In full disclosure, I kinda know about Kinda Tropical through my (literally next door) neighbor, John Clark DiCicco. As it turns out, he’s the chef and owner of the joint. As foodies, it’s been kinda great having a chef as a neighbor, even with the pandemic. One: he’s a good neighbor (trust me: you do not want to live next to line cooks). And two: dude can chef. He’s run off with random swatches of herbs from our garden and returned with the most amazing Italian bread.
Similarly, Kinda Tropical doesn’t disappoint. Serving as a sort of punk community center in Deep East Austin, Kinda Tropical can be what you want it to be: part coffee house, part bar, part restaurant, part music venue, and part craft show (the latter two more evident before The Time of the Vid). The punkiness comes from the unpretentious, you-can-do-anything-you-want vibe as well as the clientele, which favors the hipper, artier side of Austin not living on trust funds. Sitting at a table in the large outdoor patio reminiscent of a pared-down Spiderhouse reminded us of the early 90s, pre-internet Austin when there were oodles of creativity and energy but not oodles of money, yet everything still seemed possible when you were with your friends. Back in those days, the beer list was (1) Shiner Bock, and a mixed drink was when your Shiner Bock went to the wrong table. My, have times changed.
While the punk ethic permeates the space, people, and soundtrack, DiCicco keeps the sax and violins humming in tune and on time at the griddle. DiCicco spent four and half years at one of Austin’s best restaurants, Olamaie, moving up from line cook to sous chef for two-time-James-Beard-nominated Michael Fojtasek, before joining Kinda Tropical as chef and partner in early 2019.
The menu is not deep, but it’s thoughtful, offering traditional bar food while adding tropical twists and turns. While the bar food is traditional, the preparation and ingredients show a chef’s touch. I guarantee that “The Burger” (cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo; $10) is the best 10-buck burger you can get in town with lip-smacking beef-forward flavor. The Curly Fries with two side sauces ($7) were perfectly golden-crisped and piled high enough to feed The Clash.
Matt Odam (aka The Second Best Restaurant Reviewer in Austin) raved about the Pulled Jackfruit Sandwich (barbecue style, pickles, and jerk slaw; $9), and rightly so. He noted that it’s better than most pulled pork sandwiches in town, and I’m not sure I coulda told you that it didn’t have pork in it given the tasty tang of the sauce and stringy texture of the jackfruit. The Cuban Yucca Fries (with jalapeno avocado dip; $7) I ordered with my ‘wich were outstanding, the best we’ve ever had: crunchy and salted on the outside and soft and aromatic on the inside. They are on our order-every-time list.
The Sesame Salad (pulled chicken, local butter lettuce, avocado, peanut, cilantro; $12) gets bonus points for not being kale and providing a healthy option. The Avocado Toast (with togarashi and pickled onion, $8) is straight-forward and to the point, with a pan-Asian dash of Japanese spice (avocado toast is the taco of Millennials: everyone does them their own way). Besides the jackfruit and toast, you can find numerous vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes and options on the menu. We haven’t tried the noon-til-four sat-n-sun brunch which features the often-featured CBD Waffle ($12), Soyrizo Breakfast Taco ($4.5), and Fried Egg Sandwich ($9).
On the bar side, I’ve only sucked on the Jameson Pickleback Booze Pop ($5), which I ordered because the name is similar to my favorite freshwater mussel, the Texas pimpleback. Kinda Tropical has mixed-drinks on tap; various local, national, and international beers and wines; and the requisite mixology, including a margarita with activated charcoal and happy hour specials during the week from 3 to 6. The KT also brews up Figure 8 Coffee with the full range of espresso drinks with oat milk options.
Normally a place trying to be all things to all (non-trust fund) people would be not advisable for both the proprietors and the customers and bucks the trend of doing one thing exceptionally well. But Kinda Tropical definitely pulls the all-the-things off, making lists as one of the best coffee shops in town; one of best bars in town (including Austin CultureMap’s 2020 Bar of the Year); and getting mentions in the local papers, Koko’s book, and the Wall Street Journal. All in all, Kinda Tropical has created something kinda special, the non-pretentious lo-fi/hi-fi combo that we love so much.
Kinda Tropical takes the covid seriously with a full page of their menu dedicated to what you can expect from them and what they expect from you. Their indoor seating is currently off limits, and their outdoor tables are generously distanced.
I wrote this review for the Allandale Neighbor.
web&where: interwebs; 3501 east 7th street; (512) 373-8430
what’s the deal? punky coffee shop/bar/restaurant; table service
overall: *** (food***; drink***; atmosphere****; service***; instagrammability***)
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best] each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)
each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)
Update: After finishing this review, I was, like: “Hey! Let’s head over to try brunch!” The waffle, with salted butter and syrup, was first rate.