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Ethnic Explorer

Does the thought of combing through the Chinese restaurants on Bellaire intimidate you? Let Jay Francis help.

"So what happened to Imperial Restaurant?" I wonder, since the place looks closed.

"I think I heard that an off-duty Houston police officer got shot during a wedding party there. After that, the restaurant went through a lot of changes, and then it went out of business," he says.

"How is the Shanghai Restaurant next door?" I ask him. "I heard they have great dim sum."

All over but the Shouting: An enthusiastic eater, Jay Francis always carries two kinds of stain remover.
Robb Walsh
All over but the Shouting: An enthusiastic eater, Jay Francis always carries two kinds of stain remover.

"It used to be about the best dim sum around, but it's not as good anymore. The dumplings are soggy, and the selection isn't great. I don't know what happened."

"Any other tour stops in this neighborhood?"

"If you like dumplings, don't miss Santong Snacks [9384 Bellaire, (713)271-3945] in the Diho Plaza shopping center just down the street. I just had lunch there the other day, and it was fabulous. The place specializes in dumplings from a certain part of China. They are pork and cabbage dumplings, and they're always fresh. An order of 12 dumplings is $3.75. They also make a wonderful noodle soup; they make the noodles with the same fresh dough they use for the dumplings. I always get the roast beef noodle soup with homemade flat noodles and Chinese cabbage. A small bowl is $3.50, and -- get this -- the large bowl is $3.75!" Francis chuckles.

"I go with a Chinese friend of mine who also gets the pickled cucumber and pig's ear appetizer. The pig's ear is cut into slivers, and it tastes a lot like jellyfish. But the best part is, after lunch, you can buy a dozen frozen dumplings to take with you. They're the same price, $3.75. You just take them home and throw them in boiling water. When they float, they're ready to eat.

"And if you want to do some serious Asian food shopping, head further down Bellaire to the Hong Kong City Market out past Beltway 8. You won't believe the selection there."

At the next table, the waiter has delivered something that catches Francis's interest. He goes over to the table and chats with two Chinese men seated there.

"Do you speak any Chinese?" I ask when he gets back.

"No, I wish I did. Luckily that guy spoke pretty good English. One time I came in here, and there were four people at the table next to me who had some really interesting dishes, including a stew served with one of those Sterno warmers, just like that one," Francis says, pointing at the stewpot sitting on the table he just visited. "When I asked the waiter what the dish was, he said, 'That is for Chinese people only. You won't like it.' I always wondered what it was. And I just found out."

"So what was it?"

"Pig intestine stew," he says with a shy smile. We both know we should be broad-minded and give it a try, but neither one of us is very eager.

Sometimes you gotta trust the waiter.

For information on how to join Houston Culinary Historians, call Jay Francis at (281)504-6382. For information on the Eye-Openers Tours of Houston, call the Orange Show Foundation at (713)926-6368.

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