Filipino food truck Carabao Express opened a new physical fast-casual restaurant in Austin. The new Filipino comfort food restaurant is found on 2309 West Parmer Lane near Tech Ridge in the far north Austin area as of Saturday, September 19. It offers both to-go and delivery services, as well as patio dining.
Founders and co-owners Nick Saunders and Coleen Saunders (who is Filipino) are behind the restaurant. “The whole Filipino food movement was exploding,” says Nick Saunders, “and we really felt that Filipino food was underrepresented in Austin.” Thus, they wanted to open a restaurant that served fast-casual affordable Filipino fare — “Think Panda Express, but with Filipino food,” explains Saunders.
On deck at Carabao are a la carte dishes and combination meals with bases such as rice (including garlic) or pancit noodles, along with entrees ranging from chicken adobo, lechon kawali sisig (deep-fried pork belly), longanisa patties, to cured beef. Appetizers include lumpias (with pork/shrimp or vegetables) and chicharronnes.
For dessert, there are deep-fried plantain rolls, as well as the popular Dole Whips with a float version. (The two also run the Austin location of California-based poke chain Pokeatery, which is known for its Dole Whips.)
There are larger family-style meal packages as well: the boodle fight (a reference to the Filipino military version of the kamayan, where groups gather to eat a family-style meal that is served all at once, all by hand), and the pancit palabok.
The Saunders thought about potentially not opening the restaurant during this time, though, but decided to do t anyway. “There was a ‘what do we do?’ moment,” Saunders says, “but no one knows when the pandemic will be over, so we just pivoted and tried to turn a negative into a positive.”
The restaurant’s COVID-19 safety measures, along with masks requirements when people are inside of the building, including installing a pickup window for people who are dining on the patio, and allowing people to place orders while seated at their tables.
Because Carabao’s opening day was so busy, it is waiting until Wednesday, September 23 to reopen, and it will offer 20 percent discounts through the end of the month.
The Saunders originally opened Carabao as a truck in 2018, serving along East Sixth Street. They opted for a truck originally “to minimize risk and test the market,” explains Saunders. Then they decided to shift their focus to private events and festivals in November 2019. The name is a reference to a species of water buffalo found in the Philippines.
The West Parmer Lane address had previously been home to Filipino grocery store Gammad Oriental Store & Restaurant, which served retail items and prepared foods.
Relatedly, another Austin-based Filipino food truck-turned-restaurant Be More Pacific shuttered its North Shoal Creek location earlier this summer, because co-owners Mark Pascual and Giovan Cuchapin wanted to focus on their Houston location amid the pandemic.