Friday, August 29, 2008

Sightings - Chicago foods

ACCORDING TO B4-U-EAT.COM TROY'S HAS CLOSED. That's a shame as he did a very good Chicago Italian Beef. I'm going to try to find out more.

Troy's Dawg House Grill
5204 Live Oak

Sandwiches have been on the menu a lot lately. In addition to trying a couple of the muffalottas and other sandwiches posted about recently I've tried a couple of new sandwich places, without much satisfaction until I happened on this place.

It's easy to miss, just a couple of doors south of Southmore on Live Oak, east of 288. It's not much to look at inside or out but in the 6 months he's been open, Troy has become a popular 3rd Ward neighborhood spot. The place was full for lunch; many of the customers were on a first name basis.

Troy is from Chicago and he's offering Chicago specialties like Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches and Maxwell Street Polish sausage but the menu also includes gyros, burgers, a brat sandwich, a Vienna Tamale boat, chicken wings and 7 flavors of Hank's Ice Cream. There is pizza on the menu but not deep dish.

I've never cared for the Chicago-style hot dog but the Chicago Italian Beef sandwich is one of the greatest sandwich inventions and Troy does a good one, perhaps the best I've ever had in Houston. Though he uses Vienna Beef provisions for some of his offerings, unlike other eateries specializing in Chicago dishes here he does not use their pre-cooked beef, he makes his own from scratch. The beef is coarsely chopped and shredded, there are huge chunks and shreds of tender, melt-in-your-mouth beef - I calculated about 12 ounces on the traditional roll from Gonnella Baking Co. I ordered mine wet, which means the whole sandwich is dipped in the au jus. The sturdy Gonnella roll holds up to the juice and becomes a treat in itself. The giardiniera was less spicy that some I've had but okay.

All orders come with fries; for $6.25 it was a lot of food.

Places offering Chicago specialties here don't tend to last long. He hasn't got a great spot for his grill but I hope Troy makes it. I'll be going back for the Italian beef and the Maxwell Street Polish, which I've never had.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gotta Muffalotta?

In the interest of full disclosure, I've never had one of these in New Orleans so I can't comment on 'authenticity' of the bread, balance of ingredients, etc., from that standpoint, only my experiences and taste buds here in Houston. However, I have just seen the re-run of the 'Sandwiches You Will Like' show on Channel 8 which had a segment on the original as served in New Orleans.

More or less in the order of preference, from the top: Spec's Liquor Warehouse Deli, downtown, loaded, everything seems in proper proportion to me, olive salad next to the bread on both halves of the loaf, as it should be. The quarter sandwich photographed better than the half sandwich.

Candelari's on Washington. Kind of a fu-fu presentation for this working stiff's sandwich but good. I liked Candelari's best a couple of years ago but I think they changed something (made it bigger so a half sandwich is all I can handle, for one thing).

District 7 Grill, Midtown location in the sleek diner on Pierce almost underneath the Pierce Elevated. No sesame seeds, but this may be the best bread; the online menu says there's turkey in there but I think that's a misprint. Mine had ham, salami, cheese; olive salad between the meats, preventing it from permeating the bread like it should. The olive salad was more like a giardinara than the others with cauliflower, celery, etc., and not enough olive-y taste for me.

Ragin' Cajun on Richmond. I was surprised at this one. I picked it up to go so maybe there was some shifting of cargo on the way home but I don't think so; still, there was almost nothing between the bread on one quarter of the sandwich.

Maceo's, Galveston. Also surprised at this one. Pre-made, they asked if I wanted it heated and I said yes so they zapped it in a microwave briefly. Part of the sandwich was almost too hot to put in my mouth, part of it was still room temp. I thought this one had the skimpiest ingredients.

Mandola's Deli on Leeland serves a Deluxe Paisano which they also refer to as a muffaletta; it appears to just be one of their regular po'boys (on a po'boy roll) with olive salad added.



District 7 Grill

Rajin' Cajun

Friday, August 22, 2008

Cruising for Street Food: Bissonnet

Bissonnet - Chimney Rock to Synott

Taqueria Tampico Hermosa - @ Fondren (see Torta de la Barda on my blog; not the best example of this sandwich)


Mi Bonito Michoacan - between Gessner and S. Braeswood in front of a convenience store - looks like a twin to Laoxaqueno on Harwin but with a menu on the side. This one caught my eye because it lists enchiladas con guilotes and flautas con pollo - quail on a taco trailer? That’s unique. On the first visit I saw another menu that just lists enchiladas o flautas con pollo so maybe there’s no quail? The plates are $10 so I decided to spring for a couple of tacos on my first visit. The al pastor was very flavorful and juicy, relatively large chunks of tender meat, a little fatty and quite greasy - it was excellent although there was no hint of pineapple. The barbacoa was very bland by comparison; also comparatively larger pieces of meat and somewhat fatty. They were served on flour tortillas with lettuce and tomato - I wasn’t asked my preferences for either. The barbacoa had some peppers in it but no salsas accompanied the tacos. Another customer lauded the enchiladas and also the quesadillas, which are $5.

Taqueria La Tacasita
- a big bus 1 block w. of BW 8 - been there for a long time, sometimes parked but not open for days or even weeks at a time. I went once; it was pretty Americanized fare. When open it does a good business.

Taqueria Mi Linda Huetamo # 1 - between Wilcrest and Kirkwood, sometimes not there, sometimes very busy; I’ve never stopped but I do think this is not the same owner as the excellent truck with the same name but # 2 on Hillcroft

Taqueria y Pupuseria El Invasor - 11916 Bissonnet. A new addition. (Reviewed on this blog).

Taqueria Vallarta - 12300 block just before Dairy Ashford In front of Carniceria La Michoacan # 28 - I went several times a couple of years ago attracted by the sign on the side proclaiming en estilo Tlaquepaque (an arts and crafts district in Guadalajara) which means the salsa has broth from the stewing pot added to it. I got tacos that had a combo of barbacoa and lengua but came without onions or cilantro (got it to go and didn’t realize it until I got home - I hadn't been asked if I wanted them). This is where I discovered Piratas and Gringas and they were excellent. NOTE: I'VE SINCE DISCOVERED YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO DRENCH THE TACOS WITH THE SAUCE INSTEAD OF USING JUST A SMALL AMOUNT AND THESE ARE TYPICALLY SERVED WITHOUT ONIONS AND CILANTRO.

A gringa (on the left in the picture) is a thick flour tortilla folded over a filling of al pastor meat, avocado and queso then toasted on a grill like a quesadilla; a pirata is the same with fajita meat. At least that’s what the names means here. I’ve tried gringas at several other places (they aren’t as common as tacos, tortas, quesadillos or burritos) and never had better. This place does a good business. NOTE THIS TRUCK HAS DISAPPEARED AND IN ITS PLACE A BUS AND TRUCK LABELED TAQUERIA VALLEJO, USUALLY ONLY THE BUS IS OPEN. THE MENU IS SIMILAR TO VALLARTA PLUS POLLO ASADO AND IT’S DOING A GOOD BUSINESS. THERE IS ALSO A TAQUERIA VALLEJO UNIT RIGHT ACROSS FROM SHARPSTOWN HIGH WHICH WILL BE REPORTED ON SEPARATEDLY ON THIS BLOG

Taqueria Yolis - across the street from Vallarta/Vallejo, The sign proclaims Super Tacos but I didn't inquire what that means. There for a couple of months then disappeared but has recently reappeared. I tried a gringa and a pirata here about 6 months ago. They weren’t bad but not as good as Vallarta across the street. A specialty is the Torta Norteno which I haven’t tried but probably gives a hint as to the regional emphasis of the food. I was told it includes both al pastor and fajita among other things. The tortillas were store bought and not very good.

Some units move regularly; these lists are often out-dated within a few days of being published. It has proved to be impossible to keep them updated.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Myung Dong - Menu, pics

See the Myung Dong report here.

Prices and dishes may vary at the restaurant.

This was the Hae-Mul-Pa-Jun packed into a box to go.

There were three layers of the pancake.

This was the banchan that accompanied the pancake.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Kasra Persian Grill

9741 Westheimer @ Gessner

Kasra was the first Persian restaurant I ever tried a year and a half ago or so and I left somewhat disappointed. Uncharacteristically I had gone without doing any prior research to refresh what I had read in reviews and I was overwhelmed by the menu. Maybe I just made some bad choices that day, or maybe not.

I had tried the torshi, an appetizer described as various pickled vegetables. I love pickles so I thought I couldn’t go wrong but it turned out to be a relish consisting, I think, of minced carrot, broccoli, slivered garlic, onion, herbs ad spices and oil, with a characteristic Persian twist - lots of lemon. I couldn’t finish the small portion. (I have since been advised there are thousands of variations of this home-cooking staple, but I haven’t tried it anywhere else). The taftoon, the Persian version of a flatbread, I thought was rather boring, thin, like a saltine without the salt. I had also tried the doogh, the Persian yogurt drink. Once again, I like yogurt drinks but this variation has the addition of carbonated water and I thought the carbonation overpowered the yogurt making this a yogurt drink for people who don’t like yogurt.

My entree had been more successful, the Beef Kubideh, minced beef, onions, garlic, etc., but rather bland until, half way thru the meal, I discovered the ‘Persian spice’ on the table which really helped. The waiter, who really tried hard, couldn’t come up with a translation for the spice so just called in ‘Persian Spice.’ I have since learned it was sumac, a ubiquitous offering, always on the table at Persian restaurants. I have also read it is customary for the restaurant not to add any to the dishes so the diner can add it to taste.

The real star of the meal was the white basmati rice with saffron which I could not stop eating despite the fact it was a very large portion. I grew up in Brazoria County, Texas, home of the TexMati rice brand and where rice is a major crop, and I love rice but this was the most spectacular rice I had ever had.

It was a long time before I ventured into one of our city’s Persian restaurants again but recently, having a little more experience under my belt at Bijan, Café Caspian and Saffron, I decided it was time to try Kasra again - I really wanted to like it.

This visit was more successful although not without it’s own disappointments. For some reason, they were unable to serve Tah Digh, the crispy rice which I wanted as an appetizer. I settled for the Lentil Soup and while it was good it was nothing special. Lentils can either be very boring or, with the right seasonings, exciting and this tended toward the former. In addition the taftoon, a much smaller portion than before, had been delivered cool; I suspected it had been baked quite some time before.

But the entree this time was spectacular. Though I saw the ghormeh sabzi and zereshk polo being served at other tables (at Kasra, the zereshk (barberry) is served in a separate bowl to be ladled over the rice as one desires - it can be added to the basic white basmati rice with saffron on any entree for an extra charge) I went instead for the Shishleek. In online discussions of Persian cuisine this is usually described as grilled lamb chops but at Kasra it is chunks of beef tenderloin, cooked to order, and chicken breast accompanied by the white basmati rice and grilled vegetables, which included tomato, onion, bell pepper and zucchini. None of it needed any sumac but I used some anyway and came away very satisfied despite the minor disappointments in the appetizers and bread.

There doesn’t appear to be much difference between the Persian restaurants in our city; prices and menus are comparable at Kasra, Bijan, Café Caspian and Saffron (I’ve also been to Darband Shishkabob which did not impress and is just a kaboberrie anyway). One dish may be better at this restaurant, another dish at another. Kasra and Café Caspian are both table service but not that much more elegant than Bijan and Saffron (Bijan offers both counter service and table service, Saffron is counter service only).

I will continue to investigate them all as there are many more dishes I’m interested in trying.

The Russian General Store

Hillcroft at South Braeswood

I’ve seen this place before many times when stopping at the bagel shop across the way but never realized what a treasure trove it is. The name General Store doesn’t convey food to me but this place is mostly about food. It’s a small but very well stocked ethnic grocery and deli with an incredible array of goods not only from Russia but also from Lithuania, Hungary and Romania among other countries. Many of the labels are only in Russian but there is good English signage. There’s a very sizeable deli section with an extensive selection of meats, especially sausages including many salamis to try. There are beers and wines and non-alcoholic beverages. I picked up an excellent bologna and some veal roll that was very good on my first visit plus some iced ginger cookies with a moist center that turned out to be cranberry and were very good for packaged, store-bought cookies. In the prepared foods department I’ve tried the pierogies and sauerkraut; they also have a small selection of produce at prices competitive with local supermarkets.

On subsequent visits I’ve tried the home-made pickles. They make two varieties, cucumbers in low-salt brine and sours. The sours turned out to be closer to half-sours and they were very good, about as good as the Batampte brand at about half the cost, but not as good or as interesting as the pickles at Golden Grain.. There are some different herbs and spices including a little celery and julienne of carrot and possibly flat leaf parsley. There have also been on one occasion some mild off-flavors, possibly resulting from the fact they didn’t trim the stem or blossom ends. I’ve experienced off-flavors in Batampte’s before, too, and made half-sours many times - its usually only a minor detraction. They have some other pickled items they make themselves including sauerkraut and pickled cherry tomatoes plus selections of branded pickles of several varieties on the shelves. The shelves are very crowded and the store cramped - expect to spend a lot of time looking around when you go.

Another customer recommended the Olivier salad and I was very grateful as I had never tried it before and wouldn’t have been inclined to as it looks like an ordinary potato salad with very small dice and not very interesting. This is the Russian version of potato salad with carrots, peas, onions, egg, mayonnaise and bologna - it’s very good. Since being introduced to it I’ve also had this at Golden Grains and Phoenicia, both of which I like just a little better than this version, but they're all three good.

Another package of the filled cookies had a translation on the back which reads ‘Scalded spice cakes of long term storage with sugar icing with fruit and berry filling - black currant.’ They were very good, better than the cranberry version, although a little stale - the ‘long term storage’ potential had been pushed to the limit. The list of ingredients also included apple sauce and coriander and they also come with a cherry filling. These were more like mini fruit-filled cupcakes than cookies. Unfortunately their product line varies and on my most recent visit, none of these were available.

Among their breads on my first visit I thought the soft, pillowy buns looked awfully good and very similar to the lepinja at Café Pita + on Westheimer. When I got them home and tried them I realized they probably are lepinja from the Bosnian place. On my most recent visit the packages now carry the Café Pita + label.

This place is a real plus. My favorites have been the bologna, pickles, and Olivier salad and the lepinja, so far. Nice to know I can get the latter so close to home without having to drive all the way out to the Bosnian food store next to Café Pita +.

The picture shows cucumbers in low-salt brine, lepinja, ginger cookies, bologna, Alpino salami, smoked tongue sausage, and Olivier Salad. Unfortunately they had a different brand of bologna this time around, also, and it’s not quite as good as the other brand I’ve bought there but I hadn’t had a bologna sandwich in decades until I discovered these meats and now I enjoy a honking big bologna sandwich every now and then. I have to try some of the mustards they have available, including an in-house made hot mustard.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sheba Cafe Menus

Prices and dishes at the restaurant may differ.

Mobile Vendors with Specialty Fare

I am not following the food truck scene as closely as I did for a while in 2010. There have been many new trucks hitting the streets, many of them, unfortunately, aimed at the bar crowd. At one time I think I had the most complete list of these 'chef-driven trucks' and vendors offering ethnic cuisines other than Mexican, but no more. The Houston Food Trucks site is keeping track of the former, anyway, and EatDrinkHouston keeps track of the tweets of a few of the most popular ones.

And what to call this category? Gourmet?, Chef-driven?, Gastro-carts?, Luxe Loncheras? I'm at a loss but I like to create categories and these vendors are clearly different than the loncheras and other mobile vendors mostly aimed at the working classes - different, oh so trendy, but not necessarily better.
Since I do not have much of a sweet tooth haven't visited any of that variety but I list them anyway.

Bare Bowls Truck,
, report here.

Bernie's Burger Bus - a school bus serving grass-fed Black Angus beef burgers. Check their Twitter page for the schedule. Picture here. A second unit is in the works and apparently also a brick-and-mortar operation for downtown.

Chi'Lantro - another Korean-Mexican fusion truck and another truck from an Austin operator.  Kimchi fries are supposed to be good; I've had the 'burger' with pork (Korean pulled pork) and would definitely order again - nice balance of ingredients, great, fresh bun.

CM Roadie - a food truck from Central Market.

Cooper's Po-Boy Express - New Orleans style po-boys. Report here.

CoreanosHTx - a Houston based unit of a popular Austin truck, 'Mexican Cuisine with Korean in the Middle.' Reviewed here.

Frosted Betty, a bakery in Katy with a mobile unit (see the Contact page).

Fusion Taco, gourmet Asian fusion tacos. Website and Twitter.

Green Seed Vegan - picture here.

Gypsy Donuts

Htownstreats, a truck with a varied menu, on Twitter, reviewed here.

It's a Wrap! Truck

Kurbside Eatz
Comfort food with an Asian Twist.  Reviewed here. Melange Creperie - on Facebook and on Twitter, in the parking lot of Mango's, 403 Westheimer, reviewed here, not mobile but one of our best street food stops.

No Borders - a truck from Sylvia's Enchiladas. Keep up with the schedule on Twitter. Reviewed here.

PiPizza Truck - "Gourmet pizza without the attitude. It's pizza, it's supposed to be fun."

Oh My! Pocket Pies, reviewed here.

Roasted, a mobile bistro and catering service still in the construction phase.


Sub-on-the-Way, Houston's first kosher taco truck?, spotted a long time ago but not seen in months.

The Cupcake Coach

The Lunch Bag, a truck with different ingredients for tacos, daily plate lunch specials, some Cajun specialties and breakfasts. Reviewed here.

The Rolling Hunger, Vietnamese-Mexican-Korean; fusion tacos, quesadillas, banh mi. Pictures here.

What's up Cupcake

Zilla Street Eats, 'big spicy street food like a fire breathing chicken' - on Facebook and Twitter.

See also the list of International Vendors and other taco truck reports on this blog.

Cruising for Street Food: South side

I spend some time on the south side occasionally, around South Post Oak, Hiram Clarke, West Orem and West Fuqua, as well as passing through the area occasionally. It's an interesting area; most of the brick and mortar restaurants are not listed on b4-u-eat and there are sure to be some neighborhood gems. I've noted many mobil units, especially along S. Post Oak where I've seen as many as 9 on one trip, and stopped at several. Many stay only a short time, others have been there for as long as I've been passing through the area. One reason possibly is the presence of a commissary just north of W. Orem on S. Post Oak, one of the places where the units have to go for cleaning and restocking. This is a list of the most recent inventory that I've observed.

S. Post Oak, Loop 610 to Hwy 6
(everything below S. Main)

Taqueria Don Felix
@ Allum - this one may not be operational

Tacos and Burritos To Go
@ Brookstone - never seen this one before

Pupuceria Ramirez - just north of W. Orem; I've reported on this one in Quick Bites IV. Recently it has not been open when I've been down that way. UPDATE: Missing for several months, this one has been replaced by a trailer (perhaps the same one re-painted) named Pupusas y Tacos La Benedicion.

Taqueria Ayala Pollo Asado
and Esparza Pollo Asado - dueling pollo asado wagons across from each other at W. Orem and S. Post Oak. I've stopped at both and wasn't very impressed. The aroma from Esparza often wafts across the intersection and is very enticing but I found the chicken to have an unpleasant metallic taste.

Sometimes there is also a bbq wagon on this corner - Jus Smokin’

There is a no-name Taco & Pupusa truck @ Heatherbrook. I’ve been down this way frequently in the last year and there is almost always a unit at this location in front of Variedades Sinai Pupuseria but they have changed several times.

Tacos Don Beto DF - @ Grapevine; this was reported on also on this blog on Quick Bites II at another location.

Taqueria Tacoocho - @ a Conoco station @ BW 8, reported on on this blog.

Taqueria Salmanca - BW 8 @ S. Post Oak, across Post Oak from Tacoocho, mentioned in the report on Tacoocho. I tried just one item, a taco de mollejas.

At West Orem @ Hiram Clarke is a unit with the intriguing name Taqueria Los Mangos de la India Bonito. I've seen it there for a long time but it seldom is doing any business. Despite the exotic name (India in Spanish should refer to the West or East Indies, not India the country) there is nothing on the menu that is out of the ordinary for a taco truck.

W. Fuqua @ Hiram Clarke
- Taqueria D’Molkas - appears to be a brand new unit with a ‘grand opening’ sign by the street; on the menu are adobado and deshebrada.

W. Orem @ Monrad
, 1 blk e. of Hiram Clarke - Chilangos - reported on on this blog.

Note: Some units move regularly; these lists are often out-dated within a few days of being published. It has proved to be impossible to keep them up to date.

Argentina Cafe Menu scans

Prices and dishes may differ at the restaurant.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Texas Sausage Trail - Summer Sausages

I got into summer sausage as a snack a few years ago while trying the Adkins Diet and discovered some very good ones from our Texas sausage makers, much better than the nationally distributed ones like Hormel and Armour. I wasn't that impressed with the more widely distributed Texas brands, Burton and Blue Ribbon (just guessing on distribution here) but Chappell Hill and Holmes both make very good summer sausages and that’s only the beginning.

J Bar B out of Waelder makes a good one as I recall though I’ve only been able to get my hands on it twice (at Fiesta in Houston). J Bar B also produces the Earl Campbell brand but I didn’t care for that one very much. Eckermann’s from New Ulm also has a pretty decent one. Eckermann's may be available at Super WalMarts.

Still, I preferred to seek out the even smaller producers, some selling only on premises at small town butcher shops, smokehouses and meat markets. I really liked the 3 varieties from Vincek’s Smokehouse in East Bernard, regular, hot pepper cheese and black pepper encrusted, especially the pepper cheese one. They’re larger than usual. The picture shows a beef and pork link, black pepper encrusted summer sausage, hot pepper cheese summer sausage and a solitary piece of peppered jerky. I like to zap the cheese one briefly in the microwave until the cheese starts to melt and the fats run a little.

I also had a very good one several years ago that I found at Hinze’s Barbecue in Wharton, Poffenberger’s from Bellville Meat Market but haven’t seen it there since. It was an awesome black pepper encrusted one but apparently they’ve dropped that variety from their line. Poffenberger’s jalapeno cheese variety won a taste test last year but I have a couple of others I like better.

City Market in Schulenburg produces an unusual summer sausage that technically isn’t a summer sausage since it requires refrigeration. It includes beef and pork heart and brown sugar, among other things, giving it a flavor reminiscent of maple smoked bacon. Not my favorite but very good.

Jr.’s Texas Best in Mackay, on US 59 just north of El Campo, has several varieties, including a venison, cheese and jalapeno that is good. That’s the only one of their’s I’ve tried but I believe they also have buffalo summer sausages.

I recently tried a couple of summer sausages from B&W Meat Co. in Houston on North Shepherd outside the Loop, a venison and a jalapeno/cheese/beef one and wasn’t very impressed. B&W makes a large variety of sausages but a problem with summer sausages occasionally is small bits of bone and both the B&W summer sausages had more bits of bone and bigger pieces of bone than I’ve ever encountered and the beef one had gristle, too, something I’ve never encountered in any other summer sausage.

The best I have encountered is the jalapeno cheese summer sausage from Maeker’s in Shiner recently and it is excellent.

And then there are the dry sausages, and jerkies,’s a rich field in which to indulge your taste buds.

Bellville Meat Market
Jr.'s Texas Best

See also the reviews of Maeker's and Vincek's on the sidebar.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Five Guys Burgers and Fries - UPDATED

This East Coast chain has opened a location in Rosenberg, 24004 Southwest Freeway, one of only 3 in Texas. I've heard about this chain for years; it gets lots of good reviews on national boards like and is often compared to In-and-Out on the West Coast.

I've never eaten at either but we do have a couple of places around Houston that have been likened to In-and-Out, notably Tornado Burger in Stafford (awful) and Wild Kitchen on Stella Link (not bad).

I'll have to check these new guys out when I get a craving for a burger.

Five Guys

UPDATE (after one visit): In a word, underwhelming. The ordering system is too much for some people - the lady in front of me took 10 minutes to decide what to get for her family. Took quite a while to get the food but the burger itself was not hot when delivered. Fries were good while hot and greasy but when they cooled to near room temp, the bitterness of the potato skins kicked in and made them unpalatable.

I liked the free salted-in-the-shell peanuts - I could fill up on them.

I wouldn't go out of my way for another visit; definitely would prefer Whataburger if I was settling for a fast food burger, might even prefer a Wendy's if I was willing to settle for a room temp burger as opposed to a sizzling hot one.

They need a smaller fry option.

Nyonya Grill - Malaysian/Mongolian - CLOSED


5201 Hwy 6 S, Suite 750, Missouri City, between Dulles and FM 1092/Murphy, set back from the highway on the north side.

This was my first experience with Malaysian food (but not my only experience now) and I was not initially very impressed but the place has grown on me on subsequent visits and it has become one of my favorite new finds.

On my first visit the Beef Rendang was recommended as a very typical Malaysian dish. I wouldn’t say the dish was bad but the combination of beef and coconut (the meat is stewed in coconut milk) just didn’t appeal to me. Neither did the dry, Malaysian style of curry (the dish is simmered until the liquid is all absorbed - the meat is very tender and well-flavored by the seasonings, I just didn't like the coconut flavoring of the beef). However, the appetizer roti canai (ROH tee cha NIGH) with ginger dipping sauce was really good, described as an Indian pancake it is griddle cooked, light, a little fluffy and crispy. I compared it to a beignet minus the powdered sugar.

On a subsequent visit I was much more impressed with the Crispy Golden Fried Squids. The waitress’ eyes lit up when I ordered it; she said it was very good, and it was. It was not quite as crispy as I would prefer fried foods, a little too salty, but with a very nice light batter and very tasty. It was described on the menu as hot and spicy but it was neither by my standards..

On another visit I had the Hot and Spicy Shrimp Rice and it did have a nice heat level. A small problem has been that both times I’ve ordered the roti canai the entree has been delivered before the appetizer and the shrimp was so aromatic and appealing, sitting there steaming in front of me, and I couldn’t wait.

The owners and staff have been very friendly. A gentleman, I presume the owner, greeted me on my third visit and checked on me frequently during the meal. He observed me tearing the roti in pieces and dipping it in the sauce and commented that is the way it should be done (you are presented with Western style eating implements) and also said that Malays eat their sticky rice with their fingers. I was a little disbelieving at first but once I tried it discovered it works very well - you stick your fingers into the mound of rice and pinch a clump off and take it to your mouth. You get a finger bowl and napkins at the end of the meal.

You get a very large portion of the rice, surely in excess of 2 cups, and I was quite full and had only finished half of it when the owner started clearing my table. He observed I had some of the ginger dipping sauce from the roti left and said Malays would pour that over the rice so I did that and voila!, a tasty new twist on rice and gravy. I finished off most of the remaining rice and left overly full.

I’ve had the Teh Tarik, a hot Malaysian milk tea that looked like horchata and was good. I looked this up and mine didn’t have any froth on top so maybe they don’t have anyone on staff who’s developed the special skill?

The Malaysian coffee, hot or cold, is sweetened with condensed milk (the tea is too) and comes in a beer mug.

My understanding is that this place replaced a Mongolian Barbecue place at another location and kept that on the menu, then when they moved to this new location they also continued that. I’ve taken a look at the ‘buffet’ but haven’t yet tried it . About half the customers in the restaurant when I’ve visited have been taking the grill option. The lunch special price (11-3) is $7.99, at night it’s $10.99. Meats and veggies only are available during the day and seafood is added to the possible ingredients at night. The restaurant ticket read Bohot Mongolian Grill and Bakery, the former name of the place.

On my most recent visit a sign taped to the door advertised a new dish, roti jala with chicken, beef or lamb curry. Actually there was whole page of new dishes that have been added to the menu. Roti jala is referred to as Malaysia’s favorite bread. There was also Kangkung cuttlefish (kangkung is a water spinach) and a new belancan dish (a fermented Malaysian shrimp paste) and many more. The menu is full of interesting sounding dishes and I look forward to more visits. With the friendly helpful staff and intriguing menu selections this place is beginning to remind me of my early visits to Himalaya, Chef Kayser’s great Pakistani restaurant on Hillcrroft.

Re: the pictures: I dine out almost exclusively at lunch because of more modest prices and serving sizes - it makes it easier for me to keep from over-eating. The hot and spicy shrimp pictured is from the lunch menu (11a-3p) but the fried squid is from the regular menu.

Nyonya Grill Note the menu prices on line are outdated.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Alebrije - Bandeja Paisa Smackdown Part 3 - CLOSED

UPDATE: This restaurant has closed. A new restaurant in the same space named Sur serving South American cuisines was supposed to be opening but there are for lease signs in the windows.

5710 Bellaire Blvd.

This is probably the nicest restaurant along this stretch of Bellaire and it’s a very comfortable space. There are sofas and easy chairs around the edges of the dining room and a platform for live music. On my first visit I had the place almost entirely to myself for lunch but lately the place has been getting busier.

On my first visit I had the Bandeja Paisa, the traditional Colombian dish, here called the Bandeja Paisa Gourmet. On the Alebrije menu, chicharron is given the more trendy, upscale name of pork belly and sirloin is substituted for the skirt steak that is usually on the plate. While the thin steak was good the chorizo was excellent but it was a very small portion. The red beans were in a separate pot and were really a soup. The plantanos maduros were also very good. I suppose what you like when it comes to chicharron depends on whether you like your bacon crispy or chewy and this was a little underdone to my taste, and mostly fat, not the best I have encountered.

I was advised by my waiter that the word paisa is related to the word paisano and means something like townsfolk or townsman -- if someone is from the same town as you, that person is your paisa.

They serve a very good 100% Colombian coffee, as you would expect. The portions of my lunch were a little smaller than this same platter served at other Colombian restaurants but the price was still reasonable. I made the mistake of sitting right next to the windows and had a problem with light and shadows when I took a picture on my first visit but have avoided that on subsequent visits.

The chorizo was so good I wanted more and on the menu on their website it appears to be available only as an appetizer so I tried that on another visit, along with the Bisque de Ahuyama or squash bisque, made with a butternut-like squash. This comes with croutons and crema and chicken or beef can be added for a couple of bucks extra. It was a very satisfying light meal although the chorizo was not as juicy and savory this time around as on my earlier visit. According to the hostess, they make their own chorizo.

From the dessert menu I’ve tried the Passion Fruit Ice Cream and it will be hard to pass that up on subsequent visits.

The restaurant bills itself as Latin or South American Fusion and there are some Venezuelan, Argentinian and Mexican items on the menu, mostly as appetizers. They highlight their Sancocho on the menu, website and table cards and I'm looking forward to going back to try it.

They have a daily lunch special for $4.99 but I haven’t tried it. I think the place functions more like a night club at night and It's easy to see it could get a little cacophonous with the huge speakers on the walls but the music was muted and the TVs, though on, have had the sound off on my visits. On one visit they were tuned to the Cartoon Network, a nice alternative to the news, politics, sports or (gack) soaps, game shows and Judge Roy Bean wannabes that populate daytime TV.


Huarache Azteca Express - CLOSED

109 Ave F, Stafford, parallel to and a couple of blocks east of FM 1092, between the east and west bound routes of 90-A.



These people are being very generous with the free samples, like Pierson’s. I”ve gotten a free taco on each visit (bistec, ribs, chicharron and barbacoa) and on one visit free samples of 2 different aguas frescas (they have 6).

The place is new, spic and span, stainless steel and glass, and a very friendly crew, but there is a small problem with English, sometimes. The free condiments bar offers 3 salsas, pico, onions, cilatro, curtido (they do pupusas) and free coffee.

The place is named for the place in Mexico City that originated huaraches, so named because the tlacoyo looks like the sole of a sandal. Basically it’s a thick, torpedo shaped tortilla with refried black bean filling, warmed on a griddle for a second time then topped with more refritos, salsa of your choice, queso fresco and topping of your choice. I had the al pastor on my first visit. On the second visit the man was trying to interest me in the one described I the Press review with 2 eggs but when I wanted something else he offered any other 2 toppings and I went with carnitas and longaniza con nopalitos. I liked both of these better than the al pastor and all 3 better than the bistec taco (gristly) and ribs (rib tips, including cartilage). However, on another visit the bistec taco was excellent.

Tacos are made with hand-made tortillas and are good, too. The lamb barbacoa, available only on weekends, is excellent, too.

They serve breakfasts, tortas, caldos (menudo on weekends), but no desserts. I was bummed one time when I went in determined to try their flan or tres leches only to discover the menu doesn't list any postres.

I haven’t gotten a good picture of the huarache but this place is going to be a regular for me and will save me a lot of gas, making it less necessary to drive up to Jarro Café on Gesner or Gerardo’s on Patton.