This year leading up to our annual Best of Houston issue, we're counting down our 100 favorite dishes in Houston. This list comprises our favorite dishes from the last year, dishes that are essential to Houston's cultural landscape and/or dishes that any visitor (or resident) should try at least once.
More than a few readers thought that we were hasty in naming Pondicheri the best new restaurant of the year back in June, but subsequent reviews and raves over Anita Jaisinghani's new restaurant seem to have borne out that judgment so far.
The Texas shrimp chaat was one of the first menu items that caught my eye here, a dish that beguiles by eagerly and effortlessly combining Texan ingredients into a staple Indian snack. The triangles of buttery avocado called to mind guacamoles past, while the fat Gulf shrimp was rubbed down with cumin -- among a blend of other spices -- to tie the two cuisines' flavor profiles neatly together, both Indian and Tex-Mex at once. On a bed of puffy sev, it's a trademark dish that perfectly encapsulates what Jaisinghani had hoped to achieve with her new "fusion" restaurant.
I put "fusion" in quotes, however, because to simply categorize the food here with such an overused, ambiguous term is hardly fair. Fusion implies a certain overexertion, a certain forced marriage between normally incompatible cuisines or flavors. At Pondicheri, the blend of Texan and Indian is entirely innate -- owing to Jaisinghani's deep roots in both cultures -- and seems to come as naturally as breathing.
Breathing is a good way to describe the restaurant, too, which hums with life and vibrancy in its way. That vibrancy can get a little loud at dinner, but it's hard to be annoyed when you look around Pondicheri's full dining room to see an army's worth of people from every walk of life fixing this Indian-Texan restaurant with an easy embrace that would have seemed impossible a decade ago.
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The list so far:
No. 100: Dumplings at Heights Asian Cafe No. 99: Mixta Pizza at Friends Pizzeria No. 98: Veggie tacos from Radical Eats No. 97: Bean pie from Conscious Cafe No. 96: Swiss chard crepes from Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 95: Eggs Mia Bella at Mia Bella No. 94: Mulligatawny soup at the Queen Vic No. 93: Helado de Lúcuma from Pollo Bravo No. 92: Black bean burger from Natachee's No. 91: Chupacabra pizza from ERA No. 90: Roast chicken from El Norteño No. 89: Eggs El Salvador from Brasil No. 88: Frank the Pretzel from Eatsie Boys No. 87: Caldo Tlalpeño from Tacos del Julio No. 86: English pea soup at Brasserie 19 No. 85: Falafel from Zabak's No. 84: Buttermilk-fried pork loin with fried eggs at Canopy No. 83: Grillades and grits from BB's Cajun Cafe No. 82: Haemul dolsot from Seoul House No. 81: Pandan waffles at Parisian Bakery III No. 80: Pita bread and hummus at Phoenicia No. 79: Goat pepper soup at Peppersoup Cafe No. 78: Melon and Texas feta salad from Beaver's No. 77: Hot Italian beef from BB's Beef & Hot Dog No. 76: Bacon-avocado burger from Facundo Cafe No. 75: Pancakes from Fountain View Cafe No. 74: Hobnobs from Fluff Bake Bar No. 73: Chu chee eggplant from Nidda Thai No. 72: Sausage sampler from King's Biergarten No. 71: Shawarma from Abdallah's No. 70: Moules-frite at the Broken Spoke No. 69: Hong Kong-style French toast at House of Bowls No. 68: Sashimi sampler at Sushi Miyagi No. 67: Baleadas from Honduras Mayan No. 66: Snow ice from Star Snow Ice & Teriyaki No. 65: Boudin balls from MerCheri's No. 64: Miso ramen at Umai No. 63: Grim burger at Lankford Grocery No. 62: Dabeli at Bansuri Indian Food Corner No. 61: Wine and cupcakes at 13 Celsius No. 60: Pâté de France from Spec's No. 59: Steak and eggs from Ninfa's on Navigation No. 58: Breakfast pita at Niko Niko's No. 57: Vegan curry at Cafe TH No. 56: Samosas at Shiv Sagar No. 55: Ceviche at Latin Bites Cafe No. 54: Wicked Philly at Pappa Geno's No. 53: Pork chop at Perry's Steakhouse No. 52: Soft-shell crab at Pico's Mex-Mex No. 51: Sno-balls at MAM's House of Ice No. 50: Whole catfish at Saigon Pagolac No. 49: Nova fish box at New York Bagel & Coffee Shop No. 48: Sojok mana'eesh at Cedars Bakery No. 47: Pho ga at Pho Ga Dakao No. 46: Sicilia salad at Trevisio No. 45: Dahi puri at Sweet 'n' Namkin No. 44: Hot dogs at Moon Tower Inn No. 43: Real guacamole at Yelapa Playa Mexicana No. 42: Akaushi short ribs at Soma Sushi No. 41: Country-fried chicken livers at Haven No. 40: Seafood gumbo at Cajun Town Cafe No. 39: Tacos at Karanchos No. 38: Crepes at Melange Creperie No. 37: Gua bao at Yummy Kitchen No. 36: Guanciale burger at Plonk No. 35: Snapper al cilantro at Teotihuacan No. 34: The Houstonian at James Coney Island No. 33: The Montrose at Amy's Ice Cream No. 32: Lobster bisque at Philippe No. 31: Tacos de cabeza y orejas at El Ultimo No. 30: Oyster stew at Danton's No. 29: Fried oysters at TQLA No. 28: Banh mi at Cali Sandwich No. 27: Captin's fried chicken at Zelko Bistro No. 26: The Brisket House Special at The Brisket House No. 25: Menudo at La Mexicana No. 24: Chargrilled oysters at Wild Cajun No. 23: Breakfast tacos at Revival Market No. 22: Sticky toffee pudding at Branch Water Tavern No. 21: Tex-Mex burger at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe No. 20: Lasagna at Capri Pasta Pizza & More No. 19: Pork rillette at Feast No. 18: Chicken fried steak at Triple A No. 17: Crème brûlée bread pudding at Killen's No. 16: Migas at La Guadalupana No. 15: Snapper with grapefruit at Kata Robata No. 14: Venison carpaccio at Thanh Phuong No. 13: Mesquite-grilled shrimp poboy at Goode Co. Seafood No. 12: Tamarind-glazed salmon at Samba Grille No. 11: Bone marrow service at Stella Sola No. 10: Ribs at Gatlin's No. 9: Shrimp and grits at Brennan's No. 8: Barbacoa at Hugo's