At night, the glowing red signs in the oversized Chinatown parking lot where Chez Beignet (10623 Bellaire Blvd) sits have an ominous quality. But with vibrant yellow umbrellas over the patio tables and strands of miniature icicle lights surrounding the doorway, Chez Beignet exudes a warmth lacking in its neighbors.
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Inside, the ordering area is basic, but there are some signs of effort, with a forest of fake plants, Tiffany-esque light fixtures and oversize posters of Paris clichés. Yet the house is packed. Every table, inside and out, is full of Asian families, teens and groups of all sizes. There's a nice, chill energy -- everyone seems to be staying put at their tables, either deep in conversation or, in a few cases, playing cards.
The owner, the only other non-Asian in the joint, is stocking and otherwise avoiding his customers, which is probably for the best. His reputation for gruffness precedes him, and the handwritten sign on the counter forbidding food from outside suggests some prior battles. As a solution, perhaps, Chez Beignet also serves coffee, tea, ice cream and seven flavors of bubble tea. Most people order iced coffee and baskets of the beignet fingers -- long and skinny pieces of dough, more like bits of funnel cake -- which come with little containers of powdered sugar for dipping, making them easy to share and consume.
I order a basket of three beignets, and they're delivered to me piping hot, with just the right amount of powdered sugar on top (read: a lot). There's honey on every table in case the sugar overload isn't quite complete. The center of each beignet is just the slightest bit undercooked, and the dough has a couple of questionable specks, but these are just quibbles. The warm fried dough covered in powdered sugar is simple perfection.
But should I get pulled over on my way home with this white powder all over my clothes, I'll have some explaining to do. Officer, I swear, it's just a pastry!