Last Sunday we were on the hunt for some BBQ but ended up having a Chinese brunch at Asia Café. Random yes, sad no. JR’s Texas-Style BBQ was closed for the weekend, and Franklin BBQ was swarmed with hipsters in town for SXSW. Not wanting to settle for ordinary BBQ just to satiate the palate, we turned to our trusty copy of Austin Monthly, which recently published a story on Cheap Eats in Austin. The article raved about the Szechuan-style chicken in chili oil and black bean sauce at Asia Café. So we jumped in our trusty VW and headed north.
The dining room at Asia Café was massive, with a menu to match. There were nearly 1,000 items numbered, and we were convinced that 3/4 of the people sitting in the dining room weren’t even ordering off the menu. We kept glancing at people next to us who had ordered scrumptious-looking steamed buns and fried rice cakes, but to our dismay, neither was listed on the menu. Clearly, these people were pros. Once we reached the front of the line, we told the cashier we would like to order the Szechuan-style chicken (we too were beginning to feel like pros, as this dish wasn’t listed on the menu either). To our dismay, the cashier just gave us a blank stare and said, “we don’t serve Szechuan-style chicken.” Huh? We mentioned the article we had read and how the reviewers had raved about the chili oil and the black bean sauce. We must have this chicken! The cashier wouldn’t budge. She pointed to a menu of approximately 40 daily specials that the cafe was “known for.” Unwilling to play her game, we orderd off the menu: no. 775 (spicy green pork), boiled dumplings, and a bowl of homemade sweetened soy milk (only available on weekends). All this for just $17.
As we waited for our food to arrive, Christian noticed that the runners were calling out ticket numbers in Mandarin first, then in English; clearly, this place was “legit,” he proclaimed. Our disappointment over the Szechuan chicken quickly faded after our meal arrived. The spicy green pork was flavored with green chilis, scallions, and snap peas, and it had just the right amount of heat. The dumplings were quite possibly the most tender we’ve ever tasted, and Sarah thoroughly enjoyed sipping her soy milk from a bowl – something she’s not allowed to do at home. The sweet, nutty taste helped wash away any inkling of sadness that this did not turn into a BBQ Sunday. Clearly, Asia Café could compete with the best of Texas cuisine.