Tipping in Restaurants Reaches a Tipping Point

Will 2014 be the year it's abolished?

"I'm a huge fan of pho," he says. "I've become a bit of a connoisseur. Anytime you have pho, you have Sriracha and hoisin sauce, and I eat a lot of Asian cuisine, so Sriracha is a staple of my diet. I have it on my eggs, I put it on burritos...anything that needs a little kick to it."

Villalba acknowledges that a key part of what makes Sriracha great is the peppers that go into the sauce. The chiles are grown in a specific region in California and harvested only once a year. He points to the Pace picante sauce plant in San Antonio as proof that chiles can be grown in our Texas climate but also says that even if the Huy Fong plant moves here, they can still grow their peppers in California.

"The value proposition for Texas is our distribution channels," he says. "It's easier to get to the east coast, Canada and Mexico from Texas than it is from California."

Tipping after meals is no longer as universally accepted as it once was.
Tipping after meals is no longer as universally accepted as it once was.
The cheese sticks at Lucky Burger are top-notch.
Joanna Leary
The cheese sticks at Lucky Burger are top-notch.

Of course, he hopes that if Huy Fong Foods takes him up on the offer to move to Texas, the new plant will be built somewhere near him in north Dallas, though he admits Houston would be a decent spot as well.

Ideally, Villalba says, he hopes that Tran will take his request seriously and allow him and "a delegation of Texas dignitaries" to travel to Rosemead, California, and present their arguments to Huy Fong Foods.

So, Mr. Tran, consider the Houston Press on board with that idea as well. You get nicer neighbors who like spicier food, and we'll get a thriving company in our local economy. It's a win-win. And if you do settle on Texas, we'd like to cordially invite you to move the plant to Houston. Because let's face it: We're way cooler than Dallas.

On the Menu

Top 5 Mozzarella Sticks in Houston
Try these deep-fried cheesy snacks.

Joanna O'Leary

I have trouble seeing how anyone could not want to embrace breading and deep-frying a stick of cheese (especially in Texas), yet strangely I've found my all-time favorite appetizer is not as popular in Houston as I would expect. I know we have our loyalties to chips and queso, but there's room in our hearts and bellies for additional forms of fatty fromage. Visit these five restaurants if you haven't yet learned to love that ooey-gooey cylinder of goodness so often simply known as the cheese stick.

5. Fried Mozzarella Sticks (Little Napoli Ristorante).With a thinner, lighter bread coating, the cheese sticks at Little Napoli can be a bit flimsier than other restaurants' versions. Then again, who the hell cares about being neat while you're eating fried cheese? Bust out a fork and chow down on those suckers. Slightly soggy but delicious.

4. Cheese Stick (Lucky Burger). Skip the fries at Lucky Burger and pair that double mushroom Swiss burger with a side of "cheese stick," medium logs of mozzarella coated in seasoned bread crumbs. Lucky Burger may cook its patties medium, but its cheese sticks are well done, resulting in a crunchy exterior that contrasts pleasantly with the soft inside.

3. Store Brand Frozen Mozzarella Sticks (H-E-B). I bought these on a whim one Friday night when I had promised myself I would "cook" instead of ordering takeout. Needless to say, I had rock-bottom expectations for generic frozen cheese sticks that cost just over a buck. Though smaller in length than most restaurant varieties, H-E-B's version is decent, containing rich but not greasy mozzarella and ample breading. Plus, if you oven-toast rather than deep-fry, you produce a more tender stick...and reduce your chances of getting a third-degree burn in the process.

2. Mozzarella Fritti (Papa Mio Italian Cafe).Despite some shaky beginnings, Papa Mio Italian Cafe has evolved to become a bustling island on otherwise sleepy Lexington Street. This success can at least in part be due to its reliable red sauce cuisine, including the mozzarella fritti (that's fried cheese, boys). A generous serving and a side of tomato gravy is just $5 — the perfect antipasto for a bowl of tortellini.

1. Mozzarella Sticks With Marinara (Gotham Pizza). It may be sacrilegious to go to a joint that serves great pizza and just order a large Greek salad and mozzarella sticks, but that's what I'm inclined to do at Gotham Pizza. The side of sweet basil tomato sauce combined with the insanely rich mini-logs of cheese and bread coating represents all the basic taste notes of cheese pizza taken to the nth power. Which is probably why no matter how much I'm craving a slice, I so often yield to the siren call of these sticks.

Restaurant News

Openings & Closings
Philippe to become Table & Brian O'Neill's isn't closed.

Molly Dunn

After chef Philippe Schmit left his namesake restaurant, Philippe, back in September, the chef de cuisine at the time, Manuel Pucha, took the reins as executive chef. Now, Philippe's name will change to Table; the restaurant closed on January 11 to prepare for its reopening, which is scheduled for March. The Houston Chronicle's Greg Morago explains that the restaurant will be completely remodeled — decor and menu. The bar downstairs will be twice as big as it is now and will offer a special menu from 3 to 5 p.m. Table's bar will focus more on cocktails and craft beers. Pucha will create a menu filled with dishes that reflect his culinary style of contemporary and updated American dishes. The Chronicle previews a few possible menu items, such as tuna tartare with citrus-infused olive oil and cilantro, baked oysters, brick chicken and vegetable "flights." Morago's article also notes that Schmit is still in Houston and might open a new restaurant. More to come about that possibility.

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