Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Halal Food Al-Arabi

Almeda @ Hepburn (between OST and 610), in the parking lot of a Texaco station

I'd seen this little truck several times when headed down Almeda, about a mile south of the intersection with OST where Gyro King and Abou Omar's halal stands hold forth, but it had never been open.  It turns out it's open only in the evening.  The sign on the side says Mediterranean Food, on the back one proclaims Halal Food, but shields on the hood and one of the cabinets on the rear give the Al-Arabi name.

I wanted to try the Koftah Halabi pictured but it's not available.  In fact, none of the dishes pictured on the side of the truck are served anymore, only sandwiches/wraps made with either chicken or lamb.  I think it's a very small menu.

I got what was called an Iraqi Kabob - lamb (gyro meat), freshly grilled, with grilled white onion and tomato, mixed salad greens including lettuce, red onion and more tomato I think, dressed with tahini sauce and a hot sauce that provided a pleasant heat, wrapped up in a 9" pita.  It was a good sandwich, really hit the spot.  I wish the truck was closer to me as I don't get over that way very often.

One of the other sauces visible in the window is just ketchup I understand; the fourth one I didn't inquire about.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Today's News and Forecasts - UPDATED 3X

This latest edition of restaurant news from greater southwest Houston indicates the Bellaire restaurant scene continues to evolve.

Saltillo Mexican Kitchen,  5427 Bissonnet @ Chimney Rock

I was watching carefully for this one to open and it's been open almost a month now.  I went in by the end of the first week and the place was already packed for evening service.

This is the new place by the owner of the short-lived but acclaimed Mexican steak house La Casa del Caballo in Montrose.  The menu is beef-centric and includes the 4 pound plus Tapa de Lomo rib-eye cap for $190 but the former eatery was famous for it's enchiladas, too, and that's what drew me in.

I had the Enchiladas Saltillo, 3 chicken enchiladas in a sauce made from 5 kinds of chiles, with chihuahua cheese and sesame seeds.  I also had the Hearts of Palm Ceviche with tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime juice and olives, with hearts of palm substituting for any seafood and looking just like scallops.  Service was virtually flawless, remarkable for a new eatery.

This is not the type of Mexican restaurant where you get a huge basket of chips and salsa.  There are four salsas brought to the table to use as you wish and they are meant to be used more as garnishes or relishes than as dips, though you can get a small saucer of warm, thick chips by asking for it.  I passed on the chips but some were brought to my table anyway; I wasn't charged for them.  The salsas range from a mild tomatillo salsa verde to a tomato and red jalapeno based one with a little more heat, then a minced red onion and habanero with lime and orange juices and olive oil, and at the most intense end of the scale, one made with green papaya and habanero.  The servers were explaining the salsas to each table.

Judging by the crowd I experienced, I'd say Bellaire is ready for this kind of upscale Mexican place and it's certainly a very welcome addition to my grazing grounds.

Saltillo Mexican Kitchen

Tapester's Grill, 4520 Beechnut @ Newcastle

This is a new family-style neighborhood eatery across from the Southwest Houston Police Station on Beechnut.  It's a very welcoming modern space with a patio on the back side, away from the traffic on Beechnut.  When I went in there were lots of families with small children and a few tables with older couples.

I had the Bratwurst on a Housemade French Roll with housemade chips.  The online menu describes this as thin sliced turkey pastrami for some reason.

I didn't get a good look at any of the other menu items except the 1/3 pound burgers which were obviously a popular choice; they looked pretty good.

Tapester's Grill

Suzie's Grill, the kosher (meat) restaurant that has operated out of a tiny space in a Chevron station at Beechnut and Hillcroft for the past few years, has closed.  The website indicates the menu is available at the new kosher steakhouse Genesis on Bissonnet at Chimney Rock, in the same strip center with Saltillo.



Enoteca Rossa, 4566 Bissonnet @ Avenue B, just inside Loop 610

The former much-loved Daniel Wong's Kitchen, which has been closed for over a year now, is about to open as an Italian restaurant with wood-fired kitchen.  The building is hardly recognizable.  A banner announcing they're hiring staff has gone up so the opening must be soon.


(The picture was taken through the windshield on a rainy day).

Salt 'n Pepper Indo-Pak and Mediterranean Restaurant and Banquet Hall, 9619 SW Freeway @ Bissonnet

The banner indicates it's opening soon.  A url given in a sign on the front door leads nowhere and I have not been able to find anything for this online except a white pages listing but will add a link when one becomes available.




Philippine Community Center, 9101 West Bellfort @ Riceville School Road

The exterior cladding is all but complete but the weeds have gotten so tall I couldn't get a decent picture from the front.  These pictures, from a blog on the northwest side, appear to me to be more pictures of this one.

Gujarati Samaj Center, W. Bellfort @ Beltway 8

There hasn't been anything going on at the future site of this sports complex, unfortunately, but someday no doubt.

Indo American News article from last February

And just what are these items about cultural centers doing on a blog that's supposed to be about food?  I keep hoping that all of these cultural institutions will spur some sort of restaurant activity in the immediate vicinity.  Of course the Raindrop Center, Istanbul Conference Center and India House, all along this same stretch of West Bellfort, haven't had any such consequences but I can still dream.  Maybe a food court with stalls from each -- or a couple of food trucks?????

Friday, September 18, 2015

Peru Gourmet

10804 S. Post Oak @ Willowbend, Suite 375

This is the second Peruvian restaurant along this stretch of S. Post Oak.  A half mile away, Super Chicken has been open for a couple of years serving Peruvian style charcoal rotisserie chicken, Pollo a las Brazas.  This new place is smaller but more nicely appointed and with a broader menu including seafood plates and ceviche, Creole plates and sandwiches, plus a very small menu section (8 items) of Mexican food.  There is no rotisserie chicken on the menu here.

I've been on a ceviche kick of late and I tried two of the four offerings here.  The Tostada de Ceviche, on the appetizer menu, came with a pile of fresh fish marinated in lime juice and Peruvian spices, with red onions, cancha (Peruvian roasted corn) and steamed camote (sweet potato).  Though it was on the appetizer menu this could have served as an entree it was so large.

Ceviche de Tres Pasiones featured fresh fish marinated with Peruvian spices and lime juice three ways, with aji amarillo, Peruvian yellow pepper, on the right, aji rocoto, Peruvian red pepper that is supposed to be pretty spicy but wasn't, and a house made cilantro sauce on the left.  This was garnished with hominy and camote.

I also ordered the Empanadas de Carnes appetizers and was taken aback when they arrived completely coated in powdered sugar.  I thought there had been some mistake and didn't remember any dessert empanadas on the menu.  But there was no mistake, this is the way they are served.  The filling of ground beef also includes raisins so it is slightly sweet itself.  This came with a sauce that is a variation of the Argentine Salsa Golf or British Marie Rose sauce, the basic ingredients of which are mayonnaise and ketchup.  You can see the leftovers of that sauce in the upper left corner of the Tres Pasiones picture.  I was initially hesitant but these were really good.

Chifa is a term which indicates dishes which are the result of a Chinese influence on Peruvian cookery which came about as a result of an influx of Chinese laborers to fill jobs once slavery was abolished in Peru.  It also denotes restaurants which serve these dishes.  They have their Chifa just as we have our Chinese American food and it is very popular.  One of the most popular dishes is Arroz Chaufa, a Peruvian version of fried rice, and another is Lomo Saltado.  I had the Lomo Saltado sandwich and never would have guessed the dish had Chinese roots if I hadn't read it.  This is tender chunks of been tenderloin, stir-fried with tomatoes, aji amarillo and red onion, in a red wine sauce, on a light and lightly toasted baguette.

Beverages include Chicha by the glass or pitcher and Inka Kola plus the usual American soft drinks, coffee and tea.  Desserts include Flan and Alfajores plus Pionono de Manjar Blanca, a sponge cake roll with the same filling as the Alfajores.

Yelpers have claimed the restaurant is the same owner as the Peru Gourmet food truck and that is confirmed by the Facebook page.  I don't know if the food truck is still on the road.

This section of South Post Oak just below the corner of the Loop is not a street one drives down expecting great culinary discoveries.  Peru Gourmet is a big addition to the dining out options in the S. Post Oak/Willowbend area and convenient also to Meyerland and Westbury.  It's an unpretentious, very small hole-in-the-wall serving up some very good food.   I hope there are enough Peruvians and at least mildly adventurous eaters otherwise to sustain it.

Peru Gourmet on Facebook.  Note many of the pictures on FB were apparently taken at a catering event and do not show the interior of the restaurant. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Haveli Kabab & Grill House

5901 Hillcroft

I remembered seeing something about a new Pakistani restaurant on Hillcroft and when I saw the Grand Opening banner for Haveli I went in to check it out.   As I approached, I was wistfully remembering Sabri Nihari in the opposite corner of this u-shaped, double decker mall in Little India.  Sabri was my first Pakistani restaurant and I still remember the Beef Nihari and the huge wedges of naan glazed with ghee which blew me away on my first visit.

Haveli is in a space larger than Sabri that used to be a nite club and is a bit more upscale.

The official name (per the website and as printed on the take-out menu) is a little misleading:  Haveli is a buffet 7 days a week.  The food looked better than I remember the buffet at Sabri and I dug in.  Everything on the hot station was labeled and I got around to trying a little of most of the dishes.   In the 11 o’clock position on the plate are small pieces of Tawa Chicken and Grill Fish.  I took some Palak Paneer with toasted paneer, one of the best dishes that day and one of the best versions I’ve had, and some plain white rice, discovering on another visit the Chicken Biryani was a much better option.  I also got an onion pakora, the spiciest thing I had that day.  The Tandoori Chicken thigh was on the dry side; Frontier Chicken, looking like a Pakistani version of chicken fajitas with onions and bell peppers, was a much better option.  (I did not take any pictures of my second visit).

I put some of the Beef Haleem in one of the cups provided for the Chicken Corn Soup, which I skipped.  The Haleem was excellent.

Then I moved on to the salad/chilled station of the buffet, crowded in the corner of the room.  With some mango pickle I picked up what I thought would be an idli, though I guess that would have been out of place on a Pakistani buffet.  It turned out to be a sweet, chilled, and oozing simple syrup.  Among the salads I took a simple diced cucumber, carrot and onion salad and what turned out to be, I suppose, a version of Raita with pieces of eggplant, onion, and either chilli pod (de-seeded and devoid of heat) or a pod from one of the pulses in chilled yogurt. I could have eaten a whole plate of just this.  There was also a chilled chickpea salad with tomatoes, onions and cilantro that was very good and another sweet which was forgettable plus other salads and chutneys on this station.  Unfortunately nothing on the chilled station was labeled, absolutely nothing at all, and I didn’t get the names of any of these  

I have also tried Tawa Gosht which turned out to be excellent, better than the small sample of the Beef Nihari I tried.  It didn’t look very appetizing so I had passed on it until the end and I wish I had had room for more. 

I skipped a korma and a jalfrezi dish plus Butter Chicken, as I recall.  I went for seconds on the Palak Paneer, Haleem, Frontier Chicken, Onion Pakora and Raita but only taking very small portions of (almost) everything.

The naan was brought to the table by a server and though it looked great it was at room temperature and a big disappointment. 

There is a self-serve beverage station with Coke products and several tea options.

If you’re lucky you may score one of the covered spaces in the tunnel right in front of the door.  Having a shaded parking spot in the middle of the day in a Houston summer is almost reason enough to go by itself.

I don’t go for buffets much anymore but they are a convenient way to try out new cuisines or restaurants or just to pig out, which I don't like to do.  I still visit Fadi’s and Vishala and I think Haveli will also be an ongoing  option.  I’ll certainly give it a few more tries to see if my first impressions hold up.


Monday, July 20, 2015

More News of the World - UPDATED 9/29

King's Chicken, known for its Pakistani dishes, naan, and fried chicken, has abandoned it's longtime place on Beechut just west of Wilcrest and moved way out on Highway 6, just north of Westheimer.  It's now a sit-down restaurant.

King's Chicken review in the Press.

The new name at the Beechnut location is Scarlotti's Eatery and Catering but except for a sign in the window advertising a 2 piece chicken deal, there's no indication what kind of food is served.

Johnathan's Grill Pampanga's in the International Food Court at the Viet Hoa Center on the West Belt at Beechnut is now La Fernandina's Grill Pampanga's.  There are still just the two Filipino places side-by-side in the food court (the other is Pinoy Fast Food).

Haveli is a new Pakistani restaurant at 5901 Hillcroft.  It's a buffet 7 days a week in a former nightclub space.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Frenchy's open, Acacia closed, Lotus gets a rave - UPDATED 9/1/17

The Frenchy's Fried Chicken on the Beltway at West Bellfort is open for business.  Frenchy's has been adding locations all over town.  UPDATE:  THIS LOCATION HAS NOW BECOME WALLA-BEES - THE STING IS IN THE WINGS.

Acacia Food Market, the ambitious and impressive Turkish market on Wilcrest at the Southwest Freeway has closed. Correction:  Acacia just moved, just south of 59 at 11821 S. Wilcrest, back behind a Popeye's, in a big strip center with an Office Depot and Dollar General.

Another option for Turkish foods is Makkah Mart, 10560 Synott @ West Bellfort, Sugar Land, and, of course, Phoenicia on Westheimer. Makkah Mart is now known as Anatolia.

Lotus Seafood Market, 8550 S. Braeswood at Gessner got a rave review in Houstonia Magazine.  It's rare for any place in our part of town to even be noticed by the foodie media.  Dining in accommodations are very basic.  The tales of long lines are true and the parking lot is usually crammed; it's best to call in an order and get it to go.  Lotus Seafood Market on Facebook.  There are pictures of the menu.

Ruchi's Taqueria on Gessner between 59 and Beechnut has become Jabastian's.

Edit to add:

I drove by the former Sheba Cafe location, 6521 Bissonnet @ Hillcroft, and saw the 'Open' sign lighted in the window again.  I found a Facebook page.  It's now called Habesha Cafe, an Eritrean restaurant, and apparently it's been open all along.  The sign in the window says it's open 7 days a week.  They must neglect to turn on the Open sign many days! 

Panaderia y Pupuseria La Sultana has moved into the space formerly occupied by Panaderia Mexicana & Colombiana, 6039 Bissonnet.  La Sultana was for a long time located in the center at Beechnut and Bissonnet that has been razed for an Aldi.  It also housed a Central American grocery store at the former location but I don't know if that's the case here.

Mido, the Turkish/Middle Eastern sandwich shop at 6905 Bissonnet has closed.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Kaung Kaung San

5757 Ranchester @ Harwin

I was excited to try our first ever Burmese restaurant.  I had done some preliminary research into the cuisine but it was a couple of months before I got around to going and all I could remember was the Tea Leaf salad.

If this was all there was on the menu, it would be reason enough to go.  Unless you have problems with peanuts or caffeine.  Crispy, fried peanuts, and lots of them, pickled or brined tea leaves, a little tomato, a little shredded cabbage I think, a little ginger and garlic, oil -- I found it addictive.

I also had the whole steamed fish on my first visit which turned out to be two whole tilapia in a lime broth with lots of Chinese celery, a little cilantro, some pieces of ginger and lemon grass, I think.  I looked this up and it may actually be a Thai preparation; there are lots of Thai dishes on the menu.

I had also ordered the Burmese Pancake as an appetizer but it wasn't available (may not be on the menu any more).  Based on the quantity of food and how filling and satisfying it was it's just as well I didn't receive that.

I love salads and I have no issues with any kind of salad greens but lettuce does not grow in Myanmar and so is not only not a component of a Burmese salad, it's foreign to the concept.  A Burmese salad or thoke or thohk, is centered around one ingredient with garnishes.  I tried a couple of the noodle salads.  Nan Gyi Thohk, translated as 'fat rice noodle salad' so I've read, includes pieces of chicken curry, hard boiled eggs, caramelized onions, garlic and oil and other garnishes.  The Rakhine salad (long i sound) features thin rice noodles.  Rakhine is a coastal state so this salad fittingly includes tidbits of fish; the owner said they were tilapia but I thought there was some fried fish cake present too.

I also tried the Samusa salad.  Similar to an Indian samosa chat, it featured a samusa broken up on a bed of additional curried potatoes with other garnishes, though no chutneys or dahi.  I found it less interesting that the other salads I tried and I neglected to take a picture of it.

Based on observations, it's okay to use just the flat spoon provided to eat these salads but I reached for the chopsticks.  Regular flatware is also available.  Salads are accompanied by a small bowl of broth to be consumed separately.

While some online articles name the Tea Leaf Salad (lahpet thohk) as the National Dish of Myanmar, virtually all name Mohinga, a fish stew that is commonly eaten at breakfast.  This is a very hearty stew, thickned with chickpea flour I think, with chickpea patties, tilapia, hard boiled egg and thin rice noodles.  The uncommon ingredient is banana tree stem.  Sometimes designated National dishes really wow me, sometimes not and I was a little hard pressed to get the appeal of this other than its heartiness.  Despite its status as a National dish, this is just listed on the menu as Rice Noodle Soup (# 1).

I ordered all my dishes spicy and I was not disappointed.  Burmese is not as spicy as Thai or Indian but that's okay.  Condiments on the tables include soy sauce, chile pepper flakes, lime juice and fish sauce so you can add heat if you wish.

I really loved the Burmese salads.  I just discovered cold noodle dishes a couple of sweltering summers ago and these will be favorites of mine.  There are many fried rice dishes, curries, and Thai dishes on the menu, an appetizer section, daily lunch specials, and Burmese versions of popular dishes such as Green Papaya Salad that I haven't gotten around to.  The restaurant also serves sushi.

It's a small, seemingly only three person operation so service can be slow but the owner has been very helpful and friendly.  There are legible pictures of the menu on Yelp! but I was told the menu is being revised so some listings will probably change.  I was also told they will be hanging a big picture menu on one wall to help people who are not familiar with the cuisine, plus printing up menus to go.  The current menu offers little in the way of explanation of the dishes but the owner has always been ready to help.  They're closed only on Mondays. 

Kaung Kaung San is a gem in my estimation and a very welcome addition to our vast array of cuisines.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

All Bengal Sweets & India Coffee House

5901 Hillcroft Ave, suite C2-A

One of the most visited pages on this blog for a long time has been my original post on All Bengal Sweets and Restaurant on Bellaire.  Hits have come from all over including the Sub-continent where I'm sure some chuckles have resulted from reading my stumbling attempts to appreciate the cuisine.  Recently I've noticed an uptick in traffic on that page nudging it from 4th on the all time list of most accessed pages to 3rd.  I finally discovered the reason:  the owner has opened this new place in the Hillcroft Plaza in the Mahatma Ghandi district and people are landing on my blog looking for information about the offerings here.  So of course I had to try it out myself.

I knew they had snacks to accompany coffee and chai and their Bengali sweets but didn't realize they also had a small menu of daily specials.  The beef haleem sounded more appealing than a samosa so I opted for that on my first visit.  A small portion, a little over a cup probably and only $3.99, it was topped with lots of crispy fried onions, cilantro, and a generous sprinkling of spices.  There were some unexpectedly large chunks of fatty beef and a couple of large pieces of bone.

I first encountered India Filter Coffee at the shuttered Heritage India restaurant in Stafford after an impressive meal of their specialties from the Spice Coast state of Kerala and I loved it at first sip.  It can be produced at home in a device somewhat similar to that used to produce Vietnamese Iced Coffee but uses scalded milk and sugar to taste instead of sweetened condensed milk and is served hot.  Characteristically it should have a lot of froth on top, produced by pouring the coffee mixture back and forth between two cups.  Three kinds of coffee are offered here, Kumbakonam Degree Coffee associated with the town of the same name in Tamil Nadu and brewed with chicory, Madras Coffee and Mysore Coffee.  The latter is said to be the strongest brew.

There is also Chai and Masala Chai and a brew called Eye Eye Tea which is a blend of coffee - oops, masala chai and espresso.  I have only tried the first.  Everything I had was served in disposable containers with disposable utensils including the coffee and I didn't bother to get a picture of the coffee.

After finishing the haleem I started sipping on my coffee and dug into some Bangladeshi sweets.  I tried the rosgulla and chom chom.  The pale cream colored sweets photographed very poorly against the white of the disposable bowls but I also grabbed a ladoo and my favorite from visits to the original shop, a kala jamun, to go.  As noted in my previous post, Bangladeshi sweets are known for being very moist.  I think the chom chom has nudged the kala jamun and become my favorite. Now I only have about a half dozen other varieties to try.

Dining accommodations at the original shop were somewhat rudimentary but this shop has more style. I think it had a previous incarnation as another short-lived India coffee house and perhaps the decor is a remnant of that.  There are graphics on the wall including sayings about coffee from literature and a brief history of coffee cultivation in India.  I got distracted by the artwork and missed seeing my coffee being prepared.  Two large screen TVs are kept at low volume, making conversation very possible.

We tend to stereotype India as a tea drinking culture but coffee is popular in South India.  You can also find Indian Filter Coffee on the menus at Sri Balaji Bhavan and Udipi Cafe in the same neighborhood and at other places around town.

Ishita Unblogged, which I linked to earlier for it's excellent article explaining Bangladeshi cuisine, also has an excellent post on Bengali sweets.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Taco Loco II

2501 S. Velasco (288 B), Angleton

Perhaps inspired by the Bronco Burrito of the Donut Shoppe and La Estacion in Galveston, Taco Loco (all the signage said II or 2) offers the Hippo, a breakfast taco with potatoes, egg, bacon, chorizo and shredded cheddar cheese on a flour tortilla.  The chorizo was very mild and amazingly greaseless - perhaps the grease was all absorbed by the other ingredients - and more like an American breakfast sausage than a Mexican chorizo, leaving the predominant tastes of the bacon and cheddar.  It all held together amazingly well.  Weighing in at almost 9 ounces, the Hippo lives up to its name. Nine ounces is a lot of taco.

An interesting brownish tinted salsa containing both tomatoes and tomatillos added some welcome heat. 

Roadside stand? Check.  There are a couple of weathered picnic tables on a concrete slab just off to the right, sans any shade, the slab itself a remnant of another structure rather than specifically constructed.  Signs tacked to a pole point to a restroom out back.  I didn't check it out but they may have been indicating the structure in the background that resembles an outhouse.

There are other tacos on the menu and some plates but it's the Hippo that is building this place's fame, with nothing but 5 star reviews on Yelp right now.   The taco was $3.50; extra cheese is available for an additional cost but it certainly isn't needed. 

Open until 2 pm, six days a week.  The Hippo is available until closing. I neglected to take a snapshot of the menu board.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Trudis gone, Aldi coming - UPDATED

The Robindell Shopping Center at the corner of Beechnut and Bissonnet is all fenced off and demolition equipment is on scene.  According to Swamplot, everything is going except the Baskin Robbins.  In it's place, a new Aldi has been announced.  Aldi is a German discount grocer related to Trader Joe's featuring mostly their own store brands.  If you're not familiar, see this story from Business Insider which I posted on the sidebar some time ago.

While I, and other readers of this blog, will miss Trudis, the best birria in town, the addition of an Aldi is at least some good news.  Hopefully Trudis will find another location near by.

Elsewhere I've also seen where Taqueria Arandas is not abandoning our part of town completely.  The former Taqueria Cancun on S. Gessner, south of Beechnut, will become a corporate-owned outlet for the Houston-based taqueria chain.


My earlier report on Trudis.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Asha's Roti Shop

1000 N. Alexander (Texas 146 B), Baytown

A few years back I happened on a West Indian bakery and roti shop on the east side of Baytown called Nio's.  When I checked it out for lunch I found myself in line behind a group of people in scrubs talking animatedly in a 'Caribbean' accent about rotis and how spicy they like them.  When I asked the proprietor why there was a roti shop in Baytown, she told me one of the large medical facilites there has a lot of employees from Trinidad.

Nio's is gone now but just up the road a bit is Asha's, a walk-up stand with a couple of tables under a carport in a grassy area out back.

I went around 1:30 on a Saturday afternoon.  The parking lot was nearly full but there seemed to be only one other person there to order food.  I wanted to try the Hot Doubles but they were all gone so I settled for two Beef Patties and I apparently got the last two of those.  Whether they make more for later on I don't know.

These were hefty patties, about 6 ounces each, with a dense flaky pie crust-like exterior colored with annato or turmeric, probably, and a surprisingly mild ground beef filling. There was only a little bit of heat to the whole thing.

I hope to be able to try the Hot Doubles next time or one of the rotis.

Asha's menu on Yahoo

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Gram's Empanadas

1410 N. Gessner

Several of our South American restaurants have Uruguayan dishes on their menus but so far as I know this is our only eatery identifying solely as Uruguayan.  There is an image of the Uruguayan flag on the menu board.

My obsession with sausages led me to try the Choripan on my first visit but I also had a beef empanada.  The Choripan - chorizo plus bread (pan) - is a sandwich found in several South American cuisines and I've read that Chorimobiles are the most popular kind of food carts in Argentina.  I have uniformly found South American chorizos to be pretty good sausages and this was no exception but it was different. Like andouille, it seemed to be made of chunks of meat rather than ground; it was split and grilled, a little over-grilled in this instance, and was tasty but the sausage was dwarfed by the bun and all that lettuce.  I have to admit I have yet to discover why these sandwiches are so popular.  None of them have been very impressive.

The beef and cheese empanada was a real winner, however.  Ground beef, minced red, yellow and green bell peppers and onion plus a gooey, stringy cheese, all in a flaky pastry crust with a creamy green sauce on the side that was just a little spicy.

On a second visit I stuck to the empanadas, going for a Leek and Cheese and a Shrimp.

The leek really wowed me.  I didn't really know what to expect but I sure didn't expect to see all that dark green part of the leek.  This one too had the minced peppers and onion and stringy cheese.  It was a bit on the salty side but I was tempted to go back up to the window and order another one and save the shrimp empanada for later.  That wouldn't have been such a bad choice, actually.  Compared to the leek, the shrimp empanada was blah; as I expected for the price point, frozen shrimp were used and they were pretty tasteless.  I understand the crab empanada uses imitation crab, a shame but understandable at the price point.

There are 14 empanadas on the menu board including several breakfast options and 2 sweets - Dulce de Leche and Sweet Potato.  There are also ten 'Meals' on another menu board, including the Choripan and a Chivito Burger and a Chivito Sandwich.  That last one is considered the national dish of Uruguay and it's on the menu of several South American restaurants around town, usually occupying a prominent place on the menu.  Gram's online menu describes theirs as flat iron steak, ham, bacon and cheese plus a fried egg.  I'm pretty sure I saw one on one of my visits and it's a very good looking sandwich.  The Chivito Burger substitutes a hamburger patty for the flat iron steak.

There are several tables on a covered porch on the south side of the little stand and a drive thru window on the opposite side.  Despite the drive-thru, Gram's is not fast food - empanadas are cooked when ordered, not sitting under a heat lamp, and it takes about 10 minutes.

A couple of real winners and more to explore sums it up.  Gram's Empanadas should definitely be on anybody's list for an Empanada Crawl.

Gram's Empanadas on GrubHub

Friday, March 13, 2015

Señor Juan

Currently, 10560 Westheimer

I've been eating a lot of fried food lately and I haven't even been to the Rodeo once.  To be specific, I've been eating fried pies - Uruguyan Empanadas, Trinidadian Patties, and these Puerto Rican Empanadillas de Carne from Señor Juan.

Pretty basic but tasty.  Ground beef and seasonings (recaito?) plus a thin, fiery green sauce.  A little on the greasy side but not too bad.  Empanadilla would seem to mean 'small empanada' but these were a hefty 5 oz. each.

The menu is small.  They were out of Alcapurrias and Pasteles the day I was there, so I got two of these but one would have been sufficient as I just wanted a snack.  Mofongo was listed on the reverse side of the menu card but I missed it when I briefly flipped the card over.   Cue Homer Simpson.

Señor Juan

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Arny's Bakery

9601 S. Gessner @ Bissonnet

This little Filipino bakery has opened, tucked back behind other businesses at the corner of S. Gessner and Bissonnet.

I picked up, from the left, an ensaymada, bibingka, and mamon.

The bibingka is a super-moist, dense rice cake made with coconut milk, a cross in texture with a dense rice pudding and a cake, traditionally baked in a terra cotta pot, wrapped in banana leaves.

The ensaymada, culinary descendant of the ensaimada of Mallorca, is a bun topped with finely shredded cheese and sugar.  The Mallorcan pastry was made with saim, a type of pork lard, but the Filipino version is made with butter.

The mamon is a sponge cake, a Filipino version of Angel Food cake; the name comes from Spanish slang for breast.

Both the ensaymada and bibingka were about 5" across and the bibingka weighed just over half a pound.

Not all of the items pictured were available the day I visited and there was at least one pastry and one type of bread I saw not pictured. A sign in the window also advertises kolaches which would probably make Arny's the first ever Tex-Czech-Filipino bakery, but there weren't any on display the day I was there. I plan to go back to try the Pan de Ube (purple yam) and Hopia (mung bean paste, I think), which were not available.

There were beverages available from a cooler and a coffee maker on a counter top.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Taqueria Vega

7755 W. Bellfort, in the parking lot of Joe V's

I encountered this unit several years ago on Fondren when it was Taqueria Tzul-Vega but tried it only once.  I remembered the taquera apparently spoke only about 5 syllables of English and she found my Spanish just as lacking, but I couldn't remember the food nor why I never returned.  According to my notes, it was not because of the food but because the menu was so limited.  The majority of the items listed on the unit were not available, there was a handwritten menu taped to the window with only a few dishes.

There has apparently been a change of ownership.  The menu card in the window, which identifies the business as Taqueria Vega, lists just about everything named on the side of the unit plus a few other items and I had no trouble communicating.

I tried a couple of tacos, pastor on the left and chorizo on the right.  They came on handmade corn tortillas, a big plus, with roasted onions and mass quantities of cilantro, plus a surprisingly fiery salsa.  According to my notes, the fiery salsa was a feature of the old cart, too.  The pastor wasn't bad, not dried out like it often is and I got a couple of tidbits of pinapple, but the chorizo was much better.  I have also tried a barbacoa taco and, on a whim, a chorizo gordita.  These were served with a very mild salsa verde.  The gordita was almost as big as a torta and would have been better as one; the barbacoa is another good choice for meat along with the chorizo.

Tacos are $2 and apparently there's no upcharge for requesting flour tortillas.  There is an upcharge for requesting lengua or tripa.  The gordita was $3.50.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Frenchy's Gettin' Busy on the Southwest side...UPDATED 9/1/17

...opening new locations, that is.

A new store at 7903 Beechnut, just off 59, has been open for several weeks now.  It's larger than the existing store four miles away at 59 and Wilcrest in a Valero station, with room for a few tables for dine-in instead of just a shelf around the window.  It's very convenient to HBU and Memorial Hermann SW and all the associated clinics and doctor's offices.

And then there's this, just one mile on my trusty odometer from the Wilcrest store, in a Shell station on the Beltway 8 frontage road at W. Bellfort.


Too soon to tell if there will be room for tables here but I'd guess so.

None of 'em, dang it, have drive-throughs for lazy bones like me.

I'm also keeping my eye on Arny's Bakery, 'Coming soon' to a strip center on S. Gessner at Bissonnet.  Hard to tell how much progress they're making since the windows are completely papered over but the business has gone up on the strip center signboard at the corner.

UPDATE:  Arny's is now open; it's a Filipino bakery offering pandesal, bibinka, mamon, ensaymada and more, not to mention kolaches.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Cuban Cafe

4232 Decker Drive (Loop 330 westbound frontage road at Baker Drive), Baytown

In a mostly abandoned big shopping center with a huge parking lot (maybe that's why they can hang the big banner saying 'Welcome 18 Wheelers'), this clean little shop is run by some very friendly and helpful people.

I had the Cuban Sandwich - pulled roast marinated pork, ham, a thin slice of Genoa salami, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickle on a very well toasted Cuban roll plus a Cafe con Leche.  The sandwich was hot and tasty.  They also have Cuban Pulled Pork sandwiches, mini Cubanos and a Breakfast Cuban sandwich on a rather small menu plus Cuban coffee, lattes and Americanos.

I have heard of the marinated roast pork (lechon asado?) and the addition of the salami before but I don't think I've ever encountered those variations in Houston.  The salami is typical of a Cubano in Tampa, reflecting the ethnic make-up of the city where Italian immigrants worked and lived alongside Cubans, and I thought it added a nice note to the sandwich but what I really liked was how the sandwich was pressed down so thinly and the toasted bread was so crispy.   Unless the sign on the wall is meant just for decoration, they get their bread from the famous La Segunda Bakery in Tampa (Ybor City).

After several days, I'm still thinking of this sandwich and wanting to get back over there soon to confirm my memories.

I'm in Baytown regularly to visit family and I'm glad to happen on this place.  If you're  searching for someplace to eat in Baytown and wanting to avoid the chains, this place is worth a try.

The Cuban Cafe on Facebook