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.
If you're a red meat fan, there's very little in town that beats a parrillada for two at Pampa Grill, which should rightfully be subtitled: A Carnivore's Paradise.
The best things on the menu here are meat-based: that parrillada, which is a hibachi-style grill of meat delivered to your table, overflowing with nearly every cut of the cow; the sweetbreads and morcilla (blood sausage) I always order as appetizers; the meat-filled empanadas, which are tightly crimped with a fine texture that dances between doughy and flaky; the mozzarella-topped milanesas that are pounded thin and crisply breaded like South American chicken-fried steak.
I've always had terrible luck with morcilla in Houston. It's difficult to find in the first place, and what you do find is usually unpalatable: chalky and coppery with the flavor of overcooked blood. Not so here at Pampa Grill, where the morcilla is served in giant, round links that ooze forth their creamy interior once you cut through the tender skin. It's one of the signature parrillada items, along with a few other specialties.
You can choose from two different parrilladas (both of which are meant to feed two people, but could easily feed three to four): one that omits the traditional offal like chinchulines (intestines) and mollejas (sweetbreads) for $27.50, and one that includes them for $10 more. Each includes two sides; stick with the buttery mashed potatoes and a simple green salad, as the frozen vegetables are mushy and the french fries mealy.
Along with the morcilla, the sweetbreads are a must, if only for the brilliantly soft and rich texture underneath a robust char. On your table are two jars: one with a garlicky chimichurri for your meat, and one with salsa criolla for your offal. Spoon a bit of that sweet pepper-and-onion salsa over your mollejas for a uniquely South American take on the sweetbreads you normally only see in tacos here.
Whichever parrillada you choose, however, will be heaped high with short ribs, flank steak, skirt steak, grilled chicken, chorizo and morcilla. They're all cooked to order, too. So keep in mind that when you say "rare," the kitchen takes you very seriously, delivering a blackened tray topped with steaks that glisten a beautiful, bloody persimmon color when you cut into them.
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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