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Photo by inuyaki.com/Flickr CC

Austin, Texas has many charms, but the city seems determined to obliterate as many of them as possible in the name of progress. Right now there is a dispute between the mainstream restaurants and the interesting collection of trucks and sidewalk vendors.

The established restaurants are burdened with regulations. Most of the street vendors are immigrants, and they cheerfully ignore regulations that would get a typical restaurant closed by the determined agents of the city and county health departments. It will take the wisdom of Calvin Trillin to solve this problem.

While meeting with Amy of Amy's Ice Creams this April and discussing new flavors and happy cows, we noticed an irregular amount of activity across the street. My friend Rob now runs a flock of sophisticated white tablecloth restaurants, but he is a chowhound who can't resist the smell of barbecue. People at Amy's said that the place across the street was another street vendor.

Rob and I were curious so we hopped into a rental car and drove across Burnet Road, which is what Texans do when they want to cross the street. Lucky J's sells fried chicken and waffles. "Chicken for strength and waffles for speed," said a sign.

Fried chicken and waffles is what restaurant people call "a concept," and it's making largely unacknowledged progress in black neighborhoods and hipster enclaves.

Inside a small lunch wagon was a man who said hello. "You don't sound like you're from Texas?" I said.

"I'm from New York," said Jason T. Umlas.

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Photo by Jason Umlas

Rob and I looked at each other like detectives watching a case fall into place. "Did you go to Stuyvesant or Science or something like that?" I asked.

"Yeah, I went to Stuyvesant and then I did East Asian Studies at Brown. I lived in Tokyo for six months and moved to L.A. I worked for five years as a chef and executive chef, but my girlfriend and I couldn't imagine staying in L.A., so we moved here."

Rob sheepishly admitted his own background. "Actually I went to high school in Manhattan and college at Yale."

We ordered what the ex-New Yorker suggested. I'm not a big fried chicken person so I had to ignorantly hack my way through the crust. The chicken was okay. Rob disappeared and returned with two sauces that transformed the chicken into something extraordinary.

"This is great."

Sunshine, bluebonnets, and waffles. Very friendly people and happy cows.

Lucky J's Chicken and Waffles
5703 Burnet Road
Austin, TX 78766

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