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East Austin Restaurants Serving Up Inspired Flavors

Eating on the East Side

Six East Austin restaurants showcase an array of inspirations and flavors through their fresh and unexpected food

Words and photos by Bryan C. Parker

Canje

Photos courtesy of Canje

The newest restaurant from the Emmer & Rye Hospitality group, Canje, provides a modern take on Caribbean food. Driven by the creative vision of Tavel Bristol-Joseph, Canje draws on the cuisine of his native Guyana, which is an astoundingly diverse country that includes Indian, Amerindian, African and Chinese cultures.

“We are on the South American continent, but because we are the only English speaking country, we adapted all of the Caribbean culture,” Bristol-Joseph says. In August of 2020, just before Canje opened, he took the entire Emmer & Rye team to Guyana to experience the country and cuisine first hand. As head chef Harvard Aninye and his team prepare new menu items, Bristol-Joseph hosts home cooked meals that become brainstorming sessions for sharpening the dish to perfection. Canje even provides educational sessions for its staff to provide an in-depth understanding of the cuisines, cultures and histories the menu represents.

Undoubtedly, Canje’s signature ingredient is cassareep, a Guyanese reduction made from cassava root and added spices, which is poured over wild boar for the pepper pot, a menu standout. The ceviche, prepared with sour orange, strikes fantastic notes both sweet and bright, as it turns away from the dish’s traditional tartness; it also includes roasted peanuts that provide an intriguing crunchy texture. A Jamaican classic, the jerk chicken is perfectly cooked and very spicy — a great option for the bold eater. Served with a green sauce made from puréed chives and cilantro and spiced with coriander, the grilled rock shrimp is also a winner. With its diverse menu and complex flavor profiles, Canje is one of Austin’s most exciting restaurants. Most importantly, its emphasis on Caribbean and South American cuisines fills a culinary void that Austin has been slow to recognize.

Kinda Tropical

In March of 2019, Kinda Tropical reimagined itself entirely — transforming from a grab ‘n’ go corner store and bar into a relaxed patio restaurant with a full menu. Most recently, the restaurant brought on chef James Durham of Bad Larry Burger Club, who brings his talents to Kinda Tropical in the form of a completely reinvented burger with two local, grass-fed patties, white American cheese and pickles on a sesame bun. The seasoned yucca fries are a perfect complement.

A partnership between Shannon LeBoeuf and Amy Mullins of Yellow Jacket Social Club, Jason McNeely and Brian Tweedy from Hotel Vegas, and former Olamaie sous chef John DiCicco, Kinda Tropical has a team that has a long track record of success on Austin’s East Side.

“It’s a place where you can come and hang out,” says DiCicco. “It’s whatever you need it to be.” You can grab a snack or meal, eat a quick bite or stay all night and drink cocktails. Among Kinda Tropical’s bar offerings are the colorful frozen beet margarita or the “Paint It Black” margarita, with a chili salt rim and an activated charcoal infusion that gives the drink its name. Think of Kinda Tropical as an oasis, hidden away deep on the east side — a bastion that retains everything that makes Austin special.

Sour Duck Market

Photos by Richard Casteel

With a unique layout, and a great outdoor space with casual picnic table seating, Sour Duck Market provides refined takes on American classics like chili, cheeseburgers and fried chicken sandwiches without breaking the bank. A sister restaurant to Odd Duck and Barley Swine, Sour Duck is helmed by Executive Chef Zechariah Perez.

A dog and kid friendly space with a play area and water bowls, you’ll also find an assortment of pastries (made from flour sourced locally from Barton Springs Mill) for you to pick up while running your morning errands. Alternatively, come for a late night drink from the bar’s outstanding menu — the What’s Up Duck with cilantro mezcal and carrot juice or a Turmeric Mule, a take on the classic vodka and ginger cocktail. Plus, you can never go wrong with the Paloma on tap.

APT 115

This ground-floor nook on East 7th St. with cozy seating and eclectic decor completely lives up to its nonchalant name. Stacks of books, knick knacks and greenery occupy the shelves, and a vinyl record spins on a turntable, the only source of music in the establishment, which feels like stepping into a studio apartment on New York City’s Lower East Side.

Opened by Joe Pannenbacker in 2018 as a wine bar specializing in low intervention wines, APT 115 got a pandemic makeover, when Pannenbacker needed food options to pair with drink service. Eschewing the simple route of just charcuterie and cheese, Pannenbacker went all in and partnered with chef Charles Zhuo, who was previously sous chef at Washington D.C.’s Minibar, which has a two-star rating from Michelin.

The menu’s diverse yet refined amalgam of inspirations include Korean, Spanish and Italian food, and everything is hyper-local, sourced from a farm or ranch within a 200-mile radius. The rabbit, for example, comes from just a mile away. Moist and tender, the rabbit ssam comes with butter lettuce leaves, pickled cucumber, radish kimchi and a house-made gochujang sauce. The snapper crudo, raw fish topped with a sauce made from aji chile and passion fruit, is another of the menu’s gems. The pork belly stew is phenomenal, but the cornbread and honey butter with white miso steals its spotlight. If you’re undecided on your order, don’t worry, you honestly can’t go wrong here.

Love Supreme

Every neighborhood needs a great pizzeria, and Love Supreme provides that for the East Side’s Cherrywood and Manor areas. Owned by brothers Ryan and Wade McElroy and helmed by chef Russell Victorioso, the pizzeria’s spacious covered patio and enormous picnic tables feel perfect for leisurely meals with large groups of friends.

Victorioso’s take on pizza features two distinct styles. The first is a round pie with a thinner crust — imagine a Neapolitan with a slightly crispier crust. Meat lovers should try the signature Love Supreme pizza with pepperoni and sausage, plus savory olives, kale and a shock of watermelon radish. For a classic pie, try the Margherita, with its fresh basil and delicious fresh mozzarella.  The second style may look like deep dish, but don’t be fooled — rather than thick and doughy, these square-cut pies use a fluffy, airy focaccia base and feature delectable charred edges and either red or white sauce over toppings. The Mushroom pizza, with Pecorino and oregano, and topped with aioli is a hidden gem. Don’t overlook the appetizers, especially the corn ribs, which are roasted and covered in Parmesan cheese, Calabrian chili ranch and a spice blend of ground chilis, cumin and garlic.

Nixta Taqueria

Located at the corner of East 12th Street and Cedar, Nixta Taqueria is an unassuming spot that reveals an inviting, secluded backyard seating area where patrons can lounge in the shade under a tent or catch some sun at a picnic table on the spacious lawn. Colorful murals adorn the walls behind the bar where you place your order. Nixta prides itself on its delicious handmade ingredients — thick blue corn tortillas, duck fat refried beans, crispy tortilla chips and piquant avocado crema.

Chef Edgar Rico’s fare is as vibrant and exciting as Nixta’s murals. The deep magenta of the beet tartare tostada topped with microgreens is both visually stunning and utterly delectable. The roasted cauliflower taco with Spanish romesco, pine nuts and queso fresco boasts a wonderfully unexpected flavors. But Nixta delivers with the mainstays as well, including a breakfast taco with crispy fingerling potatoes and slabs of avocado covered in melted Tillamook cheddar and house salsa. You can’t miss with the migas taco, which features the staple scrambled eggs and totopos along with those duck fat refried beans, chorizo and avocado crema. Sip a pink pineapple mimosa or grab a cold beer to pair with the tacos.

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