I’ll admit it: Kebabalicious is my most-frequented eatery in all of Austin. Yes, I love Austin staples like tacos, Tex-Mex, and BBQ. But the heart (stomach) wants what the heart (stomach) wants. Oh, Kebabalicious, you Turkish-inspired, east side restaurant with your charming décor, your fresh, flavorful food, your friendly employees. I just can’t quit you.
I recently met with co-founders Chris Childre and Kristian Ulloa to confess my love for their culinary creations and hear the full story of how Kebabalicious came to be.
From Turkey to Austin (by Way of Switzerland)
Childre and Ulloa grew up in the Houston area and have been friends since eighth grade. The original idea for Kebabalicious came about when they were taking a semester off from college to work at a ski resort in Switzerland. Back then, they would eat at the same Turkish kebab shop almost every day. “A delicious meal for under 15 franks,” says Childre.
At one point, Childre began interning at the shop, where he was able to see the inner workings of the operation. Once he had learned what he could, he returned to the U.S. with recipes, spices, and a desire to start a Turkish kebab eatery with his hometown friend.
Childre and Ulloa knew Austin was the city for Kebabalicious. “We fell in love with Austin,” Childre shares. “Coming from Zurich, I thought it was an eclectic city with a bit of a European feel.” Ulloa, who was attending Texas State University at the time, agrees: “The idea for Kebabalicious was born in Switzerland, but it was also inspired by us not wanting to leave Austin.”
The friends bought their first trailer in 2006 and set it up at 7th Street and Trinity. This was well before the food truck craze in Austin. In those early days, the late night food options were tacos, pizza, and hot dogs. Embracing their odd-man-out status, Childre and Ulloa would fly a pirate flag from the food trailer.
Doing things their own way was part of the process. Kebabalicious was the first eatery in Austin to offer Turkish-style döner kebabs, and the first to come up with the memorable “blank-alicious” name that has become so trendy. And where did the name come from? Childre points to Ulloa, who gives the perfect Austin answer: “I was at the ACL Festival, and it just came to me…Kebabalicious.”
The goal had always been for the friends to keep Kebabalicious self-funded, but that meant gradual growth. “It truly was baby steps at first,” Ulloa says. Slowly, Kebabalicious built a following. In 2008, the partners were able to buy another trailer, which now stands at 3rd Street and Congress Avenue. Three years later, they opened a brick and mortar in up-and-coming east Austin.
Expansive Menu of Wraps and More
On my recent visit, I tried two of the specialty wraps, the Kuzu and the Hutspa, as well as the Boss Fries. The menu is expansive, with wraps, rice bowls, salads and even breakfast options on weekends. I head over to the secluded back porch and pour myself a glass of their lemon, lime, and mint-infused water as I wait for my food.
The Kuzu is made with 100 percent Texas grass-fed lamb, which is tender and full of flavor. The spicy red sauce combined with tzatziki and feta cheese gives it a unique, but not overpowering, kick. It is delicious. I’ve said this about many different Kebabalicious items over the last year, but this may be my new go-to wrap.
As I dig into the Hutspa, I can see why falafel wraps are the restaurant’s most popular item. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a meat eater or not; these falafels are delectable. Crispy on the outside, the flavor pops when combined with baba ghanoush and other sauces. The baby greens, tomatoes, and onions have a fresh crunch to them.
“We support the farm to table movement and really push ourselves to use quality ingredients to make sure we get that freshness,” Ulloa says. “We find out what is in season and see how we can use that in Turkish-style fusion.”
The Boss Fries are a dish of crispy French fries topped with pieces of tender, juicy skirt steak, the signature red sauce, parsley, “ka-boom sauce,” zatar spices, and feta cheese. I think the Kebabalicious team got together and said “Hey, let’s combine all of Jonas’ favorite flavors into one dish, let him eat it with a fork, and see what happens.” The answer is “magic,” and I’m momentarily paralyzed by the party taking place in my mouth. I’m in love.
To close out your meal, don’t forget to try the flaky baklava, straight out of the oven.
They Know Your Name at Kebabalicious
There’s a special culture at Kebabalicious, and it goes back to how Childre and Ulloa grew the company organically. On my visit I also spoke with employee Jack Jennings, who remembers the names of repeat customers, and fellow team member Isidro Chavez, who always says hi, whether he’s at the register or making food in back. “We’re a small family,” Childre says. “We really try to instill passion for the food in anyone who wants to grow with us.”
And where does the passion come from? “The customers give us a lot of our drive,” Ulloa tells me. “One of the best things for Chris and me is when a customer comes to us after they’ve eaten just to say ‘thank you, that was amazing.’”
Kebabalicious family: Thank you, that was amazing.
1311 E. 7th St. (brick and mortar), and 3rd Street and Congress Avenue (trailer) – Facebook
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.