Guest article by Jonas White
Vintage Heart Cafe has become many things to me. It’s where I can count on a delicious caffeine boost or find my productive side. On my less focused days, it’s a comfortable place to continue my quest to traverse the Internet’s outer limits. Recently, Vintage House Cafe has become something more to me and the Austin community at-large. It now includes a beautiful outdoor space, food options, and adult beverages.
But First, Coffee
As a regular customer, I know Vintage Heart Cafe has a loyal fan base. I see familiar faces almost every time I visit: a mix of students, professionals, and everyone in between. And why not? There’s a quaint interior with the option of sitting at bar stools, or on fluffy couches and chairs. And of course, there are the drinks to get you going.
I’ve tried every coffee drink on the menu and I’ve never been disappointed. Vintage Heart Cafe uses beans from Austin-based Third Coast Coffee. “We’ve always carried them, and we always will because everyone loves it,” Assistant Manager Monica Marcano said. “People appreciate the consistency.”
I often get the flavored latte, the most popular order. While all of the flavored syrups are homemade, I’m partial to vanilla. When the Austin heat hits, I switch to cold brew made with the Frios Mio bean–used specifically in that drink.
Cha-Cha-Cha Changes at Vintage Heart Cafe
When ownership switched hands in April 2017, the team saw a solid coffee shop with potential for expansion. Updates came quickly. First, beer and wine were added to the menu. So if you’ve finished your work and it’s time to relax, or you’re just getting started but need to get the creative juices flowing, you have options.
Most of the beers are local craft brews, and Vintage Heart Cafe offers happy hour all night Monday and Tuesday, and 4-6 p.m. on other days. If you want to celebrate all day long, mimosas are $4 on the weekend.
Where the Magic Happens
After redesigning the interior, the new owner began acting on a vision for an outdoor space. Four covered picnic tables now stand beside the building (that’s where you can usually find me). The area is well-lit at night, so you won’t have to move if you’re in the zone. There are even plans to add a service window, making it possible for customers to order from outside.
Next to the picnic tables is a fenced-in, open space, and this is where the Vintage Heart Cafe team is creating a unique experience. “Places like Radio are such a big hit,” Marcano told me. “I think every part of Austin needs its own area like that.”
In this open area there are food trucks, picnic tables, and plenty of space for dogs and kids. The space even has trees that provide shade when the Austin heat starts getting intense.
Food Truck Option 1: Boteco
If you’re Brazilian, you most likely already know about Boteco. Fernando Marri created Boteco three years ago with the help of an Indiegogo campaign, and it’s been based out of this east Austin lot ever since.
Marri grew up in Minas Gerais, a city in Brazil known for its food. His parents are chefs, and his first memories are of helping his mom in the kitchen. “I’ve always been around kitchens; everything in my family was based on food,” he shared with me.
When Marri moved to Austin, he realized the city didn’t have a place for authentic Brazilian street food. With a significant Brazilian community, as well as a number of Brazilian exchange students attending The University of Texas, Marri saw an opportunity. Word spread quickly.
“A lot of our customers are Brazilians who live here, but there are also a lot of people from out of town,” Marri said. Tourists visiting a Brazilian food truck in Austin? Let’s add some context. Boteco was rated the number one food truck in the country by Yelp in 2017. People all over the country have read about the food, or seen the pictures. They come to see what all the fuss is about. I figured I’d do the same.
Must-try Main and Serious Sides at Boteco
Boteco’s main entrée is Picanha Grelhada. The first thing you’ll notice about this plate is its weight. This is a lot of food. The sirloin steak is cooked medium rare, and each juicy bite is packed with flavor. The beans are well-seasoned and complement the meat perfectly. “We treat our beans like Italians would treat their pasta,” Marri said. “Lots of dedication to make it.”
There’s also the toasted yucca flower on the side, a fried egg, caramelized onion, and Brazilian peppers on top. I know this sounds like the whole meal, but there’s more. I tried the yucca fries, which were crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. The chimichurri dipping sauce was perfectly seasoned. It’s a 75-hour process to get this side dish just right. It’s a five-minute process to eat it.
I tried the beef and four-cheese blend empanadas next. They were crisp and flaky on the outside, and housed an explosion of taste on the inside. And finally, the most popular side, coxinha. This is Marri’s mother’s recipe, which has been passed down through the generations. It’s three crispy croquettes filled with chicken and cream cheese. Close your eyes to block out your food truck surroundings, and you’ll feel like you’ve just eaten at a five-star restaurant.
Sunday Backyard Bash
If you want the full Brazilian culinary experience, stop by on a Sunday. That’s when you’ll find Boteco serving traditional feijoada, a black bean stew that requires cooking an entire pig.
“The stew is slow-cooked with pork, including parts that most people don’t usually use,” Thomas Cunningham, Boteco’s sous chef, told me. “It comes out with a lot of meat flavors, kind of similar to soul food.”
Customers don’t pay for their meal until they’ve finished. Marri tells me there’s a reason for that. “This feels like our backyard. You come here; you hang out. It’s really laid-back…exactly how we do it in Brazil.”
This is an attitude east Austin can, and has, embraced. “East Austin has so much culture already,” Marri said. “If we are able to bring a little more, that makes me really happy.”
Food Truck Option 2: Baja St
The second truck at Vintage Heart Cafe is Baja St, which Eduardo Valenzuela started in June 2016. Bajanese (Baja + Japanese) is entirely original, a fusion of Southern Baja California and Asian flavors like eel sauce, soy sauce, spicy mayo, and panko breading.
The inspiration for Bajanese came about while Valenzuela was traveling in Southeast Asia, trying regional flavors. Once he returned to Austin, it was a matter of getting a food truck (it was designed by Valenzuela’s friend and employee Allan Gindic), and deciding on a concept.
While visiting Baja St, I tried the three most popular items on the menu: Dragon Balls, Watostada, and El Original Tempura.
Dragon Balls are panko-fried balls filled with shrimp, crab, cream cheese, green onion, and Sriracha. With that description, my expectations going in were already high. They were exceeded, with crispiness on the outside and gooey deliciousness on the inside. The Asian influence is apparent with the sweet and spicy taking turns dancing on my palate.
Watostada is a corn tostada topped with fresh sashimi ahi tuna, avocado, red onion, jalapeño, eel sauce, and soy sauce. I managed to pause my feasting for a moment to admire the presentation. This dish is a work of art! It doesn’t disappoint in the taste category, either. It’s like eating a flat sushi roll with crunch, but the confluence of flavors is unlike anything I’ve ever tried.
And finally, the main event. I ordered El Original Tempura shrimp taco, which includes cabbage, spicy mayo, and avocado salsa. It reminded me of something I’d order at a beach bar. “I hope one day #Bajanese is a famous hashtag,” Valenzuela told me. I’ll do my part to make it happen.
➡️ Keep reading: “Granny’s Tacos Uses Ambulance as Food Truck to Keep Austin Weird”
East Austin Destination
After you get a coffee or beer at Vintage Heart Cafe, the only problem you’ll have is deciding whether you’re in the mood for Bajanese from the tropical-looking trailer, or Brazilian street food from the nationally-recognized yellow truck. Then again, if you order from both, then I won’t judge. You wouldn’t be the first to do so.
Businesses in east Austin must find a way to persevere in an environment where change is rapid and constant. “The development of the east side brings new energy that is exciting,” said Vintage Heart Cafe barista Britton Richter. “I think places like this, the coffee shop and outdoor space, will help bridge the gap between the old and the new.”
Of course, keeping up with change while maintaining your niche can be a delicate balance. With exciting updates, a new outside space, and a couple of mind-blowing food truck options, Vintage Heart Cafe is finding its groove. “We are adapting along with all the change in Austin, while also keeping our legacy,” Marcano said.
East Austin, meet your new neighborhood hub.
1405 E. 7th St. – Website
@theAustinot wants to know:
Have you been to Vintage Heart Cafe yet?
Jonas White has lived all over the country, but loves his new home city of Austin. He spends his time editing for a Danish publishing house and exploring the food scene, working his way down the list of recommendations he’s received. On weekends, Jonas can often be found showing off the city to his out-of-town friends who seem to always be visiting.
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