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New Leaf

Banana Leaf begs the question: Why aren't there more Malaysian restaurants in Houston?

The masak lemak — again, a more traditional Malaysian and Singaporean dish — was excellent despite the punier shrimp it contained. The dish more than made up for the puniness with copious amounts of vegetables, including enormous oyster and shiitake mushrooms that exploded with an earthy burst in the mouth. My normally taciturn and reserved dining companion couldn't stop talking about the inspired balance of flavors in the dish, which is aptly described on the menu as being enveloped in an "aromatic chili gravy." His exact comment was, "This is really, really, really, really good," an incredible compliment coming from a man of notoriously very few words.

The only complaint about the two dishes was the lack of heat, despite an ominous red flame symbol next to both on the menu. My dining partner felt that the sambal shrimp had a nice, steady, prolonged burn to it, but I felt that both dishes could have benefited slightly from a sharper and bolder kick. All of this was forgotten, of course, as we tore into dessert: Banana leaf pancake, a piece of roti filled with clarified butter and sliced bananas, which seeped gooey banana and sugary butter with every mouthwatering bite.
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Sambal shrimp (front) and crispy fried tofu are highlights on the large menu.
Daniel Kramer
Sambal shrimp (front) and crispy fried tofu are highlights on the large menu.

Location Info

Map

Banana Leaf

9889 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, TX 77036

Category: Restaurant > Malaysian

Region: Outer Loop - SW

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Roti canai: $2.75

Crispy pork intestines: $6.95

Crispy fried satay tofu: $5.50

Mango chicken: $12.95

Sambal shrimp: $16.95

Masak lemak: $9.95

Banana pancake: $4.95

9889 Bellaire, suite 311, 713-771-8118.

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Perhaps one of the reasons that we don't have more Malaysian restaurants in Houston is the idea that it's still a very "foreign" culture, possessing foods and beverages unfamiliar to the average diner. But that couldn't be farther from the truth. Much like another mysteriously maligned cuisine — Ethiopian food — Malaysian cooking is the same food you know and love, only cooked in a slightly different way (and with a fantastic signature flatbread, to boot). You don't have to be an expert in Malaysian food to enjoy Banana Leaf; you just have to possess a mouth. It's that easy.

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