The playing field isn’t always fair. Sometimes one team has an unmatched advantage over its competitors that doesn’t just tip the scale but topples it over completely. In the case of East Side King, they’ve become quite the East 6th Street powerhouse and taking over the neighborhood. They have three locations each serving up different menus all focused around the same Asian cuisine. So what’s their secret weapon? Paul Qui, as in the executive chef at the wildly popular Uchiko and contestant on Top Chef: Texas.
You can see the inventiveness just by reading the menu that parallels the menu at the fancy (and much more expensive) Uchiko. Although Qui doesn’t work at any of the trailers (at least not to my knowledge), clearly it’s his food and his ideas that are making it into the to-go containers of each order. On my visit to the Grackle location I grabbed two items to-go, both on the recommendation of the definitely-not-Paul-Qui guy in the trailer.
First up was the #2: Pork Belly with Rice. It comes with twice cooked porkbelly, apple, tare (BBQ sauce), kimchee on rice, and gochujang (spicy miso). I’m still working my way onto the pork belly train, and this is a big push in the right direction. The flavor combinations on paper look all wrong, but in your mouth they taste all right. My biggest concern was the apple, which seems to come out of nowhere. It must be how they cook it, but you don’t
taste “apple”; it just gives a little sweetness to the rest of the spicy/salty ingredients. In terms of the main ingredient, the one part of pork belly that I can’t quite get over is the stark contrast of tender meat and chewy fat. I realize it’s more of a mental thing since the fat brings another level of flavor, but my brain can’t get past it. That said, ESK makes some awesome twice cooked porkbelly.
Next was the #5: Nasu Rice. It sounds innocent enough: Grilled Japanese eggplant, sweet miso, sesame seed, green onion on rice. What you get is a flavor bomb of tastebud blowing proportions. The scallop-looking thing in the poorly taken picture is the Japanese eggplant, and combined with the rice and seasonsings, is definitely (and admittedly unexpected) one of the best things you’ll ever put in your mouth. And it was $5. And it came from a trailer. And it was glorious. It’s one of those things that will be impossible not to order on every visit, even with the goal of trying everything on the menu.
I’ve eaten at a lot of trailers here in Austin, and I’m going to say, at the time of writing this, the food I tasted at ESK was the best trailer food I’ve had. Epic statement for epic food. They raised the bar for all trailer food, and food in general. I need to make some immediate plans to try all 30 menu items across the three trailers pronto. And you should too! It’s your civic duty.