The Houston Press food writers wanted to share the stories of their first meals dining out after Harvey. For most of us, it meant seeking comfort, not only through food, but through the connections and relationships we have with our neighbors, families, friends, local businesses and even with strangers.
What did your first meal out in Houston after Hurricane Harvey mean to you? We'd like to hear from you. Please tell us about the first meal you had out in the comments or by email at [email protected] and we'll share the best stories.
Erika Kwee: Is there any better comfort than a steaming cardboard carton overflowing with greasy lo mein noodles or fried rice? Houston seems to think not, judging by the number of patrons hanging out at the Rice Box on the Sunday before Labor Day. When we walked in, there was just one woman in line, lightly quizzing the cashier on gluten-free options; by the time we stepped up to the register, a small crowd had formed behind us. Despite the chaos wreaked by Harvey, it was comforting to see that the consistency at Rice Box was unwavering. The service was friendly and fast, the shrimp and Chinese sausage chow fun was tasty, the broccoli and tofu was hot and saucy, and the egg rolls were perhaps the crispiest I've seen yet.
At home, we hunkered down to watch the news. When we weren’t glued to our television, we were calling family, texting friends, and checking Facebook. Meanwhile, our own street became a river. Cypress Creek had invaded our front yard. Five days later, we had friends we couldn’t reach in shelters and neighbors being evacuated by helicopters and boats. For us, the waters finally receded, leaving only a soggy mess in our garage. The sun came out on Tuesday and we knew we needed to get out of the house. So, we went to our other favorite Mexican restaurant, Casa Imperial.
The sign out front said “No more beef fajitas,” which of course was exactly what I was craving. The restaurant was packed. It was the first time in nine years that we had to wait for a table.
When you have just made it through one of the worst natural disasters in American history, a frozen margarita is a great salve. I blame the stress of Harvey for the fact that I had three. The chips and salsa tasted a little of burnt oil, and the grilled onions with the chicken fajitas were raw, but it didn’t matter. Everybody will be flying by the seat of his pants for a while, the restaurant industry included. Allowances must be made. We will all be back to ourselves soon. Maybe even better.
Brooke Viggiano: While I wasn't around to weather the storm, I did quite obsessively check in from afar; and it was pretty damn beautiful to see how the city banded (and continues to band) together in a time of tragedy. King's Bierhaus was one of the many restaurants that offered support, inviting locals who could safely make it to gather for a beer on the house after the worst had passed and even hosting a Labor Day fundraiser. I hit up the biergarten upon my return, and I can say my jägerschnitzel sandwich never tasted better.
The traffic was crazy. It looked like a busy weekend, and restaurants were either already closing, just totally out of food or completely overrun. There was a line about 50 deep at The Burger Joint, stretching into that mini parking lot that it shares with Aladdin, which was already closing up. We decided to just grab a glass of wine at Camerata, which was pretty quiet, but come to find out, they actually had a small food menu going. We ordered a cheese board and a jar of chicken liver mousse to share and slathered it all over Ritz crackers — they had no bread, for obvious reasons. It was nice to be out, and some people we knew rolled in and everybody was in good spirits, but I still just felt bad, guilty. I don't know.
That Sunday, I had my first full meal out at Himalaya with a giant crew, about 12 people, and it was incredible. The Hunter's Beef with that addictive creamy mustard sauce. The buttery saag paneer and soft garlic naan. The traffic over there was insane. I think it took more than ten minutes just to get out of the parking lot back onto Hillcroft.
I also ate at Molina's Cantina on Washington for the first time later in the week. It was perfect Tex Mex comfort food — queso, sizzling fajita, frozen margaritas with salt. Every seat on the bar's patio was taken, which was nice to see, since most Houston restaurants have been in need of business. I know I am relatively new to the city, not even eight months in, but I still felt really grateful when my lunch jam, Thien An, reopened as well. There's one woman there who makes the best banh mi. She knows the perfect ratio of jalapeño to meat, so you get that heat in every bite, and the bread is always perfectly toasty. I swear I did a happy dance when I walked in and saw her working back there.