Peached Tortilla’s appeal loses its luster in move to brick-and-mortar

Peached Tortilla owner Eric Silverstein rode personal history and culinary trends to success after opening his first food truck in Austin about five years ago.

Take popular food delivery mechanisms (tacos and burritos), fill them with flavorful cuisine (Asian fusion), and operate with relatively low overhead (food truck). It all seems so obvious now, but it was just over a half-dozen years ago that Los Angeles chef Roy Choi helped spawn a nationwide food truck revolution with his Kogi BBQ.

The trend spread to Austin — long a home to Mexican taco trucks — and the proliferation of mobile and semi-mobile food units exploded, from barbecue to sushi.

Silverstein, who was born in Japan and moved to Atlanta as a child, built his food truck business on the strength of a roster of pan-Asian dishes — pad thai, Vietnamese banh mi, Chinese barbecue — served as tacos, sliders and burritos. Five years later — an epoch in the history of modern food truck culture — the mobile operation not only endures but has had enough steam to fuel the brick-and-mortar location Silverstein opened on Burnet Road late last year.

The food truck menu expanded and now includes salads and sweets, though the flavor profiles largely remain the same. But what started as a clever lunchtime change of pace has had trouble evolving into an enticing dinner option. Novelty has given way to redundancy, as salty and sweet flavors overwhelm much of the menu items.

Southern-Asian fusion is a helpful marketing slogan but not a perfect representation of the dishes at Peached Tortilla. Yes, they use catfish in place of eel ($12) for a blistered “unagi” bowl topped with a 45-minute egg, but the only thing Southern about the dish is that the fish is as sweet as your aunt from Biloxi. And you’d be hard-pressed to divine the dual provenance of a JapaJam Burger ($13) slathered in sweet and salty Chinese barbecue sauce and concealed in a mess of pepper-jack cheese, fried egg and tempura onion strings.

My favorite fusion dish actually blended Asian and Italian accents, with wasabi aioli giving an electric riff to crunchy and delicate arancini balls bursting with the gooey zip of kimchi ($7).

Most diners likely expect any restaurant billing itself as Asian to serve Brussels sprouts. Peached Tortilla complies with charred nobs lacquered with the sweet-salty play of bacon jam and Parmesan ($6), but I wanted more acidic cut from the lemon oil.

Sprouts have reached a level of ubiquity about which one of the restaurant’s popular condiments likely aspires.

“Move over, chipotle mayonnaise; I got this,” is what I imagined the condiment-of-the-moment, Sriracha mayo, thinking at dinner one night. The swap-out of cousin condiments did little to excite me. It’s like replacing Steven Seagal with Jean-Claude Van Damme. Both pack a cornball kick, and the difference is negligible. The sauce’s pink hue glowed over stubborn pork banh mi tacos that fans of the truck will remember. They may also recognize the brisket version, here winking its saccharine peach barbecue come-on from beneath the creamy crunch of apple slaw. The tacos, which include a crunchy whitefish on corn, are sold in groups of three for $12.

The pork belly and brisket didn’t fare much better as the centerpiece of bowls. The five-spice pork felt heavy-handed ($13) and the Southern Fun’s ($13) braised brisket and kale lost their smoke and vegetal brace to an oily wash of noodles. Both dishes are listed as “shareables,” as was a tough and sweet bowl of Malaysian shrimp soup ($14) that leaned too hard on coconut, but none of those dishes was well-suited for dividing.

The dishes on the “Plates” section actually made for easier splitting and were some of the restaurant’s best: Crispy and juicy chicken wings popped with pungent fish sauce and brightened by scattered herbs ($9), and a trio of cauliflower — grilled, pureed, and pickled ($11) — made the strongest impressions. I imagine Silverstein recognizes the cauliflower dish’s appeal, as Peached Tortilla served it at the recent Austin Food & Wine Festival.

Those two plates are new items not found at the trucks. Others include a welcome dessert of crunchy and creamy banana-Nutella spring rolls ($7) soothed by coconut whipped cream and dusted with powdered sugar, and several salads. They could call the pretty Thai Chop Chop Salad ($10) the Kitchen-Sink Salad, as Thai vinaigrette and crinkle-cut Tetris chops of cabbage somehow dominate the texture and flavors of fried tofu, green apple, fried shallots, rice puffs, peanuts, Fresno chilies, watermelon radish, and fish caramel sauce.

As with that salad, Peached Tortilla tries to do too much with too little space. There’s a shoebox front porch, which I mistook for the restaurant’s entrance more than once; a bright dining room, enlivened by the sunrise and sunset colors of a geometric paint job; a fetching little bar; and a squished row of high-top tables with uncomfortable stools. Peached Tortilla seats about six dozen but could stand to remove a few tables and make others larger. If you want to build a restaurant around shareable dishes, you need bigger plates or bigger tables. And, while I dig the bar’s aesthetic — and the bartender’s touch with a Manhattan — many of the drinks double down on the food’s sweetness, and wedging a cocktail bar into the back of a street-food restaurant feels like an overreach.

Peached Tortilla, which only serves dinner and Sunday brunch, seems like a natural fit to serve lunch to the booming Burnet Road area, but those duties are left to the band of roving trucks. Besides, I shudder to think of the traffic and logistical problems midday, as the restaurant’s small back parking lot filled up before 6:30 p.m. on each of my visits. Such is the price of popularity.

The steady crowds prove Peached Tortilla has developed a loyal fan base, but the hits that keep bringing people back have left me cold.

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