This year leading up to our annual Best of Houston® issue, we're counting down our 100 favorite dishes in Houston. This list comprises our favorite dishes from the last year, dishes that are essential to Houston's cultural landscape and/or dishes that any visitor (or resident) should try at least once.
People are still confused when I tell them that Houston has a Little Nigeria. Even self-proclaimed "serious foodies" almost always refuse to accompany me to places like Peppersoup Cafe or Finger Licking Bukateria to try goat pepper soup or egusi. This leads to some serious disappointment on my end -- and not just because I hate to see a closed mind when it comes to food. It's also because they're missing out on some simply wonderful cuisine.
Sometimes I like to eat out at "exotic" places because it's an inexpensive version of going on a mini-vacation. Other times I enjoy eating at restaurants because of the opportunity to learn about someone else's culture and the ways in which it's influenced your own. And sometimes I enjoy a restaurant just because it's relaxing, cozy and offers good food. Finger Licking Bukateria happens to fall into all three of those categories.
As the hub of Houston's Little Nigeria neighborhood, FLB is populated day and night by Nigerian expats as well as all manner of other West Africans, owing to a lot of overlap in the cuisines and dishes in that part of the continent. FLB is run by Tina and Eghosa Edebor, who run two community newspapers in the area. Eghosa is the president of Houston's Nigerian Foundation, and Tina is the de facto greeter at the restaurant when she's there, all bright smiles and kind words.
Tina's great-great-grandfather was a Nigerian slave taken to Brazil, who eventually returned to his country. She's quick to point out that many of the delicacies of Cajun and Southern food such as gumbo are just the great-great-grandchildren of West African dishes themselves as a result of those old slave trade routes -- so why not try a bite of living history?
If you're new to Nigerian cuisine, Tina or one of her friendly staff will help you out. They'll show you what to order and even teach you how to eat it, so don't be wary. But whatever you decide to order, you must start with the egusi. And with egusi comes fufu.
Much like injera bread in Ethiopian cuisine, fufu -- most often made from pounded yam flour -- is used as both a starchy side dish and a utensil, served in a large, soft, white mound that looks and feels like raw dumpling dough. Fufu is used to eat so-called "eating soups" in Nigerian cuisine, while "drinking soups" like pepper soup are eaten either with a spoon or drunk from the bowl. Tear off a piece of fufu and fashion it into a small, edible spoon, then dunk it into your "eating soup" -- such as egusi -- and swallow the entire bite whole.
Egusi is my favorite of the eating soups, accessible in its basic flavors and comforting in its odd familiarity -- yes, even if you've never eaten it before. The soft, fatty seeds of the egusi melon (a sort of wild African watermelon) thicken the tomato-based broth and add a sweetly nutty flavor to the greens and onions underneath. And if egusi doesn't appeal to you? Try the spicy pepper soup, the long-lost cousin to Cajun gumbo.
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The list so far:
No. 100: Chili cheese mac at Jus' Mac No. 99: Texas turkey sandwich at Spec's No. 98: Custard at Petite Sweets No. 97: Caprichos mixtos at Taqueria Monterrey Chiquito No. 96: Pineapple-wasabi burger at Lankford Grocery No. 95: Farmer's MKT Pizza at Phoenicia's MKT Bar No. 94: Potatoes at Money Cat Brunch No. 93: Breakfast tacos at Sunrise Taquito No. 92: Hot dog at Tacos D.F. No. 91: Avocado gelato at Frozen Cafe No. 90: Chicken sandwich at JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers No. 89: Beer-battered asparagus at Hearsay No. 88: Honey Badger omelet at Kraftsmen Cafe No. 87: Pastelitos de carne at El Jalapeño No. 86: Pancakes at Union Kitchen No. 85: Wild boar and crab pizza at Boheme No. 84: Breakfast croissant at BB Donuts No. 83: Pretzel at Anvil Bar & Refuge No. 82: Short rib sandwich at Shepherd Park Draught House No. 81: Grilled shrimp po-boy at Pappadeaux No. 80: Dahi puri at Shiv Sagar No. 79: Aporreado at Los Corrales No. 78: Oxtail francobolli at Aldo's Cucina Italiana No. 77: Tonkotsu at Cafe Kubo's No. 76: Spinach danish from Angela's Oven No. 75: Pupusas at El Petate No. 74: Pheasant dog at Sammy's Wild Game Grill No. 73: X-Tudo burger at Friends Pizzeria No. 72: Esparragos gratinados at Tintos No. 71: Gua bao at Yummy Kitchen No. 70: Geisha dog at Happy Endings No. 69: Oyster po-boy and gumbo at Goode Co. Seafood No. 68: Ceviche at Sirena Seafood No. 67: Caldo de mariscos at Taqueria Arandas No. 66: Banana pudding at Pizzitola's No. 65: Fried catfish and gumbo at Cafe-A-La No. 64: Soft-shell crabs at Banana Leaf No. 63: Macaroni and cheese at Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse No. 62: Torta burger at El Gran Malo No. 61: Black bean burger at Ziggy's No. 60: Parillada at Pampa Grill No. 59: Peanut butter and jalapeño jelly burger at Wicked Whisk No. 58: Eggplant involtini at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 57: Lone Star dog at James Coney Island No. 56: Sushi at Sushi Miyagi No. 55: Palestinian chicken at Al Aseel No. 54: Roast beef sandwich at Local Foods No. 53: Mexico City plate at Molina's Cantina No. 52: Tacos at Brothers Taco House No. 51: Branzino at Lucio's BYOB No. 50: Beef sweetbreads at Feast No. 49: Golden Doomba Special at the Rice Box Truck No. 48: Malted waffle at City Cafe No. 47: Banh mi bo kho at Cafe TH No. 46: Chicken fried steak at Triple A No. 45: Larissa plate at Harry's No. 44: Spaghetti carbonara at Coppa Ristorante Italiano No. 43: Wings and grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 42: Frito pie at C&D Burger Shoppe No. 41: Pollo con mole at El Gallo de Jalisco No. 40: Fried avocado taco at H-Town StrEATs No. 39: Rigatoni in bolognese sauce at Paulie's No. 38: Chorizo kolaches at Peña's Donut Heaven No. 37: Sashimi at Dadami No. 36: Half-pound burger at benjy's No. 35: Fried chicken at Haven No. 34: Whole-fried speckled trout at Liberty Kitchen No. 33: Moules congolaise at Jeannine's Bistro No. 32: Pancakes at Fountain View Cafe No. 31: Pineapple with chile en polvo at Canino's No. 30: Fried chicken at Barbecue Inn No. 29: Dirty Burque at Green Seed Vegan