Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Udipi Cafe

5959 Hillcroft # A
3559 Hwy 6 South, Sugar Land
and a location on FM 1960 West


I had heard about Udipi for years but never remembered it when I was in the mood for Indian food or up in the Hillcroft area. Recently I stumbled upon the one in Sugar Land and decided to try it and since then I’ve been back, four times in all, to that location and the one on Hillcroft. Both restaurants are nice inside; the Hillcroft one is much nicer than one might expect from the exterior.

I’ve had the weekday lunch buffet for $7.99, a very good bargain and much better than the one down the street on Hillcroft. The only thing I wasn’t impressed with much was the iddly, the steamed, flying saucer-shaped bun made from fermented rice and black lentil, but the iddly fry, wedges of iddly fried like french fries, is much better. Several items are made from the fermented rice, black lentil mix, including the uthappam and lentil donut and the dosas.

I love the lentil donuts and the various pakora, especially the ones with chili pepper strips (bajii pakora), although I wish they were fried a little crispier. On my first visit I really enjoyed the vegetable biryani, baigan bartha and mushroom masala (a very meaty tasting dish) as well as the iddly fry and lentil donut. I appreciated that almost everything has been clearly labeled both in Indian and with English translations on the buffet.

On another visit I had more of the baigan bartha (eggplant, at 8 o'clock in the picture), a vegetable korma (at 6 o'clock), onions in chili paste (the hottest thing I’ve had), several of the pakora including more of the chili pepper strips, potato pakora, lentil donut (mehdu vada), poori, and a cup of the Rasam (soup). I could become addicted to the lentil donuts. I have not been able to recall what the item is at the top of the plate in the picture; perhaps a dal?

They bring out a freshly prepared dosa of your choice from an extensive selection as a complement to the buffet. If you’re not familiar with their dosas you might want to study the menu online before going to get an idea of your choices. The dosas are quite large.

I went once on a weekend and ordered off the regular menu, hoping to get a little more crisply fried pakora. The mixed vegetable pakora appetizer was way too much for an appetizer and could have been a meal in itself. I also had the Uthappam deluxe, a huge Indian pancake served with a cup of soup and chutneys. The green chutney is the coconut chutney; I can't remember what the other one was. Between the pancake and the pakora I had way too much food - the pancake alone would have been enough, also. At the top of the picture is less than half of the mixed pakora appetizer plate.

For dessert I've tried the Sheera and it was very good, although I could manage only a small portion. I found the salt lassi and a yogurt dessert too bland for my taste as I like a very sour yogurt.

The staff at both locations I've visited has been very courteous and helpful.

After more than a year I recently revisited Udipi on Hillcroft. As always, almost everything on the on the buffet is clearly labeled. Starting at 1 o'clock, underneath the naan I got a Vegetable Biryani which was the most disappointing dish on the thali, rather dry and bland compared to other vegetable biryanis I've had, then Raita and Pickle, my beloved Mehdu Vada and Idli. At nine o'clock is Poriyal, a sauteed cabbage and urad dal dish that I really liked while in the center of the tray the curry was simply labeled South Indian Vegetable Korma, very good although very mild, and at the top Kadai Paneer which was also very good. I should remember to just skip naan off of buffets like this, especially since they bring out the fresh dosa here. I was served a Masala Dosa (wasn't asked which one I wanted like before) and it was much better than I remembered.

There will be hits and misses on any buffet on any given day but Udipi is still as good as I remembered.

Updated September, 2010

Udipi Cafe

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Tortilleria San Luis, 11502 S. Wilcrest

Poster JimH of Sugar Land noted on eG recently that this place has opened in the Foodarama Center at Wilcrest and West Bellfort. He got some very good pork tamales and corn tortillas and was planning on going back to try some of the other offerings.

I went over and noticed the signs in the window for Enchiladas Potosinas and Rojos but all they had ready to serve at 11:15 am were the breakfast steam table items and some dry tamales, possibly left over from the day before. JimH tried again and said the plates are pre-made and in the cooler and weren’t very good and he would stick to the tortillas and tamales. I haven’t been back.

According to the business card there are other locations around town.

Tortilleria Milpa Real, 10001 W. Bellfort, Suite I (next door to Taqueria 100% Michoacan)
---CLOSED --- Update 11/20/11.

The sign had been up for something like a year before this place opened in March. I went in on a Saturday and got some very good pork tamales and champurrado plus a pound of the corn tortillas. The tamales, $1 a piece, were almost as large as those from Tamales Dona Tere and very good, though just a little dry. The champurrado was very good and I initially really liked the tortillas. Though not as wonderful as the handmade tortillas from El Bolillo on Airline, they’re definitely better than store bought but lose that edge (freshness) after a couple of days.

Besides these offerings (tamales and champurrado only on weekends I think) the signs say Pollo Rostizado todos los dias and barbacoa, birria de chivo, menudo and guisado de lengua de res on weekends. I saw some of the chickens, a bright orange color, spinning away in a big rotisserie and determined I had to come back and try that. I’ve been back a half dozen times and they’ve never had the Pollo Rostizado ready to serve but I asked someone with very good English and he told me they only start them around 2 in the afternoon on weekdays and they’re not ready until about 4:30 (I usually went in around 1pm).

I went back on a Sunday to try again; at 2pm the chickens looked pretty done to me but were indistinguishable from supermarket rotisserie chickens from across the room. I requested one and they tested several with a temperature probe before telling me they weren’t quite done. I opted for the birria de chivo instead.

Birria means mess or stew I understand and in Mexico various meats are used but around here it usually indicates goat; this place makes that crystal clear.

I got a pound ($8.99) plus some pico de gallo that was loaded with diced serranos and quite hot. This was okay but not very complex. I’ve eaten a lot of goat in the last couple of years since learning it’s lower in cholesterol and calories than beef; I like it better than bison. Goat is very common at Mexican restaurants, every Pakistani restaurant I’ve been to has goat dishes and every Halal butcher shop I’ve been to sells it. Only one other time, at Casa San Leon on Longpoint, have I had goat with a little of that ‘wet dog’ smell that turns a lot of people off. I plunged gamely ahead on this dish with no regrets but I’ve had better birria at Trudi’s on Beechnut at Bissonett, a little kiosk that is only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and packs ‘em in starting before daylight. Birria is basically the only thing they serve and it’s very good, best I’ve had.

This sample from Milpa Real had a lot of bone in it but I made some good tacos out of it.

I still have to try the chicken some day - I’m sure the bright orange chickens I saw on my first visit were at a very early stage in the roasting process and the orange (achiote, cayenne?) darkens as they cook.

Tortilleria La Reyna, Bissonett @ Hillcroft

This place has been open for a couple of years now. I went in once shortly after they opened and bought a pound of tortillas and a pound of birria (there’s a birrireria/taqueria attached). That birria was pretty much like the stuff from Milpa Real as best I can remember. I’ve meant to go back to the birriria and check out the rest of the menu but haven’t.

El Bolillo Bakery 2517 Airline Dr.
, across from Canino’s Produce Market

According to the business card there’s a second location at 7610-D Office City Drive on the southeast side.

I’ll just throw this one in here in case any of my readers don’t know about El Bolillo, a fabulous bakery on Airline wth lots of pluses. Perhaps the best bolillos and teleras in Houston, great warm churros in the morning and Tres Leches Cake, plus a huge variety of baked goods from pan dulce to pan huevo and many more. One of the specialties you must not miss is the home-made corn tortillas ($2.50 a pound). There is a lady who nixtamalizes and grinds her own corn and prepares her own fresh masa instead of using the reconstituted maseca. The resulting corn tortillas are wonderfully aromatic and tasty and will ruin store-bought tortillas for you forever.


Here’s an article
on Grist about the industrialization of tortilla making in Mexico in recent years that makes it plain just how lucky we are to have this resource in Houston.

I always watch for the racks fresh out of the kitchens for the freshest baked goods, many still warm from the ovens. In the picture, the yellow cake cupcake at 9 o’clock with just a thin glaze and nuts was still warm from the oven and wonderful. The dough for their sausage/cheese/jalapeno kolaches is a bit heavy for my taste. I’ve never been able to get a good picture of the Tres Leches; the pieces are too tall and they lay them down in a container. It’s been impossible to get it out for a picture without messing it up.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Quick Bites III

Quick Bites is about places I’ve visited only once or twice, discoveries I want to share with others without a full review.

Restaurante Dona Tere, 9808 Beechnut just inside Beltway 8, in the same center with Panaderia Tierre Caliente and Supermercado Teloloapan.

This is a nice sit-down restaurant that is related to the Tamales Dona Tere places around town. There’s sit-down service, a counter for take-out, even a drive-thru window, although I’m not sure it’s actually used. I first went here several months ago when I got started exploring the regional specialties of Mexico. The menu includes some of the same tamales you’ll find on the menu at the tamalerias; there are dishes labeled Mayan, Aztecan, Pueblan, Chiapan, Oaxacan, and either Veracruzan or Tampiquenan (can’t remember) plus from Distrito Federal.

On my first visit I tried the Molcajete Mixto, for twelve dollars one of the most expensive items on the menu. It included a section of skirt steak, a portion of chicken breast, a section of a very good longaniza, a green onion, cilantro sprigs and a cactus pad in a moderately spicy, green broth, all served in a hot molcajete. The skirt steak was a little tough and had a little gristle but except for that the meal was very good. I loved the longaniza.

The chips are house made, thick, warm, slightly oily. The salsa is not very remarkable but I’ve grown to like this style of chip as opposed to the thin, salty ones of the bet-you-can’t-eat-just-one persuasion served at most places. I’m sure I’m in the minority in that but here they have an additional value here since portions are rather modest and sides are extra.

On a second visit a couple of months later I tried one of the dishes labeled Mayan, Cochinita Pibil, roast pig in achiote sauce with a habanero pepper on the side, so the menu said, but it was included in the sauce. This is probably my favorite Mexican dish of all and this was the hottest version of this dish I’ve ever had but not the best. I first had Cochinta Pibil back in the 70s at Merida on Navigation and it was one of the most sublime pork dishes I’ve ever had. I've also had it at Pico’s, Otilia’s, Jarro’s and Merida more recently (not as impressive) plus Durango’s reviewed recently on this blog and I’d rate all of those versions better than this. However I’ve never had the dish in the Yucatan so I don’t know which is the most authentic version.

I do plan to return to this restaurant more times and may post another review after some more visits; I just haven’t had much craving for those big tamales.

Crawfish City of Texas
Houston Catfish Station
New Orleans Style Sno-Balls
The Whole Sha-Bang

14090 Bellaire Blvd. at Sugar Land - Howell Road.


I was out on the far west side the other day and spotted this cluster on the corner. I had just been contemplating Howard Rushing’s picture of the boudin at Boogie’s but Boogie’s wasn’t going to be open for several days so I pulled in to sample the wares here. Crawfish City is a shack with a small covered deck, a drive thru window and drive thru ramp but the corner is a virtual food park; the other eateries all operate from trailers on the site.

Crawfish City offers boiled crawfish, shrimp and crab, plus live crawfish and crabs, raw shrimp, potatoes and corn for sides, fresh homemade lemonade and smoked and steamed boudin. I didn’t see any of the crawfish offerings; I just picked up a smoked boudin link. It was very, very smoky and very good. I like a boudin with the rice still a little firm and distinct and this was perhaps just a little past prime but good nonetheless. It had a mild heat level. UPDATE: After several visits, the texture of the boudin has been pretty consistently more mushy than I like.

I looked over the other menus. Houston Catfish Station offers catfish and shrimp plus gumbo, there are about 2 dozen flavors listed on the Sno-Ball trailer, and the Whole Sha Bang offers burgers, barbecue, chili pie and more sno-balls.

I got a Catfish Snack for $5 bucks from Catfish Station, three thick, sweet pieces of catfish in a cornmeal coating with a small side of nicely seasoned fries and a buttermilk hushpuppy that had a nice tartness to it and was moist and flavorful inside. Catfish Station has a deck but the cover is missing; it was starting to rain so I retreated to the car.

I thought both the boudin and catfish were very good bargains.

A few days later, back in the same neighborhood, I stopped in again. Crawfish City was closed (Monday) and I think the Whole Sha Bang was too; I tried another Catfish Snack. This time the pieces were much larger, almost twice as large as those pictured, but the fries were of the frozen, extruded, crinkle-cut persuasion and not very good. I tried a cup of the homemade gumbo ($2.75) and it was excellent, with shrimp, crawfish and sausage and ‘homemade Cajun seasoning.’ I’ve had gumbo three times in the last couple of months from Burt’s, Capt. Benny’s and Capt. Tom's and this was definitely better than the last two. I’m not ready to pronounce it better than Burt’s outstanding chicken and sausage gumbo but this is seafood. The shrimp were probably frozen but the gumbo is very thick and rich and has a nice heat level. I won’t hesitate to stop off again on this corner to pick up some gumbo whenever I’m in the neighborhood.


BB’s Donuts

8349 SW Fwy @ Gessner (northbound feeder)

I relied on Christy’s for a few years for my donut fixes although it never was as satisfying as the original in Midtown. Now that Christy’s has closed I’ve been checking out other donut shops on the southwest side and this is the best I’ve found so far. It’s a small shop and there’s not a lot of variety. As a long time Houstonian I love Shipley’s; it’s a true Houston institution and a signature Houston taste, but in the last several years I’ve developed a fondness for cake donuts as opposed to the yeast-raised and Shipley’s cake donuts are not that good, I think. That’s the big thing I like about BB’s; the cake donuts are very good, maybe the best I’ve ever had in the city. They are light but they’re also a bit smaller than others. Some may not like them because of that but I’m into smaller portions in everything these days. Their old-fashioned donuts are good too; I get both with a light glaze, not icing. I haven’t even tried the yeast-raised.

Besides donuts (and excellent fritters), they have pre-made breakfast burritos, sausage kolaches and croissants and they serve Community Coffee. I have tried the sausage kolache and while it’s not bad I have to admit I’m addicted to the sausage/cheese kolaches at Shipleys and have never found any I like better.

The place also has a small lunch menu including fried rice and burgers but I haven’t tried them. The lady at the counter has always been cheerful and pleasant

BB's Donuts