Friday, May 28, 2010

Guatemalan Mobile Vendors

It appears that third only to Mexican and BBQ we have more Guatemalan than any other kind of international or ethnic mobile vendor, at least in one neighborhood. I've been tracking these in the International Roll Call on the sidebar but that post is getting rather long and unwieldy so I decided to break this nationality out.

There is a cluster of Guatemalan mobile units along Windswept between the SW Fwy feeder and Hillcroft plus a couple north on Unity at Skyline and several other units in the neighborhood which may or may not be Guatemalan.

Update:  Most of the units listed here have disappeared, but other units have taken their places.  Gone is the most promising one judging by the menu, Antojitos San Miguel de Guatemala, which I could never catch open.  Still in opertion, apparently, is Las Delicias Guti, another one I've never been able to catch open.  It may only be open for breakfast.

There are two Guatemix units, one parked at 6362 Windswept labeled Tamaleria Guatemix and another just a half block east of Hillcroft, Taqueria y Tamaleria Guatemix.

In front of Pop's Super Market on Windswept right at Unity there is an Antojitos Guatemala and Antojitos San Miguel de Guatemala plus Refacciones Guatemala. The first and last of these are the Guatemalan units most often open and have very similar menus of street foods. I have only seen the San Miguel unit open in the evenings when that parking lot is a pretty lively scene.

At Antojitos Guatemala I tried the Plantano Frito. This was pre-cooked but good and warm. I'm guessing this was sauteed rather than deep fried, drizzled with a little bit of cream and sprinkled with sugar and delicious.

One block north on Unity at Skyline is Las Delicias Guti, Comedor y Cafeteria Guatemala, a trailer which has also only been open in the mornings and evenings and another trailer in the parking lot of that convenience store named Antojitos Las Delicias Guatemala which has only been open in the morning, plus a little hut called Tacos Pineda which has been open at various times pretty regularly.

Antojos Chapina, located on Windswept just east of Unity, in the parking lot of a washateria. The first time I saw this I could swear the menu included plantinas which should mean strips of plantain deep-fried like french fries but when I stopped in a few days later, they weren't on the menu. It looked a little like a couple of entries on the menu had been whited out and the menu is very brief.

I tried a chuchita, the snack tamale of Guatemala. It wasn't very warm and was rather dry, although still a little messy to eat out of hand. The filling was a good sized piece of stewed pork with a mild sauce. This weighed 7 oz and was about 4" in length.

East along Windswept there is also Taqueria Turitzio and Los Huaces at Greenridge, closer to the big flea market, both of which are probably Mexican, and there is a truck at the corner of Windswept and Hillcroft, Taqueria El Dolar, nationality unknown.

I've seen a couple of other mobile units identifying as Guatemalan around town. Antojitos Guatemala # 2 - Hillcroft @ Unity. I saw nothing uniquely Guatemalan on the menu such as chuchitos, garnaches, tamales but presumably the tacos, quesadillas, etc. are a la Guatemala.

Taqueria Maya Quiché - Tacos de Guatemala - This was the first Guatemalan unit I ever saw, parked by Pearl Bar on Washington, but I never caught it in operation as it seems it's only open in the evening and serves the bar crowd along the Washington corridor. The Quiché are a subgroup of the Mayans and there is a Quiché Department in Guatemala but as described by Guns and Tacos and others, it isn't authentic (al pastor is not a Guatemalan dish and Guatemalan tacos are rolled, like Mexican flautas, not folded) - it appears to be a pretty standard Mexican lonchera, although perhaps a very good one (drunks being such good judges of taste).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Luke's Place

9600 Fondren, St. 104 @ South Braeswood


This place bills itself as Classic Louisiana Soul Food and Cane River Cookin.' The owner is from Nachitoches, hence the Cane River Cookin' sobriquet. I've been going here since a few weeks after it opened last summer and had some very good meals. It's just minutes from my place so very convenient when I'm in a hurry and I've been 7 or 8 times.

The first time I went I had the Cajun Stuffed Meat Loaf and it's still the best thing I've had here, a very meaty, dense loaf with little or no filler material, covered with a spicy tomato gravy and served on a bed of mashed, skin-on red potatoes. I was able to find out the secret ingredient in the stuffing is minced green and black olives. The green beans were possibly canned but very flavorful while the mac 'n cheese was a bit thin and tasted too much of flour. This was the only time I've tried the mac 'n cheese which isn't a favorite dish of mine anyway.

The original menu spelled out which dishes would be available on a rotating basis and there were some very interesting sounding ones but there's recently been a revamping of the menu and some dishes no longer appear. Service is off a steam table for the plates while some items are prepared fresh. They've offered the famous Nachitoches Meat Pies a la Lasayonne's but have never had them to serve when I wanted to try them. Shrimp and sausage po'boys are available as well as Old Fashioned Hamburgers, made on order. The po'boys are a Wednesday special while the Hamburger is offered as a special on Monday. On the recent menu there's only one daily special, Monday thru Friday. Oxtails appear to be available to serve everyday and look good; I've had some of the gravy over rice with other dishes but haven't tried the oxtails, yet. A plate includes a choice of meat (2, sometimes 3 to choose from), a starch (rice or potatoes) and 2 vegetables.

Meatballs and sausage in mushroom gravy I tried once used canned mushrooms for the gravy; the sausage link was a very fine grind and mild and the meatballs, perhaps made the same as the meatloaf, could have used a little more browning before being added to the gravy as they were a little soggy. That was perhaps the most disappointing meal I've had. Their catfish has a heavier breading than I like but was okay otherwise; there are better places for catfish on the Southwest side as far as I'm concerned. Fried foods tend to have a very dark exterior but have not been over-cooked and dried out on the interior.

The fried chicken has been very good with a very thick breading, very moist and flavorful on the inside and very large pieces.

A sausage po'boy I tried once was different in that it used a thin sausage patty rather than a link. The bread was crusty but not up to the best po'boy bread I've had at Calliope. The gumbo here, a special on Friday, has a milk-chocolate colored roux and is very flavorful although somewhat thin. The one time I had it mine had whole tail-on shrimp, a blue crab claw and a skin-on, bone-in chicken wing. It was rather unique and very good. For some reason I failed to get a picture of either the po'boy or the gumbo.

Luke's has been discussed on HAIF's restaurant board and drew thoroughly positive comments. I was worried they might not make it, buried in the back corner of a small shopping center with inconvenient parking and barely noticeable signage, but I'm glad they have. Only one time have I seen dine-in customers...the place is clean and bright and cheery but a little lonesome for dining-in. My favorite soul food place in town is Just Oxtails on Reed Road, especially for the fried chicken and catfish, but that's a long way away and this is the best soul food I've found on the SW side.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Oh My!, Pocket Pies

1005 St. Emanuel @ McKinney

I finally managed to catch these guys and it was well worth my trip down there.

They were having a very busy day. I got there about 1:30 and they were running out of some items, indicated by the black tape over some entries on the menu board. A couple more pieces of tape went up while I was waiting to order.

Fortunately they had an off-the-menu daily special of a Sloppy Joe (on top in the picture). I got the two pie plus side special. Both pies were great with a very satisfying not-too-thick, flaky crust. We never had Sloppy Joe's in my household when I was growing up and I don't remember ever having one outside of a school cafeteria so I really enjoyed this; the Salisbury steak was also very good, with a savory mushroom and onion gravy. I have been following a discussion on one of the national boards about meat pies and was tempted to weigh in with my opinion that none reach the greatness of an Argentine or Venezuelan empanada but OMPP gives me pause.

My wind-blown salad with vinaigrette (they also gave me the Ranch dressing as a dip for the pies) and the cole slaw were nothing special compared to the pies, unfortunately, but I did get a good look at one of the burgers and was looking forward to going back to try one. I planned to check to see if Wally World had a sunbonnet in my size first, however.

As I got closer to the window on another visit though my thoughts were turning more and more to that pie crust. As it turned out my choices were pretty much made for me - they were sold out of burgers and also the vegetable pot pie so I went with the Chicken Chile Relleno and Chicken Pot Pie.

As I was advised when I ordered, the Chicken Chile Relleno was a lot more flavorful, on a par with the Salisbury Steak and Sloppy Joe pies I'd had before. The veggies in the pot pie were generously sized and not over-cooked, happily still crisp-tender, but I found the gravy too thick and starchy. I had kind of been hoping for something like a Bolivian Saltena, a juicy, stew-like meat pie that I've heard about but never experienced.

OMPP! is another great addition to the street food scene in Houston and was well worth the trip all the way downtown, though I do wish they were closer. Check 'em out on the website and Twitter before driving a long distance as they frequently run out of some items early, it seems.

Oh My! Pocket Pies

Melange Creperie


December 1, 2011: Congratulations to Buffalo Sean - Melange Creperie has been awarded three stars by the Chronicle as one of the best restaurants in the city.

I've had this one listed under the Specialty Fare vendors on my sidebar for some time but just got around to trying it. The idea of a sidewalk creperie in Houston seems so out-in-left-field, it was hard to imagine.

The menu has both savory and sweet items and changes every week. The first time I went, the featured item on the savory crepes was andouille from B&W on North Shepherd. I've had quite a few of the B&W sausages but didn't realize they did an andouille and I have to say I was impressed. On my first visit, I got it with the grilled onions and peppers.

Watching Buffalo Sean work his magic is fascinating; he clearly is answering a calling in running his sidewalk stand. When I first got there on a Saturday I was the only customer but by the time I finished my crepe a traffic cop was needed to handle the traffic flowing into and out of the small parking lot of Mango's. I was so pleased with the crepe I went back just a few days later, before the menu had changed, and went with a different combination: the andouille, an egg (cooked along with the crepe) and fresh spinach.

There is a problem getting a good picture of these things, showing off the filling and the beautiful crepe itself, and I haven't really captured either of them here. I liked the one with the grilled onions better and I'm looking forward to more visits and will have to try some of the sweet crepes.

I remember when crepes were all the rage, um, a few decades ago? I still fancied myself a cook and bought one of those domed crepe pans which I'm sure I still have around here somewhere. After just a few failures, I gave up on crepes and I can't recall that I'd had one anywhere since but these things are damned addictive.

I had OD'd on tacos late last year and have been avoiding taco trucks for several months now and I'm really glad to have discovered a street food alternative to the ubiquitous al pastor, barbacoa, lengua, etc., fare. I wonder - could sidewalk creperies ever become as common on the streets of Houston as taco trucks? Now that'd be the day. With the engaging and enthusiastic Buffalo Sean leading the charge, we're off to a good start.

Melange Creperie on Facebook and on Twitter and the 2nd location in the Heights.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Boogie's Hit by Fire

I had a taste for barbecue today but all I got was the smoke.....

There's nothing left of the little trailer but the frame and the firebox and smoker itself.

This is really bad news for many of us on the Southwest side who've come to feel Boogie's is the best in town. I was hoping to be able to convene a panel soon to judge Boogie's and Pierson's side-by-side but that will have to wait a while longer.

Boogie said it was just negligence and he will be back in a couple of weeks. The city was due out this week to inspect his new pit, anyway, and it looks to me like the old smoker would be usable if the new one still isn't up to snuff.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Nazareth Cafe

6711 Chimney Rock


I have been meaning to try Ethiopian cuisine for some time and decided it was time to hit this place. It's a small cafe with linen table cloths and napkins although, of course, no dining utensils (they are available on request). The menu is not very large but there are chicken, beef, lamb and vegetable dishes. I tried the vegetable platter ($12) to get a sample of as many dishes as possible.

I liked the beets - keey sir - (12 o'clock) perhaps best and the preparation made with injera next to that, listed as Sufe Fitit and described as sesame juice mixed with injera, it was served well-chilled and would make a good vegetarian/grain substitute for a chicken salad or similar meat dish. I also liked the salad in the center of the plate, Timatim salad, fasolia (green beans and carrots at 7 o'clock) and the carrot/cabbage dish at 6, listed as Atkilt Wot. I liked the red lentil preparation at 9 o'clock, Mesir Wat, better than the brown lentil preparation at 3 o'clock (Azifa?) while the greens (Gomen - collards), at 2 o'clock, were the bitterest greens I have ever had and I was not too fond of them, and I like greens.

The most intriguing and readily appealing dish was the item at 5 o'clock which I initially thought was something made with balls of yam but finally decided the texture was too dry; this is Shimbra asa, dumplings made of chickpea flour.

The items at 10 and 11 o'clock, respectively, are Kit Alicha (split yellow peas) and Shiro Wat (pureed split peas). I wasn't too fond of either of those.

Although it's readily apparent in the picture, the slit in the pepper wound up facing down after I took one bite off the end and I didn't realize until the end it was stuffed, Almost all the seeds had been removed, except right at the stem end, and it was as sweet and crisp and juicy as a bell pepper, with a filling that included I'm sure minced onion and tomato and more.

A new cuisine, many new tastes to explore and learn about. I'm looking forward to more visits.

As I have learned at other venues, vegetarian fare can be very filling. I left absolutely stuffed and I didn't finish off but one of the two pieces of injeera.

The restaurant serves breakfasts, has beer, wine and alcohol, including the Ethiopian honey wine Tej, plus coffee and tea.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


13655 Bissonnet @ Eldridge, # 103


There used to be a restaurant by this name much closer in to the Beltway in a very old and past-its-prime strip center. I only discovered that one on b4 after it had closed so I don't know if this the same people but if so they have certainly moved on up. While not new the center where it's now located is much more recent.

I've nearly always had good meals at Colombian restaurants, though never anything spectacular, but one thing I've never really taken to are the arepas, the corn-meal based bread that usually accompanies a Colombian meal. They frequently seem underdone, a little pasty on the inside even. This place specializes in arepas so I thought it would be a good place to try.

The menu offered more variety than I had ever seen - arepas with chorizo, morcilla, camaron, cerdo, queso, lengua, beef and chicken and maybe a few more and some of the standard Colombian dishes like Bandeja Paisa and empanadas. On the first visit I ordered two arepas, con queso and con hogao.

Venezuelan arepas are served like sandwiches, filled, like Mexican gorditas, but Colombian arepas are usually served with the 'filling' on the side or on top. One exception is the arepa con queso which has the cheese as a filling. This one arrived first and was a beauty to behold, nicely golden-toasted on both sides. I thought I was in for a real treat and since it didn't make much of a picture on the plate by itself I dug in, picking it up like a grilled cheese sandwich and I was not disappointed. I think the menu said the cheese was mozzarella. Alas the second arepa (and a subsequent one on another visit) were not as visually enticing, thinner, pancake-like affairs not as beautifully toasted. The hogao, however, saved the day for the second arepa and I actually woke up the next day thinking 'I want to go back and get some more.'

On another visit I went for an arepa con chorizo and an empanada. I've been very impressed with Colombian chorizos and this one was another fine example. The picture does not do it justice; those dark spots are not charring, they are pieces of green onion tops, visible through the translucent casing. The sausage itself was a little dry but otherwise excellent with chunks of meat rather than coarsely ground, like a good andouille, mild but not bland and the seasoning was very reminiscent of a bowl of chili made with Gebhardt's Chili Powder. The casing had a little snap to it. I was given a choice of a larger diameter arepa or a smaller one and chose the larger one, thinking this was going to be something like a Colombian pizza. Next time I'd choose the smaller and, I presume, thicker variety.

The empanada also was impressive, crisply fried, not greasy, with a pureed filling (meat, potato, maybe some beans and peas). This was one of the best Colombian empanadas I've ever had. It came with a very mild salsa.

Every Colombian place I've had chorizo I've inquired if they made their own and every time the answer has been yes (I want to know where to buy some and I have yet to find a Colombian grocery store). The very friendly and helpful waitress here couldn't find the words to explain but made a kneading motion with her hands and pointed in the direction of a woman in the corner eating a bowl of soup, the 'boss' I understood her to mean (and perhaps the owner). She is a very good sausage maker and I definitely intend to try the morcilla here.

That was my plan anyway when I stopped off to get some food to go but I decided instead to opt for the special of the day, Lomo de Cerdo a la plancha, con arroz, maduros, ensalata and sope de lentejas. The aroma of this was killing me on the drive home but I was a bit disappointed when I opened up the box. It was no where near as appealing visually as it was aromatically. Lomo means tenderloin and cerdo is pork so this was a flattened piece of pork tenderloin, pan grilled, a little on the dry side. The maduros weren't as nicely caramelized as they usually are and there was nothing special about the rice or salad. The best part of this meal actually was the lentil soup, a pint's worth, with potatoes, which I didn't include in the picture since you couldn't see anything but the broth. On the regular menu this is $9 (the cerdo may not be a la plancha but stewed in that dish) while this was only $4.99, a bargain for all that food.

The arepas I had on my first visit were $2 and $2.50, the arepa with chorizo $4 or $4.50, I forget which. Most entrees are under $10 but I think there are a few that range up to the low double digits (there's no menu to go, not even a business card for that matter, and I've not been able to remember a lot of details). The empanada was $1. You can buy frozen arepas, empandas, chorizo and morcilla and a few other items in small quantities to take home.

The restaurant is painted in bright colors, greens, mango, pumpkin; there are religious pictures on one wall and a few travel posters while one wall is plastered with what I presume to be folksy sayings. They're open every day except Sunday until 8pm.

Well, I still don't 'get' Colombian arepas; they just don't appeal to me. That's okay, though, there are other things here that do - I definitely intend to try the morcilla and maybe the shrimp arepa. Lengua en sudada (stewed beef tongue I think) is a dish I've seen on several Colombian menus but I've never tried it; maybe I will here. I also saw the Bandeja Paisa being served with some of that great chorizo and a very nice sized piece of meaty chicharron and that's something I'll be back to try.