From humble origins come great things—sometimes. Nowhere is this more true than in Austin’s food trailer scene, which in recent years has become something of an incubator for future restaurants, helping the cream rise to the top by testing out concepts on a smaller scale. Austin’s food trailers have gained national attention for having some of the most creative, accessible, and downright tasty food. These four restaurants that started as trailers are worth the trip from LA.
Odd Duck's chef is a James Beard finalist this year.
Odd Duck was an inventive food trailer on South Lamar before disappearing in December 2011 with rumors of a restaurant in the works. That eatery finally materialized late last year with the opening of the Odd Duck brick and mortar, and it hasn’t come quietly—in addition to the critical acclaim the restaurant has seen since its opening, executive chef Bryce Gilmore was recently named as Austin’s only 2014 James Beard Award finalist. 1201 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-433-6521
Is there anyone who doesn’t have an opinion on these over-the-top, decadent gourmet doughnuts? Gourdough’s started out in a silver Airstream trailer in 2009, and sweet-and-savory combinations like the Flying Pig, a doughnut topped with bacon and maple syrup icing, led to a quick spike in interest (and blood sugar) on both the local and national levels. The original trailer continues to operate, but now the brick and mortar Gourdough’s Public House steals the show, allowing customers to sip a specialty cocktail alongside their doughnut burger. 2700 S. Lamar Blvd., 512-912-9070
Okay, so, Qui was never technically a trailer. But it might as well have been—it’s impossible to separate chef Paul Qui’s success with Qui from the popularity of his East Side King food trailers. The trailers served as a launching pad for the restaurant, and made Qui’s opening last June a much more highly anticipated event for Austinites. Paul Qui is a former Uchiko chef, a 2012 James Beard Award winner, and a Bravo TV Top Chef winner. 1600 E. 6th St., 512-436-9626
Named the best barbecue in the country by Bon Appetit magazine and No. 1 in Texas by Texas Monthly, Franklin Barbecue started out as a trailer behind a gas station at I-35 and 34th St. When he outgrew the 128-square-foot trailer, pitmaster Aaron Franklin opened a brick and mortar on East 11th St.—and promptly began selling out there as well. Despite the often hours-long line with no guarantee of a blackened, meaty reward at the end, Franklin is a favorite for locals and visitors alike: even Aziz Ansari named Franklin Barbecue as his favorite barbecue joint in a November 2013 Ask Me Anything on Reddit. 900 E. 11th St., 512-653-1187
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BONJWING LEE (QUI); JODY HORTON (ODD DUCK)