Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sno Dreamz

Fondren, just south of West Bellfort, next to the Chevron

Update 11/20/11 - a big banner now proclaims Shaved Ice - don't know if this means they no longer do New Orleans style snow balls, though. It was closed when I went by.

Now that the Season of Swelter is obviously here, I had to check out this little stand that I've been noticing for a couple of months. Over the window it says Sno Dreamz SnoBalls - is this really New Orleans style snoballs or is that just a catchy name? When I saw Tigers Blood listed as one of the flavors, I thought I knew the answer to that one.

There are more than 36 regular flavors, about 2 dozen more specials, 4 sugar free, add-ons, and more on the menu, a dizzying array. A sign in the window says they've added some Mexican flavors, tamarind, horchata, dulce de leche. I chose Wedding Cake with Cream (condensed milk). I'm sure it wasn't the word 'wedding' that attracted me, I'm just a sucker for the word 'cake.'

Okay, not a lot of color contrast in this one (and not a lot of sharp focus, either) but this was really good. That's a small (8 oz cup, $1.50, + $.50 for the condensed milk).

They used to serve boudain but have taken it off the menu since it wasn't selling; there are a few options besides the snow treats including pickled pigs lips - she said it's a New Orleans thing. They don't have a menu printed up and I couldn't get a shot of the menu board because it's behind glass and I got too much glare.

They're open Monday thru Saturday 12N to 8pm, Sunday 1pm to 8pm.

I've got a feeling I'm going to be a regular over the next several months.

Update on Vallejo

Ziggy Smogdust went over and checked out this new taco truck and really dug the tacos Tlaquepaque. I wasn't planning on going back anytime soon but decided on his recommendation to check them out myself. I've added a picture and some more observations to the original report here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Couple of BBQ Trailers

I seem to be starting to like barbecue again. It's been a while.

A few years back I OD'd on the stuff, especially the Central Texas, smoked meats variety. Every trip to Central Texas, and I made quite a few, I hit a succession of the famous places in Luling, Lockhart and Taylor, once even doing two within a couple of hours and on one occasion making a daytrip just for the purpose of eating 'cue at a couple of places and then heading for home. And I was ordering full orders at these places, not just sampling one slice of brisket, one rib, and moving on (no sides though, other than pickles, onions and white bread). Then, I'd had enough.

I've been avoiding the stuff for a few years now, and not just because Houston 'cue isn't quite as good - I was just tired of it. I've been to Pierson's a few times and it's certainly one of the best locally. I'm fortunate to live near Boogie's on the SW side and have been there several times and I think it may be better than Pierson's, but that's about it.

But with Boogie's still out of commission for the foreseeable future, apparently (they do make an awesome burger, btw) and Pierson's still not having moved down to the SW side to be more convenient, I got a hankering recently and thought I'd hit a couple of the places I've heard about.

Bar-B-Que Done Right

A trailer on Laura Koppe, just east of Homestead, off of 59N.

Laura Koppe is a 'furr peice' away from where I live (and a long way from being a scenic roadway) and when I found this place, there were no signs of life, no 'Open' sign, no smoke belching from the wagon. Fortunately, when I approached the window and it slid open I was hit in the face with a whoosh of hot smoky air and it smelled great.

After a brief discussion of the offerings and the ordering process (the smallest plate listed is three meats but he'll prepare a two meat plate on request, just giving you more of the two you select) I ordered some brisket, both fatty and lean, and ribs. Having read Robb Walsh's review of this place in the Press, I had decided in advance to forgo the sausage. The guy smiled and asked 'Did you read what Robb Walsh had to say?' Well, duh, yes I did. Don't all barbecue afficionados pay attention to what Walsh has to say? I guess maybe I looked like I just fell off a turnip truck out of East Texas on the ride over from 59.

He got busy making my plate and I stood back to bake in the sun. He did mention that in addition to the Walsh review, he's been visited by Texas Highways Magazine and will be in a feature - I think it's on bbq trailers as a Texas highway phenomenon - in the July issue.

There were more signs of life - more customers showed up, one to pick up a huge phone-in order, the others mostly ordering the chicken and turkey legs but having to make a second choice since those weren't ready, said the man. When I got my order, the parking lot was getting pretty crowded so I moved down the street a bit, pulled into the grass next to a ditch along the side of the road, and prepared to feast.

It smelled and looked great. I had asked for sauce on the side; this translated to the corner of the container which meant sauce underneath. Well, that's better than slathered all over the meat and it wasn't bad sauce anyway, not that the meats needed it.

The ribs were loaded with meat, tender as they should be, smoky, great. Not as good as the very best I've had at Boogie's but perhaps the equal of Pierson's and I liked the sauce better than Pierson's.

The brisket was another story. Tender, flavorful, excellent texture and a nice balance of lean and fatty, but virtually no smoke flavor. Actually, under the lighting conditions in the car, the smoke ring was even less apparent than under the flash. Now I like brisket, it's one of my favorite cuts of beef, and I've fixed it many times in the oven or in a huge stew pot on top of the stove, and I liked this brisket overall, it was very tasty, but it didn't qualify as barbecue for me because of the lack of smokiness.

The mashed potato salad had a strange, soapy taste. I could only manage a couple of nibbles at the time but I found when well chilled it was more palatable. I wonder if the bowl it had been mixed in had not been rinsed well after washing? Strange.

Besides the Constitutionally mandated pickles, onions and white bread I really liked the inclusion on the plate of the pickled vegetables - carrots, onions, pepper - a la a Mexican restaurant. That's a nice addition.

All in all I liked BBQ Done Right's barbecue and I'll be willing to give it another try and may recommend it be included in our next barbecue taste comparison.

Plantation Bar-B-Q

On US 90A eastbound, just east of Richmond, in front of Lev's, an auto repair shop.

Robb Walsh had included the brisket breakfast tacos from this wagon on his list of 100 favorite dishes and a friend of mine who lives in Sugar Land has also made me aware of it.

This is a quintessential Texas roadside scene, a homemade trailer parked under the shade of a big tree not 30 feet off the roadway; an overturned cable reel for a table and some tree stumps for seating - excellent. There are more stumps and a rack with pecan wood just out of the picture. What more do you need, a drive-thru with a squawk box and a playground for the kids?

But is this a taco trailer or a barbecue wagon? The menu on the left is breakfast tacos (besides the brisket tacos there were barbacoa, bacon and lengua as I recall); the menu in the middle is the lunch taco menu and the menu on the right is the sandwich/plate barbecue menu.

My sinuses had been doing their best impression of Niagara Falls for about 36 hours and I was little out of it this day; I asked if they made their own sausage and when the answer was no I passed on ordering the sausage, forgetting that there are some awesome Texas sausage makers out there and they might use one of them. I also forgot to specify some fatty brisket and sauce on the side. Fortunately I got some of the fatty portion and it was a modest amount of sauce, which wasn't bad anyway, although the brisket didn't need it.

The brisket was a just little less tender than I like and I could have used more of the fatty portions. It had only a mild smokiness but I thought it was very good. Pecan can be a little overwhelming but this was not. The potato salad was probably an institutional product but not bad but the real star of the plate for me were the beans. Look at the size of some of those babies! I'm pretty sure these were home-made, not only because of the size but the flavoring; these were straight forward pintos with out a lot of seasonings. Beans are one of Mother Nature's finest gifts and most of the time they're really doctored up in the preparation. Sometimes it's good to just have them highlighted on their own as they were here with minimal seasonings, probably just salt, pepper and some kind of animal fat. I could have eaten a couple of cups of those beans.

There was a big problem with the ribs, however. If you looked closely you might have noticed they seem to have a pretty thick crust. Unfortunately that's an understatement - much of the meat was almost charcoalized, i.e., as hard as charcoal and inedible. I had to throw about half the 'meat' away and I didn't get a good idea from the rest if they were really good although I did think they were promising.

It was a major disappointment but despite that I'm willing to give this place another try. I'm going to give the the benefit of the doubt that they don't serve ribs like that all the time but I do think they should have been able to tell when they were cutting them up that they were overdone. I hope I have better luck next time.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Banana Leaf

9889 Bellaire @ Corporate, # 311

We lost several of our Malaysian restaurants last year, at least three I think, including the two I was familiar with, Nyonya Grill down in Sugar Land and Kuala Lumpur on Bellaire. There's been a lot of buzz about Banana Leaf in the interim but I'm just getting around to trying it out. Got a craving for roti canai, what can I tell you?

I was surprised at the size of the place when I walked in. To tell the truth, I don't pay much attention to those details in the reviews I read (actually, I just look at the pictures), but I expected a banquet hall sized-room, packed with a throng of people. Instead, it's the size of your typical Houston hole-in-the-wall eatery, though much more nicely appointed than many. There was a throng - the tables are rather close together.

The roti canai was heavier than what I'd had before at Nyonya or K.L. and had picked up more oil than those, as I remember. Still I had no trouble finishing it off. While that's a bit of bad news the good news is, because of that I may actually have the will power to forgo one of these on every visit, thereby saving 5 or 600 calories, probably, and have room to try some dessert. The ginger dipping sauce was great.

I tried to order the Malaysian Buddhist, a vegetarian stir-fry, but the pretty and helpful young waitress said it wasn't very good and tried to steer me to some other dishes. I realized she might be assuming I'm not very adventurous but I didn't want to leave on my first visit actually having had a bad dish so I went with her advice and settled on the Eggplant/Shrimp stir-fry.

Whether I had been steered toward a dumbed down, Americanized dish or not became irrelevant when I tasted this; it was great. I'd had some very good dishes at K.L. and Nyonya but I believe this topped them all. I couldn't wait to go back.

This came with a separate pot of rice, about 4 cups worth and I also got the Hot Black Rose tea which has a very delicate, wonderful aroma. I dug into the rice the way the proprietor of Nyonya said is the way Malaysians do it, picking up clumps of it in the fingers. I noticed I was the only one in the restaurant doing this.

On another visit a few days later I wanted to order something off the lunch menu as I wasn't very hungry; I did forgo the roti canai but the dish I wanted - I think it was the Masak Lemak - the waitress (same one) said was not available. Hmmm. She tried to steer me toward a tofu dish or a pork chop dish but I wound up settling for a shrimp curry. It was a wonderfully savory curry, only mildly hot, not quite as awesome as the eggplant dish but still quite good.

While waiting, I saw several of their sizzling platters coming out and they looked incredible. I know what I want the next time (assuming it's available).

There are small flat screen video screens next to the tables along the walls on both sides which show a progression of pictures of their alluring dishes but both times the ones nearest me have been stuck on the crispy, fried calamari. Maybe they're trying to send me a message?

Banana Leaf

Fritanga Nica is moving

I got a note from Jonathan Cardoza of Fritanga Nica that the restaurant will be moving. They're having a going away party at the present location on the 20th. He didn't mention the new location but I'm sure it'll be announced on the website.

I was happy to be one of the first to discover and experience and report on this restaurant and got it listed on b4. It's turned out to be a big success story.

Fritanga Nica


And it's all Houston's fault, too. (Tee-hee-hee-hee-hee).

The Bansuri Indian food truck on Wilcrest is taking a summer hiatus. They'll be closed for almost two full months, until the end of July.

I managed to score some Bhel Puri on one of their last evenings.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mexican Pollo Grill

8599 W. Bellfort @ S. Gessner, next to a Citgo

Update 11/20/11: This unit has disappeared from it's long time post. In it's place is a similar vehicle dubbed Tacos El Valle with a typical taco truck menu and no mention of pollo asado.

This is one of several new street food vendors I've been happy to see appear in my neighborhood recently and I was eager to check it out. For a couple of years I've been regularly making a trek up to one of the El Norteno units on Longpoint or a yellow and red La Silla bus on Telephone, just off 610, when I've had the craving for some good pollo asado. In addition to the aggravation of the drive there's the aggravation of being driven crazy by the aroma of the food filling the car on the trip home. I've checked out numerous pollo asado providers on the southwest side, perhaps as many as a dozen, both mobile and brick and mortar, without finding any as good but this new unit is very promising.

Pollo Asado is the specialty, of course, though there's a pretty full menu, unlike the El Norteno buses. Mesquite is used, like La Silla, and you get the standard sides - rice, beans, salsa, onions, pepper, tortillas - but there are some pluses besides it being so close by. A problem with pollo asado is holding it until someone orders it and I've had orders from both El Norteno and La Silla (and other places) that had dried out from being held too long on the grill; so far, that fate has not befallen the birds from the Mexican Pollo Grill. Maybe I've just been lucky. The beans,as you may detect from the picture, include chopped up wiener (there are hot dogs on the menu here, too) and are very good, the fiery salsa is chipotle based, and, most importantly, the onions are caramelized rather than just baked or steamed, adding another dimension of flavor.

A very friendly lady presides over the very large kitchen on this former moving van, very fluent in both English and Spanish. I almost expect her to call me 'honey' when I order, like the waitresses at BBQ Inn. Besides pollo asado and hot dogs, there are huaraches, tortas, breakfast tacos, burritos, quesadillas and fajita tacos, plus nachos and nachos grande (for $5, with fajita meat), chocolate cake, lemonade, and .. tada...jello salads!

The sign in the window says they're open 9 to 7, 6 days a week, but they've been missing a couple of times over the last couple of months when I've sought them out.

Prior to the arrival of this unit, the best Pollo Asado I've found on the SW side is the Argueta Pollo Asado wagon reliably parked on S. Fondren at W. Airport which turns out dependably juicy (not dried out) chicken but has mediocre sides (canned beans, I think, maybe instant Mexican rice, if such a product exists).

This unit is unconventional in a number of ways, from the vehicle to the name to the menu and recipes. I'm happy to have it in the neighborhood.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Taqueria Vallejo

on Bissonnet, directly across from the entrance to Sharpstown Hi

Vallejo or Vallarta - what's the difference? When I first spotted this truck I was confused. One of my favorite taco trucks on the southwest side has been Taqueria Vallarta which used to be situated much further out on Bissonnet near Dairy Ashford. A unit of Taqueria Vallejo replaced that one and, now, there's a Vallejo very close to my house.

Tacos estilo Tlaquepaque are specialties of both, as are gringas. I had my first samples of both at Vallarta a couple of years ago and that's still the best gringa I've had. So besides similar names they have very similar menus.

Tlaquepaque is an arts and crafts district in Guadalajara. Tacos estilo Tlaquepaque means the tacos (barbacoa) are served topped with a salsa that includes the broth the meats were cooked in, like a savory, spicy gravy. When I had them at Vallarta I didn't understand this and when I got home discovered there were no onions and cilantro, nor had I been offered any. It turns out that's the way they're served; they'll put some on if you request, but it's not the typical presentation. Vallarta sold me just two of these but at Vallejo they're offered as a plate with five tacos for $5. That's 10 corn tortillas and probably about 10 oz. of barbacoa, topped with the sauce (they'll serve that on the side to add later if you prefer) and limes. I didn't get a picture of the Tlaquepaque plate but I did get a picture of the menu on the truck which shows it.

Judging by the picture of the tacos swimming in sauce you might need a fork or even a spoon to eat these. These sound and look like what's known in El Paso as 'drunken tacos,' although I think those involve a tomato sauce topping.

Five tacos seemed like a bit much to me so I went for a gringa and a fajita gordita.

A gringa is al pastor meat, avocado and queso in a folded flour tortilla, grilled. The meat was a little tough but vividly seasoned; the tortilla was store-bought and not very fresh so this was not as good as the best I've had but not bad. The gordita was good.

It's been difficult to find really good taco trucks around my neighborhood but there have been several new units show up recently and I'm eager to check them all out. I'm happy to find this one and I'll be trying it again. But sorry, senor, I gotta have my cebolla y cilantro fix or I get irritable.

Revisit: Ziggy Smogdust reported visiting this truck and trying the Tacos Tlaquepaque and said they were really good so I made another stop.

I got some to go with salsa on the side and added it at home. The tortillas are the smaller, 4" size, and there is no where near 10 ozs. of barbacoa, probably no more than 3 or 4 so it's not as huge a meal as I thought. The salsa was thick like a gravy and very good. This is really a very good choice on this truck and much better than what I had at Taqueria Vallarta a couple of years ago. The salsa there was very thin and runny and I didn't know they were supposed to be smothered in the salsa and used just a little of it. I used all the salsa I got here and even though mine were not swimming in it like the picture on the truck, they were quite messy to deal with. I loved this dish and I love the concept. I wonder if there are other, similar presentations?

And you don't really need the onions and cilantro.

The Lunch Bag

9900 S. Gessner @ S. Braeswood

This new truck popped up right in my neighborhood and I was very eager to rush right over and try it out. Not only is it convenient, it's one of the growing number of mobile vendors offering something other than or in addition to the usual tacos, quesadillas, burritos, etc.

So of course, I show you a picture of a couple of tacos...but they're a little bit different. The best thing I've had here was the Caribbean Jerk taco on the right, meaty chunks of chicken breast with jerk sauce, lettuce and tomatoes on a flour tortilla. I've also enjoyed a Buffalo taco, golden fried chicken tender chunks in a Buffalo sauce, also with lettuce and tomatoes. This wasn't as appealing to me because I don't care for hot wings or Buffalo sauce but the pieces of chicken were crisply fried making me think some of their other offerings will be good, too.

Less successful for me was the Blackened Fish taco, on the left in the picture, blackened tilapia with lettuce and tomatoes plus tartar sauce. Many people might find this just fine but tilapia is such a bland fish and I thought it needed a more assertive fish presence as well as a more assertive use of blackened spices. The whole thing was dominated by the tartar sauce for me. The tacos are served rolled.

I've also tried the jambalaya, a daily special one day (not listed among the regular daily specials) but I'm at something of a loss to assess jambalaya since I've had it only a handful of times and it's not something I usually order at a Cajun restaurant. It had a nice heat level with generous chunks of chicken breast meat and a rather salty beef sausage but the shrimp were frozen I think and the seasonings were lacking in complexity. I also would have liked more evidence of the veggies in the mirepoix.

The folks running the truck are very nice. There's a small tent at the end of the truck with some chairs to wait out of the sun but no tables. They occasionally take a day off (besides Sunday) because of catering or other commitments.

This end of town and my neighborhood in particular has not been fertile ground for mobile food vendors nor for those of us who like street food. While we have two of the very best in the Bansuri Indian Food Corner and Boogie's, the majority of the rest I've sampled do a competent but not spectacular job. I'm glad to see The Lunch Bag set up shop and I hope they make it. It sure is nice to have a change of pace on a food truck menu and one so close to me. Grits on a taco truck (on the breakfast menu)? Alright! And I'm interested to make it back over there for the fried catfish and sweet potato fries on a Friday.

The menu undergoes changes, especially the daily specials. The jambalaya I had one day is not listed, nor was the fried chicken dinner (2 wings, cabbage, toast and one other vegetable) on another day. Prices may vary too.

The Lunch Bag

Sunday, June 6, 2010


6121 Hillcroft # T

I first saw this Pakistani grocery store when I checked out Dilpasand Mithai next door and have been meaning to get back over there but I've been avoiding Hillcroft because of all the construction. Traffic in the area is about back to normal but ironically I was stuck in a traffic jam along there recently so I decided it was time to check it out.

It's much smaller than Savoy, the Pakistani grocery on Wilcrest, about the size of a convenience store. The emphasis seems to be on ready-to-eat and convenience foods rather than staples. There is much less of the bulk rice and flour and lots of chaat. The freezer and cooler displays are much smaller and the Halal meat case is smaller, though well stocked.

I was fascinated by the vast array of products and picked up some of the same items I've seen at Savoy for slightly less, although I couldn't guarantee that advantage would hold across the whole product line.

I found the zeera cookies (cumin) that I liked so much, this brand unsalted, moister and flakier, fresher tasting, and even more addictive, tea rusks and mixes. I picked up a Bhel Puri mix that I thought was produced here in Houston but upon closer examination of the label realized it was just imported by a Houston company. The package included the puffed rice and crackers (papdi or papri?) plus peanuts, a packet of masala and a packet of sev, the small crisp noodles, plus instructions on how to add vegetables to produce the final dish.

The breads in the fresh bread rack felt warm to the touch but by the time I got home with a loaf it no longer was. I picked up some baladi from Sahara Bakery on Richmond. It turns out this is an Egyptian peasant flat bread, a little fluffier than pita, and it was quite good, better than the masala naan I picked up from the refrigerated cases at Savoy, and toasts up very nicely in a toaster.

In an alcove in the corner is a small sweets bar offering two kinds of falooda, kulfi, lassi and gola ganda, the Pakistani version of a snow cone, and a few other things.

I had seen Sahara Bakery (9542 Richmond) before and always meant to check it out. After trying the baladi, I looked it up on line. A new website is under construction; the shopping center has undergone renovation and apparently the business has been downsized and the picture on the website is not what the strip center looks like now. I went interested in trying the restaurant but it is no longer in operation. I browsed the aisles only briefly and picked up some pickled vegetables that included wild cucumbers and noted the loaves of bread were definitely still warm from the ovens so I'll be going back to pick up some bread (there are only 3 or 4 varieties I think) when I use up what I've got.