UT alumnus runs food truck like a lab

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Standing on the corner of 24th and San Antonio Street, Pinch Urban Food combines preci- sion and flavor. Pinch’s main attraction is the fried chicken, served with vegetables on a bed of rice and sauce on the side. 

Photo Credit: Iris Bilich | Daily Texan Staff

When Yuzhuo Liu graduated from UT with a math degree, he decided the best lab to go work in would be his own. With Pinch Urban Food Lab, Liu can bring perfectly proportioned foods to life in a controlled environment. 

Liu’s approach to food at Pinch is based on scientific precision and perfectionism. When testing new flavors, the food truck transforms into a completely controlled environment. 

“I run the restaurant like a lab when I’m testing food so I can control everything and change one thing at a time to find which flavor is the best,” Liu said. “When I was making the chicken at first, we chose what we have now from about 20 different chicken preparations.” 

The scientific techniques don’t just stop at flavor testing. Liu also uses a Labmaster machine to precisely measure out every single ingredient that goes into his dishes to make sure that all of his customers are getting the same quality in their food. 

“When you’re cooking, you can’t skip steps,” Liu said. “If you miss one thing, it will affect all of the flavor. We never want to shortcut anything.”

Liu said bringing quality food to Austin is his passion and he will keep working hard until everything is at his standard of greatness. 

“When I started this, I wasn’t thinking about money. I was just thinking about serving the community, especially the Asian community.”

The menu at Pinch is extremely limited with only three main entree options. This works to the advantage of the truck’s method of operations, though, and allows them to perfect each dish to Liu’s high standards. 

The main attraction at Pinch is the fried chicken. The chicken can be ordered in the form of the plain fried chicken bowl, which is plenty good in its own right, or ordered in the form of the curry chicken bento, which is definitely the better option. For one, it’s a nice change to taste fried chicken with curry instead of the braised or grilled chicken chunks other restaurants usually serve. The marinade and the crunchy breading on the chicken adds much more to the dish than grilled chicken alone would. 

The Japanese-style curry brings fantastic flavor from a simple cooked mixture of curry powder, onions and carrots. It tastes similar to a panang curry, but it isn’t spicy at all. That’s okay, though, because the dish comes with a small container of house-made chili oil that does a surprisingly good job of making up for that missing kick some may want in their food. The fresh vegetables and pickled cabbage are great additions to the dish that balance out the savory flavor from the curry and fried chicken.  

The cashew pork bento replaces the fried chicken with slow-cooked and sliced pork belly topped in a thick, sweet and salty rue. This pork belly is perfectly executed with an ideal amount of tenderness that maintains enough firmness to not fall apart uncontrollably. 

The only shortcoming of the food at Pinch is the limited amount of sauce on the chicken and pork that will leave customers wanting more when they get through the meat. Especially with the curry, the dish could be significantly improved by simply adding enough sauce to not only cover the meat but to mix in with the steamed rice and vegetables at the bottom. 

While the food is definitely good, the most notable thing about Pinch is the amount of care and effort that clearly goes into making each order. When a restaurant treats every meal like it can make or break business alone, it’s difficult not to put out a quality product. This attention to detail will make Pinch stand out among the plethora of quick-stop food trucks in West Campus.

Rating: 3.5/5

Hours: Sun-Mon 11am-2pm and 5pm-8pm

Location: 24th and San Antonio