Pho to Ramen, Bulgogi to Bo 7 Mon

The top 10 restaurants in Chinatown.

Top 10

Chinatown is my favorite neighborhood for dining and exploration in the entire city. For every old favorite you visit, you're guaranteed to find at least two new restaurants to fall in love with. You may not be able to get around by foot here — unlike some other cities' Chinatown districts — but that's because Houston's Chinatown is one of the largest in the country, covering six square miles.

The problem when covering a neighborhood this vast — not just geographically vast but also culturally vast — is choosing only ten restaurants out of the hundreds that dot the strip malls up and down Bellaire Boulevard. I could easily do a top 50 list in Chinatown, and I am emphatically not kidding. So I decided to focus instead on simply my ten favorite places in Chinatown. These are the restaurants I visit most often, the ones I implore others to try and the ones I dream about when it's been too long between visits.

Beef chow fun at House of Bowls.
Troy Fields
Beef chow fun at House of Bowls.
We are not friends, you and I.
Katharine Shilcutt
We are not friends, you and I.

10. Cafe Kubo's

One of the hippest and yet most casual places to spend an evening in Chinatown is at Cafe Kubo's, the younger and far more mod sister of the staid Kubo's in Rice Village. Instead of focusing on sushi, however, Cafe Kubo's offers a much more traditional Japanese fast-food menu of dishes such as curried pork cutlets over rice, bento boxes of fried chicken and bowls of tonkatsu ramen that complement its easygoing vibe. Happy hour runs every day of the week here, and the food and drink specials make it a huge draw in the evenings.

9. Seoul House

Seoul House is the laid-back little brother of the huge cook-your-own-food Korean restaurants that populate Spring Branch and parts of Chinatown. The bulgogi and bibimbap are as good as I've had anywhere, and the stir-fried veggies with clear noodles and seafood pancake are excellent. Serve yourself from the banchan cart that flanks one wall, and be sure to get at least one bowl of haemul dolsot — the rice crisps up perfectly in Seoul House's stone bowls every time.

8. Pho Binh by Night

It used to be that the Chinatown go-to for late-night dining was Tan Tan. And while it's still a strong contender for the list, you can get far better food at Pho Binh by Night until 3 a.m on Fridays and Saturdays. (It's open until midnight the rest of the week.) Pho Binh is an offshoot of the immensely popular Pho Binh trailer in south Houston — owned by the very same family, so you know the pho is still every bit as amazing — and offers a specialty rarely seen elsewhere: bone marrow, which you can add to your pho like so much meat butter.

7. Saigon Pagolac

This is where the Asian community goes for "Vietnamese fajitas"; bo 7 mon (beef seven ways) and crispy; whole-fried catfish. At Saigon Pagolac, you cook your own tenderloin slices on a miniature black cast-iron skillet heated by a butane-fired tabletop cooker. The steak is served with chopped vegetables and exotic herbs that exude flavors of mint, licorice, cinnamon and pepper. And if you're a pescatarian, you'll want to order an entire one of Saigon Pagolac's crunchy-skinned, nearly caramelized catfish for yourself.

6. Pho Ga Dakao

Pho Ga Dakao is on the sleepier end of Chinatown, but that doesn't stop this pho ga (chicken soup) joint from being packed every day of the week. It's open late on the weekends and even for breakfast — any time is a good time for the Vietnamese version of chicken noodle soup, after all. Stick with the pho ga here; 11 different combinations are available, but the "Dakao chicken rice noodle soup special" with everything (including hearts, gizzards, livers and tripe) is the most flavorful and one of the most popular orders.

5. Fu Fu Cafe

Robb Walsh said it best back in 2007, when the Houston Press gave Fu Fu Cafe the Best of Houston® award for Best Dumplings:

"Fu Fu's awesome soup dumplings appear on the menu disguised as 'A26 Steam Pork Bun (4) $2.50.' The only way to appreciate the true genius of the soup dumpling is to burst the whole thing in your mouth. That way, the soup combines with the soft dough and the loose meatball to form a wonderfully slurpy bite of soup, meat and dough. By all means try them, but remember, they come to the table extremely hot. Wait until they cool!"

Fu Fu is also another late-night dining favorite; it's open until 4 a.m. on the weekends and 2 a.m. the rest of the week.

4. Sushi Miyagi

Don't be fooled by appearances: Sushi Miyagi, though nondescript from the outside, hosts an amazing, authentically Japanese restaurant inside. Miyagi, the sushi chef and owner, has honed his craft over 30 years and serves up both traditional Japanese dishes like stellar agedashi tofu as well as more American treats like giant hand rolls. The sashimi here is similarly wonderful, and lunch specials — which extend even to Saturday — are a great time to get your Japanese fix without blowing the bank. Just don't expect a quick meal; Miyagi and his elderly wife are the only employees here, so be prepared to take your time.

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