A few years ago, I was assigned a story on Asian eateries in North Austin. "Psh," my snobby, 20-something Hyde Park-residing self said, "what's in North Austin?" Now that I live in North(ish) Austin, I've discovered: Plenty. Here are the hidden, delicious, and cheap Asian eats I've discovered.
Maybe I don't have to tell you about Musashino. Maybe you've already enjoyed its swanky environs. Maybe you've come to realize it's the poor man's Uchi. But here's something you don't know: I accidentally ordered three sushi rolls, for myself, the first time I went (too much sake), and enjoyed every last bite. Two involved habanero-infused caviar (an ingredient they love to use here), and the other squid ink-infused sushi rice, black and oily. I'm normally a very generous person, but this time, I didn't share.
For the longest time, my husband and I erroneously pronounced the name of this place as "Titty Ya-Ya's" (I don't recommend you calling it that). Despite our mistake, we recommended Titaya's to so many people that now the secret is out. It's always packed, and for good reason: The Tom Kha! So spicy and creamy. The portions! So generous. Dinner here, and a movie at the Village Drafthouse afterward, make for a lovely date night.
This sister-run Vietnamese cafe is one of those perfect, hidden gems in Austin that has lasted not because of its location (in a small strip mall), but because of its devoted and very loyal following. House specials here include the banh mi (try the tangy beef lemongrass) and Vietnamese cream puffs.
So the menu here is humongous, and carnivore or vegetarian, Cantonese or American, there's probably something for you. My favorites include the Beijing duck with steam buns, BBQ pork (which they do tend to run out of, so, just be aware), and snow pea leaves. "Snow pea leaves? That doesn't sound fun!" Guys, seriously -- this is one of the most popular items on the menu. Order it (you too, meat lovers), and eat your words. Er, leaves.
Two words: Banh Xeo. These are Vietnamese crepes made with rice flour and coconut milk, and stuffed with bean sprouts, mushrooms, tofu and shrimp. These rolls leaves deliver a rich, oily coating to the inside of your mouth on the first bite, with the vegetable interior providing a bright contrast.
Hushed and low-lit, Mikado is a sexy sushi joint hiding out in a strip mall. Sushi is popular of course, but try ordering from their "robata" -- i.e., Japanese tapas -- menu. The Chargrilled Tofu is light and tasty, while the Diamond NY Steak (served on skewers and bathed in teriyaki sauce) could easily pair with a vegetable side or sushi roll for a satisfying meal.
A Houston import, Pho Saigon Noodle House on North Lamar is actually one of 10 locations throughout Texas -- but don't let the regional chainy-ness scare you. The pho is the shining star here, and you really cannot beat the price: $5.75 for a large (re: HUGE) bowl of beef pho: "Pho Bo."
I feel as though the MT Supermarket isn't as appreciated as it should be, and that is a shame. This is mostly due to the fact that, unless you read Mandarin Chinese, it is genuinely hard to find some products here, but that's exactly why you go -- for the adventure! For the exploration! For the goofy stone turtle-and-fish-lined fountain out front! Go to MT when you have lots of time, and only want to get -- say -- 10 things. Poke around. Ask questions. And by all means, buy a Thai young coconut.