Hal’s BBQ takes over the former La Barbecue truck space

With La Barbecue recently opening inside the Quickie Pickie, there became a hole (located at 1906 E. Cesar Chavez St.) in Austin’s barbecue market. That hole was quickly filled by Hal’s BBQ, a new food truck serving the classics, like brisket and ribs, in addition to offering specials like Taco Tuesdays. The operators make all five of their barbecue sauces in their truck, including their signature habanero sauce, Texas Fight Sauce. The truck also makes all of their own sides, which include potato salad, cole slaw, and a melon salad. Hal’s is open WednesdaySunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (or sold out).



Old Thousand Chinese restaurant in East Austin adds lunch service

Chinese restaurant Old Thousand begins lunch service Tuesday at 11 a.m. The menu from the hip-hop-loving restaurant will serve buns, egg rolls, brisket fried rice, and much more (though a menu is not yet online).

Brisket fried rice at Old Thousand features brisket from nearby Micklethwait Craft Meats. (Ricardo B. Brazziell AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The restaurant, from Uchiko veteran James Dumapit and Uchi alumnus David Baek, is located at 1100 E. 11th St. Read my review from March here.


Veracruz All Natural opens first Austin brick-and-mortar restaurant off Burnet Road

The best migas taco in Austin (and a lot more) finally has a restaurant to call its own. Veracruz All Natural, which sells Mexican food from trucks on East Cesar Chavez Street and Manchaca Road (Radio Coffee & Bar), opened softly this week at 9003 Waterford Centre Blvd. (near US 183 and Burnet Road). Veracruz already had a brick-and-mortar location in Round Rock, but this is its first within the Austin city limits.

In addition to the popular tacos at the truck, like the migas and La Reyna, the restaurant is also serving chicken mole, picadas (open-faced tacos), cochinita pibil, smoothies and more. Veracruz in North Austin is initially only open from 7 a.m.to 3 p.m. and plans to celebrate its grand opening on October 7.

Maritza Vazquez at the original Veracruz All-Natural truck on East Cesar Chavez Street. (Ralph Barrera AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Sisters Maritza and Reyna Vazquez, Veracruz, Mexico natives, opened their first trailer in East Austin in 2009, two years after they launched their original fruit and sno-cone stand. The trailer have made a name for themselves on the strength of homemade tortillas, excellent salsas and a variety of tacos, including my favorite migas in the city, a steaming twirl of fluffy eggs tangled with crisp tortilla strips, feathered avocado, gooey cheese and a perfect balance of salt and pepper. The migas have earned national media attention, and I know several national food writers and chefs who have made multiple visits to the original food truck during visits to Austin; Alton Brown declared the migas the best taco in Austin on a recent visit.


Founding chef Ned Elliott sells Foreign & Domestic Austin to chefs Nathan Lemley and Sarah Heard

Former Parkside executive chef Nathan Lemley and his partner, chef Sarah Heard, have purchased Foreign & Domestic Austin from founding chef Ned Elliott. Both chefs are also alumni of the North Loop restaurant that Elliott opened in 2010, with Lemley, a three-year veteran of Foreign & Domestic, serving as Elliott’s original sous chef.

Chefs Sarah Heard and Nathan Lemley are the new owners of Foreign & Domestic Austin. (Contributed)
“I’m really proud of them and very happy for them. They’re going to do awesome and breathe new life into the place,” Elliott said of Heard and Lemley.
The partners say they have small changes planned for the restaurant that will keep the same name and general look, but judging by their early Instagrams, it seems diners should expect thoughtful contemporary bistro fare.
“”It’s pretty much every chef‘s dream restaurant: Small, open kitchen, cool neighborhood, adventurous clientele,” Lemley and Heard said in a text message. “We love the concept, but we’ll put our own touches on the food and service.”
Pulled by his love of home and out of concern for the health of his mothers, Elliott will return to his native Cincinnati next summer to open a Foreign & Domestic there. He says the Cincinnati restaurant will be about twice the size of the Austin location and feature a raw bar and private dining space.
Elliott will also turn his attention to Houston, with plans to open a restaurant there late next year. He is in negotiations for a location in the Bellaire neighborhood and says those plans would include a restaurant four times the size of the Austin location. Elliott wants the Houston location to be “more of a hangout than fine dining” and says diners will be able to enjoy a range of options, from hamburgers during the week to a three-course dinners on the weekend.
Elliott intends to spend about half of his time in Cincinnati and then divide the other half between Houston and Austin, and says while he has a future possibility in Austin that he wants to “take a step back and do more big picture things and invest in young talent.”
When Elliott and his then-wife, Jodi Elliott, veterans of restaurants such as Per Se, Gramercy Tavern and Bouley in New York, opened the restaurant in a former skateboard shop and homebrew store in 2010, they were at the cutting edge of the food scene in Austin, bringing national trends like nose-to-tail dining to a city that was at the cusp of becoming one of the nation’s darling upstarts. The restaurant, which had an early menu featuring items like bone marrow croquettes, crispy pig ears, venison heart tartare and sublime popovers, earned Statesman restaurant critic Mike Sutter’s nod for best new restaurant in 2010. Foreign & Domestic was a staple in the Austin360 Dining Guide Top 25 for years, earning a Top 10 ranking four of the last five years.
In addition to elevating what Austinites could expect not just from restaurants but specifically from a neighborhood restaurant, Elliott also celebrated young talent from around the country, for several years hosting the annual Indie Chefs Week, a week of collective dinners from rising star chefs from across the world. Jodi Elliott currently operates Bribery Bakery in the Wells Branch neighborhood, and recently closed her shop at Mueller.


House Pizzeria on Airport Boulevard closes

One of my Top 10 pizza places from my 2015 list has closed. House Pizzeria on Airport Boulevard, a 2016 Austin360 Dining Guide Critic’s Pick, closed following service last night, according to a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page. The restaurant opened in a green-renovated KFC building in 2009 and was an early mover in the Austin restaurant in scene in bringing unexpected quality and craft to casual food. It also helped spur the Renaissance of Airport Boulevard as a dining destination. In addition to great pizzas and fresh salads, House also featured an excellent jukebox and strong local beer selection. House was #6 on my list of the best pizza places in Austin in 2015, and would certainly have had a spot in the Top 10 were the list updated today.

The arrabiata special at House Pizzeria packs a spicy kick. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

There was no word given as to the closure. The statement on their Facebook page read as follows:

Thank you to all who helped make House Pizzeria everything it has become during the past 10 years. From the renovation of an old fast food place in 2007 to our first day of business in 2009, we’re proud of our accomplishments large and small and are full of gratitude for the friendships formed with staff members and guests in the 8 1/2 years since.

Our last day of business is Sunday, September 24.
Cheers to you. We created something special together.

El Naranjo’s benefit dinner and other Austin restaurants contributing to Mexico earthquake-relief efforts

Chef Iliana de Vega, together with guest chef Gabriel Ibarra, executive chef from Cappy’s, Cappyccino and La Fonda on Maine, will host a dinner next Thursday night (9/28) at her restaurant, El Naranjo (85 Rainey St.), to raise money for relief efforts in her native Mexico following the devastating earthquake of last week.

The three-course dinner, along with mezcal, tequila and wine pairings, is $75 per person, and all proceeds will be donated to Citibanamex Compromiso Social which seeks to aid in Oaxaca and Mexico City earthquake relief. All funds raised will be matched dollar by dollar by Citibanamex Compromiso Social.

For more information or to RSVP call 512-474-2776 or through elnaranjorestaurant.com.

A woman holds her child as she stands next to wall turned to rubble when it collapsed during a massive earthquake in Mexico City on September 8.
(AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

If you know of other restaurants, bars or food trucks raising or collecting money or goods for relief efforts in Mexico, please email modam@statesman.com.

Is Chipotle’s all-natural queso good? This Texan finds out.

One of the main gripes I used to hear from people about Chipotle was its lack of queso. (And, yes, Ecoli and norovirus.) You can serve all the humanely raised meat you want, but in Texas, if you’re going to serve Tex-Mex, you better have queso.

Of course, the inherent problem with Chipotle and queso is that the company has long made its name on sourcing conscientiously and serving products with no added colors, preservatives or flavors. And, if you’ve looked under the hood on many quesos, you’re going to find products like EZ Melt, Extra Melt and Velveeta. Not exactly paragons of naturalness.

Also,anyone who’s made queso at home using natural cheese also knows that it can be tricky to melt into the same flavor and consistency as dips made with the products mentioned above. Something had to give. And, Chipotle decided it wasn’t its all-natural ethos.

Last week the company rolled out its queso nationwide, earning a lot of cat calls on Twitter and clapbacks from other websites. Even Goldman Sachs got skittish about Chipotle stock following the release. This Texan decided he needed to try it.

Queso at Chipotle. (Credit: Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The verdict: It’s hard to make all-natural queso taste good. The large bowl ($5.40 with a bag of chips) had a slightly gloopy consistency with a bit of chalkiness. It is obviously a mixture of milk and sharp cheddar, and the predominant flavor from the cheese is an astringent bitterness that lingers after the initial wave of smoky chipotle pepper, cumin and jalapeno. It kind of tastes like I imagine biting into the hardened, dried edge of a block of cheddar would. Any bit of sweetness from tomato paste or yellow onion hid in the gloop.

So, kudos to Chipotle for trying to do things the right way, but there’s a reason some people will always want their queso to be a little fake. Also, take it from someone who ate queso at 10+ places earlier this year for an abandoned story: most queso isn’t that great anyway. If I am eating queso for pleasure, however, it is usually from Fresa’s or Torchy’s (the best thing on their menu).

TL;DR version: I give Chipotle’s queso a 5 out of 10.


Tickets on sale for Franklin Barbecue’s Hurricane Harvey-relief pop-up at Mohawk Sunday

What if you could show up for a lunch of Franklin Barbecue at 1 p.m. and know you’d get food without having to take your chances with the line? That rare occurrence will take place this weekend, as there are tickets being sold in advance for the Hurricane Harvey benefit at the Mohawk (912 Red River St.) Sunday. Tickets are now being sold online, and there will also be tickets available at the door.

[cmg_anvato video=”4061843″]

Tickets for the all-ages event cost $30 (and will likely sell out), and the event runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tickets get diners a plate of brisket, pulled pork, and all the fixins. (Drinks cost extra.) One hundred percent of net profits will be donated to Global Giving: Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

Aaron Franklin at Franklin Barbecue this spring. (RESHMA KIRPALANI / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Franklin Barbecue is operating the pop-up (and the one last weekend) while the restaurant is closed following a fire that ruined their smokehouse in August. Franklin says he’s hoping to be open in the first couple of weeks in October with limited capacity and then sometime around Thanksgiving for full capacity.


BBQ in New York City

We’re eating our way around the barbecue scene in New York City. Follow along on Instagram @matthewodam.

Hometown Bar B Que in Res Hook. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Executive chef Mike Conlon at Hometown Bar B Que in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Restaurant critic Brandon Watson leaving Austin Chronicle for Culture Map

Austin Chronicle food editor and restaurant critic Brandon Watson is leaving the alt-weekly to join Culture Map, Chronicle editor-in-chief Kimberley Jones announced today. Watson, who brought wit, verve and a trunkful  of design references to his role as the Chronicle’s critic, will expand his purview at Culture Map to include coverage of San Antonio.

Credit: Mariam Parker

The Chronicle also revealed that its office manager and 10-year veteran of the paper, Jessi Cape, will take over restaurant coverage.

Best of luck to Watson in his new role and Cape in following Watson, who helped dramatically elevate restaurant criticism at the paper.