Where to eat in Austin: Radio Coffee and Beer & Veracruz All Natural

I ran out of coffee beans a few days ago and thought, “Oh, no problem. I’ll just stop by Radio and get a cortado and two breakfast tacos before work.” Nooooooo. Unfortunately, they were all the way in Texas and I’m in California.  Radio Coffee and Beer wins the award for MVP: Most Visited Place in Austin.  One day, we even went to it twice: once in the morning for coffee, and then again at night for beer.

The perfect  Austin breakfast @radiocoffeeandbeer. Cortado, Stumptown cold brew, migas, and breakfast tacos.

Radio Coffee and Beer is a cafe (and bar) conveniently located off of the 290 (aka Ben White).  It’s on Manchaca, which I was shocked to learn was pronounced “MAN-shack” and not “man-CHA-ca” like someone who grew up in Los Angeles would expect.  When the weather is good, it’s a treat to sit on the patio sipping a cortado or a glass of nitro cold brew. I don’t know if it’s because of the beer glass or the nitro, but the cold brew tastes just like a chocolate stout.

While the espresso drinks and cold brew at Radio are great, I would advise against ordering any of the brewed coffee.  The hard water coming into the cafe makes brewed coffee taste a little soapy, which is most noticeable in a mug of brewed coffee.

At night, Radio turns from a cafe into a bar.  The wifi is shut down at 5pm, there’s a bluegrass band playing on Mondays, people are encouraged to sit on lawn chairs on the grass facing the bandstand, and a general sense of calm that only sitting outside with a cold glass of beer can bring on.  I had a nice chat with a family sitting on a picnic bench near ours while watching people sip beers.

And if a good glass of coffee and beer is not enough, there’s also the Veracruz All Natural food trailer that shares Radio’s patio.  It’s not fast food, but it is good food.  My favorite order for mornings is migas on flour tortilla and a breakfast taco with egg and bacon.  For those not in the breakfast taco mood, they do a mean chicken molé taco.

Veracruz also has a handful of vegetarian and even vegan options, but be prepared to repeat your order a few times because none of the vegan orders are pre-entered into their system, so they have to manually put in adjustments.  We didn’t realize till the day we were leaving that ordering migas without eggs or cheese is $3.00, but ordering a breakfast taco with salsa, avocado, and tortilla chips is only $2.50.  One of the women working there helpfully suggested the later.

A part of me is deeply saddened that there’s nothing like the one-two combo of Radio and Veracruz near me. But another part is slightly relieved because that is not a combination that my waistline needs every day.

Radio Coffee and Beer
4208 Manchaca Rd
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 394-7844

Veracruz All Natural
(same spot as Radio, same hours as Radio)

Emperor Noodle

When a new “coming soon” sign came up at the bad feng shui spot on the corner of Las Tunas and Mission, I thought nothing of it. When I learned it was going to have Shanghainese food, I became intrigued enough to go there for lunch today.

Emperor Noodle

The appetizer of vegetarian chicken we ordered was tender, soft, and surprisingly flavorful. It even tasted a little bit like pork. But supposedly it’s vegetarian, amazing!

Emperor Noodle

The Shanghai fried rice cake (sans pork) was typical.  It had a good wok qi taste, but could have been a little more salty. Maybe because Will ordered it without chicken-msg, but it was a little bland.

Emperor Noodle

The standout at lunch was the shen jian bao. These come four to an order, but don’t dispair because they’re not your typical bite-sized bao‘s.  Judging from appearance, it gets a 10 because of the golden fried bottom adorned with white sesame seeds, and the pillowy white top decorated by a sprinkling of black sesame seeds and green onion. The texture of the bao was spot on: crispy and fried on the bottom, soft and airy at the top.

As for the filling, judge for yourself in this picture:

Emperor Noodle

The lava-hot broth was plentiful and rich and the meat filling was flavorful and savory.  I liked that the ground meat was more roughly chopped and still retained some texture instead of being like a smooth round ball of meat paste. Dipped in a little bit of vinegar, slurped up with some soup, and then chased by a bite of the bun, it was perfect.

The menu at Emperor Noodle contained a wide range of noodle soups that I didn’t get a chance to try, but next time, offal-filled noodle soups, you are mine!  The neighboring table’s yellow fish noodles looked pretty good too.

Emperor Noodle
800 W Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91775

Kaiseki Meal at n/naka

I had the best spaghetti of my life not in a quaint Italian restaurant, but at a newish Japanese restaurant specializing in kaiseki-style dishes.

n/naka sits on an unassuming corner off of Overland. If the outside of the restaurant reminds you of a zen garden or a spa, it’s because a spa used to be in that location.  Upon walking in, you’re greeted by dim lights, wood slatted partitions, a handful of small tables occupying a small, intimate space, and a feeling of tranquility thanks to the mini rock garden arrangement on each table that also serves as a centerpiece.

kaiseki dinner

We were celebrating a special occasion, Will’s birthday, and while, I was thrilled to find a kaiseki restaurant that even had a vegan option, I was also worried that the vegan portions would not be up to par.  I need not have worried. The 10-course vegan meal was wonderful!

Our experience at N/Naka was really different from meals at other restaurants that had a vegan tasting menu. Instead of the vegan option just being a version of the omnivore dish, only without the meat, chef Niki Nakayama really outdid herself thinking up innovative dishes for those of the non-meat eating persuasion.

The restaurant only has three things on the menu:

  1. a traditional kaiseki meal (10 courses)
  2. a modern kaiseki meal (13 courses)
  3. a vegetarian kaiseki (10 courses — I called ahead to ask if veganizing it was doable and they were confident it was)

Although the option I chose for myself was a traditional kaiseki meal, there were still modern elements to it in the form of gelees, purees, and presentation.

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During the sashimi course, I had the more traditional slices of raw fish and a wonderful raw oyster topped with uni. Will’s vegan version of this consisted of dark and light konnyaku and expertly prepared vegetables — not exactly sashimi, but something close. The chef came up with even better options during the nigiri courses for Will: expertly cross-hatched eggplant nigiri, a smokey looking mushroom nigiri, and some maki made from maitake tempura.

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Two of my favorite things that night were the lobster and crab in tomato broth and the pasta dish. The lobster and crab was formed into a ball sitting in a thick, rich tomato broth. It was eaten by taking the spoon and breaking down the ball and then delivering into your mouth, a little bit of broth and a little bit of meat.

kaiseki dinner

The pasta dish was spaghetti topped with fish roe, thin, smoky slices of abalone, and shaved truffles. Yes, the abalone was spectacular, yes the truffles were to die for, but the stand out of the dish was the humble spaghetti. It was cooked to perfection! It was al dente but not the “oops, I slightly under-cooked the pasta so I’ll just say it’s al dente” type of al dente. It was chewy, but forgiving, and each strand was perfectly separate from the other. It will be the standard I strive for each time I cook pasta now.

kaiseki dinner

While we were both pleased with most of the dishes, there were a couple that weren’t as good as the others.  I had a beef dish that, compared to the quality of the other dishes, fell short because the beef was more well done than I would have liked. Nothing makes me sadder than over-cooked beef.  One of Will’s desserts, which was described as a rice ball in sweet broth, was nothing more than the sweet rice balls like the ones I could get at the Chinese market. It was good, but nothing spectacular.

Despite the minor mis-steps, N/Naka is now one of the best places I’ve eaten all year. Most dishes not only tasted great, but showed thought in the way flavors and textures played with each other, but not in an overly complicated way. The chef had the right amount of restraint when dealing with ingredients.What was presented on the plate was less about showing off what kind of weird things you can do to food, but more about celebrating key components in different ingredients. I’m not expert in kaiseki, but that seems like a successful example of what kaiseki is all about.

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455 S Overland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 836-6252