The Midtown Banh Mi Showdown

Settling the banh mi question once and for all.

I wish I could have dined inside Luna, but due to time constraints, I was forced to order my food to go; within 15 minutes, though, my order of two personal pizzas, a sandwich and a salad was complete. Take my advice and call ahead so you can pick your food up as soon as you arrive. Everything will still be warm by the time you get home, unless you can't resist diving into your pizza while sitting at a red light.

You can choose from six signature pies or build your own. As I scanned the menu for what looked best, I couldn't take my eyes off the Mushroom Signature Pizza featuring four types of mushrooms (baby portobello, shiitake, oyster and button) with spinach, rosemary and a dollop of whipped ricotta cheese on each slice. I prefer vegetarian pizzas, but my fiancé enjoys pies with meat toppings. He chose the classic Sausage Signature Pizza with crumbled sweet Italian sausage, sautéed red onions and red peppers.

A nine-inch personal pizza costs $7 and is perfect for one hungry eater or for two to share. Large pizzas are $5 more.

Try the combo platter at Mi Bella Honduras Restaurant for a little taste of everything.
Kaitlin Steinberg
Try the combo platter at Mi Bella Honduras Restaurant for a little taste of everything.

The combination of soft button and baby portobello mushrooms with crispy, almost dried, oyster and shiitake mushrooms balances nicely with the thin layer of red sauce and globs of creamy ricotta cheese. To the naked eye, the pizza dough appears puffy and soft, but with one bite your teeth crunch through the crust and you discover that it's both crispy and thick — the best of both worlds. Luna Pizzeria uses dough from Angela's Oven, and when the pies bake, the dough softens on top and crisps on the bottom and the edges.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the vegetarian variety, the sausage pizza stole the show. Sweet Italian sausage balances perfectly with the bitter, crispy red onions and spicy red peppers. Plus, the ratio of sauce and melted Mozzarella cheese to the crunchy crust is spot-on. It's a classic combination that is perfectly executed.

Meatball subs are probably one of my favorite sandwiches; they're down-home comfort food. Three large meatballs are stuffed into a thick toasted hoagie bun, then topped with melted Provolone, tomato sauce and a basil leaf. I'm not sure what kind of meat (or meats) Luna uses to make its meatballs, but I can tell you that each one simply melts in your mouth; you just might need a fork and knife to tackle these ­behemoths.

The Luna Caesar salad is standard with crispy romaine lettuce leaves; toasted croutons generously coated in olive oil, salt and pepper; and thick shavings of grana padano, a semi-aged hard Italian cheese similar to Parmesan. But once you toss everything with the garlic dressing, you're reminded that this is a Barnaby's Cafe concept, and Barnaby's salads have always been anything but typical.

Top 5

Where to Eat in Spring Branch
The 5 best hidden restaurant gems.

Kaitlin Steinberg

Oh, Long Point Road. You are a foodie's dream destination.

There are consummate favorites Vieng Thai and El Hidalguense. There's Korea House, one of the most popular Korean restaurants in town, and Tacos del Julio, home of greasy but delicious trompo. Detour a little and you'll find Polonia, Houston's only Polish joint, where the owners are happy to keep the vodka and pierogis flowing, and H-Mart, a Korean-food-lover's dream grocery store.

But Long Point Road and the surrounding area — let's just call it Spring Branch so as to be all-encompassing — also contains a multitude of culinary gems you might not know about. Here are five of the best relatively unknown spots in the area.

Oh, and each restaurant is representative of a different country. Don't you just love ­Houston?

Disclaimer: For the purposes of this post, Spring Branch is defined as bordered by Clay Road and U.S. 290 to the north, Beltway 8 to the west, Katy Freeway to the south and Loop 610 to the east, but excludes the Memorial Villages (since those are categorized as Memorial).

5. La Plaza Mexican Restaurant

Since 1964, La Plaza has been serving up your Tex-Mex greasy-spoon guilty-pleasure cuisine morning, noon and night. It's an odd spot — part American diner filled with Longhorns memorabilia, part humble Tex-Mex and northern Mexican eatery. It's old-fashioned Tex-Mex fare here, nothing cutting-edge or fancy. As Robb Walsh suggested when he reviewed the spot back in 2009, your best bet is to skip the American diner food portion of the menu and go straight for the tried-and-true Mexican classics like milanesa and machacado.

4. Variedades El Salvador

Because Chris Shepherd of Underbelly is a huge fan of Long Point Road restaurants (and he knows them all), I approached him for an opinion on his favorite little-known spots. His response contained no words, just a photo he texted to me of the exterior of Variedades El Salvador. He wanted me to see for myself. When I entered, I discovered the place is a seemingly incongruous mix of pupuseria, convenience store and discount clothing outlet. Whether you want a soft drink, a soccer jersey or a pupusa con loroco with a side of curtido, you'll find it here. Be sure to get a side of curtido — lightly pickled cabbage slaw — to eat with the pupusas to cut the fat. These stuffed corn cakes filled with cheese are heavy but wonderful. Also note that no one speaks English here. Fortunately for English speakers like me whose second and third languages are French and Italian ('cause those are super-­useful in south Texas), rudimentary sign language and a smile also work.

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