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May 28, 2010 12:58 AM

Recommendations for places in Houston that are local & delicious?

Hey guys,

I visited Houston for business a couple of months ago and tried exploring everything on my own. I would appreciate some recommendations from fellow chowhounders. I'm going to be staying near Chinatown and my maximum distance is about 15-20 minutes in any radius from there. I still want to go explore great Houston food. I'm looking for places that aren't super expensive for lunch or dinner, at most $25-$30.

To give you guys an idea of what I have tried last time:

1) House of Pies- detoured for it, but just had to visit because of the name and the Goo pie was delicious.

2) Pappa's Seafood: Great restaurant and really enjoyed it, can't believe you guys have oysters for so cheap and so good

3) Beaver BBQ- it was okay, not super and after trying the sampler it was okay, not dazzling

4)Goode BBQ (By the HUGE armadillo thing): I thought the BBQ here was really good and SHINERBOCK is my new favorite beer =)

5) Rajun Cajun: Had some great crayfish, but the boudin balls weren't really my thing; they tasted really floury is that normal?

6) I would really appreciate some lunch recommendations that range from $10-15 bucks that aren't too slow since we only have an hour to eat. It needs to be around Chinatown; and I'm looking for any great Chinese(anything good)/Japanese (sashimi) recs (my co-workers are taiwanese)

7) And I went to some cafe from Diners, Drive-ins and Dives? Some sort of greek or baltic cusiine? It wasn't that great and service was REALLY slow

We're actually staying for the weekend so just as an extra, are there any great bars? (I love speak-easy type joints, but really enjoy lounges. I would like to avoid dive-bars)

TIA guys and gals of Chowhound!

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  1. A question first - Old Chinatown, just east of downtown?, or the new Chinatown, way out on the western edge of the city? Most of the places you've mentioned are closer to the former but there isn't much left down there while the one on the far west side is huge and with hundreds of options.

    The cafe was either Niko Niko's, a Greek place in Montrose near downtown, or Cafe Pita +, a Bosnian place on the far west side. Both were featured on DD&D. I'd agree Cafe Pita + is over-rated but it's all the rage still, especially since DD&D.

    Niko Niko's
    2520 Montrose Blvd, Houston, TX 77006

    12 Replies
    1. re: dexmat

      1) Chinatown that I'm talking about is Bellaire & I-90 exit? or Bellaire and Gessner Rd region

      (If new C-Town isn't that far, I'd appreciate some recommendations)

      2) It was Cafe Pita...(Don't trust the flaming haired guy anymore...)

      1. re: christof

        Gessner and Bellaire is actually on the eastern end of New Chinatown which then extends several miles out past Beltway 8. It's predominantly Chinese/Viet but there are a few others mixed in including a lot of cajun (mostly run by Vietnamese I think).

        I don't get around over there much and get confused by the streets but will try to offer some suggestions - there are 100s of possibilities and others will be able to help; $10-15 for lunch is not hard to do in Houston.

        You won't find much love for Goode Co. on this board but there really isn't much bbq on that side of town; surprised you went as far as Beaver's. It's getting a little late in the season for oysters if you're cautious about that. I don't care for Rajun Cajun very much; there's lots better Cajun in town; never had their boudin balls but I'd say no, they aren't supposed to be floury. Try Hank's (Bellaire & Wilcrest?) for Cajun, a specialty is boiled crawfish but you might not have time for that for lunch? BTW, the Vietnamese tend to like their Cajun food very spicy.

        On Wilcrest, between Harwin and Beechnut? is a new Cajun place, Wild Cajun, that I've been meaning to try. Close to that is San San Tofu, spartan dine-in accomodations but quick-grab-and-go from a good looking steam table and very affordable. Also, Pine Forest Garden, another veggie place (Buddhist) that is much nicer and has a lunch buffet (lunch buffets and specials are very popular in Houston).

        Since you mentioned your co-workers nationality, not that I'm profiling or anything, but another place is Loving Hut, an international vegan chain out on Kirkwood @ Richmond. Based in CA with most locations there or in Taiwan; this is the only Houston loc. I thought their Loving Hut Burger was the best veggie burger I'd ever had and the Spicy Cha Cha was good itself but the bed of veggies it was served on was way too salty. It's counter service, not instantaneous but pretty quick. Entrees are small; you'll probably need sides.

        Places I've eaten at in Chinatown - San Dong Noodles (or Snacks - can't remember the name), just inside the BW on Beechnut? or Bellaire?, famous for their beef noodle soup and fried dumplings and very inexpensive. Right across the street practically is a center with 2 places, Fu Fu Cafe, for soup dumpling, green onion pancakes and fried dumplings; can't remember the name of the other one in there.

        Paradise Cafe (Bakery?) II, Beechnut at Wilcrest is a good banh mi shop with some other ready-to-eat Viet goodies (but not for dine-in). Local 'chains' Givrals and Thiem Hung have locations along Bellaire; I've never been to them but have eaten at their locations in Little Saigon near downtown and the Old Chinatown and they're both good; I prefer Thiem Hung but they've changed ownership.

        One place I went in that area that I was really disappointed in was Them Hung, Gessner at Harwin?, a really drab shop and mediocre banh mi.

        Blake's BBQ and Burgers on Jeanetta, just s. of Westheimer, is a real good place for a burger, home-made cakes and local super-premium ice cream Hank's (try the butter pecan). The bbq is mediocre; burgers take a while since they're from scratch.

        Shiner Bock is very popular but I think there are much better local beers. Look for St. Arnold's (this time of year their Lawnmower beer is good). Also Real Ale out of Austin and Southern Star from Conroe, north of Houston. I like SS's Pine Belt Ale a lot, their Bombshell Blonde not so much. Probably not going to find them at many places, though.

        Pine Forest Garden
        9108 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77036

        Fu Fu Cafe
        9889 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77036

        San San Tofu
        6445 Wilcrest Dr, Houston, TX 77072

        Wild Cajun Restaurant & Bar
        6533 Wilcrest Dr, Houston, TX 77072

        1. re: dexmat

          I forgot to mention anything about sushi/sashimi - I don't know of any in that general area, sorry. Another I forgot to mention that might be of interest - Tau Bay, big Vietnamese place, SW Fwy (59) @ Beechnut, soups, noodle and rice dishes, great spring rolls, very inexpensive, huge portions, quick service. Go down Gessner but will have to take a circuitous route as you can't turn left off Gessner onto Beechnut. It occupies an old K-Mart.

          TexasRedTop - new Chinatown is generally from Fondren to Highway 6, between Beechnut and Westpark, all along Bellaire. East of Beltway 8 is mostly Chinese, outside Beltway 8 is mostly Viet but it's mixed and there are other's mixed in. Here's a Wiki article:

          Mardi Gras and especially Floyd's are way too far away given the time limits of the OP. Monument Inn would be about an hour each way. Closer but still a stretch would be Magnolia Grill on Richmond and Big Woodrow's a couple of blocks away on Chimney Rock, but if the OP made it to the Rajun Cajun on Richmond, which I think is the closest one, then he could do either of them, both owned by Louisiana expats.

          The only Hong Kong Chef I find is on Bissonnet in Bellaire? Also a bit of a stretch but probably doable.

          Tau Bay
          8150 Southwest Fwy Ste T, Houston, TX 77074

          Hong Kong Chef
          5112 Bissonnet St, Bellaire, TX 77401

          1. re: dexmat

            Thanks for the info about Chinatown dexmat.

            That is the HKC I'm talking about. It's very good and so cheap that it's really just crazy. There's a Boudreaux's at I-59 and the Loop. I ate there a lot when I worked on Sage. It's the original Boudreaux's and it's good too. I've eaten at Rajun Cajun about 6-7 times (the one on Westheimer once and the other times at the one on Richmond). The people I worked with kept wanting to go there so I would go and every time I was just shocked at the food. They might be from Louisiana, but I have never eaten such bad gumbo and I can tell you every shortcut they are taking, not putting the work into it. Gumbo is labor intensive and there are lots of short cuts but you will not get good gumbo unless you put in the work. Boudreaux's gumbo isn't fantastic but it's way way better than RC. I have not hesitation ordering it if I don't want to pull a batch out of my freezer and have my own.

            1. re: texasredtop

              I didn't realize there's a Ragin' Cajun on Westheimer; that's probably the one the OP went to. If he made it to the one on Richmond he could make the Boudreaux's on 610. I have never, never, never understood why RC is so popular. Ha, Ha, you need to offer cooking classes it sounds like. I'm in line to sign up.

              HKC sounds interesting; I've never noticed it and probably drive right by it regularly.

              1. re: dexmat

                HKC is a whole in the wall, sandwiched between a dry cleaners and something else if I remember correctly. You'd have to be trying to find it - it's not something that would catch your eye. If it did, you'd probably just drive by and not give it another thought.

                I am a good cook which makes me picky about eating out. If a cajun place doesn't know how to make a roux or is too lazy to make a roux for gumbo then I can't help them. :-) Roux doesn't have to be the grueling task that it once was either, I make mine in the microwave now. So fast and just as good. I posted my process for that on another thread somewhere here. I'll try and find it and post a link.

                1. re: texasredtop

                  LOL Should have read "a hole in the wall"

                2. re: dexmat

                  It's on a NOLA CH thread. I copied it for you in case you might be interested. It's not a recipe, it's more a process and it takes a few times to get the hang of it..................

                  In a glass measuring container, about 3 times larger than the amount of roux you're making (it will bubble up at first), mix equal cooking oil and flour. I haven't tried this with other fats, only the cooking oil. Stir it well until the lumps are dissolved. Have your wooden spoon handy and a trivet or somewhere to put the hot glass container for stirring.

                  Place the mixture in the microwave for about 3 minutes (for a roux to make gravy). If you're making a larger roux for gumbo, you can bump the time up to about 4.5 minutes. Take it out, stir, put it back in and cook for less time - 2.5 minutes or so. The roux will burn from the inside and you won't see it so if you're uncertain, cook it for smaller amounts of time. When you stir, you'll see the center browning faster. I sometimes have to add more oil towards the end. It takes me about 4-5 times in the microwave, decreasing the cooking time each time I stir it and put it back in, to get it right. As it gets darker, you might just want to put it in for 30 seconds at a time.

                  It's something you have to play with and get a feel for. I've burned some and had to start over. No biggie. It's much easier than spending 2 hours making a gumbo roux and have it burn and have to throw it out and start over.

                  1. re: texasredtop

                    Thanks. I knew that you could make roux in the over, though I've never tried it, but hadn't heard of the MW approach. I'll have to try that.

                  2. re: dexmat

                    I went to the one near a supermarket on some corner. It faces inwards towards the parking lot.

              2. re: dexmat

                Thanks for all the good recs, and the beer too. I'm not a huge beer fan, but I love discovering new beers that are interesting to drink.

              3. re: christof

                Agree about Cafe Pita. I went with 2 out of town friends, one who is Serbian, and was quite underwhelmed. It's on Westheimer near Wilcrest. The food was probably quite authentic, but bland, bready and nothing special at all.

            2. WOW, didn't even know we had a "Chinatown" and I've lived here for 40 years :-)

              Pappa's Seafood - yuck and way to overpriced. Try Mardi Gras Grill on Durham.
     I doubt seriously these next two are anywhere close to "Chinatown" but they are also worth a trip for seafood - Floyd's or Monument Inn

              Goode BBQ - yuck also. Can't recommend bbq around Houston because there's nothing truly outstanding. Pass on it and it will save you some time for better things.

              Rajun Cajun - nasty!!! I am cajun and I absolutely hate that place. The gumbo is flavored water with hot sauce. That is NOT gumbo. The place is just all wrong. There aren't any fabulous cajun places here but Mardi Gras Grill and Boudreaux's are two of the places I go to and have never been disappointed. Boudreaux's has very good boudin balls. I always get a basket. One note, don't order shrimp at Boudreaux's, they are farm raised. You only want to eat Gulf shrimp. But you'd better hurry on that :-(

              I don't trust DDD. Kenny and Ziggy's was on there and I think their menu items are priced about two times what they should be and it is not all that great. Maybe a little bit better than Jason's Deli with a lot more selections. At lunch my husband had a sandwich and I had a patty melt (which was very tiny), we had onion rings and two iced teas and it was over $40. I had been there a few times before but my husband was dying to try it after seeing it on DDD. I warned him and he agreed after eating there.

              Not knowing where Chinatown is, I'll give you this suggestion. I'm not big on chinese food but I love Hong Kong Chef. It's a hole in the wall and you have to walk through the kitchen to get to the dining room. Most of the items on the lunch menu are about $6 and they are large portions. I love love love their sweet and sour shrimp. They use fresh gulf shrimp and while they are small, they are very tasty. The fried rice and egg rolls are very good too.

              Mardi Gras Grill
              1200 Durham, Houston, TX 77007

              Monument Inn Restaurant
              4406 Independence Pkwy S, La Porte, TX 77571

              Hong Kong Chef
              5112 Bissonnet St, Bellaire, TX 77401

              4 Replies
              1. re: texasredtop

                Thanks for the recs...any good taiwanese food around?

                1. re: texasredtop

                  Chinatown is basically a really broad description of Bellaire going from 59 just about all the way to Hwy 6.

                  I'm far from a Taiwanese expert, but hanging around a Taiwanese buddy has taught me more. I travel back and forth to Houston frequently and after having the chance to try more places up in Dallas, I can tell you that Dallas has a bigger selection of Taiwanese restaurants and it isn't gonna be easy to find in Houston. I believe the one purely Taiwanese restaurant in Houston closed a few years back.

                  However, you've still got some options. China Gourmet would be a good idea for you as it is one of the very few places in town that does have Taiwanese on the menu. It is dirt cheap so keep in mind the atmosphere that would come with that, and just so you aren't surprised, the place smells like stinky tofu and no one in there speaks English. Cash only too.

                  Lastly christof, you should also consider this thread:
                  Just make sure those places are still open because that thread is somewhat dated and restaurants come and go all the time. I can tell you for sure, Fu Fu Cafe is still around.

                  And for BBQ, you really shouldn't bother with Goode. The statement about not much BBQ in that side of town is somewhat not true since that's where Boogies is located. Unfortunately, I know they recently got hit by a fire, but it is one of the better places in town and definitely worth a stop once they're back in business. Easily comparable to, if not better than Pierson's.

                  1. re: air

                    Actually there is a bbq place in there, Sally Jo's, on Bellaire at Boone. I went once, tried a sliced beef sandwich, never went back. Maybe no worse than Goode Co., which the OP liked. From what I read in the twittersphere, Boogie's doesn't seem to have figured out what they need to do to comply with city regulations for a bbq pit.

                    I think Fu Fu is moving into a new space - last time I was down Bellaire I saw a new location, fronting on Bellaire instead of back in that center.

                    Strange that we don't have any Taiwanese. i thought I read a big article a few years ago about how Houston has been a big magnet for Taiwanese immigrants.

                    Fu Fu Cafe
                    9889 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77036

                    1. re: dexmat

                      Taiwanese places are scattered around the Chinese Corridor. One traditional Taiwanese place I know of for sure is located in the Dynasty Plaza, corner of Bellaire Blvd and Corporate, about 1/4 mile east of the Tollway. My wife's Taiwanese, and she says it's one of the best around. She doesn't know its name in English, pronouces it like Shi Hu Lai. I don't even recall if its sign is in English. It's two doors down from the Dynasty Market, right at the entrance into the mall there. My favorite dish of theirs is flounder cooked in an orange-colored sauce. Not the whole fish, just pieces of the filet. One order will feed two people. But one drawback to the place is it serves Stinky Tofu, the smell of which I find nauseating. So, I usually prefer to get take-out when we go there. :)

                2. Try Broken Spoke Cafe. Belgian restaurant. Atmosphere is kind of funky, in that offbeat, eclectic way. Try the La Route de Bruxelles, mussels and beer sampler.

                  Broken Spoke Cafe
                  1809 Washington Ave, Houston, TX 77007

                  1. Anyone that likes Asian/Chinese food should give the new 99 Ranch Market at Blalock and Katy Freeway a try. They've got an awesome bakery and a large food court that sells stuff to go, and also has tables.

                    It's great!