Category Archives: houston / texas

The Dallas Farmers Market: What Houston Should Aspire To Emulate

That’s probably the only time you’ll ever hear me say that Houston should aspire to mimic anything that Dallas has done, and that includes things about Dallas that I do find quite lovely: the Arboretum, the Kalachandji temple, the new Whole Foods at Park Lane, large swaths of Lower Greenville and the redevelopment of Oak Cliff. As far as those things are concerned, I feel like Houston has our own interesting versions of them and doesn’t need to look to Dallas as a role model for such things.

But when it comes to the gigantic Farmers Market in downtown Dallas, I feel only a heavy heart for Houston.

It’s long been a fact that our own farmers markets have been segmented due to in-fighting and petty disagreements among the various organizers and farmers themselves. Way to let your entire city down because of ego and unresolved drama, folks.

There have been strides made, of course, and as a result we have a plethora of great markets to choose from…but most of them are only open on specific days of the week and most of them have a limited selection. How wonderful would it be if Houston had a central farmers market that was open at least five days a week, if not seven? I know full well that I’m probably the eight millionth person to complain about this and that my two cents are just that…two cents out of many.

So instead of whining and moaning, let’s be inspired by some of the photos from the Dallas market. Maybe we can be the change we hope to see in Houston.

Continue reading

Have You Been to Pho Binh?

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Pho with brisket and crispy fat at Pho Binh

If you’re a Houston Chowhound or a resident of South Houston, the answer might be a resounding “YES!” But if you aren’t in one of these groups, you’re probably missing out on the best pho in Houston.

The best pho in Houston. That’s a minefield of a statement. After all, Houston’s thriving Vietnamese community means that there are at least 70 pho restaurants in town — and probably far more than the ones I could count in the phone book — which would seem to make choosing a favorite a difficult task. But it’s only difficult if you’ve never eaten at Pho Binh. In the face of its highly fragrant broth with a silky sheen of beef fat floating on top, all other pho becomes a distant and slightly disappointing memory. This is truly how pho should taste.

Jalapenos, limes and bean sprouts for the pho

Jalapenos, limes and bean sprouts for the pho

I’m not the first to write a love letter (or love video, even) to Pho Binh and I certainly won’t be the last. And I certainly can’t claim to have discovered the place. Pho Binh has been a staple of the South Houston dining scene for at least 20 years, according to my friend and area resident David Tong. He seemed shocked to hear that Houston foodies have discovered the little place — a ramshackle pairing of a single-wide trailer and a tumbledown house — and are currently singing its praises far and wide. He half-jokingly told me that people who find the place have a duty as secret-keepers to make sure it doesn’t become too popular. After all, they run out of pho every day as it is.

I had the pleasure of eating breakfast there last weekend with a collection of some of my favorite food lovers: Misha, Dorothy and David. David, who owns Tuscany Coffee, bragged of eating at Pho Binh at least five times a week when he was working in South Houston and therefore was our guide for the meal. He advised us to get the bo vien (meatballs) and extra fat with our pho. I went with both of those options as well as brisket and crispy fat for my soup. I thought of my former boss, Trang, and how she and her family would eat pho every morning for breakfast (pho is a traditional Vietnamese breakfast, lunch or dinner item — versatile!). If every morning started over a rich, invigorating, slightly spicy bowl of noodle soup with thick cuts of brisket and fat, I feel I’d be at least half as productive as she was. Or not. She had that whole half-Chinese, half-Vietnamese, crazy hardcore Asian work ethic going for her. And…I don’t.

A pho-ntastic meal

A pho-ntastic meal

The folks who run Pho Binh had just returned from their annual two month trip back to Vietnam. During that time each year, the restaurant is closed. As in, tough luck, go eat somewhere else, we have lives to live closed. I love that attitude, and wish it extended to American culture as well. As a result, the place was utterly packed with happy customers, joyful for the return of their beloved pho. We scored a rickety couple of tables in the single-wide portion of the restaurant, which is technically the storeroom/back half of the kitchen.

As I slurped my noodles and savored each drop of broth, surrounded by boxes of paper napkins and flats of aluminum cans, I thought how odd it was that one of the best meals of my life was being enjoyed in a poorly-lit trailer off Fuqua and I-45. But isn’t that all that we hope for in Houston? And isn’t that what we love about this city?

Chinatown, Summer in the City

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Chinatown, USA

Inspired, of course, by the classic Lovin’ Spoonful song.

Despite the fact that we’re experiencing the longest, strongest heat wave since 1980, I decided that today would be a good day to roam around Chinatown and finish collecting information for a Press article I’m working on. So I grabbed one of my trusty partners in crime, Groovehouse, and we hit the streets.

Our first stop was Banana Leaf, one of the few Malaysian restaurants in Houston. I am constantly amazed that we don’t have more Malaysian places in a city like ours (and I’m not the only one). Malaysian cuisine combines the best of Thai, Indian and Chinese cooking into a delicious amalgamation of flavors and spices. You’ll find sweet peanut sauces and tropical dishes alongside spicy curries and mild fish head casseroles — Banana Leaf has something for everybody. On this visit, I had the roti canai (flat, doughy pancakes served with curry sauce), crispy fried tofu with cucumber and bean sprouts in satay sauce, a gingery masak lemak with shrimp, sambal shrimp with mango and — for dessert — more hot roti filled with butter and bananas. I won’t say too much more for now, lest I have nothing to write about later on, but it was one of the better meals I’ve had in recent memory — and that’s after eating at a $600 a night farm-to-table, five-starred restaurant on Wednesday that I thought might be the pinnacle of Texas restaurants. Groovehouse loved it, too.

Afterwards, I took him on a tour of the “new” Chinatown along Beltway 8. Since the “old” Chinatown just outside of downtown off Chenevert has all but dried up and blown away, too many die-hard ITLers are now missing out on one of Houston’s greatest and most fascinating landscapes. I first took him past the little-known Vietnam memorial located on Bellaire Boulevard, notable for the fact that it was financed by local southern Vietnamese business owners to thank American soldiers who tried to help them during the quagmire that was the Vietnam “War.” The memorial depicts an American soldier and a southern Vietnamese soldier fighting side by side and is remarkably moving for a statue located in a strip center parking lot. Continue reading

To Everything There Is Some Seasoning

…wait, did I get that right?

Anyway.  Two things.

Number One:  In case you missed it, today is your last day to pick up the March 19th edition of the Houston Press on newsstands, which contains my review of The Grove in the dining section.  If you’re reading this from France or the future and can’t get a physical copy, here’s a link to the review: Downtown Attraction at The Grove.  Being in print is awesomely fun, as is working with the good folks at the Houston Press.  Which leads us to the second thing…

Number Two:  For those of you who have been following me for a while (whether here at she eats. or at my previous blog), you’ll know that I was never happy in my day job.  To put it mildly.  So it is with great excitement and an affirming sense of self-actualization that I’m happy to announce that I’ve resigned from my day job and have taken a full-time position with the Houston Press as their Web Editor.  I’ll still be blogging about food here and at Eating Our Words, but I’ll be taking on a wholly new docket of responsibilities as well.

To say that I’m merely excited by this would be a massive understatement.  How can you just be simply excited about turning over a completely new page in your life…jumping off a cliff into the great unknown…realizing the goals and dreams you always had for yourself…watching the hustle and sweat finally pay off…moving in an entirely new direction as before?

I’m not excited.  I’m ravenous.  I’m fiercely hungry to do this work and to succeed at it.  I’m feeling more alive than I have in years.  I feel like I’m standing on the stage at my high school graduation all over again, full of hope and joy and elation and passion.

Would that everyone have a chance or opportunity to fulfill their dreams, we would all shine so much brighter.

Thanks to everyone who’s supported me along the way and offered words of praise and encouragement.  I couldn’t ask for better readers, friends and family.  Much love to you all.

–K.

Spirited Houston

Books & Bottles
Books and bottles behind the bar at Anvil.

No, I’m not talking about haunted Houston.  I’m talking Houston’s busy wine, beer and spirits scene.  (Although I could just combine the concepts and write a post about La Carafe.)

I was at Anvil Bar & Refuge yesterday afternoon, getting a sneak preview of the bar in its [nearly] final incarnation and chatting with owner Bobby Heugel for an interview that will come out in the Houston Press food blog later this week.  It struck me — and not for the first time — that in addition to the growing emphasis on local, fresh, organic, artisanal food and restaurants in Houston, we’re lucky to have people pursuing that same level of craftsmanship and attention in the spirits scene.

Pimm's Cup
Freshly-made Pimm’s Cup with muddled cucumber, homemade lemon juice, homemade simple syrup, gin and soda.

Bobby and his crew at Anvil aren’t the only ones in Houston who are once again giving bartending as a profession — and alcohol as a libation — the credibility it deserves.  Cocktails made in restaurants like Beaver’s and Textile (both of which were training grounds for Bobby and his staff, and both of which owe their success in those areas to the likes of the Anvil crew) demonstrate a level of craftsmanship and creativity not seen at places like the Daiquiri Factory, the vulgar intoxi-quarium that used to exist in Anvil’s building.

Likewise, more bars around town are seeking out local microbrews and unusual imports to add to their draft beer selection, aside from simply leaving beer-flavored water like Miller Lite on tap.  Grum Bar and Grill is an example of this phenomenon, their beer selection being extremely limited to only beers that they themselves would drink: no Budweiser or Miller to be found here.  More established pubs like the Ginger Man and the Stag’s Head have embraced the concept of exploring unusual or exotic beers for years, and the beer-drinking public is following suit.

Avery Cask Conditioned Ale
Avery cask-conditioned pale ale at The Petrol Station.

We’re also lucky enough to have a local microbrewery — Saint Arnold — that supplies Houston and points beyond with finely-crafted ales and lagers in addition to being a community-minded organization that does much more than simply create beers.  We even have our own local  association of homebrewers —  the Foam Rangers — and entire shop devoted to the craft, De Falco’s.  Beyond Saint Arnold are many other exquisite Texas microbreweries such as Real Ale in Blanco and Southern Star in Conroe.  And let’s not forget the one and only Spoetzel Brewery in Shiner, Texas.

Wine bars, too, have cropped up around town like Starbucks.  Although each is different in its character, all are devoted to the ideals of exploring and discovering wine and educating their consumers to do the same.  From high-end, glitzy concepts like The Tasting Room to local, neighborhood-y joints like Boheme, it’s never been a better time for oenophiles in Houston.

To whit, I’d like to encourage you to read a few local spirit blogs that do a far better job of explaining and capturing all of this than I do.

Barley Vine:  This man has the word on wort, hands down.  A local hop-head who provides insightful commentary on the Houston beer scene and Texas microbrews. And he doesn’t just review beers; restaurants occasionally make the cut, too.  Writing consistently since 2006, his blog is the best local resource on beer, breweries and news as it relates to the beer world.

Drink Dogma:  A blog established by Bobby Heugel and his partners — including Kevin Floyd and Justin Barrow — to keep the public abreast of their progress on the Anvil opening, it’s evolved into a fantastic resource for cocktail information ranging from the history of certain drinks to their favorite libation literature.

Blue State Carpetbagger:  A wine blog from a man who knows his varietals, Tom Casagrande worked in the wine business in New York City for five years before moving to Houston.  His blog is a great read for two reasons: He’s been blogging continually since 2005, so there’s a wealth of information from prior years and posts and he specializes in recommending inexpensive yet wonderful wines, an especially welcomed speciality these days.

Do you have your own local favorites? Did I miss a beverage blog you can’t live without? Leave it in the comments section below; we want to hear all about it!

And…cheers!

Hot Links, Get Yer Hot Links!

It’s been over three weeks since the last roundup of Houston food writing (yikes!), so let’s get to it!

A few (but not all) of my own posts from Eating Our Words over at the Houston Press:

And some excellent posts from around town:

  • The King of Tex-Mex Is DeadRobb Walsh pays tribute to Matt Martinez, Jr., who passed away last Friday in Dallas.
  • Tofu & BBQ:  You wouldn’t think these two things go together, but Robb shows us that’s not the case.
  • Bargain of the Week: Hot & Sour Soup from 888 ChineseAlison Cook raves about the spicy soup — available for $3.75 per quart — that’s both budget- and belly-friendly.
  • Hue Gone AwaySwamplot uncovers some facts about the oddly-situated Vietnamese restaurant’s recent closure.
  • Mayhaw! Yams! Honey!  Houston Foodie divulges the location of a prime produce market off I-10 outside of Anahuac.  He had me a mayhaw.
  • More Sex!  Less Food!  The Eggheads Proclaimeth:  Another Houston Foodie post, this time at Eating Our Words.  I’m noticing a distinct fondness for interrobangs in his headlines.  This is a well-researched commentary on a recent Stanford University article that had tongues wagging: Is Food the New Sex?
  • Houston’s Professional Food Critics:  A interesting discussion of where new and old media meet with regard to local food writing.  Anonymous Eater at Food in Houston has been on a roll lately, pushing out one thoughtfully written post after another.  It’s been a rare treat.  Check out some of his other great posts below…
  • The Tale of the Pig’s Head:  What exactly does one do with a whole pig’s head?
  • Houston’s Diversity: Food for Thought:  For all our diversity, Houston seems to be missing a few key cuisines.
  • Tasty Salted Pig Parts:  Ruthie at Great Food Houston is currently vacationing in San Francisco.  Read about her adventures with tasty, tasty pig parts.
  • All Is Right in the Food World:  Cory at I’ve Got the Munchies happily notes that our very own Texas Burger Guy is back to blogging after a one-year hiatus.
  • …On Brownies:  Plinio Sandalio, pastry chef at Textile and Gravitas, shares a fabulous recipe for stovetop brownies on his blog, Bakin ‘n’ Bacon.
  • Road Trip Chow Down: Chris Madrid’s in San AntonioH Town Chow Down takes a trip to the famous San Antonio burger joint and conclues that Houston is still the best burger town in Texas.
  • Vegan 3-Bean Chili:  The amazingly talented Shannon at Shabak’s Kitchen shares a hearty recipe for vegan chili.
  • Universal Recycling Techniques:  Dr. Ricky has an incredible compatcness to his writing, and shares in his typically straightforward manner four ways you can recycle leftover food for new meals.
  • Seven Reasons Kroger Sucked Last Night:  And, finally, for a bit of levity, Jeff Balke elaborates on a point we can all agree on, which is that Kroger’s sucks.

Getting Some Ink

Not that kind of ink.

If you’re here in Houston, make sure to pick up a copy of the latest Houston Press on newstands today.  Flip over to the dining section and there I be!  In ink!  With my real name and everything!

If you’re not local, here’s a link to the article:  The Tastes of Textile.  (And if you’re intent on leaving a comment on the article, you can do so here.)

This is my first “real” restaurant review, in that someone paid me to do this and then actually used valuable ink and paper to publish it.  I’m still a bit stunned by that.  Moreover, I’m still happily befuddled about being allowed to review such a high-profile restaurant and I know that — undoubtedly — people will question why a bottom-rung, low-man-on-the-totem-pole food writer like me was chosen to review Textile.  I can’t answer that.  But I can say that I’m extremely appreciative for the opportunity.  Working with the folks over at the Houston Press — both on this review and on the food blog (Eating Our Words) has been one of the best experiences of my life so far.

Okay, that was me being sappy.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Now go read the review!

EDIT:  There’s been some feedback on the review this morning, from two different sources.  Plinio Sandalio, the pastry chef at Textile, wrote a short blog about the review.  And H Town Chow Down, one of my favorite local food blogs, has a write-up concentrating on one of the aspects of Textile that bothered me the most.