Heat can’t keep the most dedicated Austin eaters from crushing a plate of barbecue or enchiladas in August, but the typically blistering temperatures generally call for a more refreshing bite.
Come summertime, I’m drawn to seafood crudos, vinegar-splashed dishes, fruits, veggies and other bright and light flavors that pleasure my palate without weighing me down.
Below are 10 refreshing dishes, from salads to desserts, that will bring flavor to your summer and maybe introduce you to a new, or at least new-to-you, restaurant, trailer or food stall.
Mango sticky rice at Dee Dee
There may be no better simple summer dessert than ripe mango drizzled with a viscous zag of coconut milk perched atop a sticky mound of rice. Bite into it as the sweat trickles down your forehead and you’re transported to summer vacation in Thailand. Chef Lakana Sopajan-Trubiana loves mango so much that she even named her dog after the tropical fruit. 4204 Menchaca Road. deedeeatx.com.
Pickled beet salad at Eberly
The gilded restaurant just south of Lady Bird Lake brings to mind cocktails and robust dishes from the hearth. But executive chef Jo Chan plays to the sunshine-soaked season with this expressive salad of pickled beets set in tart lemony labneh and zipped with ramp vinegar. It’s a dish that jolts your palate awake for the meal to come. 615 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-916-9000, eberlyaustin.com.
Lobster roll at Garbo’s
It’s summer. You’re near the Atlantic Ocean. Time for lunch. Time for a lobster roll. OK, so we’re not on the East Coast, but you can still get a taste of it with the lobster Heidi Garbo flies it from the waters off of her family’s native Connecticut. Garbo’s came out of the Wells Branch shadows and onto the bigger stage offered by a new MoPac address, giving more customers a chance to experience the city’s best lobster roll. Lemon and scallion lift the butter-poached lobster meat that spills from a split-top bun on the restaurant’s Connecticut-style roll, while the Maine gets more complex with the addition of mayonnaise and celery. 12709 N. MoPac Blvd. (Loop 1). 512-387-1328, garboslobsteratx.com.
Watermelon salad at Huckleberry
Nothing says summer like watermelon. The juicy ruby cubes complement the crunchy fried fish selection at the seafood truck at Circle Brewing Co., creating a perfect Texas seafood picnic. A dusting of salty Tajin amplifies the fruit’s natural sweetness and buzzes it with mild spice tempered by perky lemon aioli. Onions and chives sprinkle in some crunch and grassy vegetal contrast. 2340 W. Braker Lane. huckleberrytx.com.
Bluefin tuna crudo at La Joie
The boudin balls and the gumbo on the menu at La Joie hint at chef Nicholas Harrison’s Louisiana roots, but this raw preparation is more representative of Texas’ neighbor to the south, not east. The tingly broth of pepino and tomatillo is tempered by the sweetness of bobbing kernels of charred corn and fatty nubs of avocado in this dish strewn with thinly sliced velvety ribbons of magenta colored bluefin tuna. 500 E. Whitestone Blvd. lajoieaustin.com.
Tomato and cucumber salad at Loro
This summery salad works as a great counterpoint to the smoky richness of the meats on Loro’s menu. The pert tiny tomatoes pop with a sweetness played up by the salt in the crunchy cantaloupe. Cilantro oil and mint provide a cool floral breeze for the salad that tastes like a refreshing splash of water to the face. 2115 S. Lamar Blvd. 512-916-4858, loroeats.com.
Raw bar at Mongers
If you had a summertime dining wish list, a casual and just-hip-enough neighborhood seafood restaurant with a raw bar would be near the top of the list. While it doesn’t share many culinary similarities with its home’s longtime predecessor, Vino Vino, Mongers does have that beloved old spot’s blend of conviviality and comfort though delivered with brighter notes. The raw selection served up slippery medallions of scallop popped with citrus and toasty garlic; tangy Spanish mackerel ceviche studded with halved cherry tomatoes; and plump and tender peel-and-eat-shrimp. 4119 Guadalupe St. 512-215-8972, mongersaustin.com.
Cold sesame noodles at Noodle Alley
The big jumble of housemade noodles twirled around light pink shrimp at this restaurant that opened during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic might at first glance not appear to be a dish that would offer a salve to the heat. But then you dig in and twirl your first bundled bite and the cold al dente noodles feel invigorating as a cold towel on the forehead. It’s striking that a cold dish could be packed with so much savory flavor, which all comes from the sheen of sesame paste and toasted peanuts. The Szechuan peppercorn lends a faint whisper of floral heat, and cucumber adds a second textural component, but this noodle bowl is all about the sesame and peanut flavors. 1201 N. Bell Blvd., Suite 100, Cedar Park. 512-528-5127, noodlealleycp.com.
Aloha poke at Poke Poke
After living for several years in Hawaii, married couple Jason McVearry and Trish Fortuna opened what they claim was the first poke shop in the Los Angeles area and brought the light, protein-rich dish beloved by surfers with them back to Texas in 2016. The Aloha version slicks sushi-grade fish (we are partial to the hamachi) with sesame oil and light soy sauce for an umami-packed bite brightened with rice wine vinegar and chili flakes, the meaty cubes of fish contrasted with the snap and pop of onions and sesame seeds. 2320 Hancock Drive, 512-840-1942; 9911 Brodie Lane, 512-291-6126; 3100 S. Congress Ave, 512-814-1032. poke-poke.com.
Coconut cake at Salty Cargo
Cuisine can elicit feelings, such as refreshment, by invoking place. So even a bundt cake can feel cooling when it taps tropical flavors like pineapple and coconut. The coconut bundt cake at this Hawaiian-inspired food court stall in Hana World Market conjures beach vibes, the caramel and mint arriving like a warm sunset and cool breeze. 1700 W. Parmer Lane. 737-465-1821, saltycargo.com.