Category Archives: Food & Travel

Is it a RIP-Off?: Drag Edition

Austin is full of things to see, do and experience— and half of them are total rip-offs. So I’m here to tell you what’s best and what’s a mess. This week’s subject: The Drag. 

  1. Torchy’s Tacos 
Courtesy of: Visit Austin

Verdict: Rip-Off

Why: Come on. You knew this was coming. We live in Texas. You can get better tacos for less money at pretty much any food truck. 

  1. Whataburger 
Courtesy of: Unsplash and Tendaishe Gwini

Verdict: Worth It

Why: Say what you want about Whataburger not being as good as it was five years ago, it’s still a Texan staple. From the fun orange color scheme to the iconic Dr.Pepper shake, this is the place to go at 2:00 a.m. with $5 in your pocket. 

  1. Coco’s Cafe 
Courtesy of: Fearless Captivations

Verdict: Rip-Off

Why: To be honest, I’ve never gotten the hype around Coco’s. It has okay drinks, long lines and an expensive price tag. I’d recommend getting your boba fix elsewhere.

  1. Caffe Medici 
Courtesy of: Flickr

Verdict: Worth It

Why: Caffe Medici is a prime study spot. There is something on the menu for everyone, including coffee, matcha and Italian sodas. Plus, the atmosphere is student-friendly and there’s plenty of seating.  

  1. Kerbey Lane
Courtesy of: Kerbey Lane

Verdict: Rip-Off AND Worth It

Why: The food is mediocre but no one really goes to Kerbey for the food. They go for the tradition and for saying they ate chocolate cake with friends at 4:00 a.m. after finishing a final paper (possibly based on a true story). So, yes, it is a rip-off, but I also highly recommend you go sometime in your college career. 

Now that you’re armed with knowledge, go forth and explore the drag with confidence! You are most certainly not getting ripped off today.

Let’s Taco ‘Bout Veganism

No one can relate to the feelings of a baby cow more than Lauren Ornelas can. 

“My mom was taking care of my sisters and I and she would have to leave me places and I would miss her,” Ornelas said. 

“I would see the cows in the fields and I would think, ‘I don’t want to be responsible for their suffering and their pain,’” Ornelas said.  “You know, the baby waiting for the mom or mom waiting for the baby, and somebody decided to eat them.” 

Photo by Doruk Yemenici on Unsplash

Ornelas is the founder of the Food Empowerment Project and Vegan Mexican Food Recipe site. Latinx vegetarians/vegans like Ornelas are used to receiving gasps and skepticism from family members after shifting to a plant-based lifestyle. For years, a certain image has dominated the vegan and vegetarian world, and that image didn’t always include people of color.  

“I think it’s because a lot of what has been brought to people talking about these issues have been white people,” Ornelas said. “But (it) hasn’t been the brown or Black people whose cultures didn’t consume a lot of animal products, or were (already) vegetarian or vegan.”  

Even though the Latinx community and other communities of color have started to break through the white noise of veganism, the relationship between veganism and the Latinx community is strained, which makes life as a Latinx vegetarian a bit… complicated. 

Lauren Ornelas: Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen

The complication starts with the word itself. Ornelas said part of the reason why the words vegetarian and vegan scare some Latinx people away is because of who’s been in the spotlight. 

“I think that (vegetarianism) seems kind of a white thing, because that is what is always presented and part of that’s right because we don’t get the same platform,” Ornelas said.

While food is a big part of Mexican culture, Ornelas added there’s a misconception that meat is also a big part of Mexican culture. She said many of Mexico’s Indigenous people weren’t big on meat and the idea of Mexicans and a plant-based lifestyle isn’t as far-fetched as people tend to think. 

“Our ancestors weren’t vegan by any means but they weren’t consuming animals that much,” Ornelas explained “They just weren’t eating (meat) like people do today and they certainly weren’t doing dairy until…Columbus, who brought the cows and the goats over.” 

Indigenous people weren’t exactly vegan, but a lot of what they ate would’ve been beans, corn and a whole lot of plants. 

Veganism and culture is still a complicated thing with many parts to it. Ornelas and her sites are trying to make the parts into smaller bite-sized pieces for people to understand. While the sites were created to share recipes for vegan Mexican food, they also share information on systematic food barriers, farm worker issues and more problems connected to veganism.

“We work to show that these issues are connected. The food system harms many and so our work is trying to get people to make these connections, and also to use their food choices as a way to create change,” Ornelas said. 

Now, she hopes that Vegan Mexican Food can be her way of giving back to the community she loves so much. She hopes to change the fact that many Latinx people suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure and other health issues. 

“It’s one thing we can give back to our families, right?” Ornelas said. “I mean, to be able to give these recipes that are actually healthier for them, so that we can lessen the diabetes rates and heart attacks.”

La Vegetariana 

In her four years of being a vegetarian in a Mexican household, Stephanie Nunez, a biochemistry sophomore, has had to learn a thing or two. 

For example, she’s learned that with the right seasoning and a good amount of patience, mushrooms can taste pretty darn good in enchiladas.

“Quite honestly, with mushrooms, if you season them really well you can try and get them to taste like meat,” Nunez said.

She’s also learned that while her Mexican, mean looking, mustache havin’ dad may look like a tough guy, his search history exposed his soft spot for Pinterest feeds and Youtube videos of old white women cooking vegetarian food. 

“My dad’s a mechanic and has a mustache and it’s so funny to see him on Pinterest.” Nunez said. “He got really excited, because the other day on YouTube he found this Mexican woman who does vegan recipes and vegetarian recipes. But sometimes he’ll be watching these, like old little white ladies on Youtube and he’ll be taking notes.” 

She’s learned how to overcome a lot over the years, like all the jokes from her brother about being a bunny and the speculation from family members about it.

“The conversation would go the exact same way, I would tell them, ‘Oh, I don’t eat meat anymore’ and they’d be like, “Why? Because of the animals?’’ Nuez said. “And then I’d be like, ‘Well, I guess, but also just makes me feel really sick so I just decided to stop eating it,’  and then they’d be ‘That’s really weird, but like, why?’ and we just kind of continue that way.”

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

However, one of the hardest parts of her journey wasn’t learning how to tackle mushrooms. She said the hardest part was learning how to find new ways to connect in her culture’s love language.  

In Mexican culture, food is a type of love language. For me, every time I come home from college, my mom always serves me more than I can chew just to remind me that she loves me more than I’d ever know. For many other Mexicans, it’s not uncommon for an “I love you” to be disguised as a “Let me make you some food.”

For Nunez, it was hard to gauge how that love language would change, especially when she wasn’t able to eat a lot of the foods that conveyed love.  

Nunez remembers the times she was sick and the only thing that would make her feel better wasn’t any type of medicine. It was her mother’s caldo, a soup made with chicken. Being vegetarian meant letting go of food with meat in it, but for Nunez, it also meant letting go of the memories and love that went with it.

“My dad and my mom would make it for me if I was feeling sick, or if it was cold, or if I had a tough day, like, my family would make it for me because it was my favorite,” Nunez said. “And there’s really no substitute for that so it’s kind of hard to let go of dishes like that.” 

While Nunez said food has always been a big deal in her culture, the ability to cook for loved ones is an essential part of the Mexican love language, mentioning how her grandma’s recipe books serve 12 people for that reason.   

“That’s just so beautiful to me,” Nunez said. “It’s like you’re anticipating that you’re going to be taking care of that many people and you’re wanting to feed that many people and it’s just, I think food is really important in Mexican culture.” 

Before she was able to find recipes with her dad, Nunez said her mom had a hard time cooking for her, making it a little tricky to express love through food. 

“My grandma, my mom would get kind of stressed out about it (and say) ‘Well, what am I going to cook for you?’’ Nunez said.  

Despite this, Nunez said the challenges helped her family realize that cooking is simply better together and that maybe an “I love you” can also be translated to “Let’s make dinner.” 

Although they haven’t quite perfected mushroom tacos and they’re still dabbling with tofu tacos, Nunez said the effort is what matters most. 

“It just means a lot to me to have my parents supportive about it,” Nunez said.  “It’s really touching that they care so much about me that they’re willing to learn a lot of new things that were foreign.” 

Food continues to be a love language for Nunez and her family. It just looks more green and less lean. 

“We’ve been able to create kinds of new foods that have helped me still connect to my family like they’re still Mexican food,” Nunez said. “I don’t feel like I’m severed from my culture. I still feel connected to my family and my culture through the food.” 

THE EXECUTION

Tacos and traditions look a little different at Sergio Tamez’s food truck. Sure, food lovers can order the usual kind of tacos — sizzling carne asada tacos, fiery fajita tacos and even crunchy chicharones. 

But, inside the tacos, is anything but traditional. Every option on Nissi Vegan Mexican Cusine’s menu is completely plant-based. The “meat” is a soy protein Tamez makes homemade—even their queso is vegan.

https://www.instagram.com/p/COQnLcAl9zU/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

In a culture where sometimes an “I love you” is said through a home cooked meal, Tamez understands the impact traditional Mexican food can have on people’s lives. He said it’s part of the reason why he and his wife opened up their food truck. 

When him and his wife moved from Dallas to Austin and started their vegan journey, they couldn’t find any food that checked all three boxes — good, vegan AND authentic. 

“We started going vegan and we had a hard time finding places that were authentic, or, you know, something that was something that we liked,” Tamez said. We kind of are picky eaters.” 

Inspired by their family’s cooking and their own passion for it, Tamez and his wife took matters into their own hands and started the food truck in 2018. 

“Cooking was always a hobby so I have my own recipe book, my wife has her own recipe book and we just combine things,” Tamez said. “For example al pastor, that’s her recipe. Carne asada, it’s my recipe. The red salsa is her recipe, the green salsa, it’s mine. So it’s a combination. It’s like a team.”

While the business has been up and running for a couple of years now, the journey was not easy. A lot of their now popular recipes were the results of hundreds of failed experiments and a whole lot of teamwork. 

“You eventually will throw out a lot of food because, (you’ll be) like, ‘Oh, man. I cannot eat this,’’’ Tamez said. “It was like, months, months of trying to and lots of money. Lots of it was a big investment.”

However, once they did get their recipes right, they loved sharing their creations with Austinites.

“I was thinking more on the pleasure of eating, not just eating bland food,” Tamez said.  “I thought about it more by providing a more delicious, or a better tasting food.”

Still, Tamez understands why Latinx people are skeptical when they see things like birria tacos, tacos made out of goat meat, with no actual meat on his menu. He was even a skeptic himself. Tamez said when his cousin became a vegan he didn’t understand why until he started to transition to a vegan lifestyle himself. 

“He went all the way to veganism and then, at some point, I was like, ‘Man, something’s wrong with your head!’’ Tamez said. “But then we watched several documentaries on Netflix. He made me look a little bit deeper and then we decided to start transitioning. It was a long transition but we finally became vegan.”

While he knows the conversation surrounding veganism and Mexican culture isn’t going to change overnight, he hopes that places like Nissi can start to change minds, hearts and feed families for generations to come. 

“A lot of people get discouraged when they see the vegan word,” Tamez said. “But when they try it out and they’re like okay! You know, they really enjoy it.” 

Featured image courtesy of Kara Fields

5 Desserts to Sweeten Your Finals Week

With Finals coming up, we all need a treat to sweeten up our days. Looking for a break from countless studying and essay rewrites ? Here’s some options for all my fellow sweet tooths out there! 

  1. Monday Mug Cakes: 
Design by Bettina Mateo

Mug cakes are a great way to start the week and the Cookist has some amazing recipes to choose from. Whether you’re craving a vegan, paleo, or vanilla cake, there are many variations of this easy and delicious dish to try out and enjoy.. Most of the ingredients can be picked up at your local Dobie Target!

Courtesy of the Cookist

If you’re in a rush and have no time to make all these recipes then we have a solution for you: Betty Crocker. The company has a bunch of different mug cakes that are ready within minutes. Just add milk or water, and pop it in the microwave. Did I mention each box is less than $3?

Courtesy of amazon.com

If you really want to treat yourself checkout Polkadots Cupcake Factory. Their store is only a quick drive or bus ride away from campus. Although they may be a little pricey with $3.65 per cupcake, their 98 Google ratings say they’re more than worth it. Popular favorite flavors include Red Velvet, Confetti, and Chocolate. 

Courtesy of Austin Home Search

2. Tuesday Tiramisu:

This 10 minute recipe by Lauren Allen is a fantastic choice for students. This is especially geared towards those students who live in the dorms since this is a no-bake dish. While some of the ingredients might be a little pricey, HEB has all the ingredients you need for much less than other retailers.

Courtesy of Tastes Better From Scratch

Want a study space and a yummy treat all in one? Why not buy a Tiramisu slice ($3.49) at Whole Foods on Lamar? There are plenty of seats outside and inside with ambient music. If you can’t find a place to sit, there is a Starbucks right across the street as well.

Courtesy of Whole Foods

It’s Dinner time and you still haven’t eaten cause you’ve been super busy from all that studying. (or procrastinating) Whichever it is, why not check out UTea Pho and grab a tiramisu slice for dessert after your meal? Perhaps use this as an opportunity to have a “study and dine date” with that zoom cutie from class. 

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Courtesy of the menyuapp.com

3. Wednesday Waffles:

If you’re lucky enough to have a waffle maker and want a fun breakfast dessert then why not make some waffles? You probably haven’t used it that much since class has been taking so much of your time. So, why not give it and yourself some love by making some yummy yummy waffles. (side note: You don’t even have to eat them just for breakfast!!)

Courtesy of Shugary Sweets

While not as delicious as the other options, this one is the fastest and cheapest ! Pop it into the microwave or toaster oven and voila dessert/breakfast is served. Add some whipped cream, fruits, or some syrup to make it taste even better. Personally, I think some vanilla ice cream would go amazing with this delicious meal !

If you have the time and want to really treat yourself, Mary’s cafe is said to have some of the best waffles in Austin! This is also a great option for those of us without cars since it is just a quick 15 minute bus ride away from campus. Each waffle is about $6.75 🙂

Courtesy of Yelp

4. Thursday Tarts :

After eating all those yummy desserts this week, you might be looking for something just a little healthier today. Why not make yourself a fruit tart? Delish has a yummy recipe that is easy and delicious.

Courtesy of Delish

If you’re studying at the Austin Public Library and are looking for a little reward for all those hours of studying. Trader Joe’s is just a short walk away and their Raspberry tarte is absolutely delicious. (If they don’t have any tartes, they have a plethora of other amazing desserts for you to try.)

Courtesy of the kitchn

Mozart’s Coffee is a favorite for just about anyone. Did you know that they also carry fruit tartes? Well, they do! A view, a study space, delicious coffee and a great fruit or lemon tart, what more could you ask for? 

Courtesy of Trip Advisor

5.Friday Fruit Parfaits:

It is finally Friday and you have made it through the week! Treat yourself this morning with a homemade fruit parfait. A quick, easy, and customizable desert that can appeal to anyone. You can add just about anything to a cup of yogurt ! My personal favorite toppings are almonds, granola, raspberries, strawberries, and a little bit of chocolate. 

Courtesy of the Food Network

 I get it. You are tired and don’t want to do anything today. Well, H-E-B has got you covered with their cheap and delicious Del Monte yogurt parfaits. 

If all these options don’t seem to interest you then head out and have some plain ol’ ice cream. Choose your own toppings and flavors. Tropical Dreams is an ice cream store located right behind Dobie and has a bunch of unique ice cream flavors. Some interesting flavors include Ginger, Macadamia Coconut, and Mango Cream.

Courtesy of Tropical Dreams

It is finally the weekend and you’re done with finals! It is time to crash and rewind as you prepare for the next week. As you remember all the amazing and delicious desserts you ate this week, you think to yourself why not try 5 different healthy smoothies next week to detox the body and mind from all the semester stress. 

Good luck on your finals  everyone and remember to treat yourself through these stressful times. 🙂 

Top H-E-B Picks from a Former H-E-B Checker

For some, H-E-B isn’t just a grocery store, it’s a way of life. Whether you’re new to Texas or not, H-E-B is a staple for any central Texas resident; including our fellow longhorns. H-E-B offers locally sourced products and a unique grocery experience. H-E-B is constantly creating new, unique products for its customers, and as a former H-E-B checker, I’ve seen a lot of what H-E-B has to offer. From unique ice cream creations to delicious coffee, here are some of my tried and true H-E-B favorites.


H‑E‑B Select Ingredients Mocha Lovers Trail Mix

H-E-B has multiple trail mixes, but for coffee and/or chocolate lovers like myself, the Mocha Lovers Trail Mix is the best trail mix to satisfy your sweet tooth and caffeine cravings. The trail mix includes dark chocolate covered cranberries, white chocolate covered coffee beans, dark chocolate covered coffee beans, roasted almonds and roasted cashews.

Where you can find: H-E-B pantry area in the snack, chips or candy aisle.

H‑E‑B Sensational Belgian Chocolate Chip Cookie

Photo by Ahmed Almakhzanji on Unsplash

The H-E-B Belgain Chocolate Chip Cookies might just be one of the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had. Each cookie comes in a pack of two and is an inch thick full of chocolate and walnut goodness!

Where you can find: Bakery Section

H‑E‑B Gourmet Brownie Party Tray

The H-E-B Gourmet Brownie Party Tray quite literally changed my life. These rich chocolate brownies come in an assortment of various frosting and nut toppings.

Where you can find: Bakery Section

Cafe Ole by HEB Coffee

H-E-B has an array of coffee flavors for folks with a variety of tastes. For those who like to enjoy a sweet or flavored coffee, H-E-B’s Cafe Ole offers unique flavors. Some of my favorites are the Texas Pecan Medium Roast, Taste of San Antonio Medium Roast and Taste of Austin Medium Roast. For those who prefer a bold or rich coffee, Cafe Ole offers Donut Shop Medium Roast, French Roast Dark Roast and Colombian Bucaramanga Supremo Medium Roast.

Where you can find: Coffee aisle

H-E-B Sea Salt Tortilla Chips

Photo by Tim Toomey on Unsplash

Something about the H-E-B Tortilla Chips is so addicting I could eat half the bag in one sitting. They go great with guacamole or salsa or even on their own. The chips are light, slightly salty and oh so delicious!

Where you can find them: Bakery or Produce sections

H-E-B Ice Cream

Photo by American Heritage Chocolate on Unsplash

H-E-B has killed it when it comes to ice cream. H-E-B offers dozens of ice cream flavor and topping combinations. It’s hard to choose just one! Some of my tried and true favorites are Swoon by H-E-B Cookie Lovers, Creamy Creations Cookies Over Texas, Creamy Creations Dulce De Leche and Creamy Creations Texas Starry Night.

Where you can find them: Ice cream or Frozen Foods section

H-E-B carries so many unique products that any time I go, I’m bound to try something new. If you’re looking for a taste of Texas, just stop at your local H-E-B because it’s true, here everything is better.

Starbucks Survival Guide: Dietary Restrictions

Photo by 𝙆 on Unsplash

Since its founding in 1971 as “Pike Place Market” in Seattle, Washington, Starbucks has become a worldwide coffee sensation. After the company went public in 1992 it took off and is now the largest coffeehouse chain in the world. So naturally, it has to have a lot of options. From a certified Starbucks barista to you, here’s how to get exactly what you want.

The Milk Situation

Starbucks offers an astounding 9 kinds of milk— 4 of which are nondairy— to their customers.

The nondairy milks are: almond, soy, coconut, and oatmilk.

The dairy milks are: nonfat, 2%, whole, half and half, and heavy cream.

The combinations with the milks alone are endless, but there are a few more things to keep in mind.

Vegetarian / Vegan

Looking at the Starbucks menu from a customer perspective can be overwhelming— especially when no one seems to know what is and isn’t vegan-friendly. In the one year I’ve worked at Starbucks, I’ve seen so much misinformation get spread around, so here are two important things to keep in mind if you don’t want to consume milk.

1. Caramel drizzle has dairy.

2. Mocha doesn’t.

In fact, all nonseasonal Starbucks syrups are vegan except for White Chocolate Mocha and Dark Caramel Sauce.

If you’re looking to avoid dairy, just ask for any drink (besides a White Mocha or Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino) and swap out the dairy milk for one of the nondairies. Make sure to say no to whip cream because we use heavy cream to make it, caramel drizzle because of the dairy component, and also say no to cinnamon dolce topping because it’s made with butter.

If you don’t want to consume honey, it’s important to know that our Chai concentrate is made with it. So avoid Chai Tea Lattes and instead go for a brewed Chai tea with some nondairy milk.

People Who Don’t Want Caffeine

As a barista, I get this question more than you would think working at a coffee shop: What’s caffeine-free? Starbucks surprisingly has a lot of options, and one of the best ones is decaf.

Open till close Starbucks serves decaf espresso for that yummy coffee flavor without the leg-shaking side effects. We can add it to any drink you want so the options are, once again, endless.

If you don’t want the flavor either, but still want something creamy, you can order whatever syrup you want with steamed milk, hot chocolate, or one of our herbal teas, Mint Majesty and Peach Tranquility.

Need something iced instead? Our Passion Tango tea is caffeine-free. Or if blended is your preference, just ask for the creme version of whatever Frappucino you would like (besides chai, since it’s pre-caffeinated.)

And no, our refreshers are not caffeine-free. So if your eight-year-old orders a Pink Drink expect them to be hyper later on.

Keto-Friendly

Personally, I think if you’re getting a keto drink from Starbucks the best thing to do is order water. But, if you need to know some options, I got you covered.

Keto diets generally mean less than 50 carbs a day. So any type of black coffee, hot or iced espresso, or brewed tea will do just fine as it will bring you to a grand total of zero carbs.

When figuring out what milk to add in, a lot of people seem to think heavy cream is the top contender. However, Starbucks heavy cream contains 16 grams of carbohydrates per cup, which is actually more than quite a few milks.

The lowest carb milks come from the nondairy selection. Almond milk has 5 grams per cup, and coconut has 8. If you’re looking for a dairy selection, half % half has 8 grams per cup, nonfat has 12, and  2% has 14. So it’s better to ditch the heavy cream altogether and go with a lower carb milk to keep it in that low-carb diet.

If you’re looking to add some sweetness to the drink, our two sugar-free syrup pumps (sugar-free Vanilla and sugar-free Cinnamon Dolce) both have 1 gram of carbs per 2 tablespoons, which is about 3 to 4 pumps.

So to recommend the lowest-carb drink, a sugar-free syrup with 4 pumps and almond milk customized to coffee, espresso, hot tea, or iced tea is your best bet.

Iced tea lemonades are also a solid option if you’d like something without milk, as the lemonade ranges from 7 to 15 grams of carbs per drink depending on the size.

Photo by Asael Peña on Unsplash

Whether it’s getting off the caffeine-craze, or going on a diet, Starbucks will find a way to meet your needs. If you’re still unsure, ask a barista because we’re there to help, but this guide is a great way to answer some basics to get you through the endless menu and dietary options. Our mission is to inspire and nurture the human spirit, so hopefully, even with the restrictions, we can do that for you one cup at a time.