Where the Chefs Eat: Benjy Mason, Mark Decker, Richard Knight
"The turkey neck at Crawfish & Noodles may be the single best dish in town," says Benjy Mason.
Photo by Mai Pham
This week, our Where the Chefs Eat series visits the The Heights-area chefs of Treadsack, the restaurant group that includes the ever popular Down House, D & T Drive Inn, and the opening-in-the-near-future Hunky Dory and Foreign Correspondents. We asked them the regular questions, and we got some amazing answers, because these are chefs who love to eat. Happy reading and get ready to take some notes.
Benjy Mason Culinary Director, Treadsack
Standard go-to: Well, we don't go out as often as we used to since we had a baby, but my wife and I love going to Kata Robata. The sushi there is the best in town, in my opinion, and the dishes from the kitchen are great, too. We like to order too much food and drink Asahi Super Dry, try the spicy soy ramen and the omakase sushi. We often end up going to El Tiempo for fajitas (with a side of melted butter!!!) and margaritas on a Tuesday. I also really love the food at Provisions and often end up having lunch meetings there; the bar is a great place to eat.
Cheap Eats: I eat at Asia Market at least once a week, usually more. I love love the Koa Nam Tod (crispy fried rice balls crushed with nam and herbs), the fried egg salad (ask for it off-menu), and the stir fried ong choy with pork belly added. When we have time to drive, we like to go to Desi Grill (12672 Veterans Memorial Dr.) for the best naan in town, killer dal makhani, and the opportunity to have dinner in an old dairy queen booth in a car wash.
Favorite neighborhood: I, of course, love eating out on Bellaire Boulevard. There are so many amazing restaurants out there that it's hard to single just a few out. I love the Beijing-style Chinese food at Xiong's, especially the dumplings. I lived in Beijing for a few months and it is definitely the closest thing to the food there that I have had in the States. I've always loved everything I've had at Fu-Fu Cafe, and I love to get dim sum at HK Dim Sum. I think that the braised turkey neck at Crawfish & Noodles may be the single best dish in town, it blew my mind the first time I had it. Add in a few pounds of crawfish, some salt and pepper crab, some raw beef salad, and a bunch of beers and you have yourself a night.
Mark Decker Head Chef, Down House
Standard go-to: I eat at Asia Market at least once a week. My go-to is the kee mao noodles, spicy. I am a sucker for the koa nam tod with lots of nam prik pla spooned over the dish. The crunch from the rice with pieces of sausage all dressed-up with fish sauce and chilis, it takes willpower to share that dish. And every so often I will get the tom sap. It's a sour soup base with lots of beef offal. The sweetbreads really make that dish. Mala Sichuan is another go-to spot. I enjoy cumin, so the cumin beef really hits home. I also order the mapo tofu, funky stick chicken and dan dan noodles a lot. For a different texture-type dish I like the chengdu mung bean jelly. Then before leaving I like to get an order of red oil dumplings, to be eaten right out of the fridge the next day.
Cheap eats: For the cheap I head to Shri Balaji Bhavan. I change up the app between the papdi chaat, pani puri or the bhel puri at $2.99 each. For the more substantial part of the meal I usually get the rava masala dosa $5.69, the cheese uttapum at $6.49 or the chhole bhature for $4.99. About halfway through the dosa I mix both sauces together, because I can never decide which sauce I like more. Asia Market works well in this category also. For a filling meal I usually get the som tum with the fermented crabs and a large side of sticky rice for $8.50.
Other favorites: I like Nam Giao (6938 Wilcrest Dr.) for their banh nam and banh beo (rice cakes) -- it's really hard to stop eating these. Gilhooleys (cash only) for the oyster shrimphooley, fried oysters and boudain link. The patitas de puerco en escabeche at Caracol would make a killer sandwich. Sheba Cafe has really good injera. The kitfo (not for everyone) and yedoro wat are full-flavor deliciousness.
Richard Knight Executive Chef, Hunky Dory
Photo by Megan Sicheri
Standard go-to: My favorite go-to place in Houston is Giacomo's. It always seems like its an extravagant treat but it's so reasonably priced and the food is so good that it blows my mind every time. Lynette [Hawkins] is a wonderful host and obviously puts her heart and soul into the place, as does her talented chef Cathy Elkins, and it has one of the sexiest patios in Houston-- it really does feel like Europe. Must-haves: Spicy Lamb meatballs in lentils -- braised lamb in lentil love; Bologna style Tagliatelle -- so simple but amazing; Berkshire Pork Butt in beans -- I love the way she puts "aggressively seasoned" on the menu, and when you taste this pork you will agree, BUT it so works; Chicken wings with Za'atar -- a new dish that sounds a little bizarre, but again, it's beautiful simplicity speaks for itself.
Cheap Eats: Taqueria Tepatitlan on North Main. This is the first place I ate when I moved up here to the Heights and it's always full of happy families eating big meals. It's cheap and cheerful and open pretty late. I always have the same -- not on the menu but just ask -- Pork Carnitas Chimichanga, deep fried burrito stuffed with slow-0cooked pork -- makes me want to cry. I have no idea how much it is as I have never asked; if it was $50 i might just pay it anyway, but I think it's about $7.
Other favorites: Thien-An on FM 529. Some lunchtimes the gang from Blackhill Ranch butcher's shop and I go to the Thien-An Vietnamese. We generally have to share the Goi Vit (duck salad), which is an appetizer, but could feed four people! Also the Banh Xeo (Vietnamese crepe with pork, shrimp and beansprouts), then we go our own way. I normally have the pho with meatballs and brisket. The small is only $5.95 and enough to bring down a small elephant. What I love about this place is everything here is done simply, clean, fresh and very reasonable. Crawfish & Noodles on Bellaire -- I still dream about the turkey neck Benjy Mason and I had the first time I went -- it's just slow cooked bone-in turkey neck in turkey gravy served with French bread.
Want other suggestions from those in the know? For more of Where the Chefs Eat, see below:
- Ryan Hildebrand, Michael Pellegrino, Kaz Edwards
- Roberto Castre, David Guerrero, Hugo Ortega
- Anita Jaisinghani, Elouise Adams Jones, Erin Smith
- John Sikhattana, Ji Kang, Junnajet Hurapan
- Grant Gordon, Matt Marcus, Kevin Naderi
- Chris Shepherd, Ryan Pera, Antoine Ware
- David Cordua, Jonathan Jones, Randy Rucker
- Bryan Caswell, Randy Evans, Danny Trace
- Brandi Key, Monica Pope, Jamie Zelko
- David Denis, Jean-Philippe Guy, Philippe Schmit
- Rebecca Masson, Philip Speer, Chris Leung
- Seth Siegel-Gardner, Terrence Gallivan, Justin Yu
- Amalia Pferd, Sean Carroll, John Peterson
- Alex Padilla, Jose Vela, Mario Valdez
- Christine Ha and Alvin Schultz
- Ryan Lachaine, Lyle Bento, Victoria Dearmond
- Greg Lowry, Matthew Lovelace, Dax McAnear
- Lance Fegan, Travis Lenig, Steve Marques, Eric Laird
- Joseph Stayshich, Mike Potowski, Daniel Nossa
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