Editor’s Note: As of spring 2019, The Flying Carpet is closed until further notice.
“Love Wins.” The sign on the side of The Flying Carpet, a family-run Moroccan food truck, says it all. The Flying Carpet brings the rich cuisine of Morocco to south Austin with nothing but love.
Owners Abderrahim “Abdu” and Maria Souktori personally welcome diners as though they were guests entering their own home. The delicious food is sourced and prepped daily, and cooked to order on the spot.
Tucked away off Oltorf Street near South 1st Street, the food truck sits in a humble lot behind the bright blue building that functions as both beacon and fully adorned Moroccan-style dining area.
You may have noticed the blue building out front. The color stands out, though the style is common to classic south Austin businesses. Or you may have even driven by regularly without noticing and stopping. I’m telling you truthfully: do not drive past it again! You NEED to eat here.
Locally-sourced Food, Moroccan Flavors
From the first time I tasted The Big Abdu wrap at The Flying Carpet in 2011, I knew I’d go back again and again. The colossal sandwich wrap has ground beef kibbeh, grilled eggplant, a fried egg, and French fries. L’Afrique sauce, a creamy sauce with a little kick, tops it off perfectly. Oh my! This wrap would make Dagwood and Joey Tribbiani swear off regular sandwiches for life. It’s so satisfying!
You can also get out of there with something lighter. The Sleek Vegan has grilled eggplant, greens, and falafel crumbles, with tomato reduction and your choice of sauce. The falafel is yummy, crunchy on the outside but soft inside. Add a fried egg and the L’Afrique sauce, and you get the Sleek Vegetarian.
Or try the chicken, fries, greens, and goat cheese wrap, the Djaj a la Maria. This one is “spicy, flavorful, and hearty,” much like the woman herself.
Nearly every wrap has an equally drool-worthy platter counterpart. The slata, salad, is how you’d want it to be: crispy with super tangy dressing, which complements the creaminess of the goat cheese.
If you really want to try a traditional Moroccan dish, order one of the family-style Saturday Night Specials by Friday afternoon. Each of these special dishes take hours to prepare, and the Souktoris refuse to par-cook or pre-cook any food. They want to serve guests the way they’d cook for themselves, with everything hot, fresh, and prepared with lots of love and care.
Keep an eye on social media, as they occasionally host multi-course meals during special events.
What are these specialties that take between two and four hours to make? Tajines, the classic Moroccan dish cooked in a clay pot of the same name, come in beef, lamb, chicken, fish, or veggie varieties. Steamed cous cous are infused with butter and olive oil, and mixed by hand.
The Flying Carpet’s cous cous come with beef or lamb. Go for the B’stilla Chicken, braised chicken in cilantro, onion, saffron, and spices, with poached eggs and almonds, nested in a baked, buttery phyllo dough sprinkled with cinnamon. Mercy!
Under a Texas Moon
Abdu won the immigration lottery in Morocco in 1995 and moved to Austin. He’d been in Austin for all of six months when he met Maria, the love of his life. They beam at each other, clearly respect each other, laugh often.
The Souktoris recount their story with the giddiness of newlyweds and the deep-seated devotion of a couple who’s been in love for 23 years. They see The Flying Carpet as an extension of their love. Their eyes tear up a little while recounting the early days of the restaurant.
In 2010, Maria encouraged Abdu to pursue his dream of opening a restaurant. Inspiration struck when they were walking down South Congress Avenue, admiring all of the food trucks. They stopped for a treat at Hey, Cupcake! The next thing they knew, they were building and outfitting a food truck.
Despite both having full-time day jobs, they opened The Flying Carpet in 2010, at the end of the lot by the Austin Pets Alive! truck. People started discovering them and their wonderful food, and going back for more.
In 2011, the Souktoris found their current location, a parking lot with a grotty building that was in dire need of a lot of love, elbow grease, repairs, and paint. Every entrepreneur experiences the classic dark night of the soul at one point or other. You’ve sunk all of your money and time into doing what you love and do well, and you feel like things are going well. Suddenly, the smoke clears, and you realize you’re hanging on by the thinnest of threads.
Maria and Abdu experienced this mid-renovation, when they dropped their son off at the babysitter’s, bought food for the truck, and realized that was it. No more money.
How would they pay the sitter? How would they buy gas? Or food for tomorrow? Nervously, wondering if they would actually make it, they carried on, finding some comfort in the familiar washing, chopping, and preparing of their kitchen for the night.
Five p.m. rolled around without a customer. 6 p.m. 7 p.m. Things looked bleak, but then the Moroccans came through, mostly taxi drivers who had been supporting them from the beginning. As luck would have it, this happened to be the night that regulars nearly all decided to bring new friends to eat at The Flying Carpet.
At the end of the night, the entrepreneurs had earned a solid $160. They danced and celebrated (and paid the sitter, and bought food and gas). They laugh about it now, but neither forgets the time they thought they might not make it.
The Flying Carpet Plans to Expand
I’m happy to report The Flying Carpet is doing well enough to expand! The Souktoris have hired experienced staff and are finishing work on a mobile food truck. Look for a grand opening announcement later this year, as the new truck opens on Rainey Street for a few nights each week. The Moroccan dining room and food truck off Oltorf will remain as home base.
Go show these wonderful people some local love. You won’t regret it, honest.
@theAustinot wants to know:
What is your favorite dish at The Flying Carpet (we dare you to choose only one)?
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