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Houston visit report from a grateful 'hound (oops - long!)

I love Houston. I love reading about people who love living and eating in Houston. I love reading about people who love visiting and eating with people who love living and eating in Houston. I just got back from a precious few days in your amazing city with my 6 y ear old houndlet, and although I won't be breaking any new ground, here is my report.

FuFu Cafe - loved it. I had the spicy beef noodle soup - it was wonderful. Broth was rich, complex and flavorful, pickled/preserved veggies almost smoky in their counterpoint to the toothsome, awesome, noodles. Got the beef sesame pancake, and weren't that thrilled - the "pancake" was pretty thick and dry, the beef wasn't moist enough to offset. Flavorrific, though. The pork dumplings (I can't remember which ones we ordered) were like little cannoli - open on the ends, with the fabulous pork (and chive? something green) forcemeat spilling out. Crunchy where the wrappers hit the pan, light and chewy everywhere else. Divine, and an enormous amount - I think they gave us 8 or 9 HUGE dumplings. The soup dumplings were also great - I don't have that much XLB experience, but the wrappers were not thick (to me) and the loose meat and broth within was wonderful....my kiddo ate THREE of the four we ordered, and commented that enjoyed the pronounced ginger flavor of the broth (before translation, this was something like "mmmmmmm....Mama......so ginger.....yum........." Also loved the otherworldly red vinegar - something I haven't come across before in SF/NY/Austin. Very nice people, very wonderful experience.

Empire Cafe - I have been here before (thanks to CH) and enjoyed it again. Kiddo had a whole wheat pancake with strawberries - he approved - although last time they embedded the berries in a face-motif into the pancake, this time not....sigh....I have been a huge fan of the eggs Roma there - focaccia, pesto, grilled tomatoes, mozzerella, topped by eggs any style (over easy for me). Not being a fan of the cheddar hash browns, I asked if I could sub bacon. The answer was yes, for an upcharge. When I pointed out that as sides, the cheddar hash browns and bacon cost exactly the same, the charming gals at the counter were flummoxed. No biggie - enjoyed some organic Peru coffee, the great patio, the cool people, and left satisfied.

T-Bone Toms - I took my son to Space Center Houston, and was drooling for Gilhooley's grilled oysters. Luckily, as he was shooting asteroids with foam balls, I called to check their hours and learned that they don't allow anyone under 18 in the place! I was crushed, but as we accidentally passed the Kemah boardwalk I spotted T-Bone Tom's, and remembered reading something about it here. The server said that Guy Fieri had flipped for their housemade sausage, so we split a sausage sandwich with beans and coleslaw. The sausage was very, very good, and they must have stuffed the equivalent of two linear feet of beefy porky snappy yum into a very nice roll. Loved the pop of the coriander seeds. According to the kid, the server was "the nicest man ever!"

Fiesta Bahn Mi - I love that you can get cheap bahn mi at Fiesta near Reliant Stadium, and I wasn't expecting the best bahn mi in town. It was fine - I got the combo, and it had one tired flavorless slice of jalapeno. Serviceable. Houndlet saw bahn bao on the menu and ordered it himself and it was awful. Awful. Old, gross, poorly formed, sad.

Frenchy's - I hadn't done any research on Frenchy's, but we saw it when we were at Fiesta, and then a Groupon popped up for it, so I had to grab it. I really liked it a lot - the skin was crisp and flavorful - not too spicy, with a terrific crunch. Meat was moist - not as flavorful as some I've had, but very, very good. The biscuits, however, were AMAZING...I will forever hold the memory of this biscuit (well, the three I ate) as the high biscuit point in my life. Honeysweet, buttery, shatteringly crisp outside, savory pillowy steamy heaven inside.

HK Dim Sum - NO LAMB! Maybe I misunderstood the previous discussions, but there was mention of a lamb and squash dumpling that I considered destination-worthy. Is HK Dim Sum the same as HK Dumpling? Anyhow, we got a bunch of dumplings, and they were all wonderful. Really wonderful. In particular, the siu my (sp) had very tender wrappers and a great filling. The "shanghai-style" were shaped like mini XLB - they had no soup, but had an exceptionally delicious filling.

Captain Benny's - Grieving the loss of Gilhooley's, we stopped in at Captain Benny's between the MFAH and the HMNS. Oysters were fine - I think people have discussed the lack of brine, but with a squirt of lemon they were just fine - cold, fresh, yummy. Boiled shrimp were GREAT - having been boiled in a flavorful cajun boil, they didn't need cocktail sauce. Fried catfish was good - a little heavy on the breading for me, but the fish was fresh and moist and flaky. Icy cold Corona was a perfect compliment - and the frosty mug was a treat. Oh, didn't care for the hush puppies, found them a little too dense.

Dolce Vita - I love this place. I had a perfect negoni (well, half....) and kiddo had an aranciata at the bar while we waited for our to-go order. I'm a fool for the calamari with orange, mint and olives... such an intoxicating blend of sweet, salty, and herby. The octopus with rapini was luscious, with the nicely chopped rapini soaking up the flavor of the nice crunchy garlic chips and chile flakes. Beets with horseradish, walnuts and chives was an awesome mix of flavors and textures, but it needed more nuts. The margherita pizza was great, as usual, but the vongole....I saved the best until last because this pizza was paradigm-shifting. The fabulous crust (crisp on the bottom, chewy at the edges, delicious everywhere) held the most mind-boggling mix of huge, plump clams, sweet little grape tomatoes (burst and charred and almost sugary), bubbling fresh mozzerella, and fresh Italian parsley. SOOOOOOOOOOO good.

Hit King Bakery on the way out of town - my son was tired, so I couldn't browse, but got half a dozen char siu bao. EXCELLENT - light airy bread, meaty chunks inside...fabulous.

I'm already planning the next trip. Thanks all - you have an amazing city.

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Gilhooley's Restaurant
222 9th St, Dickinson, TX 77539

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  1. Thanks for the report! It's refreshing to have folks report back.

    1. Great trip reinadetostones! It's always nice to hear of some love for Our Town!

      1. Except for Frenchy's, I've never been to any of those.

        I love living in Houston.

        Seriously.

        .

        15 Replies
        1. re: DoobieWah

          Doobs, check out the Chinese post, I went to TaiPei today for soup to cure a bad week of virus running through our household.

          1. re: Lambowner

            I had dumpling noodle soup at Tan Tan on Westheimer myself.

            Had a bit of a scratchy throat going in, feel fine today. I'm not saying they cured me, but...

            I'm also not saying they didn't!

            -----
            Tan Tan Restaurant
            8066 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77063

            1. re: DoobieWah

              DoobieWah, I had at least 5 places from your posts on the list, and had planned on the duck dumpling noodle soup at Sinh Sinh....but when I told my son we might go to a place called "Fu Fu" he was hooked.

              I'm going to google map your "I Love..." threads and pick a more convenient hotel next time!

          2. re: DoobieWah

            Yikes, DW, run to Dolce Vita this weekend! Have a prosecco/blood orange cocktail, and then enjoy some great appetizers before an outstanding pizza. Trust me on this: the shaved brussels sprouts appetizer is amazingly delicious. you'll discover (if you didn't know already) that you actually like brussels sprouts!

            1. re: zorra

              I really love the small plates at Dolce Vita, most especially those brussels sprouts and the deep fried baby artichokes. But I was wondering if Doobs had tried TaiPei, since we stomp the same general grounds.

              1. re: Lambowner

                I ate at Taipei a loooooong time ago. My son had his first date there, (before a dance).

                I can't honestly say I remember much about it. I will check it out again.

                Zorra, I will get to Dolce Vita ASAP! Any other recc's on what to order would be welcome.

                Reina, don't eat at MY places, tell me about some more new ones. I've already been to MY places!

                BTW, if anyone cares, my mom has been craving fried chicken so we're doing the BBQ Inn, Canino's, Flores' trifecta tomorrow for lunch.

                Hope everyone has a great Memorial Day weekend!

                1. re: DoobieWah

                  Yeah, but I haven't been to YOUR places! And I'm gonna....slowly but surely

                  Looking forward to your review on Dolce Vita. Besides what I had this time, I have fond memories of the salmon crudo, and the prosciutto and arugula pizza. That crust is just a miracle. You can get a sunny side up egg on almost any pizza which on some is a great complement!

                  Mmmmm.....a fried chicken trifecta.....

                  1. re: reinadetostones

                    Actually, just BBQ Inn was for fried chicken.

                    Canino's is a big produce market in the same general vicinity and Flores' is a spice shop across the street from Canino's.

                    Sorry for any confusion.

                    BBQ Inn was great although Lily wasn't there.

                    Canino's was disappointing as I had been looking forward to some fresh black-eyes, purple hulls and/or cream peas. All they had were pintos so I scooped up a couple of pounds of those.

                    I had to make a mad dash through Flores' so Mex oregano and a container of their mole' will have to hold me over until the peas come in, (usually mid-June or so).

                    Glad you enjoyed your visit, Reina. Come on down anytime, (but try to throw at least one or two new places at me, okay?).

                    1. re: DoobieWah

                      I'm a little worried about the peas this years, the drought and all. I used to grow them and they do like water. Have you tried Ray's produce just across Airline and a little south. It's easy for a quick hitter, just drive up and step out. Much easier than Canino's, and they pretty much have everthing Canino's has, but in smaller quantities. If you don't see it, ask, it may be in back. By the way, how was BBQ Inn, any extra shrimp and oysters?

                      1. re: James Cristinian

                        Haven't tried Ray's, but I knew I was early for peas. I'll go back in a month or so.

                        BBQ inn was great, although as mentioned, Lily wasn't there.

                        And yes, I got a couple of extra shtrimpies on the side. Good stuff.

                        Also, I DID check out the ancient menu in the foyer, but no matter how much I argued they wouldn't honor the prices...

                        Oh well...

                      2. re: DoobieWah

                        You might try Triple A next to Canino's to complete your foursome. Super old school Houston. The waitresses make the ladies at BBQ Inn look young and inexperienced. Thursday is chicken and dumpling or sausage day. That's the day my group likes to go. Two sides from whatever Canino's is selling that day.

                        -----
                        Triple A Restaurant
                        2526 Airline Dr, Houston, TX 77009

                        1. re: Lambowner

                          Dear Lambsy,

                          Yes, we've been to AAA, (or "Trips" as it is known) many, many times.

                          In fact, we usually park there and have breakfast and then walk over to Canino's.

                          In my opinion, while the atmosphere is every bit as anachronistic as BBQ Inn, the food does not compare. Again, just my opinion.

                    2. re: DoobieWah

                      There's another appetizer I like, involving mushrooms and ricotta. The pastas are good too. Really, I've never had anything there I didn't enjoy.

                      1. re: zorra

                        Thanks again. I don't know when I'll get over there, (that's practically the other side of the world from me), but when I do...

                        You'll be the first to know.

                2. Yes thank you for reporting back. Can't wait for you next visit and report.

                  1. I can understand the "long" - it's hard not to get carried away. My last trip report read like a dang novel.

                    It is indeed an amazing city.

                    1. Glad you had a good trip and thanks for the long report. The person who posted about the lamb and squash dumpling had the shops in that center mixed up and never cleared it up. I found them at QQ Cuisine, right next door to Fu Fu. It's never been mentioned here on CH before, apparently - hasn't been discovered by foodies, yet, I guess. The green onion pancake I had there was better than the one I"ve had at Fu Fu; the dan dan noodles were astonishing although I think they held back on the spice level after trying to tell me I wanted Lo Mein instead! I've uploaded menu scans to Urbanspoon but they haven't been 'approved' yet. May also post some pictures.

                      The Fiesta Banh Mi is, or was, Thiem Hung Express, a branch of one of my favs downtown, Thiem Hung on Pease, but the dt location has changed hands and is now Cafe TH, a fav of Katherine Shillcutt in the Press. I don't know who owns the one at Fiesta. I thought the banh mi I had there was not as good as what I used to get downtown (never drive that far anymore for good banh mi) and I got shortchanged on a lunch special I picked up on the way out of the store one time so I never stop any more.

                      I shop at that Fiesta frequently but have never tried that Frenchy's - I'll have to give it a try. Maybe I won't have to drive all the way over to Scott Street for my fix. It's one of the larger locations other than the original.

                      Been going to Capt. Benny's for 30 years - sure hope they haven't changed the recipe for their hush puppies and fish - I've always thought they were among the lightest anywhere. The breading is a mix of corn meal and corn flour, aka Fish Fry, and I like it better than just one or the other alone.

                      Come back often, y'all.

                      -----
                      Fu Fu Cafe
                      9889 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77036

                      1. You missed the best things at T-Bone Tom's - the armadillo eggs. Jalapeno split in half, stuffed with chopped bbq brisket, battered and fried. I love them!!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: texasredtop

                          I know! I know....6 year old who tolerates some salsa, but wouldn't be down with the jalapeno, plus a ridiculous amount of food for a four day trip (I get so panicky when I go to Houston...like I will never be back -gotta hit it all!) made me shy away from the deep fried. Not the fatty sausage, you ask? Good question....next time....

                          1. re: reinadetostones

                            oops... I hope I wasn't the one responsible for the confusion re: the lamb and squash dumplings.My apologies if I was the culprit. We like QQ alot, but I prefer the Dan Dan Mien at Fu Fu.

                            For dumplings, try the place next to Arirang, a stone's throw from Fu Fu/QQ/HK Dim Sum. The place's name is in chinese characters only. kinda whole in the wall, but the dumplings are really good! Good bao too.

                            -----
                            Arirang Restaurant
                            9715 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77036

                            Fu Fu Cafe
                            9889 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77036

                            1. re: reinadetostones

                              Trust me, I would be thrilled not to have to share an order with anyone :-)