Austin’s East Side is known for several good food trucks. One of the better known ones is East Side King, run by Paul Qui (of recent Top Chef fame).
Actually, there are several East Side King food trucks, each with a different menu. The this one being located at The Grackle bar (the others are located down the street behind Liberty Bar and Shangri La). They’ve got the now-standard standing arrangement with The Grackle where you can get your food from the food truck, and eat it inside the bar (or on their spacious patio), while drinking beer off their license.
The menu at the Grackle location focuses on Ssam (lettuce wrap) and rice dishes. Looking over the options, the top options were mushroom dishes, vegetarian dished (mostly with eggplant), and pork belly dishes. So it’s pretty obvious what I ordered: the pork belly Ssam.
The resulting pair of Ssam wraps I got were a good example of what I’ve found with a lot of food trucks. There was a lot that was working here: the pork belly was exactly what I was hoping for, a nice slab of twice cooked pork belly that was the right combination of falling-apart tender, but also crispy. It was served up kimchee, green onion, and furikake, which added some rather nice flavors and tanginess to the wrap. If it had stopped here, this would have been a great wrap.
But the rice is where it fell apart. Instead of the nice, fluffy, slightly sticking together rice I like in a good wrap or rice dish, this was everything I don’t like rice to me. The rice was overly starching and somewhat stale tasting, as if the rice was cooked someplace around noon and had been sitting around the entire time. This is a shame, since East Side King is supposed to be good at rice, and this just wasn’t in the same league as what I’m used to, even for a food truck. With such a small menu they are focusing on, East Side King should be able to knock something like this out of the park every time.
It wasn’t unique, either, since my friend Jeff opted for the mushroom rice, and had essentially the same comments: a good, savory mushroom sauce spooned upon mediocre rice.
In the end, I wanted to like the East Side King (I rather like some of the concepts Paul Qui has), and while it showed some real promise, it didn’t deliver. I’ll have to give them (and their siblings down the street) another try at some point, but this visit I’ll chalk up as a disappointment.