Houston Labor Day 2019 Trip Report

OK. It’s been a couple days now since I returned from my whirlwind 5 day/4 night tour of the wonders of Houston and I guess I’m ready to reflect. First off, I love your city. It’s sort of weird, the way you mostly need to drive everywhere (as an inveterate walker, I did like a mile as a pedestrian along Bellaire Ave and that was mostly unpleasant!) and the sprawling nonzoneyness is sort of disorienting for a Northeasterner. But I dig it.The people are nice, they come from all over, there’s all kinds of stuff to do, and the food is dynamite.

And OK, that food. I sure went to a whole bunch of places and I def. wanted to go to twice as many. I’m sorry that I missed kolaches and raspas and I can’t wait to come back to try some spots that I missed because the food in your city is so exciting that it seemed like there were cool establishments all over.

As for what I did get to, here goes in a mostly chronological order :

Killen’s: a late morning landing meant that I went from touchdown to in line at Killen’s in roughly half an hour. Ha! Love the setup here–the brisket was juicy and full of smoke, the pinto beans were perfectly cooked and the creamed corn had a great salt/sweet balance.

Caracol: ate my first dinner here, given the closeness to my hotel. Amazing–the room is beautiful, they make a mean michelada and the seafood is excellent. It was happy hour, so I got six of the crunchy wood grilled oysters at half price and they were so savory I’d happily have paid in full for them. The langoustine taquito was a little all over the place as a dish but was delicious in all its particulars. The conch ceviche that came out first was the dish of the night–fresh, chewy conch matched with unsweet melon and sprightly chili.

Laredo Tacqueria: first morning here meant going straight to the heart of the breakfast taco thing (aside: one reason I never got a kolache in Houston is because when you’ve got endless breakfast taco options, I mean, who wants a kolache?) and Laredo really delivers. Flour tortillas: one barbacoa, one nopales, both delicious. Great salsa.

Velvet Taco: had read about this slightly hipster place prior to visiting Houston, and spotted it on my rideshare to Laredo. So I hoofed on down the street for a third taco afterwards, grabbing the shrimp and grits on corn–and it was top notch, matching juicy seafood with crisp greens and grainy sweet corn.

Pit Room: the brisket at Pit Room I think was just a slight cut below Killen’s; it was pretty darn good but not nearly as satisfying or nuanced. But still amazing, and the sides were spectacular with a charred okra special and a solid elote filling out a high quality plate.

La Guadalupana: got breakfast at this unassuming neighborhood place before going to the Menil, and that was just the right thing. Chicken mole enchiladas with brilliant red and green salsas on the side.

Roostar: the chopped rib eye banh mi on the crunchy bread they apparently make themselves is great. I forgot to add the house pate–my bad. Papaya salad is lively and crunchy and spicy–a perfect counterpart to the dense sandwich.

El Tiempo: this place was packed, so I took a table on the patio. Which was nice enough, if just a bitr loud. Drank a great reposada margarita and ordered the filet fajitas. These were spot on, nice and rare and accompanied with fresh flour tortillas. The red salsa here was kind of bad, though.

Pho Dien: the best pho I’ve ever had in my life. Subtle broth, beef flavor all the way thru. Also really well run, the front of house woman really is on top of everything and the tables get cleared as soon as people get up.

Nguyen Ngo: ducked in for a Vietnamese ice coffee here. You get to specify how strong & sweet you want it, which is about as good as it gets. They make banh mi in this place too, but I didnt try them.

Nam Giao: in contrast to Pho Dien, there’s serious service issues at this joint at lunchtime. people wait while vacated tables stay heaped with discarded plates. After getting a table, I sit for 15 minutes with my menu waiting for someone to notice me and eventually just have to stand up and ask the person at the register if maybe I can order some lunch.

Everything uphill from there. The Happy Crispy Rice Pancake is full of shrimp + bean sprouts and the assortment of Vietnamese herbs and lettuce and the sauce that comes on the side really makes the dish. The banh nam dumpling steamed in a banana leaf also has a wonderful texture and a savory filling

Aqua S I avoided the made-for-Instagaram photo wall but still got myself a sea salt soft serve in a waffle cone. It’s hot outside, and the cool soft serve looks worth photographing and tips itself slightly toward salty over sweet. Strong offering, and there’s lots of stuff in this mall that seems worth a look if only I wasn’t already stuffed.

El Patio–on the way back from Asiatown and still too full to eat much, stopped in to Club El Minor for a pair of frozen margaritas. Good, tart drinks in a lightless den–that’s how I want to spend an afternoon as a flightless tourist. Fantastic queso here with the chips as well.

Picos–ventured to this “Mex-mex” place for a late dinner, it was fairly uncrowded but there was a nice atmosphere with fire and Mexican song in the air. The chiloso tacos had depth especially with the verde salsa on top, and the oaxacan tamales were meaty and bore a strange resemblance to the bahn nam that I got at Nam Giao. The perfect" margarita makes the right accompaniment to whatever you order here.

Burger-chan–on my last day in town, I rideshared out to this strange business complex that features a bunch of food options for lunch, my choice being between Feges and Burger-chan. I hadn’t had a burger my whole time in Tx, so that won out–ordered the 5 oz burger with raw onion and charred jalapenos and got the handcut fries and a vanilla milkshake. Lunch atmosphere was Loud Business, but that was fine–burger was cooked in range, fries were excellent, milkshake sweet and thick enough it’s hard to drink thru a straw.

Under the Volcano --needed somewhere to kill a couple hours before my flight, and given the proximity to Murder By The Book this bar seemed just right. Delicious palomas, low key place to hang out, no hassle. Recommended.

Tacqueria del Sol–started my trip in via Killen’s and leaving on the way by Tacqueria del Sol. Saw Noemi’s on my way in, but you can’t go everywhere! Got a couple beef al pastor tacos and one de lengua. All were great, and the red salsa especially here was plain dynamite.

OK, Houston, so that’s mostly where I went. I know that it wasn’t nearly enough because your city has so much to it, but I gave it a good shot near as I can tell in the short time I was there.

The food in your city is exceptional. thanks for having me.

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Somewhere in my copy of Joy of Cooking there’s a bit about how a hefty woman puts her hands on her tummy after a big meal and says, “Thank God for capacity.” I wish I had your capacity!

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Great report and glad you had a great time.

The Menil is one of my favorite museums.

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Super report, thanks for the memories!

Some random commentary in no order at all:

I love the hot salsa at El Tiempo, but it is different.

I haven’t been to Roostar in a long while because there has been so much construction there that I was totally frustrated getting there and parking. How is it now?

Club No Minors at El Patio is a legend in town. Many many people have youthful stories of those margaritas from the 70s and 80s. I last went for their 50th birthday in 2014.

Pico’s Mex-Mex used to be a hole in the wall and went upscale on upper Kirby some years ago. Some folks didn’t like that. The soft shell crab,, buried in garlic, when in season, is the most celebrated dish there, as well as their chiles en nogada.

Laredo Tacqueria is near my work, and every time I drive by at lunch, there is a line out the door. I’m not enough of a taco fan to brave it, but I know one of our food writers here once dreamed of getting married there.

Don’t ever walk a mile down Bellaire in Aug/Sept, unless there’s a shower or pool at the other end!

That is all. Enjoyed the read, and I’m going to check on a couple of those that I’m not familiar with.

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I got driven there so I didn’t have to park, but it didn’t seem any different than a lot of the other strip mall-y places I went.

I’d like another crack at the El Tiempo hot salsa. It seemed too like tomato sauce to me, but maybe I just wasn’t ready for it. Next time!

If I worked near Laredo I’d sure be in that line way too often…

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