Friday, March 6, 2015

AFBA 2015 City Guide: Chinese Food in Austin

I spent the better part of the first eighteen years of my life eating Chinese food pretty much every day. My mom is a formidable cook, so this background led to me being a bit...picky...about my Chinese food. And while Austin isn't exactly a Chinese food mecca, there are some wonderful spots in town to find excellent Chinese cuisine.


Salt & Pepper Squid at Din Ho = "the usual"
I'll admit that the relatively convenient location of Din Ho Chinese BBQ (8557 Research Blvd., Austin, TX 78758) likely contributes heavily to the fact that I most often head there when I'm craving Cantonese food. I've been going there regularly for nearly twenty years, and the food has remained fairly consistent (though the service, unfortunately, has not). Our standard order here always includes salt & pepper squid (called "fresh and dried squid in special salt" on their menu) and sauteed snow pea leaves; other favorites are their won ton soup, Peking duck (served with steamed buns rather than the traditional pancakes), and Singapore style rice noodles.

Great Cantonese food can also be found at First Chinese BBQ (10901 N. Lamar, Austin, TX 78753) and Ho Ho Chinese BBQ (13000 N. IH-35, Austin, TX 78753). If you find yourself out in Lakeway, I've also had some truly outstanding meals at Pao's Mandarin House (2300 Lohman's Spur, Austin TX 78734). Hot tip: Pao's has a secret menu with some of the more traditional dishes on it that I've found you have to ask for unless your party is predominantly Asian.


Sichuan Spicy Sizzling Lamb at Sichuan River
When you start talking Szechuanese food, most people are familiar with the popular Asia Cafe (8650 Spicewood Springs, Austin TX 78759), known for their spicy fish. Ditto A+A Sichuan (13376 Research Blvd., Austin TX 78750), a little ways further west of Asia Cafe. But my favorite Szechuanese food actually comes from two restaurants that very few people seem to have heard of - Sichuan River (4534 Westgate Blvd, Austin TX 78745) down south and Szechuan House (11005 Burnet Rd, Austin TX 78758) up north (ignore the terrible Americanized-looking food on their website - this is not representative!). Both offer several dishes in common that are outstanding: a version of sizzling lamb; dry fried green beans; and ma po tofu. Szechuan House also has a mushroom dish called "Stir Fried Three Kind (sic) of Mushroom" that I would order pretty much every day if I were a vegetarian.


I'm not really sure this is a legitimate category for a Chinese food post, but there were three places whose noodles deserved mention so it seemed like they should all live together. 


Rice Bowl CafĂ© (11220 N. Lamar, Austin TX 78753) serves up a GIGANTIC bowl of handmade noodles with beef and veggies for just $9; they also have my favorite green onion pancakes in town.


Chen's Noodle House (8650 Spicewood Springs Rd., Austin TX 78759) and Chen Z (6705 Hwy 290, Austin TX 78735) both offer a variety of wonderful handmade noodle dishes in delightfully divey surroundings.

Xian Noodles at Xian Sushi & Noodle

Xian Sushi & Noodle (Two locations: Mueller - 1801 E. 51st St., Bldg C 370, Austin TX 78723 and Northwest - 13201 RR 620 N. Ste U208, Austin TX 78717) is the only place in town where you can watch a chef hand pull your noodles before serving them. You can choose the thickness of your noodles; I think the texture of the thicker ones like the pappardelle adds a bit of oomph that makes the noodles taste more homemade.


Dan Ta (custard tarts) from Wu Chow
Austin is, unfortunately, sorely lacking in good dim sum spots; at the moment, Shanghai (6718 Middle Fiskville Rd., Austin TX 78752) is my favorite from a very small pool. But soon-to-open Wu Chow (500 W. 5th St., Austin TX 78701) from C.K. Chin of Swift's Attic completely won me over with the dim sum pop-up they hosted at Swift's a few weeks ago. Ridiculously good dim sum offerings including hands-down the best xiao long bao in town and the flakiest dan ta (custard tarts) I have ever tasted. They are using high quality ingredients and making everything from scratch (including those incredible tart crusts!) so I'm curious what the price point will be like, but this is definitely one of my most highly-anticipated restaurant openings of 2015. They'll be offering a comprehensive menu of Chinese dishes, not just dim sum.

What's your favorite spot in town for Chinese food?


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