- By Matthew Odam American-Statesman Staff
Llama’s Peruvian Creole
611 Trinity St.
Lunch: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Diner and late-night: 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday and Tuesday. 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Wednesday-Sunday.
How integral is food culture to Peruvians? Julio-Cesar Florez jokes that “every Peruvian wants to open a restaurant.” After working as executive chef at La Sombra and Gusto from 2010 to 2012, the chef joined fellow Peruvian Miguel Barrutia, who opened the Llama’s Pervuian Creole trailer in the summer of 2012.
Florez proudly declares that Peru is the gastronomic capital of South America. But what is Peruvian cuisine? It’s a blend of indigenous South American ingredients (potatoes, corn, peppers and quinoa) with flavors from Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Africa – creole food – along with inspiration from Japanese and Chinese immigrants.
The saltado de pollo sanguche ($6.99) delivers a melting pot of flavors. Mayonnaise made with the native ají amarillo pepper enhances the mild smoky sweetness of the juicy chicken. Served on a roll from Baked in Austin, which operates out of Salt & Time, the sandwich carries bell pepper crunch and the cool of cilantro wrapped in the rich umami flavor of oyster sauce.
Oyster sauce appears again on the lomo saltado sanguche ($6.99), a sandwich filled with rosy and tender steak bursting with vine-ripened tomatoes and stir-fried onions. The Asian influence takes center stage on a pork belly sanguche ($6.99), featuring a plancha cooked pork belly with hoisin sauces and a homemade creole salsa with a hint of heat.
In addition to two chicken and rice dishes, Lllama’s also serves a whitefish ceviche that vibrates with citrus, piquant red onions and sweet corn. Ceviche from a trailer may sound like a bold move, but Texas Culinary Academy graduate Florez has the confidence to think outside of the food-trailer box.
Melvin’s Deli Comfort
501 E. 53rd St. 705-3906
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
The best pastrami in Austin comes from a fire-engine-red trailer in the parking lot of a nondescript business in the North Loop neighborhood.
The bright red beacon for lovers of brined and smoked meats is called Melvin’s Deli Comfort. But there is no Melvin. The name derives from a portmanteau of husband-and-wife owners Kevin Ennis and Melinda Baggett-Ennis.
After years of working with charcuterie and barbecue “for sport” at home, Kevin decided to follow his long-time fascination with classic preservation techniques and tackle the world of pastrami. He spent time researching the greats of New York City and says that with his killer sandwiches, stacked high with more than a half-pound of meat, he’s “just trying to do justice” to his inspirations.
NYC would be proud. The monstrous Reuben ($9), which comes on grilled rye, almost overflows with pastrami as tender as some of the city’s top brisket, the fatty sinew a supple bridge between the ridges of meat. Draped with a tangy homemade Russian dressing, melted Swiss cheese and a tangle of crunch sauerkraut, the sandwich is a rewarding and jaw-jacking challenge. Between making his own condiments and frying the homemade potato chips, Ennis smokes as much brisket as he can (150 pounds a week), but the pastrami often runs out before the lunch hour ends.
Ennis, who worked for almost a decade as a buyer and production manager for a seafood company in Alaska before moving to Austin in 1997, also has a way with turkey ($7). He smokes the coriander-and pepper-rubbed bird over applewood; it comes out almost unbelievably supple with a mild spicy kick. Get it on grilled white bread with Ennis’s giardiniera, a pickled blend of peppers and veggies.
The sleeper hit of the menu that offers a dozen sandwiches? The croque monsieur, a sinfully rich sandwich with ham and mustard, topped with a creamy blast of béchamel pooled on crispy melted gruyere ($9).
In a town in serious need of more quality delis, does Ennis envision a brick-and-mortar restaurant? Sounds like a good idea. But for now, “I’m just along for the ride, really,” Ennis said.
1704 E. Cesar Chavez St.
7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
E. Sixth Street location hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday-Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
If there’s a better trailer taco in Austin than the migas taco ($2.50) from Veracruz All Natural, I’ve yet to come across it. Broad slivers of feathered avocado spread across a steaming twirl of fluffy eggs and gooey cheese that entwine crispy tortilla strips. The things you notice immediately are the seasoning (a wonderful balance of salt and pepper), freshness (brilliant bits of diced tomato) and the homemade tortillas (springy flour and excellent corn).
Sisters Maritza and Reyna Vazquez opened the flagship trailer, situated between a store that sells piñatas and the cocktail bar Weather Up in 2009, and a second trailer in the trailer food court at East Sixth and Waller streets in 2011.
The sisters moved to Austin from Veracruz, Mexico, in 1989 and opened a fruit and sno-cone stand on Cesar Chavez Street six years ago. Their roots in fruit can be tasted in a smooth mango aqua fresca ($3) or one of several fresh-squeezed juices such as orange, carrot, beet, pineapple or spinach ($3.25-$4.25).
The pineapple juice-marinated pork in the al pastor at Veracruz burns with a ruby glow from guajillo peppers, and the barbacao has a fatty succulence. The tacos cost $2.25 each, but add “the works” (fresh tomatoes, avocado and cheese) for 75 cents. Breakfast tacos start at $1.50 for a taco with two items, but you can add potatoes, chorizo, ham, refried beans, cactus, bacon and plenty more for just 50 cents each.
Another indicator of the freshness at Veracruz: the homemade salsas. The rust-colored roja packs a spicy kick and the tomatillo, with the creamy tomatillo offering an equally robust flavor but more mild heat. For lighter fare, try the cabbage-strewn tilapia tacos with mango pico de gallo, but if you want to go big, there’s the steak torta ($6) – chopped beef sitting on ham that has a crispy edge, sandwiched between a golden bun smeared with the tang of mayo.