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Mar 5, 2007 06:43 PM

[HOU] Need Recs--Viet/Chinese/Greek/Creole?

Dallas hounds visiting Houston and staying for 4 nights near George Bush in mid-March.
Based on the reviews on this board and another, we've narrowed down to the following 3 categories. We don't care about atmosphere, decor or even service as long as they bring GOOD food to the table (heck, at dim sum I even go to the cart if it doesn't come to me!)

1. Vietnamese

We have high expectations for Vietnamese food in Houston with the country's second largest Vietnamese population after Orange County (where we lived for 15 years).

We like Bun, but aren't big on Pho.
I'm looking for my favorite pan-friend rice noodle dish (which is rather Chinese-Vietnamese than Vietnamese-Vietnamese). The more the noodles are stuck together (almost like mochi) and burned, the better!

According to these review, at both Kim Son (is it a buffet?!) and Mai's the food has gone downhill.

Vietnam Restaurant has mixed reviews, too.

2. Chinese (I like Cantonese
-Lucky Dragon

HK Food Street

-Yum Yum Cha--the best HK-style dim sum?

-Lai Lai Dumpling House

3. Greek, Creole or ???

I'm thinking of Alexander The Great, as long as their mousaka (or pastichio) is good.
The reviews sound great.

Several people recommended Niko Niko's, but it sounds too fast-foody for us
and no one is raving about their mousaka.

We aren't impressed wtih European food (Greek, Italian, French, Spanish) in Dallas and
are hesitant to try European in Houston (or TX). (My companion insists we should stick to Asian to be safe, but I love Greek!).

How's creole in Houston? We love Palace Cafe in New Orleans.

We're open to other suggestions. Thanks!

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  1. I definitely recommend Lai Lai's. The staff is very friendly and every dish I've had there is fantastic. I remember my favorite being the Triple Beef Noodle.

    1. The first time I tried Alexander the Great was several years ago when it first opened and I loved the place as it had items not seen on most Americanized Greek restaurants (I haven't been back since moving to Dallas). From what I have heard, the restaurant has abandoned much of their unique dishes and gone more mainstream.

      A European restaurant serving mostly Austrian/German food is Charivari in Midtown Houston

      Da Marco is an excellent Italian restaurant on par with any upscale Italian restaurant (i.e. Babbo) that you would find in larger cities.

      Brennan's (of the famous New Orleans' Brennan family) has always served consistently good creole cuisine

      5 Replies
      1. re: Bhutani

        Thanks! Now I'm inclined toward Brennan's over Alexander. I had checked the reviews on Brennan's without realizing it's Brennan's in New Orleans. (Palace Cafe is owned by the same family.)

        B4-U-EAT reviews said the management at Alexander changed last year.

        1. re: kuidaore

          The Brennan family runs Commander's Palace and a number of other nationally recognized restaurants in New Orleans. It is certainly more expensive than what you find at Alexander but I think more unique (especially coming from Dallas which I know well). Sunday Brunch at Brennan's is a great time to go.

          Other restaurants that I forgot to include on my first post include:
          Van Loc (near Mai's in Midtown) -- good Vietnamese (I must admit that I prefer Mai's Bun though, but many like Van Loc's Pho)
          Ocean Palace - larger and more diverse dim sum selection than what you find in Dallas
          Indika - a really unique, progressive Indian restaurant (comparable to what you would find at Tabla in NYC) --
          Fung's Kitchen has good Cantonese
          Goode Company BBQ- excellent and worth a stop for lunch

          1. re: Bhutani

            Thanks. And now our connoisseur neighbor recommends T'afia because he enjoyed Monica Pope's course in Dallas... We have a week to sort this out :-)

            Indika sounds a bit like Vij's in Vancouver.

            1. re: kuidaore

              Your neighbor is wise in singing the praises of t'afia. Monica Pope is definately one of Houston's culinary all-stars. She focuses on local ingredients (there is a farmer's market held in the t'afia parking lot on weekends). While I do love t'afia, the cuisine is not all that different from what you might find at places like York Street. While I cannot comment on Vij's, Indika is definately a unique find in Texas (actually in the Southwest). The chef is a former pastry chef at Cafe Annie's.

              1. re: kuidaore

                BTW, if you do go to t'afia, I would suggest going on a Friday for lunch. They used to do a prix fix lunch (3 courses) for around $25. If not for lunch, definately go for cocktails (really interesting infused wines/spirits) with an excellent bar menu that highlight a lot of what can be found on the dinner menu.

        2. If you head to the south side of Houston (or on the way back from Galveston, etc) try Kim Hai, 12810 Gulf Fwy. I-45 South at the Beltway. Great flat noodle dishes that are cooked into one big flat stuck together brown on the bottom delight!

          8 Replies
          1. re: seethemoon

            Thanks! You don't know how glad I am to meet someone who understands what I'm talking about! (A lot of Vietnamese people don't. Some restaurant owners said, "That's Chinese." I had it in Ho Chi Minh, too!) My partner will gladly chauffeur me down there because he's tired of me talking about the "one big flat stuck together brown". I haven't had it since we left CA 18 months ago! These dishes are available at some restaurants in DFW and Austin, but the noodles aren't stuck together!! (Haven't looked in Arlington yet).

            1. re: kuidaore

              I've only skimmed this thread but *think*I know which dish you're talking about. There can be confusion because the dish comes both wet and dry and some restaurants only do one version or the other. In the wet version, the sauce is just poured over the rice noodles, hence the wetness. I believe you want the dry version. It's called Hu Tieu Ap Chao, Hu Tieu meaning rice noodle and Ap Chao meaning "fried against the pan" (hence the dryness mentioned previously).

              Just fyi...When people say it's Chinese, they aren't necessarily wrong just because you had it in Ho Chi Minh City. This dish originated from overseas Chinese living in Vietnam. Therefore, the dish originates geographically from Vietnam but isn't Vietnamese per se. Just like eggrolls are Chinese-American and not Chinese proper. Try any of the restaurants in Houston which specialize in Chinese-Vietnamese cuisine (which is cuisine finding its origins in the Chinatowns of Vietnam, primarily Ho Chi Minh City, better known as Saigon) such as Sinh Sinh, Chino Fast Food, Tay Do, or Vinh Hoa. Search or these boards for the addresses. Sinh Sinh has declined in recent years IMHO, but it has its occasional high points as its many fans will point out. Many places will differ in how dry they make the dish and how long they fry it. They could probably accommodate you, but you might have a hard time getting your point across if you don't speak Vietnamese or Chinese. Good Luck!

              1. re: hch_nguyen

                Yeah, the dry version is the one I'm looking for. I didn't know there are two versions. What do you think of Tai Tai (recommended below)? The menu looks very Chinese-Vietnamese. They seem to distinguish "pan-fried" noodles and "stir-fried noodles"--I didn't realize there was a distinction until now.

                Thanks for all the explanation. I'm familiar with different versions, like French-Vietnamese and Cambodian-Vietnamese. So you're in L.A.? We lived not too far from Little Saigon, but my most favorite Vietnamese restaurant is in Costa Mesa.

                1. re: kuidaore

                  You mean Tan Tan right? Well, in your original post, you said "rice noodle" and the dishes that appear in the link below are pan-fried "egg" noodles, which is a different dish altogether and unfortunately renders my previous post completely useless.

                  In any event, Tan Tan is also one of the popular Chinese-Vietnamese joints in Houston in the style of Sinh Sinh and Chino. If you are indeed looking for the pan-fried EGG noodles, Tan Tan does do a popular rendition of it. It's been years since I had it, but I vaguely recall being pleased with it, but my palate has matured considerably since then.

                  I live about 40 miles north of Little Saigon. I'm hard pressed to label any of the restaurants there my favorite. I have favorite dishes at certain places, but that's it. Luckily, they can all be found within minutes of each other on Bolsa (once I do make the trek down there) Truth be told though, I honestly don't feel like you can get anything in Little Saigon that can't be found comparably in Houston.

                  1. re: hch_nguyen

                    I meant Tan Tan (I was tying late last night...)

                    No, I'm looking for flat rice noodles, and it's on this page as "stir fried rice noodles".
                    The page you're looking at shows only egg noodles.

                    I checked out all the restaurants you mentioned and picked Chinos. I'm looking forward to our trip!

                    1. re: kuidaore

                      Well, Chino is definitely a favorite in Houston. Be forewarned though. You don't want stir-fried. Stir fry is a light fry. The stirring action keeps the noodles from getting deeply fried, which is what you want. Pan-frying allows the noodles to just sit in the pan without any agitation in order to create the sticky, glutinous, burnt/fried agglomeration that you are craving. Here is a link to an article that explains the differences. In the article, they refer to the dish as "fried pho", which is probably a more descriptive yet less common name for the dish.


                      1. re: hch_nguyen

                        You know, I really didn't know the distinction between stir-frying and pan-frying until now (and I'm your mom's age!) Then yakisoba is technically stir-fried though it's called pan-fried noodles in English (people do not "pan fry" noodles except for katayakisoba in Japan, where I'm from). I'll help you when you go to Japan to eat sushi :-)

                        I read your comment on Kim Su in Little Saigon--that was the WORST dim sum I've ever had in my life! (though Arc-en-Ciel in Dallas almost ties). It was recommended by a Vietnamese couple I knew.

                        1. re: kuidaore

                          Yup, there sure is a difference between pan-fry and stir-fry. Unfortunately, many Viet restaurants (and Japanese, too, apparently) tend to take liberties with their interpretation of the two, hence your frustration. Also, a lot of it has to do with poor translation, but not all of the time. I prefer the stir-fry version myself and Tay Do in Houston does a marvelous job with that version. Good Luck! When I get to Japan, I know who to get in touch with :)

                          The worst dim sum I've ever had was in Toronto hands down, but Kim Su was definitely right there at the bottom of the barrel with them. I only take advice about dim sum from two kinds of people now:

                          a) they are Cantonese
                          b) they are a chowhound!


          2. My favorite Greek restaurant is Mykonos Island on Richmond--they do all of the standards very well, and also have delicious fried shrimp!

            1. Lai Lai is definitely -the- place to go to in Houston for dumplings.

              For dim sum, I'd suggest Fung's Kitchen over Ocean Palace.

              Tan Tan has this pan fried noodle dish that is quite good, but I'm not quite sure if that matches up with what you're looking for. My favorite is the one with chinese broccoli.

              1 Reply
              1. re: air

                I knew you'd say that! We'll definitely go to Lai Lai. We're thinking of going to Chinatown twice. The only thing is we're attending the conference by the airport and we have to go to dinner between sessions (just realized we have sessions even in the evenings!) We'll have 2.5 hours between. Doable? We might skip some sessions at lunch time for dim sum.

                Tan Tan has great reviews!

                I see stir-fried flat rice noodles on this page--that's it! Thanks!!

                They also have a rice cake dish. I love it, too. I had a really good one in NYC (not in Chinatown). What else is good here?

                This restaurant is the one who complained to Tan My (former Tan Tan) in Austin about the trademark.