Best, worst of local food trucks meet at Trucklandia Festival

Stephen Acevedo

The Austin American-Statesman parking lot was transformed into a food court this weekend, showcasing Austin’s mobile eateries for the fourth annual Texas Trucklandia Fest. While 35 food trucks brought out their best dishes for a chance to win the $10,000 cash prize, Munchies, T-Loc’s Sonora Hot Dogs and Art of Tacos truly stood out.

Best: The folks at Munchies gave judges a choice between three different sandwiches and all were deliciously memorable. The OG Philly Mac, a heartier take on a Philly cheesesteak, replaced the sandwich’s classic provolone cheese with macaroni and cheese. The second option, the Cubano Kush, was nothing fancy, but the tenderness of the roasted pork combined with the soft warm hoagie made for a pleasantly mouth-watering sandwich. The true highlight, though, was their banana, Nutella, bacon and pulled pork sandwich. The savory flavor of the pork blended exceptionally well with the sweetness of the banana and Nutella, making what could have been an overly-ambitious disaster turn out to be one of the best sandwiches served at the festival.  

While some festivalgoers didn’t know what Sonora-style hot dogs were, T-Loc’s dish quickly became a hit at the festival. For those unfamiliar, this type of hot dog is wrapped in bacon and topped with beans, tomato, onion, jalapeño sauce, mustard and mayonnaise, all served in a steamed bun. The hot dog was admittedly a bit intimidating at first glance, but the abundance of flavors stuffed into its soft bun succeeded in making something as simple as a hot dog feel like a groundbreaking dish.

Although it’s always fun trying the wild and unexpected combinations Austin food trucks offer, sometimes simplicity reigns supreme. The Art of Tacos’ al pastor and brisket tacos were classic dishes. Aside from the queso served over the brisket taco, there were really no frills on either dish — but none were needed. The pork was perfectly spicy and the slow-cooked brisket was as tender as meat can get without completely falling apart. The corn tortillas, cilantro, onion and cheese were all welcome additions that maximized the flavor of the tacos without overshadowing the meat. 

Worst: Pop Art undoubtedly makes some of the best popsicles in Austin, but its performance on Saturday was subpar. The popsicle sampled was peanut butter and jelly, and it was a bit too ambitious for its own good. It may have been better if the flavor of the homemade jelly was more pronounced, but instead the peanut butter flavor overpowered the cold dessert. It didn’t help that the Pop Art freezer broke, forcing them to give half-melted samples to folks who were looking for something to alleviate the Austin heat. 

While food trucks like the Art of Tacos used no frills to turn out an exceptional product, simplicity was Heretic Handhelds’ downfall. Perhaps other items on their menu are more flavorful, but the bland chicken burger and fries offered Saturday felt like something one could order at Chili’s. The food wasn’t necessarily bad, but the visible lack of effort to innovate or master a particular ingredient made the food wholly unmemorable. 

Fat Sal’s has become a West Campus favorite, but its presence at Trucklandia felt a bit out of place. While the Fat Texas Barbecue sandwich sampled on Saturday was fine, Fat Sal’s is already a well-established brick and mortar restaurant, so it seemed a bit inappropriate that they competed against smaller and lesser-known food trucks for a cash prize. 

Trucklandia proved to be a great showcase for the innovative food the local food truck scene has to offer. Although some trucks were better than others, participation at the event showed the commendable passion each cook has for their culinary crafts.