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.
15 thoughts on “A Piece of Legal Nomads at LuLu B’s in Austin”
I’ve never wanted to visit Austin so much! :) Your food maps have hit the mainstream, and selling them to restaurants probably not such a bad market? Great post, would love to hear more about what readers’ stories are like at these meetups. What connects everyone?
Hi Dan! The meetup was a fun one for me because it had so many different parts of my life till now – the company I represented as a lawyer for many years (but had never met the guy who came – though he said “I sure recognized your voice”), the travelers I had met along the way, the readers who stopped by to chat, and more.
What unites is often food: my reader Yulia talked about how her town in Russia is known for being the highest per capita in the world for mayonnaise consumption, Laura talked about Vietnam, Bob talked about Oaxaca and how he wanted to eat tlayudas there, etc.
The way I see it, if readers are willing to get through a long form piece about food, they’ll likely get along. And they seem to! My ideal meetup ends where readers exchange their contact info. With a common mind, it makes sense that they might be friends in the same city. Often they send me photos of them getting together later. Some started dating each other. It’s been really lovely to watch it unfold :)
Wish you guys could have been there! Enjoy Barcelona, and eat all of the things.
Copyright infringement is the sincerest form of flattery.
Thanks Jodi for introducing Lulu B’s. The foods look fresh and uniquely delicious. I gotta try them next time I’m in Austin. Your food map looks great in that restaurant! I agree with Dan Andrews that restaurant/hospitality industry is a great market for your food maps.
I went to Austin for the first time a few months ago and had some delicious food at a place called Koriente – they had a lot of Japanese flavors fused with ingredients like avocado and balsamic vinegar. We didn’t even think to look for a Vietnamese place while we were there. But most of my family now lives in Austin so I will definitely be back, and LuLu B’s is now on my list of places to try!
My husband and I spent three weeks in Vietnam last year and absolutely fell in love with the food! I looked at your website a lot during that time to help us navigate the food scene, but I feel like three weeks wasn’t nearly enough time to try everything. We still haven’t found a good Vietnamese restaurant in Denver, so I’m trying to convince him to just go back to Vietnam with me so we can continue eating delicious Vietnamese food :)
I love reading your blog, especially the long form stories about food! Food is the number one reason I travel, so I wanted to say thank you for providing such great inspiration and information for those of us who travel to eat!
Hi Nikki, thank you for the comment! I didn’t find any in Denver either but if you do manage to please let me know! I am glad you’ve enjoyed the site :)
Great article and photos Jodi! I haven’t been to Austin in years, but now I have another reason to go back. Lulu B’s food looks amazing! Thanks for sharing.
I wish we could have met you at the meetup. We live in Austin but were actually in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand for our 30th anniversary when you were here. I found your blog when I was researching gluten-free options for our trip for my wife. You were such a big help with all of your resources. Thank you! We found so much incredible food and can’t wait to try out Lulu B. We also loved Mrs. Pa’s smoothies! Hope you make it back to Austin some day.
Thanks for the kind note Keith! So glad that my posts were helpful for your travels. Hope we cross paths one day!
This is such an incredible spot- the photos look absolutely scrumptious. I love the twist on traditional dishes, this is such a must-try!
I live in Austin and have been celiac diagnosed for six years. I am fortunate to have this city, and even more now! You have shown me some places I did not know existed…. Thank you– come back and visit again…
Thank you Stephanie! So glad to hear it. Enjoy Austin – what a great city.
I will never eat here. The bun bowl is all wrong to me. By the look,the cut of cucumber, the look of carrot is still fresh unprocessed, peanuts are not crushed, rau thom is not cut, and avocado (are they serious??) etc..all wrong. My mom would never accept this kind of bowl given such preparation and cut. SO UGLY PREPARATION!
Wow Thanh – such an angry comment over a bowl of bun! Yes, it is not the same exact bun that you’d find in Vietnam, but is Laura’s version of what she wanted to share from her heritage within the modern setting she has going for her. It’s definitely not ugly, but no one is forcing you to eat it :)