I LOVE visiting Houston!
I read this Houston board for vicarious thrills pretty regularly. I get down to Houston from Austin about twice a year - and every time, thanks to you ‘hounds, I eat well. Very, very well.
My first stop was one that I think I haven’t seen on this board - it is either called Bahn Mi Hoang, or Pho Hoang, and it is on Elgin right near UH. I first found it while looking for Les Givrals. I think google maps still has it as Givrals. Anyhow - a couple of years ago I had my first bun bo hue here, and it was amazing. I have been tried a few others (in Austin) but none flipped my lid like this one. So, since I had an appointment at UH, I was excited and nervous to try it again...nervous that my memory had inflated its goodness. No chance. This is one great bowl of noodles. Spicy, with a pork shank full of marrow, white ham with a lacing of tasty fat, ethereal meatballs and slickery noodles....and the most intoxicating, complex, floral-yet-savory broth. Incredible. Also great pork and shrimp spring rolls (big, generous with the meat, packed well, herbs wrapped in) and terrific bahn mi - I took a roast pork one to go, and even though I ate it later, it was great. Nice peppery seasoning on the pork, perfect bread, perfect buttery-mayo, perfect fresh veggies.
I grew up in California, and have been pining and lobbying for a Trader Joes for 13 years. Austin’s is coming....but I was thrilled to shop at the one on Shepherd...so festive in the old theater! Got some of my staples (Italian truffle cheese, multi grain O’s cereal, red curry sauce) and was downright giddy to find what they call Cookie Butter, and I know as Speculoos spread. If this stuff is half as mind-blowing as the cheap supermarket brand I got in France this summer, then my son and I are going to be happy, happy treat-eaters!
Dolce Vita - I wasn’t that hungry, but wanted a negroni made correctly and this place does a nice one...plus, I will eat the calamari/orange/mint/olive dish any time...that is one magical combination of flavors. I also got a side of roasted cauliflower agrodolce - which was wonderful... savory roasted florets, marinated, with pine nuts and halved grapes. Pizza bread on the side. Smiling.
Kasra - wow. Doobie-Wah has written about this a couple of times and my hotel was just around the corner....coincidence? Perhaps not! I got the combo kubideh - one chicken and one beef. I am a big fan of different middle eastern variants of ground meat, cooked by grill, and this was some of the best, most flavorful, moist, and incredible that I have ever found. Yum. Thanks also to rrrich7 for steering me to the sour cherry rice - holy cow! Dried and rehydrated cherries, with almond slivers and some kind of big green legume over the lovely basmati rice....with the juicy grilled tomatoes - little black flecks add a slightly smoky charred touch...ohhh....a HUGE amount of food, chewy, crunchy, soft and floaty, firm and meaty, gently savory, bitingly sour...man. Also love that amazing bread (sort of reminded me of less-greasy Indian fry-bread) with the fresh herbs, radishes and feta. Shoot - I need to go back right now.
My plan had been to go to Rioja for dinner, but I had to put some work into FedEx, and the storefront is two doors down from Tan Tan. In I went for noodle soup. Lovely service, and the soup was great....deep, almost sinfully rich broth - not complex with added flavors, just an intensely hearty and flavorfully good soup. Noodles perfect. I got the duck, and talked them into adding a veggie mix (cabbage, snow peas, broccoli, pea shoots) - the duck was good, but the meat was a little dry...didn’t really matter with broth and noodles that good.
On my way out the next day I headed for King Bakery - my kid would kill me if I didn’t bring back a box of their excellent char siu bau. I had a plan to try another bun bo hue at Kim Chau, but it was too hot (this was a couple of weeks ago) and I just didn’t have the gumption for a third steaming bowl of soupy noodles in hot weather. I considered a banh mi at Lee’s in the same center, but did a quick google search and found some recs for Nguyen Ngo French Cafe - in the same center! I liked this place...they do a wonderful petite banh mi, as well as a regular sized one...and they offer their banh mi on a house-baked croissant. I ordered three mini banh mi on regular rolls- chicken and jambon, pate and pork, and sardine. Excellent! I found the pork/pate one a bit funky, but the chicken was outrageous - it was shredded but moist and juicy and packed with flavor. The sardine one was awesome. I got a croissant just to see if I could possibly envision a croiss-anh mi - highly recommended by a young man who left with a bag of sandwiches. The croissant was more bready than I like, and plus, the crunch of a banh mi roll is part of the whole deal for me.
I left Nguyen Ngo and happened to peer into another store selling prepared stuff from buffet islands...everything looked great, but I was drawn to a variety of flavored, fried tofu cubes. 7 pieces for $1.00...and they were great..the lemongrass chili tofu cube was one of the most delicious bites I have had in recent memory. They are fried to almost crispy, with an unctuous smooth tofu interior. The green onion was good, as was the pork and mushroom. I didn’t get the name of this place, and I can’t find it on google - but it is between Nguyen Ngo and Kim Chau (closer to NN) and I will seek it out again next time for these hot little protein-packed cubes of flavor.
Always hard to leave...I will be reading where and what you all eat, and why you love living in Houston, and all the great advice you give other visitors...thanks for making this such a food destination!