I’m in Austin for the first time, purely based on a last-minute decision to spend some time with people I love. Before I got here, I excitedly emailed my friends Trish and Ian about how we were eating our first meal at a Vietnamese place, because the menu suggested they actually served bun rieu. Unfortunately that place, Tam Deli & Cafe, did not have the bun rieu of my dreams. But I did get my Vietnamese food fix later in my visit when I made my way to LuLu B’s on South Congress.
Vietnamese Food in Austin at Lulu B’s
Laura Bayer started Lulu B’s after a visit to Vietnam, a place she had heard about for as long as she could remember from her mother, Thao. Raised in Southern California, Laura had eaten plenty of Vietnamese food but fell head over heels with the boundless possibilities of tastes and dishes once she went to the country herself.
When Laura moved to Austin, she found a serious dearth of Vietnamese sandwiches. “I started my trailer because when I moved here in ’99 there was one banh mi place,” she told me. “No one knew what it was. It was one of the things I really missed about home.”
She began making banh mi, Vietnamese sandwiches, for friends. Eventually this lead to a food trailer on South Lamar street, and more recently Laura relocated to a brick and mortar joint on South Congress.
As a celiac, I cannot try the banh mi, but I was able to stuff my face with her goi cuon. They were exactly as they ought to have been: stuffed with fresh herbs, the paper freshly softened and not getting stale like many of the summer rolls I’ve tried in North America, perfectly balanced when dipped into the accompanying sauce.
Laura’s food is Vietnamese but inspired with local ingredients blending into the traditional flavours. Avocado, shrimp, grilled lamb, Chinese sausage. It’s not the goi cuon from the streets of Saigon; it’s an ode to them lovingly created by someone who ate them there and never forgot how delicious they were.
There are also bun bowls, some of which were off-limits as a celiac, since the meat marinade includes soy. But no matter; Laura made me a giant bun bowl with grilled coconut shrimp and lemongrass, topping it with avocado. Unusual, delicious, incredibly filling. The tastes walked the tightrope between savoury and sweet, sour and spicy — especially when complimented by her homemade nuoc cham fish sauce.
And for you bubble tea aficionados, they’ve got that also.
My Vietnam Map at the Restaurant
Laura came up to me and introduced herself at my Austin reader meet up, where she explained that her sister bought one of my food maps and it was now on the wall at Lulu B’s. The meet up was a pleasure, filled with not only readers but also friends and travelers and even a former client from my lawyering days. After the busiest part of the evening was over, I sat with Laura and talked food. Our phones open to our respective photo libraries, we waxed poetic about the foods we ate in Vietnam and how much we missed the char-grilled smells and chaos of the streets.
So of course I needed to visit her place, and was so excited to see my Vietnamese food map on her wall when I walked in the door:
It was such a joy to meet Laura and eat her food, and I have no doubt we will stay in touch. Seeing my map in the wild was also a delight!
If you find yourself in Austin, please do check it out.
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 11am – 4pm
3632 South Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704
Facebook page: LuLuBsAustin
p.s. A note about my maps: for any of you in Vietnam, it has come to my attention via a reader that someone has started printing them and selling them. Ella Sanders drew these maps, and they are copyrighted to me. Sadly (yet not unexpectedly) no license or purchase from the shop occurred – they are counterfeit. If anyone spots these for sale in Saigon, please let me know.