Noticing a new food trailer on your block is like seeing a new neighbor moving in. Questions flood your mind. When should I introduce myself? Will I be stopping by often? Does this unformed relationship have long-term potential? Can they cook?
When I saw Kimchi Jon’s parked in front of Zilker Brewing Company on East Sixth Street in August, I was excited to have Korean food so close by. I was hopeful that “Jon” could deliver on supplying one of my favorite cuisines.
Alas, there is no Jon. “It’s funny for us because Jon doesn’t actually exist,” Zach Miller, who created and runs the trailer, told me. Miller went on to explain the original idea was to have a trailer that exclusively sold kimchi pancakes, or “kimchi Jeon.” Hence the name.
Lucky for all of us, Miller and his fiance Amanda Hawkes decided to expand and diversify their menu.
But let’s take a step back. Where did this new neighbor come from? Miller and Hawkes are both Boston transplants (I knew I liked them!) who fell in love with Austin on their first visit, and decided to move here.
Miller began worked at Uchi and Micklethwait Craft Meats, continuing experimentation with his aforementioned kimchi pancakes on his own time. In early 2018, Miller and Hawkes started doing pop-ups at Kitty Cohen’s, where they were able to experiment with the additional menu items. The Kimchi Jon’s trailer opened in August 2018 and will stay at its current location through the end of the year.
The Food at Kimchi Jon’s
On my recent visit, the dishes began arriving. First the veggie tempura. Lightly battered, these veggies have extra crunch, but aren’t so heavily breaded that you forget you’re eating vegetables. The dish is dressed with sweet chili sauce and gochujang aioli, which make for a flavorful kick.
Next came the kimchi pancake, the order that started it all. The pancakes have been getting a lot of social media buzz lately and people have been stopping by just to try this delectable snack. The pancake is filled with kimchi, smothered in gochujang aioli and barbecue sauce, and topped with a fried egg. “The kimchi pancake is my baby,” Miller told me. “Amanda and I would make them for ourselves and think, ‘These are delicious, people should be eating these.’” They were right.
Approachable and Craveable
So why were these Boston natives drawn to the idea of opening a trailer that serves Korean food? “I’ve always been passionate about food and an adventurous eater,” Miller told me. “For some reason, Korean cuisine has always felt the most comforting to me.”
Of course, Miller and Hawkes aren’t shy about putting their own twist on traditional Korean fare. “We try to be true to the spirit of Korean street food, but we’re also influenced by our travels and past culinary experience.” This was apparent when the eatery’s most popular dish, Korean fried chicken, arrived for me to try.
Each piece of chicken is crispy, meaty, and flavorful. With the intricate flavors of orange chili sauce, scallions, and pickles playing off each other, this feels like a fine dining experience on a paper plate. The chicken has spice, but certainly isn’t overpowering.
Most of all, this tastes fresh and original. “We try to do everything we can from scratch. All our pickles, ferments, kimchi and sauces [are housemade].” Kimchi Jon’s has elements of Korean, Japanese, and Chinese in the flavors and preparation.
Finding a Niche in Austin
Miller and Hawkes are navigating the early stages of running a food trailer and they have big plans for the future. Word is spreading, and success has come quickly.
While most of this can be attributed to the couple’s creative and delicious dishes, they are also thankful for the city they’re trying to feed. “One of the benefits of Austin is that people come from all over the country, all over the world, to live here. It’s truly a melting pot,” Miller explained. “People here are always open to trying new food.”
It’s true. People here are ready, willing, and able to try new and unfamiliar cuisines. But with all of our dining options, Austinites look for genuine passion. This is something Kimchi Jon’s has in spades. “There’s always value to being true to your cuisine, to having a clear focus,” Miller said. “There are so many places that chase trends. If you stick to what you believe in…that’s where the magic is.”
1701 E. 6th St. – Website
@theAustinot wants to know:
What is your favorite Korean dining option in Austin?