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 know what you're thinking.
She eats at House of Bowls and her favorite dish doesn't even come in a bowl?!
It's silly, I know, but the salty little fish off House of Bowls' appetizer menu are so addictive, I can't stop eating them once I start. That could be a product of the MSG no doubt used in the cooking, but I think it's because the fried fish are garlicky, spicy and the perfect two-bite finger food while you wait for the main course to arrive.
Or, if you're like me, while you eat them in lieu of a main course.
The fish are battered in a garlic-heavy sauce, then deep-fried until both the outside and the fish on the inside are hot and crisp. If you didn't know you were eating whole fish, you might not even be able to tell, save for the vague remnants of tails and eyes still visible beneath the batter.
They're served on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce and cabbage topped with chopped jalapeños and some sort of chile-garlic-ginger sauce. The sauce is never drizzled over the fish; you have to dig a little to get at it. But once you find the little mounds of sticky, brown sauce, gather it along with some lettuce, jalapeños and fish into one forkful for the perfect bite.
When everything comes together like that, you get salty, briny fish; MSG-laden batter; heat from bright, fresh jalapeños; spicy garlic and ginger; earthy chile; and finally crunchy, sweet cabbage to help your taste buds relax once more.
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If you ask for a bowl of rice, you can make a concoction like I do by putting all of these elements into a small bowl and adding rice and chile oil, then stirring it around with chopsticks and shoveling it into your open mouth. If it sounds messy, greasy and almost too spicy, it is. But that's why I love it so much.
It's a dish that I know I can't replicate or get anywhere else in Houston (except, perhaps, at another strip center restaurant in Chinatown I have yet to discover), and that's what makes it so special. I have to drive half an hour and brave the construction on Bellaire for what, in China, would be common street food, but here is one of a kind.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.
The list so far: 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