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.
It's been called the most important ingredient in Peruvian cooking, and a blogger for Serious Eats writes, "If there were a chile to taste like sunshine, this would be it."
The aji amarillo pepper, native to the regions surrounding the Andes Mountains, is put on full display in a number of dishes at Latin Bites, the refreshingly modern Peruvian restaurant with a focus on traditional flavors. It's actually redundant to describe aji amarillo as a pepper because aji means pepper. Amarillo, of course, refers to the yellow color of sauces made with the pepper, though the pepper itself, when ripe, is bright orange.
From the tiradito tres sabores featuring three iterations of leche de tigre with the omnipresent aji, to the ultimate in Peruvian comfort food, aji de gallina, nothing puts you in a Lima state of mind quite like aji amarillo.
Though the ceviches and tiraditos on the menu present aji amarillo in its purest form, my favorite dish--the one I order over and over at Latin Bites--is the classic aji de gallina, a dish thought to have its origins in French cuisine brought to Peru after the French Revolution. In this sense, it can be considered a fusion dish, combining Peruvian staples like aji amarillo with bread crumbs, milk, Parmesan cheese and peanuts to create a slightly spicy cream sauce.
Tender, shredded chicken is first boiled in water spiced with bay leaves and peppercorns, then simmered in the 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 my grandmother had been an adorable old Peruvian woman.
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It's served with a side of white rice, a hard-boiled egg and a few kalamata olives, which add a punch of vinegar to a dish largely devoid of acid otherwise. It's a smooth, comforting plate of food, made interesting and complex by the hint of aji amarillo with a hot, almost fruity and ever-so-mildly-smoky flavor.
The dish takes a while to prepare due to all the blending and simmering necessary to get just the right balance of spices, but just looking at it, you'd never know. It's only once you take a bite of the juicy dark meat of the chicken and pick up elements of cumin or turmeric or the hint of bay leaf swimming in mild ground peanuts and sunny aji amarillo that you realize just how clever the recipe is.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.
The list so far: No. 7: Chilorio at Pico's Mex-Mex No. 8: Pickled Butternut Squash Salad at Coltivare No. 9: Uni Chawanmushi at Kata Robata No. 10: Seafood Gumbo at Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen No. 11: Grilled Fish Masala at Himalaya Restaurant No. 12: Curry Noodle Soup at Mamak Malaysian Restaurant No. 13: Foie Gras au Torchon at Étoile Cuisine et Bar No. 14: Caramelized Pork Spare Ribs at Cafe TH 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