When Gene Kobboon arrived in the United States in 1985, he initially sought a career as a commercial artist and took odd jobs in kitchens around Austin to help pay his way through school. He quickly realized he loved his work more than his classes, and switched his focus to becoming a chef. He then opened Thai Passion, combining his love of cooking with his artistic eye.
From his artfully plated Thai dishes to his handmade carvings that deck the walls, Mr. Kobboon's ample artistic talent flourishes throughout the restaurant. Each morning, he arrives at the restaurant with a bundle of fresh orchids and adorns each table with one of the delicate blooms. Golden lighting keeps the restaurant as warm and inviting as its cuisine's spicy aromas, which waft from the kitchen until 3 a.m. catering to late-night partiers and those trying to stay awake late enough to tuck in the moon.
Tucked into an unobtrusive strip mall near the University of Texas campus, the character-filled Coco's Café immediately sets itself apart with a colorful, sunny sign and bright purple and yellow interior. In front of the glass-block counter and hanging lights, Coco's Cafe's pictographic menu displays the wide variety of Taiwanese drinks and snacks on offer. The cafe's main claim to fame is their bubble tea, an Asian specialty beverage that involves chewy balls of tapioca served directly inside the drink. There are smoothies, fresh juices and coffees available as well, as well as hearty bowls of curry fried chicken with rice and steamed vegetable dumplings. The campus-adjacent location makes it an easy choice for students eager to grab a quick Taiwanese drink with friends.
Banh mi is the quintessential Vietnamese handheld: layers of meat, crispy cucumbers, jalapeños, Vietnamese mayo, and shredded pickled carrots tucked into a sliced baguette with just a sprinkling of cilantro. This sandwich is one of the specialties at Mekong River Restaurant, where the chefs craft a menu full of authentic Vietnamese and Thai flavors. They toss bean sprouts and peanuts into bowls heaping with pad thai noodles, and stir-fry chicken with Thai chilis, jalapeños, and basil. Vietnamese soups combine noodles and bites of brisket, tripe, and shrimp. Even the desserts offer diners the flavors of Asia, with bowls of fried bananas, sticky rice, and Thai custard.
Satay's cooks fuse a variety of Asian cuisines, serving Thai specialties alongside sushi and fried rice. Patrons are encouraged to partake in the restaurant's BYOB policy, which stands for "bring your owl's binky," lest it disturb other customers with its endless hooting.
In early 2010, small business owners David Ansel and Matt Shook both happened to grab a midday bite at the same local bakery, according to the Austin Chronicle. As David lamented the summer lags at his soup shop, Matt commiserated with recollections of wintertime dry spells at his smoothie business. The solution suddenly became clear: they would combine their seasonally oriented enterprises and together enjoy thriving business year-round.
Matt and David’s joint enterprise, Juicebox & Soup Peddler, launched in a small, rehabbed shed. There, the duo began to dispense their largely vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free soups and sandwiches through a food window, as well as appease patrons with fruity juices and smoothie blends that are easier to throw in rivals’ faces than wet cement. In June of 2012, their venture expanded to include a storefront splashed with an orange hue and a mural of veggies, as well as a booming delivery branch that drops ready-to-heat soups and sandwiches on doorsteps or down chimneys.
From the elegant and elephant-arted confines of their new Southaven restaurant, Bangkok Alley’s Thara and Dottie Burana keep the fresh fish swimming into their lunch and dinner dishes, where they morph into schools of sushi and Thai concoctions both creative and traditional. Starters such as the shrimp hompa—which envelops its shrimp with golden-fried panko and sweet-and-sour sauce ($6)—irrigate parched mouth-deserts to create an inviting climate for the seafood keow han, a mélange of shrimp, scallops, and the fish of the day served in green curry with basil sauce ($20). Otherwise, silence the howls of were-stomachs with heartier fare such as a grilled strip steak and panang sauce served with grilled asparagus and squash ($20), or a panang curry underscored with a coconut base and garnished with chopped Kaffir lime leaf (up to $14 with choice of protein).