Five Houston Culinary Splurges

Live Alaskan King Crab at Fung's Kitchen: one of the most decadent foodie pleasures you'll ever experience.
Photo Courtesy of Fung's Kitchen

On the Menu

It's the holiday season. A time for gift giving and celebration. A time for splurging, right? After all, you've worked hard this year. You deserve a reward. And what better way to reward yourself than with a blow-your-mind meal?

Behold, our top picks for decadent foodie splurges in Houston.

5. Whole fresh Alaskan king crab at Fung's Kitchen, $400+ ($50 per pound for 7- to 12-pound king crab)

If you love crab, you know that eating fresh crab is one of the ultimate foodie pleasures. The quality of the meat is so high that it's positively sinful. At Fung's Kitchen, you don't just get the run-of-the-mill variety. You can order the king of all crabs: live whole Alaskan king crab. The approximately ten-pound king crab can be prepared in three ways and can serve several people. Just call in advance to make sure it's available, and then let the crab party begin.

4. Toro kama at Kata Robata ($1 per ounce, approximately 30 to 60 ounces)

It's rich, it's smoky, it's incredibly flavorful, and there are usually only one or two available each week. If scarcity is one of those things that you hanker for, call Kata Robata and reserve their toro kama. Known only to die-hard sushi eaters, the kama, or collar area, of the blue fin tuna is as marbled and fatty as the prized belly, or o-toro. Chef Manabu Horiuchi and his team grill the kama on authentic bincho tan Japanese coals to yield one of the most decadent preparations of fish you'll ever have the pleasure of tasting.

3. Whole lobe of foie gras at Provisions, $125

Foie gras may be banned in California, but here in Houston, it's still king. If you love the delicacy, why stop at ordering just a small tranche? At Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan's Provisions, you can order the whole lobe. Over the top? Absolutely. Blow-your-mind decadent? Mais, bien sûr. Get the whole thing delivered to your table in all its glory and get ready to feast. (Sharing is ­recommended.)

2. Dry-aged long bone-in Kobe rib eye steakat Killen's Steakhouse, $98

There are tomahawk steaks, and then there is the dry-aged long bone-in Kobe beef rib eye from Killen's Steakhouse. Weighing from 32 to 36 ounces, this Fred Flintstone-style heavyweight contender is fantastically proportioned to satisfy your wildest steak dreams. Though it sounds big enough for two, the succulent, flavorful meat is so tender and richly flavored that you'll want to hoard it for yourself.

1. White Alba truffle souffléat Tony's, $59.

Splurge on the white Alba truffle soufflé (created this year for white truffle season), and you just might die a happy food death. I speak from experience: I got one for my birthday, and it was without a doubt the best thing I put in my mouth all year. Light and fluffy, every bite of the incredibly savory soufflé is accompanied by the true scent and flavor of freshly shaved white Alba truffle. Words do not do it justice: It's something you should experience at least once in your life. Absolutely. Totally. Divine.

Best of Houston

Rest of the Best 2013
Houston's Top 10 breakfast spots.

Kaitlin Steinberg

Our 2013 Best of Houston® winners have been announced, but in most cases, picking the best item in any category was no easy task. In order to show off all the culinary greatness Houston has to offer, we'll be rounding up the "rest of the best" in some of our favorite categories during the next several months. Bon appétit!

"I like to use 'I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!' on my toast in the morning, because sometimes when I eat breakfast, I like to be incredulous. How was breakfast? Unbelievable." — comedian Demetri Martin

Demetri Martin is a funny guy, but he's wrong. You really, really don't need to use I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! to have an unbelievable breakfast. Instead, why not try incredible homemade salsa? Preposterously good Hollandaise sauce? Divine saffron yogurt?

Seriously, skip the faux butter (unless you're at a greasy spoon; then, by all means) and hit up one of these spots for the best breakfast in town. Not brunch, mind you. Put down the mimosas and Bloody Marys for a second and focus on the early morning, when all you really want is some perfectly fried eggs or fluffy pancakes. We'll get to brunch later.

But for now, rise and shine! And eat.

10. Taqueria La Macro

This year's winner for best breakfast tacos is also on our list for best breakfast spots because duh. We're in Texas. If we had an official state breakfast, it would probably be breakfast tacos, and La Macro makes some of the best in town. This small taco shop just north of downtown offers real trompo tacos, complete with grilled pineapple chunks on top. Owner Saul Obregon is always present with a warm smile, and his staff is ready to dish out heaps of chorizo or potato and eggs into hot, fluffy flour tortillas that never get gummy or tough. And the housemade green and red salsas don't mess around; they'll wake you up more than any cup of coffee could ever hope to.


9. Le Peep

Although Le Peep does have a full lunch menu, its specialty is breakfast dishes. Le Peep's menu boasts everything from cinnamon rolls to eggs Benedict, with traditional breakfast dishes (migas) and spins on favorites (granola almond pancakes), including a nicely sized section for the health-conscious. One of the most popular dishes is the Houstonian Skillet, which features "diced grilled chicken, mushrooms and broccoli served in a potato-filled skillet topped with creamy hollandaise sauce and two basted eggs." There are so many great breakfast items on the menu that you might have trouble choosing just one. Come hungry, and bring a friend.

8. Blacksmith

Blacksmith is best known for its gourmet coffee and latte art, but the small kitchen also makes a mean breakfast. The menu was developed by Clumsy Butcher culinary director Erin Smith and features indulgent eats like homemade biscuits with crème fraîche and marmalade or the now-famous Vietnamese steak and eggs. The Vietnamese breakfast starts with a steak marinated in fish sauce, garlic and soy, which is then cooked in a cast-iron skillet and topped with chicken liver pâté and two fried eggs. It's served with a French baguette, greens and mayo for a make-your-own-­sandwich option. Sound like too much food? ­Impossible.

7. Tel-Wink Grill

This is about as traditional an American diner experience as you can get here in Houston, where the bulk of our breakfasts consists of food with a Mexican or Asian influence. Not at Tel-Wink. The only vaguely ethnic food on the menu is picante sauce, and the pancakes and steak and egg plates seem to have maintained the same prices from when the diner first opened in the 1950s, inflation be damned! During peak breakfast hours (before 10 a.m.), a line will snake through the interior and out the door. As our own John Kiely once wrote of Tel-Wink, "Where else can you get two eggs, to your exact specifications; thick bacon at the nexus of chewy and crisp; a mound of Helen Corbitt-worthy hash browns; and two fist-size biscuits for $4.75?" Where else indeed.

6. The Breakfast Klub

Lookin' for some good ol'-fashioned Southern cookin'? Look no further than The Breakfast Klub. Since it opened in 2001, it's become a Houston landmark, with lines out the door every day of the week, always filled with hungry people ready for the famous Katfish & Grits or Wings & Waffles. The Breakfast Klub is open only until 2 p.m., though, so start your day off right with the rib-sticking soul-food menu and service that is both quick and friendly. Don't bother taking leftovers home, though. It's the jazzy Southern atmosphere that helps make The Breakfast Klub so delicious.

5. Ouisie's Table

The great thing about Houston's breakfast scene is you can go greasy spoon with a place like Tel-Wink or upscale and sophisticated with Ouisie's Table and Elouise Adams Jones's wonderful potato "nest" eggs Benedict. If you're feeling like something a little healthier (but only a little), try the ­Gruyère quiche or the spinach, harissa and feta crêpe. Ouisie's is also known for its chicken-fried steak with biscuits and gravy, available at 7 a.m. every weekday. Ouisie's makes classic Southern food trendy and elegant, from dawn all the way through dinnertime, and it has numerous Houston Press awards as well as recognition from Texas Monthly to prove how great it is.

4. Pondicheri

Indian food for breakfast? Indian food for breakfast! Though Pondicheri is more often thought of as a brunch and dinner destination, it begins serving breakfast at 7:30 a.m. every day, and there's a special $5 breakfast menu full of exotic treats. Try a bowl of uttma, a hot cereal made of stone-ground grits, cauliflower, green peas and herbs, all topped with yogurt and peanuts; or if you're feeling more traditional, order the vanilla bean crêpe with your pick of strawberry, banana, blueberry, pistachio, Nutella, honey or Bournvita (a malted chocolate drink mix) for the filling. Chef Anita Jaisinghani is a master at combining Indian flavors and elements with more familiar breakfast items to create unusual and delicious morning pick-me-ups. And then there's the Bake Lab, featuring seasonally inspired scones and muffins.

3. La Guadalupana

Three words: ojo de buey. And here are three more: breakfast all day. Not like all day until they close at 2 p.m. Except for Mondays and Tuesdays, La Guadalupana serves homemade Mexican pastries and traditional breakfast platters until 9 p.m. So if you get a hankering for a breakfast torta made with eggs, chorizo, chiles, potato and cheese on a talera bread roll for dinner, La Gudalupana's got you covered. The migas are another favorite, with tortillas, chorizo, bell peppers and onions, all uniformly diced and tossed with scrambled eggs, resulting in a far more festive dish than the plain old egg-and-tortilla mishmash that many of us grew up with. For an extra treat, get the cinnamon-spiced cafe de olla.


2. Harry's Restaurant & Cafe

I recently waxed poetic about my favorite dish at Harry's — the baklava French toast — but there's so much more to love at the reliable continental eatery. There's a bit of a diner vibe at Harry's, but the food is far better than your average country cooking, due in large part to the Mediterranean and South American influences that show up in dishes like the spitiko Greek omelet with feta and Monterey cheeses, green onions, spinach and tomatoes, or the gargantuan churrasco platter. Of course, the plain ol' pancakes, omelets and breakfast sandwiches are great, too, thanks to fresh ingredients, good recipes and a little love from the kind folks behind the counter. Oh, and did I mention feta fries for breakfast? You're welcome.

1. Fountain View Cafe

The pancakes at Fountain View Cafe are the stuff of legend: as thin as crepes, with a wispy lace of a crust on the outer edge and a soft, dense, vanilla-scented middle that requires neither butter nor syrup (which doesn't stop us from slathering them on anyway). They were on Katharine Shilcutt's list of 100 favorite dishes for two years in a row. The vanilla-infused flapjacks are one reason there's always a line at the 1980s throwback cafe — that, and the quick, efficient counter service that delivers your cheesy omelets and crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside hash browns tout de suite while allowing you to kick back over a paper and bottomless cups of coffee. But really, it's the pancakes that keep Houstonians coming back for more (and more, and more). Thin and fluffy? Light and dense? How do they do it?!

Restaurant News

Nara Debuts Korean Grill Room
An upscale take on traditional meals.

Kaitlin Steinberg

In Korean,gogigui means, literally, roasting meat, and that's exactly what you do in Nara's new grill room, which opened to the public December 19.

Traditionally, diners prepare the Korean "barbecue" themselves at tables with built-in gas or charcoal grills in an informal setting. But at Nara, chef Donald Chang has sought to elevate Korean food with premium ingredients and a venue that is already being called one of the most beautiful in Houston.

Nara opened in mid-November, but this week marks the debut of the space designed specifically for Korean-style grilling. (I took a sneak peek at the space recently and was pleased.)

The three tables in the semi-private back room are conjoined, a communal dining experience ideal for groups of two to 12 people. In the center of each sleek, black table are 14-inch grills, which came from a restaurant-supply store in the Gangnam District of Seoul.

Traditionally, Korean barbecue is served with banchan, small side dishes such as kimchi, sesame eggplant and sautéed oyster mushrooms. The banchan at Nara are all unique, delicious and, of course, authentic. Chang's mother, Kyong Ja Chang, devised all the recipes, and they're so secret that she won't even share them with her son. She and Chang's sister, Esther Cho, who is Nara's head kitchen chef, come to Nara daily to prepare the banchan and a few special sauces.

The kimchi is particularly good — spicy, fragrant and not too watery. It's the ideal complement to the six different kinds of meat offered up for your grilling pleasure. The protein menu includes the classic rib eye (bulgogi), American Kobe short rib (galbi), brisket (ogyeopsal) and Kurobuta pork belly from Japan. That attention to the quality of the meat differentiates Nara from many other Korean restaurants; it's not that others don't want to produce good food, but few are as focused on high-end products as Chang is.

Once the meat is cooked to the desired temperature (rare to well-done — you're in charge), it's traditionally wrapped in either a lettuce leaf, or, at Nara, sesame leaves, which have more flavor than romaine or butter lettuce. Rice, sauce and some of the banchan can also be wrapped in the leaves, and it's all intended to be eaten in one big old (delicious) bite.

As Chang explains, there's really no wrong way to do Korean barbecue, and that's the beauty of it. It's a mix-and-match and prepare-yourself kind of meal, ideal for the communal setting. The room is also available for private parties.

If you've never tried Korean barbecue before — or even if you have — I can heartily recommend Nara. Yes, it's going to be a little pricier than the average outside-the-Loop Korean restaurant, but it's also going to come with better service and authentic food made by Chang and his family.

Restaurant News

Openings and Closings
The Burger Guys close; Caracol officially opens.  

Molly Dunn

It was a very unlucky day for The Burger Guys on Friday, December 13. Kaitlin Steinberg broke the news that The Burger Guys on Westheimer had officially closed.

The downtown location closed in September, so this is the end of Burger Guys in Houston.

Chef and owner Jake Mazzu gave this statement to Steinberg after speculations about the restaurant's closure appeared online:

"Sorry to say, we have served our last burger at The Burger Guys! Due to low turn out, and a rise in number of restaurants, Houston has no room for us anymore! Thank you for the love you showed my team!!! Forever grateful for the three plus years we ran. We always tried hard, and went to work each day...Chasing a dream comes with a cost, and that has taken it's toll. God bless the news we earned both great and bad - it was well deserved. Wouldn't trade it for the world! Merry Christmas and happy new year to y'all and remember the small guy out there, we are few and falling daily!!!!"

The Good Life has been open only since March, but it seems the Midtown bar has closed. Eater's Darla Guillen explains that patrons of the restaurant and bar think The Good Life closed in November. One Twitter post reads, "Looking like Good Life in Midtown may be done. Fri night, no lights on, nobody inside, back-dated orange notice from city about food permit."

The conversation continues with an employee from Porch Swing Pub who says the staff at The Good Life was not told the bar had closed, so some of them ended up at Porch Swing that evening. The Facebook page has not been updated since October 31. In fact, one user's question about the establishment's status has yet to be answered. It seems it's a done deal; however, according to an updated post from Eater, The Good Life is closed for renovations and will reopen in 2014.

Now let's look at the openings.

Caracol is finally open. The much-anticipated Mexican seafood restaurant from chef Hugo Ortega officially opened its doors to the public on December 16 for lunch. The restaurant's Web site has published a copy of the menu. Highlights include a ceviche de caracol with conch, pineapple, ginger and red jalapeño, and langosta Puerto Nuevo, a grilled lobster with flour tortillas, playa la ropa beans and arroz Mexicana. Caracol also serves Mexican street food such as empanadas de saragalla (spicy hashed fish turnovers with cilantro cream) and taquitos tronadores de carnitas (crispy rolled pork tacos with avocado-tomatillo salsa).

The Clumsy Butcher Group has made a change in plans regarding the craft beer and wine bar Trigger Happy, which was scheduled to open next to Goro & Gun. Kaitlin Steinberg reported that the group has decided to change the name from Trigger Happy to The Nightingale Room, and that it will be led by OKRA Charity Saloon's general manager, Mike Criss. He tells Steinberg that he wants The Nightingale Room to be a venue where local musicians and bands can play and guests can dance on Fridays and Saturdays. Trigger Happy was going to focus on craft beer and wine, but The Nightingale Room will have a full bar and possibly a punch of the week. Criss and Clumsy Butcher hope to have the new place open in March.

Because Ramen Jin's soft opening was so successful (it ran out of ingredients!), the owner, Brian Chen, posted on Facebook that he had decided to close the restaurant until December 20 in order to make appropriate changes and improvements.

Another ramen-centric restaurant will open early next year on Washington Avenue. Eater reports that Ninja Ramen, from Christopher Huang, will probably not have any menu at all. Huang tells Eater that he hopes customers will just walk in and say they want the ramen. Customers dressed as ninjas might get discounts, too.

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