Pho to Ramen, Bulgogi to Bo 7 Mon

The top 10 restaurants in Chinatown.

3. Banana Leaf

Regardless of which location you choose — the first, smaller one where there's always an hour's wait or the new location...where there's still usually a wait — Banana Leaf is the perfect place to experience Malaysian food for the first time. The friendly service and exciting dishes, such as the sweetly spicy sambal shrimp, chow fun, soft-shell crab and the hand-tossed roti canai, make the restaurant a destination despite its casual atmosphere and low prices. Take advantage of its generous BYOB policy and bring a bottle of Riesling to supplement the savory pan-Asian cuisine.

2. House of Bowls

Wipe out: That Pizza Place on Ella closes to make room for Surfing Cowboys.
Troy Fields
Wipe out: That Pizza Place on Ella closes to make room for Surfing Cowboys.

House of Bowls offers perhaps Houston's most authentic Hong Kong-style food experience in a festive, colorful atmosphere. Bring a group and prepare to eat a lot of food (without spending a lot of money). Can't-miss dishes include the pitch-perfect beef chow fun dry-style with fresh noodles and the curried shrimp fried rice. But for something different, indulge in a plate of crunchy, deep-fried chicken wings or House of Bowls' crowning glory: Hong Kong-style French toast stuffed with peanut butter and topped with sweetened condensed milk.

1. Mala Sichuan

Mala Sichuan represents a new direction for Chinatown as one of the new "second-generation" restaurants that focus on serving authentic food (Sichuanese cuisine in this case) but with more Western elements like snappy service and an easy-to-decipher menu. Owner Cori Xiong's all-Sichuan team of chefs also ensures that nearly every dish to come out of the kitchen is a winner, from the ginger-sauce-braised, softball-size pork meatballs and tea-smoked duck to more exotic foods like the red-chile oil-laced Couple's Lung Dish (made mostly with beef tendons, not lungs) or ma po tofu and the ultra-spicy live tilapia dishes that are the restaurant's most popular with ­Chinese patrons.

On the Menu

I Ate My First McRib
And I regret it.

Katharine Shilcutt

I made it through 32 years without tasting a McRib. Over three decades spent tasting and eating all other manner of offensive foods — yet a McRib had never passed my lips until last Thursday. I can't say I regret my meal. It goes deeper than that: a sense that I gave in, sheeplike, to a national phenomenon whose promises — no matter how meager — were always going to fall short of my expectations.

I knew I wouldn't like or even understand the McRib and was content to go the rest of my life without tasting one. Fast food and I have a strained relationship as it is except for a few soft spots: McDonald's coffee, Whataburger taquitos, Jack in the Box tacos at 1 a.m.

I respect — perhaps even admire — the technology and ingenuity involved in creating an identical meal across thousands of different chain restaurants 365 days a year, 24 hours a day in many cases...but the product is rarely something I'm interested in consuming. And those same massive food systems that are, in part, responsible for creating clone versions of Big Macs or Whoppers every single day are also responsible for the woeful industrialization of our agricultural systems and farms. Those fast-food chains are, in part, responsible for our nation's deepening battle against obesity, hypertension, diabetes and a whole host of other health issues.

And, quite frankly, the McRib always looked simply disgusting, like a flattened condom stuffed with Ol' Roy brand cat food and slathered with untrustworthy sauce between two buns that looked like the plastic set that came with my children's grocery store set when I was six years old.

To a Texan, the concept of barbecued pork is reserved for a handful of items: pork butts and ribs, both left on the smoker for hours and neither coated in sticky-sweet sauce. We don't do pulled pork sandwiches here, either, so the idea of a pork sandwich — pulled or not — doesn't appeal to me either...especially one from McDonald's.

But I let curiosity get the better of me last week when I logged onto Facebook one morning.

"I would like to see you write a complete review on the McRib," read a request on my wall from frequent commenter Fatty FatBastard. "And it should be the cover story."

Less than 24 hours later, I was hitting my third McDonald's of the afternoon and cursing Fatty's real name as I searched desperately for one that still had the damn sandwich in stock. Each one I approached beckoned with a sign heralding the glories of the limited-time McRib, yet a closer look at the signs revealed tiny stickers saying simply: "Sold out."

Along with a keen sense of irritation, my curiosity was growing still stronger. If the stupid sandwiches are sold out everywhere, they must be at least decent — right? People couldn't be buying out the sandwiches if they tasted like Ol' Roy.

Finally, I found myself in the drive-thru lane of the McDonald's on North Main, where a cheerful-sounding Hispanic woman was imploring me through the speaker to add another McRib to my order for only $1.

You have enough McRibs here to tack them on like apple pies? I wanted to yell back at her. Send them to the other McDonald's so people don't have to waste $20 worth of gas driving around town like pork-crazed assholes trying to find them!

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