The South Lamar smokehouse strikes just the right East-meets-West balance
by Karen O. Spezia
Photographs by Holly Cowart
Born out of a partnership between two James Beard Award winners — barbecue king Aaron Franklin and Uchi sushi master Tyson Cole — Loro is a unique creation that allows these unrivaled chefs to collaborate and color outside the lines. Billed as an “Asian smokehouse,” it allows them to do something different, rather than what’s expected. Here’s a tip about Loro: Manage your expectations. I don’t mean it’s not good, because it is. It’s very good. But don’t come expecting to replicate your experiences at iconic Austin eateries Uchi or Franklin Barbecue. Because Loro is an entirely different beast.
What you can expect is some wildly creative and delicious food. Most dishes are whimsical mashups of Franklin’s barbecue genius and Cole’s Asian mastery. For example, thin slices of Franklin’s legendary beef brisket are marinated in Vietnamese nuoc mam, then smoked and drizzled with chile oil and garnished with fresh Thai herbs. The result is East-meets-West flavor heaven. There’s sausage, of course, but it’s infused with Thai green curry and served on a roll, banh mi style, dressed with spicy mayo, Asian slaw and fresh herbs. The smoked baby back ribs are stunning. Sourced from heritage Duroc pork, they’re meaty, moist, tender — and available only on Sunday and Monday nights.
Shall I go on? There’s a knockout smoked-brisket sandwich piled high on a bun and topped with tangy Vietnamese green-papaya salad and zesty chile aioli. It’s so drip-down-your-arm, lip-smackingly good that you’ll be thinking about it for days to come. And don’t miss the rice dishes. Chef Cole elevated rice to an art form at his Uchi and Uchiko sushi dens, and his outstanding coconut rice bowls at Loro are topped with tempting options like Malaysian curry chicken, Chinese barbecued pork belly, smoked salmon and crispy Szechuan tofu.
Even veggies get the East-West treatment. Snap peas are lightly grilled over oak, then lacquered with a spicy kimchi emulsion, giving the fresh pods an umami bomb that’s utterly addictive. Sweet corn is tucked into pillowy fritters and served with a sriracha aioli dipping sauce. Even starters are thoughtfully prepared. There’s a playful take on Texas’ favorite fair food, kettle corn, served in a brown paper bag and topped with savory burnt ends. It’s a snackable yin-yang of sweet and salty. And in a cheeky nod to Austin’s ubiquitous Tex-Mex chips and salsa, Loro offers fried wonton chips dusted with Asian spices and served with two delicious dipping sauces: a piquant Thai green salsa and a velvety peanut sambal. These aren’t just toss-off nibbles to keep you satiated until your entrées arrive; they’re worthy of their own menu spotlight.
I got so carried away talking about the food that I forgot to mention the drinks. Loro has a serious bar program with a great sense of humor. Its signature boozy slushees are the perfect antidote to Loro’s smoky, fiery food. Rotating options include mango-sake and a frozen gin and tonic so dangerously tasty that I ordered another round and resigned myself to Uber. There are delicious batch cocktails that riff on classics like old-fashioneds, Moscow Mules and Tiki drinks, plus a nice selection of wine and beer.
Open just a year, Loro’s welcoming, sprawling space was inspired by historic Texas dance halls. Its exterior is an unassuming brick façade with a low-slung roof, and inside there are broad timber trusses, airy windows and skylights, and a long oak bar. A grove of ancient live oaks surrounds the restaurant and shades the outdoor deck and patio.
Loro’s approachable price point and fast-casual service attracts throngs of diners throughout the week. And though it’s always buzzing, it doesn’t require the requisite hourslong wait of Franklin or the elusive reservation of Uchi. Instead, it invites you to step right up and start enjoying two culinary geniuses at play. What more could you wish for?