Category Archives: Restaurant

Songkran Thai

New job, new lunch crew. We had our first group outing last week to try a recent entry into the Thai arena, Songkran Thai.

Atmosphere
I wish I understood what’s happening in Songkran’s neighborhood, Uptown Park. On the one hand it offers high-brow venues catering to the wealthy Central American residents who buy up all the glossy, multi-million dollar condos. On the other hand it definitely tries to appeal to those who want sit-down fast food. Maybe the combination works.

Songkran Thai is in the newer section of Uptown Park. Its a small space inside and they do have limited outdoor seating, not that you’ll remotely consider that an option in Houston during the summer. Exposed brick, brightly colored Buddha art, modern music at conversation-level volume, polished but casual. For lunch they seemed to attract entry-level professionals in skinny suits and shiny, pointy shoes.

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Food
We’ll be returning for a Restaurant Weeks dinner this weekend but this time was lunch which was mostly good. Lunch offerings are ‘plates’; entree, salad and soup. The soup was hot but unfortunately it lacked any flavour and we all moved it aside rapidly. Salad was good but not notable; most of the enjoyment came from the creamy sesame-ginger dressing. Removing the dressing you’d have some torn lettuce, carrots shreds and a few fried wonton strips.

My main event was excellent; fish in tamarind sauce. Lightly floured and pan-fried but I couldn’t tell you what kind of fish was used, it was about the sauce – basil, ginger, tamarind, fish sauce and garlic was strong but enjoyable. Broccoli and rice were along for the ride, apparently more for visual appeal and texture.

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Service
We arrived at the very start of lunch, 1130, and it was clear they were in the middle of setting up for a lunch crowd coming much later. Given that, the service was pleasant and efficient but often distracted. Orders for our table of 8 arrived in 20 minutes.

Price
Acceptable for the Uptown Park area but a little higher than normal for Thai food. Lunch plates ranged from $10-15.

While we liked Songkran and I’ll be returning this weekend to try it again for dinner, it does not dethrone Thai Gourmet as best Thai in Houston.

Lunch: August 2016

Songkran Thai | 1101-08 Uptown Park Blvd. | HTX 77056

Oz | Sydney, Harry’s

Its fast food in Sydney terms but who cares. You’ll find remnants of England in Australia, however modified to become Australian,  one of the more delicious artifacts is the pie. I asked several natives which pie shoppe was the best and they all pointed to Harry’s. The more formal name for this informal eatery is Harry’s Cafe de Wheels. Outposts all over the city but the Wooloomooloo location is ideal if you are investigating the Gallery NSW, Royal Botanic Gardens or Opera House.

A flaky, buttery casing to hold whichever fillings and toppings you choose. I definitely recommend The Tiger – steak cubes topped with potato mash then pea mash then a rich brown gravy. Fair warning, the steak is quite peppery, so you might want to dig to the bottom and taste test before slathering on additional spices.

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Lunch: November 2015

Harry’s | Cowper Wharf | Wooloomooloo NSW 2011

Mary and Tito’s

During this trip to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, I was curious to learn the difference between Mexican and New Mexican food. When I looked at menus from self-branded New Mexican venues, the fare looked exactly the same as local Mexican fare.

Turns out, they are mostly the same except for one thing – the chili. The chiles they use are local. There is a green version, the New Mexican Hatch chile and a red version which is made from a local red chile whose name I forget. So now when you are faced with the question every New Mexican restaurant will ask you – ‘Red, Green or Christmas?’, you’ll know they are asking what kind of chile do you want slathered over your meal.

I tried 5 New Mexican restaurants, in each case going ‘Christmas’ so I could try their versions of the red and green chile, Mary and Tito’s was the hands-down winner.

Atmosphere
Almost all the New Mexican restaurants in Albuquerque are come as you are, very casual and typically packed with families. Mary and Titos is no different in that respect. North of the busier sections of town, its an old house, converted, nestled between buildings in what seemed an industrial section of town. Its odd on the approach but once you pass through the big wooden doors, you’ll swear you’re in someone’s home.

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Food
So many choices but I was focused on the chili. I ordered up the pork carnitas plate with ‘Christmas chili’. Plates here come with rice and beans; you can choose from re-fried or black beans. When the plate arrived, there was so much chile atop the carnitas I couldn’t see the carnitas. When I excavated and isolated the carnitas from the chili they were excellent solo; moist and smoky, falling apart in my mouth without chewing. The chili here is made fresh daily, both the red and green adding substantial flavour to the rest of the plate. The chili at Mary and Tito’s was the only version I tried not having salty overtones, which was good considering the inherent saltiness of the roasted pork underneath.

As for which chili I liked the best, tough call. Both were ‘amusingly warm’ but with very different flavours; the green tasting more mellow, herbal and fire roasted, the red was a little more feisty and had a vinegar bite.

I never made it to the rice nor beans so I can’t comment on either.

Service
You’re not in a hurry when you walk through the doors and there are so many interesting things on the wall that the 15-30 minute wait will fly by. Other than that, the servers here are incredibly knowledgeable about the history of Mary and Tito’s, if you can catch them between darting in and out of the kitchen with a seemingly endless parade of plates.

Price
Almost every item carries a single digit price tag so its definitely one of the stronger value plays in town considering the quality.

If you find yourself hungry in Albuquerque, definitely make Mary and Tito’s a stop. Muscle past the odd, industrial location and the scores of Harley’s parked outside, its truly a good New Mexican food experience. Afterwards you can drive a little further down the road to see the Breaking Bad filming location where Heisenberg whipped up his Blue Meth.

Lunch: September 2015

Mary and Tito’s | 2711 4th St. NW | ABQ 87107

Honeymoon Cafe

Honeymoon Cafe is one of several craft cocktail bars recently opening in the Market Square area of downtown. I hadn’t noticed before last month but almost all of the spaces on Main St in this part of town are now bars focusing on anything but off-the-rack cocktails. Good on them.

Honeymoon is a little different from the rest of the craft cocktail bars since they also have  breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner menus. I liked that their breakfast menu was available all day which makes possible the almost irresistible breakfast for dinner option.

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Atmosphere
Houston considers ‘old buildings’ anything built more than 50 years ago. Its also prone to yanking those buildings down in favour of shiny glass and steel boxes. Shame, but at least in downtown you’ll find the last remnants of buildings originally built before 1900. Honeymoon is smack in the middle of one cluster.

Historical context and old-world architectural detail aside, you’ll find Honeymoon to be very casual with mixed bag patronage. Early hours usually pulls in post-work suits umbilically attached to laptops, later hours pulls the pre-party crowd getting in some meaningful conversation before the night spins out of control.

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Drink
Yep, there is food and I’ve been happy with my food orders here on previous trips, however  this round was about drinks. And actually I just tried the one, Peter Cottontail,  but with different preparations.

The base layer of the Peter Cottontail is carrot juice. Ginger and lemon are added and then there is the variable; either Green Chili vodka or Mandarin Orange vodka. I tried both but my preference was for the Green Chili version. A little amusing heat from the chili, inherent sweetness of the carrot, a little acidity from the lemon and the zing of ginger all in one glass. Its health drink! I can rationalize with the best of them.

Service
Like most ‘craft cocktail’ venues, each drink is prepared with almost ceremonial process so it will take a bit longer. Food orders are typically a 20-30 minute turnaround. Staff here are mostly friendly and knowledgeable however I did get some impatience from one bartender when I asked some questions about preparation. Who knows, maybe dude was having a bad day but this seems an anomaly rather than the standard.

Price
Pretty fair. $9-12 per cocktail. $8-15 per food main.

Drinks: August2015

Honeymoon Cafe| 300 Main | HTX 770902

Karbach Brewery

I knew about Karbach beer, however not being a huge beer consumer I was surprised it was brewed right here in Houston. I was also surprised when Karbach Brewery Restaurant popped up for restaurant week, so I felt compelled to investigate their 3-course dinner with beer pairings.

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Atmosphere
Disneyland for adults.  Its a modern structure, sporting the ubiquitous soft-loft feel; floor to ceiling windows, lots of steel and polished concrete. The interior is filled with upbeat music, brick walls, wood tables and chairs and people who are arguably the happiest in Houston. From the interior you can see the squeaky clean inner workings of the brewery through large glass windows. You can also see the outdoor seating area which is about as large as the indoors. Its a loud space but not so bad you’ll need to scream. If you were thinking about getting dressed up, there’s really no need, almost everyone was in shorts and flops; I felt over dressed in jeans and boat shoes.

Food
Surprisingly, for a brewery, the food here was great. One of our crew explained that they hired a chef away from another restaurant to create a menu pairing well with their beer offerings. He nailed it.

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Korean Fried Chicken: What’s not to like? Crunchy on the out, juicy on the in, a very spicy glaze of hot pepper, garlic, soy and honey. That they added a bit of chopped kimchi and green onion created a fermented and herbal note that peeked through the glaze momentarily. Very tasty and satisfying in a comfort food way.

Weekend Warrior Chicken: Roasted chicken is uninteresting on its own but here they create a layered approach to the dish both for your eyes and your taste buds.The roasted 1/4 chicken, brined in their Weekend Warrior Pale Ale, sits atop crispy polenta rectangles which sits atop a spicy tomato sauce; a tangle of grilled green onion which, in turn, creates a nest for a grilled lemon. I might have to try it again to confirm that I really liked.

BBH Chocolate Cake: Not a dessert person but who can resist taking at least one bite of chocolate cake made with BBH, Bourbon Barrel Hell-raiser, which is Karbach’s much lighter version of a Chocolate Stout. Still too sweet for me but people with more normal taste buds appreciated, particularly when paired with cinnamon vanilla ice cream and, of course, a 4 ounce pour of BBH itself.

Price
Hard to say about their usual menu since this was restaurant week and the 3-course lot was $35. My guess is the everyday menu is fairly priced.

Service
This is part of the atmosphere. While shorts-clad and very young, the wait staff here know everything about the food and beer offerings. Restaurant week meals come with pre-selected beers (4 ounce pours), however that did not stop us from ordering more beer and our server was spot on aligning particular tastes with what was on tap.

While the brewery is a little out of the way for us inner-loopers who don’t normally travel too far north of the 610 and the parking was a little odd, we all agreed we’ll be back. An interesting note, just in case you like to throw large parties, the entire upstairs is rentable.

Dinner: August 2015

Karbach Brewery | 2032 Karbach St | HTX 77092

 

Dosi

The Korean sector in Houston is concentrated slightly west of town along Longpoint Rd. near Blalock. There you can find dozens of Korean restaurants and a Kroger-sized grocery dealing mostly with Korean items. However, in town, Korean options are sparse. This in-town restaurant, Dosi, is not strictly Korean, it leans more towards fusion.

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Atmosphere
Dosi did a Madonna; It disappeared only to come back with a new look. The look is sophisticated industrial with a tinge of street thanks to inside murals by Houston’s Aerosol Kriminals. The bright pink murals, light trees and wall of marinating produce broke up the rectangular grid of interior and created interest.

There were not many people for lunch but apparently they had a bumper crop the previous night – a late, last minute party of 20 – and they were out of a lot of items. They were quick to offer impromptu substitutes for missing items and they actually closed the restaurant after we were seated so we had full run over the remaining menu items.

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Food
The food here is mostly great, however Korean purists are going to take exception to the ingredients, preparation and presentation.

Bibimbab: I ordered the bibimbap for lunch and it was mediocre. The chicken and vegetables lacked flavour and the rice was dry. I salvaged the lot by applying liberal amount of gochujang, the Korean hot pepper paste.

Kimchee, Pork Belly Pancakes: Stellar. Crispy on the out, soft on the in, good texture play with the roasted pork belly and just the right amount of kimchee to flavour without becoming overpowering. The vinegar, soy, hot pepper dipping sauce was amazing. The homemade kimchee in pots on every table were a great topping with these.

Gulf Oyster Ssam: Also amazing. Crispy potato-starch fried oysters presented with lettuce for wrapping along with nori strips, red bell pepper, kumquats and a gochujang aioli. This is a good example of how Dosi does fusion with excellent results.

Price
Its in line with other Upper Kirby establishments for lunch, $8-10 per app, $10-15 per entree. For those who know the prices of authentic Korean restaurants, this will seem high, however consider the time and money costs of getting to those from an in-town location.

Service
It was our server’s first day and she was faced with 12 hungry people, serious time restrictions and a lot of missing menu items. I applaud her ability to negotiate with the chef to come up with adhoc substitutes and to offer us deals on those items. I would not want that as my first day experience but she handled it extremely well. Hopefully that is a harbinger of the service level in general.

While I’m still partial to authentic Korean I’ll definitely return to Dosi to try more of their fusion items. I’m also curious to try a few of their Soju offerings which are featured prominently during their daily Soju happy hour.

Lunch: July 2015

Dosi | 2802 S. Shepard | HTX 77098

Biryani Pot

The moment I start thinking I’ve tried every Indian restaurant in Houston my Indian friends introduce me to yet another. They were excited to take me to Biryani Pot, a place specializing in its namesake, biryani, a spicy rice dish typically made with mutton or goat. They explained along the way that this would be a Hyderabadi biryani, which apparently is different in terms of the spices and cooking method. I smiled and nodded since I had no basis, not having tasted a biryani before, more hot pepper is all a remembered and that was enough to sell me.

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Atmosphere
The manager explained that Biryani Pot is a small chain; its 6 locations are in Texas and New Jersey. The location in Houston, and apparently all the others, are known for being located in high-traffic strip malls and for being ‘bare bones’ in atmosphere. Its definitely casual, comfortable, small and insanely busy. There will be a line. I’ve been twice for lunch, once mid-week, another time Friday. On Friday there were 20 people waiting for a table. Luckily it went quickly, 15 minutes; they are geared up for high turnaround.

Food
Biryani is a rice dish but the rice seemed more like vermicelli both visually and in texture. Soft, almost melt in your mouth but loaded with flavour. Hot chili is the dominant spice but traces of turmeric, cumin and curry leaves were detectable.

For lunch you can get biryani on its own or as part of a lunch special with several other items; the lunch special is ordered either veg or non-veg. I went non-veg and enjoyed chicken biryani (whole pieces), chicken korma, tandoori chicken, chili moong dal and salad. All were excellent and you have to love the old school lunch tray delivery.

On a second trip I tried my favorite Indian dish, Vindaloo. I learned from the manager  that Vindaloo is derived from a Portuguese dish, which is apparently often the case for dishes hailing from the Indian state of Goa. Whatever its roots, the Vindaloo here tops all others I’ve had, its hot chili, vinegar and garlic-ginger flavours command high attention; the chicken was fall apart tender and juicy.

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Service
They are almost always at capacity with a line but surprisingly the service here is fast. For lunch the order and out cycle can be as fast as 30 minutes. They are a friendly lot but don’t expect them to linger, dote or engage. Its a high-volume model. Pay at the counter on your way out.

Price
Lunch Special $12. Almost all the non-special lunch were $12 and under. Reasonable.

Next door to Biryani Pot is Hyderabad House which, to a novice like me, serves almost the same menu. I’ll try it at some point despite my Indian friends casually trying to dissuade me from such. I get the psychology, loyalty is paramount in Indian culture and they know the owners of Biryani Pot. Me, I don’t know either owners, I’m simply interested in what they put on my plate and how much I enjoy it.

Lunch: May 2015

Biryani Pot | 6509 Westheimer | HTX 77057

OKC | Haiget’s

My OKC friend and I were sitting having coffee and talking  about important things like where to have lunch. She went over the high visibility places downtown then casually mentioned a former employee had just opened a restaurant close to her home in Edmond. When I probed a little more she mentioned it was an African venue but she didn’t know which country, maybe South Africa.

We opted for the local African venue since when we looked up it was already 1p. 4 hours of coffee talk, I guess that’s normal.

Turns out the restaurant, Haiget’s, is both Kenyan and Ethiopian. It’s owners are a young couple, she is from Ethiopia, he is from Kenya. The restaurant is named after her.

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Atmosphere

It’s a small place in a subtle strip in Edmond. Inside its lively and bright, the orange walls certainly help as does the bouncy background music, which might be from Kenya or Ethiopia but I wouldn’t know. Casual and family oriented; a few single diners interspersed between larger families.

Food

I’m no expert on African fare but having a few Ethiopian friends has afforded me some experience. This is the best Ethiopian food I’ve had to date, beating out the reigning champion in my mind, Massawa, the Ethiopian venue near Columbia U in NYC.

Next time I’ll wander into the unfamiliar Kenyan side of the menu but this time I ordered from the Ethiopian side – Lamb Tibs (left pic). Lamb cubes, ridiculously tender, in a Nitr Qibe base. Nitr Qibe is a spiced, clarified butter owing its flavour to Berbere, an unusual spice mix heavy on the chili, garlic, fenugreek and turmeric. The Tibs came with ingera, the slightly fermented teff-flour based bread used to scoop up everything else, and a side. The Kenyan recommended ‘Avocado Salad’ as a side and it was delicious – chunks of avocado, jalapeno and tomato in a olive-oil, lime vinaigrette.

My OKC friend, for her first experience with African food, ordered up the national dish of Ethiopia, Doro Wat (right pic), chicken drums in a Berbere based stew. She didn’t say much after the Kenyan explained how to eat the Wat, just an occasional ‘MMMmmm’, a global sound of approval.

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Service

Since Haiget’s is a family-owned and operated business catering to a small community, they rely on word of mouth testimonies. No surprise, their service is extremely personable. The Kenyan stopped by twice to check up on us and asked if there was anything else we wanted. He even brought out a sample of Mandazi, the Kenyan ‘donut’, a fried, slightly sweet bread roll, which was good on its own but better dipped into the sauce of either of our mains.

Price

Most everything was between $8-12, which is reasonable if not slightly less expensive than other Ethiopian venues I’ve tried. In any case, considering the quality, its definitely worth it.

My OKC friend was glad we went, taking one of their to-go menus for those nights when driving the whole 1/2 mile to pick up dinner would be so much more enjoyable than cooking at home. Me, I’ll be back, next time I’ll be digging into the Kenyan side of the menu.

Lunch: March 2015

Haiget’s | 308 W Edmond | Edmond, OK 73003

 

 

 

OKC | Cheever’s

Friends who grew up in Oklahoma City recommended Cheever’s Cafe for lunch while I was in town. When they described where it was they said, ‘just a bit north of Nichols Hill in Uptown’. There was a twinge of pride when they said Nichols Hill but it meant absolutely nothing to me. Turns out, as I googled my way to the restaurant, Nichols Hill, is the schmancy, old money area. It is beautiful and well-kept so next time in OKC, a walking tour will be in order.

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Atmosphere

The restaurant and bar are situated in a renovated Deco house; solid, dark wood bar, floor to ceiling windows overlooking the tree-lined property and a rustic but sophisticated feel. The house has history tethered to the very first child born to Oklahoma City. Generations of that family lived in the house before it changed hands in the 90’s. Much of the atmosphere is due to the admirable preservation of architectural details. A complete and interesting history is on the menu and is worth a read.

Food

Oklahoma City is probably best known for its chicken-fried steak. I had to laugh since I was seated next to two ladies on the flight up and they spent the whole hour comparing and contrasting various venues for the best chicken-fried streak They never agreed on one place so they decided they would do two, one for lunch, another for dinner. Ah, the art of compromise.

You’ll find chicken-fried steak on the menu but Cheever’s is eclectic in their offerings, many of which are specials. I went the specials route and it was a win.

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I was expecting the Potato-Sausage soup to have chunky ingredients but it was more a creamy potato base with minced sausage. And a lot of black pepper. I’d imagine some would be taken aback by the amount of black pepper but for me, it was great. Smoky sausage hit the tongue first followed by a creamy potato base. Later a black pepper retro burn started simultaneously with heat from the finishing drizzle of chili oil.

Chicken fried steaks came out for the table next to me at the same time as my Grilled Salmon Tacos. My tacos looked like an appetizer in comparison, however I barely finished them. Grilled salmon mixed with a mixture of corn, tomato, cilantro and chopped arugula in a light lime-cumin-chipotle dressing was intriguing both in flavour and texture. Spicy but not to the point it overwhelmed the main ingredient, the salmon. It was filling but not to the pants unbuttoning stage. The side ‘green rice’ tasted mostly like arugula and cilantro. I added a bit to my tacos, which was good, but on its own, it was missing something, maybe a little salt or heat.

Service

I was on the tail end of lunch rush so it was just me and the chicken-fried streak couple to my left. Service was great, personable but not intrusive. Server was quite excited that I came from out of state on word of mouth.

Price

Medium but it might be considered high for OKC. Soup, salmon tacos, 2 espressos – $25

I’ll definitely return to Cheever’s on my next trip to OKC, however I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to tackle the chicken-fried steak!

Lunch: March 2015

Cheever’s Cafe | 2409 N Hudson | OKC 73103

 

Fusion Taco

IMG_3231_FotorTaco wars are constant and usually heated in Houston. Some Houstonians are purists wanting their tacos with specific ingredients and from specific family-owned venues located in Hispanic communities. Others are more adventurous, leaning toward the fusion fare originating in the food truck arena now infiltrating every neighbourhood. Some people may still be surprised to find tacos with a Korean bent, filled with bulgogi, kimchi, cilantro, queso fresco and gochujang, but locally these have been around for decades and there are dozens of vendors dishing them up daily.

I stumbled across a new fusion bent on tacos at a venue near downtown’s Market Square, aptly named, Fusion Taco. I was surprised by the combinations; mostly Indian, Japanese and Lebanese. However, I was not surprised they started out as a food truck not too long ago.

Atmosphere
Casual, open, lively. The floor-to-ceiling glass front facing Market Square makes for good people watching. Weekdays the crowd tend to be suits from the oil biz, weekends it tends towards those gathering for events at Toyota Center, Minute Maid or the Theatre District.

Food

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Mostly wins. The Chicken Tikka Masala taco, which is an open face naan ‘taco’ topped with a dollop of spicy, creamy tikka masala sauce and ridiculously tender chicken, was a win. The Chicken Tikka taco is a ‘special’ taco which are larger and quite filling. For vegetarians, there is also a Tofu Tikka Masala taco.

The Agedashi Tofu taco was also a win, several panko-fried tofu cubes topped with a cabbage mixture tossed in a sweet soy, ginger and garlic sauce. A good texture play – soft tortillas, crunchy cabbage, toothy tofu.

The short-rib taco, not so good. The meat was stringy, overcooked and lacked flavour.

Service
Counter-order, table delivery. I’ve been three times, mostly for lunch rush, order to delivery times are 10-15 minutes. Everyone is very friendly and helpful. The only downside is at lunch rush you might have to bus an empty table yourself, since the patron turnover is quick and their staff sometimes cannot keep up.

Price
Regular tacos are $2-3. ‘Specials’, $5. At lunch they have a special meal deal – 2 tacos, one side, one drink, $11.

Lunch: March 2015

Fusion Taco | 801 Congress | HTX 77002