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Bismillah Cafe: Let's Chaat

Bismillah Cafe specializes in spicy fusion-Pakistani food, going as hot as you dare to go.

See how Inam Moghul makes his ten-spice chicken wings and more in this week's cafe slideshow.


"¡Hola! ¿Cómo estás, amigo?"

This is not the greeting you expect to hear inside a Pakistani chaat house in Little India. But Bismillah Cafe is not your average chaat spot — a casual cafe where one traditionally finds savory South Asian snacks like dahi puri and samosas. You'll find those here, but you'll also find a far broader and deeper menu than nearly any other offered in Houston's Mahatma Gandhi District.

You can go the traditional chaat route with dahi puri or branch out with ten-spice chicken wings.
Troy Fields
You can go the traditional chaat route with dahi puri or branch out with ten-spice chicken wings.

Details

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday.
Beef samosa: $0.79
Aloo samosa: $1
Bun kebab: $3.99
Dahi puri: $3.99
Ten chicken sandwich: $6.99
Jalapeño burger: $6.99
Ten chicken wings: $7.99
Mango lassi: $3.99



View More

BLOG: Animal-Style Fries at Bismillah Chaat: California Meets Pakistan
SLIDESHOW: Chaat and Chicken Wings at Bismillah Cafe



Bismillah Cafe

5696 Hillcroft, 713-587-9300.

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It's a menu filled with chargrilled burgers, spicy chicken wings and homemade pizzas (although you'll need to call ahead for the pizzas, since the pies are baked from scratch). Not your standard chaat dishes, by any stretch of the imagination, but ones that appeal to a wider range of customers as a result. For this reason, Bismillah is also that rare restaurant that caters to the two opposite ends of a spectrum: neophytes who need a familiar jumping-off point into South Asian cuisine and thrill seekers who are constantly in search of the next new thing.

On a recent afternoon, owner Inamullah Moghul offered a smile and a head nod to the customer who had produced the friendly Spanish greeting. Before long, the two men were conversing in a blend of Urdu (the lingua franca of Pakistan) and English while the customer put in his order. Behind him, two blue-collar Hispanic workers were waiting in line. And behind them were two South Asian women with toddlers in tow, one woman in full hijab and the other in Western garb. The 26-seat cafe fills up quickly during lunch and brings in a crowd as diverse as its menu.

Later, as I was polishing off the last of some blindingly hot "ten-spice" tater tots, I noted with glee that one of the Hispanic men was shoveling dahi puri into his mouth with fervor. A man after my own heart, I thought as I watched the puffy puri shells filled with chickpeas and chutney vanish one by one. Bismillah Cafe would be notable for its fusion menu even if its standard snacks weren't that great. But they are.

The dahi puri here are my second favorite in Little India (losing out by a hair to Shiv Sagar, which throws raw white onions into the chutney and a yogurt blend inside each shell), and the samosas are nothing to be trifled with, either. Beef samosas come in a flaky, crispy triangle of dough that resembles an egg roll wrapper, while the far larger aloo samosas fill out a buttery, crumbly pocket studded with fennel seeds and stuffed with spicy potatoes and peas.

Grab-and-go bun kebab — a sandwich made famous in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city — is also fiercely flavored, with a mint chutney on one soft bun that's anything but calm and soothing. On the other bun is Pakistani ketchup, and the two pieces of bread hold between them a mushy patty of lentils and beef that would be too mealy were it not for the shocks of crunchy onions layered between the spicy mint chutney and the patty.

For an extra shock to the system, I like to add a side of fries coated with Moghul's signature ten-spice blend to my bun kebab for an extra $2. Moghul — who goes by "Inam" and breaks into a maddening Cheshire cat grin when you ask him about his special recipes — won't reveal any of the ten spices that go into his "ten chicken" or "ten fries" or "ten chicken wings," but trying to coax out the individual flavors from the pleasant overall burn is half the fun of eating here.
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The motto at Bismillah Cafe is simple and printed across the front of each menu so that no one misses it: "If you can take the heat, we can dish it out." Moghul — whose family also runs the nearby Bismillah Restaurant — will adjust the heat levels if you ask, but working your way through his menu is more fun if you let it ride. Eat through the heat and take a few sips of sweet, cool mango lassi along the way if the spices build up too much on your palate.

"What I like the most about Indian and Pakistani food is the way the spices hit so much of my mouth all at once," a friend commented over lunch at Bismillah Cafe one day. "Mexican hot sauce hits my tongue in one spot. Thai food hits my tongue in another spot. Sichuan peppercorns make your mouth completely numb. But with Pakistani food, you can feel the burn all over."

The ten-spice blend that coats so many of Bismillah Cafe's fusion dishes, from chicken sandwiches to tater tots, is the best example of this phenomenon — and it's hotter, even, than the standard Pakistani dishes on the menu. The chicken wings that Bismillah serves come in other flavors, too: barbecue, buffalo, Cajun and peri peri, a blazingly hot pepper native to Zimbabwe, Mozambique and other southern African nations that have long traded with India and Pakistan. It's as hot as the ten-spice but in its own earthy, pungent way.

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6 comments
Rajesh H. Patel
Rajesh H. Patel

Great food! Highly recommend people to try this restaurant if they are looking for South Asian cuisine!

Samreen Syed
Samreen Syed

Great review!! Spicy fast food Highly recommend the bun kabab and mixed chaat!

Ismael Garza
Ismael Garza

My partner and I ate there about 3 months ago. We really enjoyed the food and the proprietor was super friendly. Looking forward to our next visit.

djscoop75
djscoop75

I can vouch for this entire article about their food, since i been going there everyday since discovered, except for Mondays thats when they're closed, but yea food is Unbelievable there. 

pankaj
pankaj

@kwag25 It's called 'dahi puri' a spicy snack served with curd and one of the favorites of every Indian. It is similar to 'paani puri' where latter is served with spicy water rather than curd.

 
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