The World's 50 Most Delicious Foods, and Where to Find Them in Houston
It can be argued that there are some dreadfully underappreciated and generally underrepresented cuisines in the Bayou City (try to find Portuguese or North African or Russian food here). But on the whole, it's widely accepted that Houston's broad and easily accessible ethnic dining scene offers a spread of restaurants and markets that could please the U.N. General Assembly.
Last week, CNN ran a list of the world's 50 most delicious foods. Not the best restaurant dishes, but the best simple pleasures from countries across the world: things like chicken rice, arepas or kalua pig. This led us to wonder: How many of those foods are available in Houston?
As it turns out, most of them. In fact, there were only four foods on the list that you just can't get here...yet.
And who knows: Maybe someone will open a Canadian restaurant in the near future. But for now, read on to find out where you can sample the world's 50 most delicious foods right here in Houston.
When it comes to dosai, there's no such thing as too big.
50. Buttered popcorn
I like buttered popcorn as much as the next person, but this is just a strange choice. Taste is subjective, though, right? Get your buttered popcorn at Alamo Drafthouse along with a screening of Blue Velvet and a bucket of PBR.
49. Masala dosa
48. Potato chips
You can get potato chips anywhere. If you're going to buy the packaged kind, I recommend Walker's crisps from The British Isles, the anglophile paradise in Rice Village. But for homemade potato chips, nothing beats the ones found at Zimm's Little Deck.
47. Seafood paella
46. Som tam
This Thai salad is becoming so popular in Houston, you can even find it at non-Thai places like The Burger Guys, where the green papaya is used to top its Phuket burger. For the real stuff, however, you'll want to end up at Vieng Thai on Long Point.
Tacambaro serves its famous mollejas tacos behind the farmers' market on Airline.
45. Chicken rice
This Canadian "delicacy" is sadly unavailable in Houston. The closest you'll ever get is the Tex-Cajun Virgin at BB's Cajun Cafe. Even though it's not poutine, it's still good enough to secure a spot on Robb Walsh's list of 100 Favorite Dishes.
Are you kidding? Throw a rock; whatever you hit in Houston will likely sell tacos. My favorite are the tacos de mollejas at Tacambaro; you probably have your own favorite that you will defend just as fiercely.
42. Buttered toast with Marmite
This is a DIY foodstuff (and a debatable entry on the list, to be sure). As with those Walker's crisps, you can find Marmite at The British Isles. Sure, you can find it at H-E-B or Fiesta, too, but a shopping trip to The British Isles is like a quick trip to England.
41. Stinky tofu
You can find stinky tofu, or cho do fu, at any Taiwanese place worth its intestines. But I've been told that Yummy Kitchen has the best stinky tofu in town, and I'm well overdue a visit there for its much-ballyhooed pork belly too.
Hong Kong-style French toast: And you thought French toast couldn't get any better.
Photo by Groovehouse
I could personally go the rest of my life without ever having another foul chunk of marzipan, but that's just me. (Along with licorice, it goes in the Hall of Fame as one of the only two foods I actively hate.) Pick up your marizpan at Cost Plus World Market if you must, and let's never speak of it again.
...I'm at a loss here, CNN. Yes, ketchup is great and all. But unless we're talking about some crazy authentic kê-chiap, I'm not sure I understand the allure otherwise. No matter. Head to The Burger Guys or Bernie's Burger Bus to try some of of the city's more housemade ketchups; both offer far better sauces than what you'll find in a Heinz bottle.
38. Hong Kong-style French toast
Hong Kong-style French toast is my favorite dish at House of Bowls, one of Houston's better HK restaurants. The dish made my list of 100 Favorite Dishes this year, for reasons that barely require an explanation: French toast, peanut butter, regular butter and sweetened condensed milk. Get some.
37. Chicken parm
Mandola's Deli may not be a pub (pub-style chicken parm from Australia is what CNN was going for here), but it does have plenty of wine and beer and a cozy atmosphere that encourages you to linger, pub-style. It also has great chicken parm -- not chicky chicky parm parm, but the old-school, red-sauced stuff -- so let's roll with it.
36. Texas-style barbecued pork
Pork? Texas is not the Carolinas. But props to CNN for at least placing barbecue in its rightful home. (Ahem, ahem, Google.) Regardless, belly up to either Gatlin's or Pierson's for the best pork ribs in town. Brisket is a whole different story...
Pork ribs: the other smoked white meat.
35. Chili crab
Like a few other entries on this list, chili crab is a Malaysian dish -- and Malaysian food can be a little difficult to find in Houston. Luckily, we have Banana Leaf and its vast menu of delicacies, including chili crab.
34. Maple syrup
The grocery store. Buy actual maple syrup, not maple-flavored sugar water. Next.
33. Fish and chips
The Black Labrador is Houston's go-to British pub, and fish and chips are its go-to item. Although they're a little pricey here, the battered cod and thick chips are as authentic as you'll find them -- especially dressed up with malt vinegar and some HP brown sauce. Order a pint of Boddy's to go with them. Lather, rinse, repeat.
31. Parma ham
It sounds so much nicer when you say it Italian-style: prosciutto di Parma. Plain old "ham" is reserved for that sugar-studded stuff your aunt buys from the Honeybaked Ham store each year at Christmas. Nundini is but one place to get prosciutto di Parma, but you can find it at any upscale deli, like Spec's.
A city full of pho.
Photo by Troy Fields
30. Goi cuon
Like another item just below, you can find goi cuon all over Houston, in one of our many Vietnamese restaurants. Everyone has their favorite place, but I like the ones at Cafe TH: full to bursting with exceptionally fresh ingredients and fat shrimp, served with deeply nutty peanut sauce.
29. Ohmi-gyu beef steak
Ohmi-gyu itself is not available in Houston to the best of my research and knowledge...but wagyu is. Try the melt-in-your-mouth, truffle-topped wagyu short ribs at Soma Sushi, which is -- I imagine -- one of the closest approximations you'll find here.
27. Montreal-style smoked meat
This extremely specific, regional meat isn't too dissimilar to our own smoked brisket. So while this is yet another Canadian product you can't find in Houston (what gives, you Canuck expats?), you can always get some barbecue brisket at places like The Brisket House instead.
25. Indian-style butter-garlic crab
While CNN specifies Indian-style butter-garlic crab, it also says that this style of steamed crab with garlic-butter sauce is endemic to nearly every cuisine that has access to crabs and garlic. Well, that goes for the Gulf Coast too. So head to Benno's for our version of the classic dish.
Also known as colcannon, this is just a fancy name for mashed potatoes that have been tarted up with scallions and heavy cream. (Not that I'm complaining.) Unfortunately, for the handful of Irish pubs we have in town, you're not going to find it on any menus. The closest you can get is the mash served alongside The Bull & Bear's bangers and mash -- and it's not even an Irish pub.
The best lasagna I've found so far in Houston isn't actually in Houston: It's in Spring, at Capri Pasta Pizza and More. Cumbersome name aside, Capri makes a deceptively delicate and airy lasagna that's still rich with plenty of ricotta cheese and pillowy handmade noodles.
22. Brownie and vanilla ice cream
Prepare to hate me for the duration of the article, if you even read past this post. Chili's Paradise Pie is the best brownie a la mode I've ever had. No one has come close to capturing all of the buttery, caramel-y, chocolate-y layers in a Paradise Pie. It may not even technically be a brownie, and it's still better than any brownie to ever exist. I am adamant about this. If a local restaurant would replicate this recipe using local ingredients/high-quality products/what have you, I'm sure I'd eat the hell out of it, too. But for now, Chili's is where it's at.
Yes, the croissants at Hot Breads are stuffed full of things like chicken tikka masala. So...not exactly French. But the flaky, buttery croissants are so wonderful here, I'd eat them stuffed full of habaneros. Anyway, you can buy regular croissants at Hot Breads, too, and I promise they'd beat any French bakery in town.
Kafta kebab, because everyone loves to grill out.
Photo by Troy Fields
You can try the arepas at other Colombian or Venezuelan restaurants, but you're probably going to come away disappointed except at Latin Bites. On the menu, they're listed as arepitas, and are indeed smaller versions of the stuffed corn tortillas. Along with Oaxacan cheese, beans and avocados, the arepitas here come with shredded beef stew, pork adobado and lamb-cilantro stew.
19. Nam tok moo
Not to be confused with nam tok (spicy noodle soup), moo nam tok is a sliced pork salad served with lemon juice, fish sauce, dried chilies, shallots and mint. You can find a wonderfully spicy version at the tiny Thai Lily Cafe in west Houston.
It's not difficult to find kebab in Houston. It's slightly more difficult to find good kebab, however. My personal favorite at the moment is at Cafe Mawal, where you get the unshakable sense that you've been invited over to someone's house to grill out for the weekend as you tear into one juicy link after another of its kafta kebab.
Live Maine lobster is easy to find here, if you're willing to pay the price. Pesce has a truly excellent lobster preparation, simple and elegant: a whole lobster that's been roasted in a lemon-thyme butter sauce, served over pappardelle. Call ahead to reserve your lobsters, though; the restaurant usually runs out of this popular dish.
16. Egg tart
How can you tell HK Dim Sum has some of the best egg tarts in the city? Because it features a giant rotating display of egg tarts on its website. Enjoy.
Donuts: The goyishe answer to bagels.
Photo by Robb Walsh
15. Kalua pig
There used to be two dueling Hawaiian restaurants in Houston; now there's just one, Aloha Grill. But you can still get your kalua pork at Aloha, where -- along with the som tam salad found at the beginning of this list -- it's a signature dish.
13. Corn on the cob
While the No Borders truck from Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen may call it elote, what they're really serving is mesquite-grilled corn on the cob. And yes, it's every bit as juicy and smoky and wonderful as mesquite-grilled corn on the cob sounds.
12. Shepherd's pie
Once again, we turn to The Bull & Bear for an authentic Shepherd's pie. If The Queen Vic would add a Shepherd's pie, I'd probably eat theirs instead. But as it stands now, my vote is for The Bull & Bear's -- especially when topped with an appropriate amount of brown sauce.
Brown butter ice cream from the Fat Cats.
Courtesy of Fat Cat Creamery
10. Chicken muamba
Remember what I said about Portuguese food being difficult to find in Houston? Not only is this dish Portuguese in heritage, it's from Angola -- another underrepresented country in our dining scene, despite a wealth of Nigerian and other West African restaurants. Unless someone is busy opening an Angolan place as we speak, your best bet here is to make chicken muamba at home.
9. Ice cream
I could send you to Amy's or The Chocolate Bar, two of my favorite standbys. But try something from one of our newer ice cream vendors in Houston: Fat Cat Creamery and Snowdog Ice Cream. Fat Cat makes all of their ice creams from local ingredients, while Snowdog tools around town in an adorably retro ice cream truck.
8. Tom yum goong
This hot-and-sour lemongrass-based soup can come with shrimp, chicken or fish, but it's the shrimp version that CNN likes best. I prefer the tom yum goong at Erawan, which has maintained its homey atmosphere and authentic flavors in the years since its move into the swanky Galleria-area from its humble roots in a Richmond strip mall.
7. Penang assam laksa
Assam laksa is another sour soup that's often served with fish. Penang-style assam laksa takes that tamarind-flavored soup and adds poached mackerel, lemongrass, chilies, mint and sliced pineapple. You can find it at that home of excellent Malaysian food in Houston, Banana Leaf.
Houston is apparently America's best burger city. It would be pointless for me to direct you to the city's best burger; excellent burgers abound here, no matter what your burger preference. I've lately been addicted to the mini burgers served at the bar at Voice, full of juicy beef on soft, sweet buns.
5. Peking duck
Although the duck at A Ly is very good, the buns are not. Peking Cuisine has this dilemma beat, serving far more authentic -- and far tastier -- pancakes with its crispy-skinned duck. Even better? You can feed five people on it for about $50.
Sushi is a pretty broad category. Are we also talking hand rolls and sashimi? Or just nigirizushi? If it's the latter, no one's vinegared rice and sublime cuts of fish rival that found at Kata Robata. Sit at the sushi bar, request omakase from Hori-san and go nuts.
Nevermind the fact that chocolate will likely be as rare and expensive as caviar in a few decades. Get your locally made, exceptionally wonderful chocolates from Brown Paper Chocolates -- you can find them at places like Revival Market -- and enjoy it while you can.
2. Neapolitan pizza
Although Houston isn't known as a pizza town, several places are aiming to change that. One of them is Dolce Vita, which was turning out blistery, bubbly, thin-crusted beauties for years before the new kids came along. It's still as good as ever, though.
1. Massamun curry
There are plenty of places for a bowl of massamun curry, but it's fitting that this list should end with one of the city's best -- and most perennially overlooked -- restaurants, Vieng Thai. A creamy, rich yet softly flavored bowl of curry -- thick with coconut milk, cardamom, cashews, nutmeg, cinnamon, fish sauce, tamarind and much more -- might be the first dish that many visitors to Vieng Thai try. But it won't be their last.
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