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100 Favorite Dishes 2014: A Love Letter to Houston Food

Celebrating our city's diverse culinary scene.

No. 13, Foie Gras au Torchon at Étoile ­Cuisine et Bar

1101 Uptown Park, 832-668-5808, etoilecuisine.com

At Étoile, chef Philippe Verpiand makes the torchon himself, trimming, seasoning, wrapping, simmering, then compressing and chilling the fatty liver into an incredible dish using techniques he learned in France. And oh, is Étoile's foie like soft butter on your tongue! Pink, smooth, creamy and ringed with a thin layer of light-yellow fat.

No. 12, Curry Noodle Soup at ­Mamak ­Malaysian Restaurant

9889 Bellaire, 713-776-2388

This soup is anchored by a yellow curry broth that's sweet thanks to the coconut milk base and spicy from the mixture of lemongrass, coriander, cumin, ginger, citrus and yellow chiles, all of which are enhanced by a splash of salty fish sauce. It's swimming with thick, chewy noodles; chunks of fluffy fried tofu; slivers of soft eggplant; green bell peppers stuffed with ground pork; and crispy tofu skins.

No. 11, Grilled Fish Masala at ­Himalaya Restaurant

6652 Southwest Freeway, 713-532-2837, himalayarestauranthouston.com

The masala sauce on the two very large filets of fish is not the traditional creamy masala sauce of your British-Indian chicken tikka masala. It's chunkier and heavy with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and a generous dose of ginger and cayenne. Were there not so much fish hidden beneath the reddish layer of chopped vegetables and spices, it would be hard to discern the fishy flavor, but the portions are large and the mild fish pairs well with the exceedingly spicy sauce.

No. 10, Seafood Gumbo at ­Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen

4611 Montrose, 713-807-8883, dantonsseafood.com

What makes the gumbo at Danton's the best in town is the roux. Chef Danton Nix takes the time to let his roux get to a good, dark, smoky brown before adding in vegetables, shrimp, crab and whole oysters. It's velvety smooth, spicy and full of salty seafood flavor.

No. 9, Uni Chawanmushi at Kata Robata

3600 Kirby, Suite H, 713-526-8858, katarobata.com

Digging in gently, you'll discover additions to this chawanmushi that elevate it beyond a traditional egg custard. Beneath the top layer of uni, custard and strips of shiitake mushrooms lie shrimp, chicken thigh meat and distinctive bright-yellow ginkgo nuts. In spite of the fact that the uni is merely resting on top, the briny, slightly sweet ocean sensibility of the sea urchin invades the entire dish.

No. 8, Pickled Butternut Squash Salad at Coltivare

3320 White Oak, 713-637-4095, coltivarehouston.com

Available seaonally.

Pickling butternut squash brings out its natural flavors in an incredible way. Paired with the strips of the squash are a few halves of roasted, lightly browned brussels sprouts; whole walnuts; buttery homemade croutons; balsamic shallots; and a drizzle of a balsamic vinegar reduction that creates a savory umami that lingers in your mouth.

No. 7, Chilorio at ­Pico's Mex-Mex

3601 Kirby, 832-831-9940, picos.net

The chilorio at Pico's starts with pork butt that's been slow-cooked for hours to produce maximum tenderness. Then the spices come in — cumin; oregano; garlic; and dark, smoky ancho chiles. They're blended into a purée, then stewed with the pulled pork until the meat has taken on a ruddy color and completely absorbed the flavors. The result is a dish that's got enough heat to provide a tickling burn in the back of your mouth, but the flavor of the pork still comes through.

No. 6, Aji de Gallina at Latin Bites

5709 Woodway, 713-229-8369, latinbitescafe.com

To prepare aji de gallina, tender, shredded chicken is boiled in water spiced with bay leaves and peppercorns, then simmered in a peanut cream sauce for several minutes until the flavors of the aji amarillo and rich, nutty peanuts permeate the meat. The final product is a lovely golden-yellow dish reminiscent of Grandma's chicken pot pie...if your grandmother had been an adorable old Peruvian woman.

No. 5, Brisket at Killen's BBQ

3613 East Broadway, Pearland, 281-485-2272, killensbarbecue.com

The brisket comes out of the smoker with a charred black crust. Beneath the layer of char and seasoning is a bright pink ring of meat that fades into a more subdued pink marbled with veins of whitish fat that, rather than being chewy, very literally melt in your mouth. The brisket is incredibly smoky, the flavor permeating the entire cut of meat and the juices so entirely that I always find myself forgetting to squirt any sauce on my already moist brisket.

No. 4, XI Madame at Eleven XI

607 West Gray, 713-529-5881, elevenxihouston.com

The first layer in this dish, also known as "Seven Layers of Heaven," is a thin slice of buttered and toasted challah, simple and slightly sweet. Atop that, the meat begins piling up — Prosciutto di Parma, speck, soppressata and smoked duck breast. In between, more challah, and on the very top, a thick layer of creamy Manchego béchamel sauce and a tremulous fried egg that spills over the edges of the bread.

No. 3, Hamachi Nabe at Uchi

904 Westheimer, 713-522-4808, uchirestaurants.com/houston

The process of serving, then eating the hamachi nabe at Uchi is akin to a theatrical production. It will arrive in a ceramic dish so hot you dare not touch it. A server will take a small ramekin of hamachi sauce and pour it into the hot bowl, stirring it and a raw egg around until everything is cooked and incorporated into one big mess of rice and fish and bonito. The result is a dish that tastes strongly of soy, dashi, shallots and sesame oil, with large chunks of hamachi and soy-coated rice taking on the strong, briny flavor of delicate pink bonito flakes.

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13 comments
ACookNotAFoodie
ACookNotAFoodie

Pho Binh = Pho from instant powder, just add water. Never a good pho place unless they're cookin bones from scratch.

rachelili91
rachelili91

I have to say that I'm loyal to Oh My Gogi for kimchi fries-- no fake cheese there (after eating Oh My Gogi so many times, Koagie Hots' fries were a real letdown...) shredded cheese, chipotle mayo, sriracha, cilantro, onion and of course, bulgogi has won my heart over, time and time again.

Terry Brooks
Terry Brooks

The bottom 50 looked better than the top 50.

anaszeineddine
anaszeineddine

the Patata e Funghi Pizza at Pizaro is a must try.

anas zeineddine and fabio meneg tried this it was delicious.

bronson
bronson

nice work, that's quite a selection of goodies!

Jilian Ryan
Jilian Ryan

Corry Cummings, a "few" options for your other meals in Houston

timblack2
timblack2 topcommenter

Thought for sure the Mcrib at one the area's 25 McDonald's would have taken top prize.

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@timblack2  I really wanted to put Taco Cabana's queso on there. No lie.

yourdad
yourdad

@darjae  Can you read, dude? The list is called "100 Favorite Dishes" not "100 Top Dishes" and most certainly not "Darjae's 100 Top Dishes."

 
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