East Side King
The last thing I expected to find in Texas is an izakaya complete with shochu and while that’s not exactly what I found, I did find a relative equivalent in the back of a dirty college dive bar just off the University of Texas campus. The dive bar is Hole in the Wall and the pop-up izakaya is East Side King.
Austin, fortunately for the residents and any visitors, has a vibrant dining scene. It’s immediately become one of my favorite cities in the U.S. One of the most interesting innovations in Austin dining is the ubiquitousness of the food truck. These food truck operators have gotten creative in a way that I’ve not seen in other cities. They set up shop outside popular night spots, especially bars without kitchens. East Side King (ESK) has several trucks around town, but given the popularity of their Japan-Asian-fusion truck menu, they’ve been given a spot way in the back of Hole in the Wall.
Believe me when I say I was skeptical walking in. Hole in the Wall has an old yellow lighted sign out front and when you walk in you’re confronted with a live music set-up on the left and as divey a bar as you’ll find on the right. I was sure I was in the wrong place. Had I not already received confirmation from @EastSideKingATX on twitter, I would have walked back out and kept looking. Walking further back into the establishment is another music venue and bar. Duck outside and around a corner and you come to a 3rd bar, but this one is different. The first change you notice is the aroma. Stale beer and sweat pervades the first two rooms, but here you get the distinct aroma of fried chicken and cilantro. The next thing you notice is that rather than a draft beer set-up that only included Shiner Bock, Lone Star, Bud Light, and a few local microbrews, there was also draft Sapporo with the distinctive samurai sword pour handle.
It took a moment scanning the bar back, but there is was. A lone bottle of iichiko silhouette. Around the corner college students were queueing up at a counter. This queue turned out to be for ESK’s kitchen. There’s no table service, but you place your order, take a numbered placard to your seat, and the food arrives hot and tasty. Ramen seems to be their biggest menu item (several varieties), but nobody was ordering ramen – it was 81 degrees during this January day and probably still mid-70s in the late evening. The Thai flavored chicken kara-age was the beautiful aroma so that was a must-order. The other was fried beets, which I had never seen on an izakaya menu, but ended up finding on menus all over Austin & San Antonio during my visit. Both of these were great.
Unfortunately, a previous dinner at Salk Lick BBQ in Driftwood, Texas precluded further indulgence, but we ordered up two glasses of iichiko, sadly finishing the last bottle in the house. We switched to Sapporo and made an evening of it watching the Spurs-Mavs game (can you get more Texas?) while eating legit izakaya food in the back of a Central Texas honkytonk bar.
I’d normally write up an izakaya review complete with address, phone number, and other info. In this case I’m just going to let you find it yourself. That’s part of the fun.