buttery combination of meaty flavor – up to 60 hours of preparation go into creating the broth alone. In fact, ramen virgins are encouraged to take a few minutes to savor the broth before trying the noodles and other accouterments.

Ramen Tatsu-Ya also features a slew of extra toppings you can add to your dish – spices, extra noodles, you name it – it’s like a Pinkberry, but hotter and much saltier. I consider these satisfying ramen dishes as a nice alternative to Vietnamese pho which is usually my cold weather, Asian comfort food go-to. This place is purely traditional Japanese – they don’t even carry forks because ramen is meant to be enjoyed with chopsticks. If soup and noodles aren’t your thing; I feel sorry for you – but fortunately, this place offers other options that look quite admirable – their edamame (both spicy and regular) is some of the best I’ve had. Their sliders and curry bowls have also received rave reviews. Their cold house sake and mochi ice also add a nice refreshing kick to mitigate the savoriness of the meal.

If you’re in Austin at all during the cold weather months, I would stop and visit this charming little place. Your belly will thank you profusely.