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100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 14, Caramelized Pork Spare Ribs at Cafe TH

Tender, sweet caramelized pork is a special dish at Cafe TH.
Tender, sweet caramelized pork is a special dish at Cafe TH.
Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg

This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.

"I've been saving that for the Anvil guys," chef Minh Nguyen of Cafe TH told me when I asked him for more details about the hauntingly delicious caramelized pork dish he'd served me earlier that day. Generally, I stick to bánh mì or pho at Vietnamese restaurants, but when I let Nguyen choose lunch for me, the results were even better.

"I don't always have it," Nguyen continued, resisting after I told him I wanted to write about the off-menu item. "I have it for dinners, and I do eat it often enough for me and my staff to have enough for additional people, I guess..."

Sorry, Anvil fellas. Cat's out of the bag. Cafe TH has an amazing caramelized pork spare rib platter with baby bok choy and jasmine rice, and I think everyone needs to try it.

Even the bones have great flavor.
Even the bones have great flavor.

I'm not typically a spare rib kind of person for the same reason I'm not typically a chicken wing kind of person. I like my bones gone, thank you very much. I don't like the idea of gnawing on bones, tearing sinewy layers away with my teeth. But something about these spare ribs featuring chopped bone-in pork works for me.

It's been simmered in a pan with sugar until the coating on the pork is like candy. Picking up a small hunk of meat with the bone in the center and sucking and chewing on it until the meat falls off reminded me of eating hard candy. It's sticky and sweet, and ever-so-juicy, with just a hint of spice from chile powder in the sauce.

Nguyen was cagey when I asked him for more details about the marinade on the meat, but I can tell there's garlic in there, and on top are fresh green onions, fried shallots and sautéed red bell peppers, which add some acidity to a sweet dish. Served with the pork are juicy sautéed baby bok choy and sticky jasmine rice topped with meaty portobello mushrooms.

In all, there's a lot going on on this one plate, but the spicy, sweet and bitter flavors play well off of one another. And even without the sides of bok choy and rice, it would be a winning platter of food because that pork is just so juicy and dynamic. It's almost like bite-size candied bacon, only softer and meatier.

This delectable and satisfying dish isn't always on the menu at Cafe TH, but Nguyen is very good about updating the restaurant's Facebook page to let diners know what he'll be serving for specials. If you can get your hands on some sticky sweet pork, you won't regret it.

See the full list of favorites on the next page.

 

The list so far: No. 15: Kobe Beef at Nara No. 16: Okra With Crème Fraîche at Oxheart No. 17: Alba White Truffle Soufflé at Tony's No. 18: Phat Ass Ham Hock at Goro & Gun No. 19: Dahi Puri at Shri Balaji Bhavan No. 20: Fried Catfish and Cajun Crawfish at The Cajun Stop No. 21: Foie Gras Crème Caramel at Just Dinner No. 22: Roasted Pear Salad at Backstreet Cafe No. 23: Fluffernutters at Fluff Bake Bar No. 24: Som Tam at Vieng Thai No. 25: Chips and Queso at Fusion Taco No. 26: Spicy Miso Ramen at Soma Sushi No. 27: Kim Cheese Fries at Coreanos No. 28: Fried Cauliflower at Roost No. 29: Caesar Wedge Salad at Provisions No. 30: Ice Cream in a Waffle Cone at Fat Cat Creamery No. 31: Cochito con Mole Xico at Hugo's No. 32: Carnitas at Molina's Cantina No. 33: Taleggio Pizza at Dolce Vita No. 34: Chiles de Padron Asados at Caracol No. 35: Morning Thali at Pondicheri No. 36: Fried Mini Fish at House of Bowls No. 37: Trompo Tacos at Taqueria La Macro No. 38: Spicy Tamale Plate at La Mexicana No. 39: Mum's Chicken Curry At The Queen Vic Pub No. 40: Canestri alla Funghi at Paulie's No. 41: Biscuit with Marmalade and Crème Fraîche at Blacksmith No. 42: Fried Oyster Po'Boy at Goode Company Seafood No. 43: Roasted Duck Red Curry at Morningside Thai No. 44: BBQ Pulled Wild Boar Sandwich at Sammy's Wild Game Grill No. 45: Guanciale Burger at Plonk No. 46: Parma 600 Pizza at Pizzeria Solario No. 47: CFC Deviled Eggs at Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar No. 48: The El Real Burger at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe No. 49: Custard Sandwich at Petite Sweets No. 50: Black Pepper Beer Lobster at Hai Cang Seafood Restaurant No. 51: Red Dragon Roll at Michiru Sushi No. 52: Fried Bananas Foster at Custom Confections No. 53: Bánh Canh Hue at Simply Pho No. 54: Kimchi Koagie at Koagie Hots No. 55: The Juicy Lucy Burger at Lowbrow No. 56: Eggplant Fries at Batanga No. 57: Macarons at Ganache Dessert Bar No. 58: Grilled Cheese at The Golden Grill No. 59: Baklava French Toast at Harry's Restaurant & Cafe No. 60: Patata e Funghi Pizza at Pizaro's No. 61: Old Fashioned Frito Pie at Armadillo Palace No. 62: Korean Spiced Brisket Plate at Revival Market No. 63: Bánh Mì at Les Givral's Sandwich and Cafe No. 64: Squirrel Master Burger at Cottonwood No. 65: Shorty Mac at H-Town StrEATS No. 66: Enchiladas de Mole at La Guadalupana No. 67: Bad Ass Hambur-Torta at Pistolero's No. 68: Green "Hurry Curry" at Nit Noi No. 69: Dozen Raw Oysters at Pappas Seafood No 70: Banana Split at Cloud 10 Creamery No. 71: Lazy Lane Frites at Brasserie 19 No. 72: Chicken Pot Pie at Kenny & Ziggy's No. 73: Chili Cheese Mac from Jus' Mac No. 74: Taco al Pastor at Taco Keto No. 75: 'Date With a Pig' at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop No. 76: The Heights Burger at Gratifi No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme


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