Every now and then this city can still surprise us. Even those of us who make it our job to know the ins and outs of Houston's food scene are often floored by the revelation of a beloved mom and pop or trendy hole-in-the-wall we never knew existed. Nowhere in this town are those hidden culinary gems more abundant than downtown.
Let's be honest, downtown Houston is a bit of a bear. From a lack of affordable parking, to sketchy and sparse public transportation, to an intimidating layout of skyscrapers that appear to hold little or no culinary value, it's few people's first choice for a casual lunch. Yet, for the thousands who work and live there, downtown's many food courts and restaurants are a matter of daily convenience. Some of those food courts — most notably The Conservatory — are common knowledge among most Houstonians. Still, others remain far more obscure. The massive and well-hidden Shops at Houston Center are among those less recognizable downtown food courts patronized mostly by working professionals from the surrounding office buildings.
Inside on level three, tucked into a back corner across the isle from Starbucks sits a small grab-and-go counter with no seating called Doozo Dumplings & Noodles. At least that's the name online. The sign simply reads "Doozo". This family-owned food counter with a fast-moving line is a downtown mainstay with a small menu and an apparently huge fan base.
The store opened (once upon a time) as a yogurt shop with the Japanese word for "welcome" as its name. Yet, it was the family recipe for handmade Chinese dumplings that caused patrons to line up around the corner. Originally offered as a special, the dumplings quickly overshadowed the yogurt to become the restaurant's focal dish.
Dumplings are offered three ways; pork, chicken or veggie. A small serving of five will run you $4.50, or $8 for ten. For $2 more you can add hot and sour soup, won ton soup, spring roll or fresh fruit to any large order. Efficiency is key when ordering at Doozo. Most customers are regulars and pre-packed boxes of dumplings are stacked behind the counter before shop even opens at 11 am.
Of course, the dumplings are not to be overlooked. Delicious morsels of steamed pasta dough filled with tender balls of ground pork and spinach. Spinach actually replaces the more traditional cabbage in all three varieties, making for a unique flavor profile unusual to Chinese dumplings.
Be wary that these are not fine dining dumplings. They are essentially Chinese fast-food and priced to match. Their handmade and ready-to-order quality means the dough is thicker than some more gourmet options you may find around town.
Doozo offers working Houstonians a blue-collar efficiency meal sold in much the same way you might find in China — from a counter with a fast-moving line and a proprietor with notoriously little patience for lollygaggers. Inside this downtown food court what we find is an authentic cultural experience that is at once entirely foreign and entirely Houston.