100 Favorite Dishes 2012: No. 64, Soft-Shell Crabs at Banana Leaf

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.

The new location of Banana Leaf still has a wait in the evenings -- just like the original location across the street -- but a spiffier area in which to do your waiting, complete with bucolic waterfall and flat-screen TV, which was curiously showing a women's softball game on my last visit. The entire interior, in fact, has been given a beautiful face-lift that's virtually erased all traces of the old, roughshod Chinese Sichuan Cuisine.

Here now are handsome mahogany booths covered with palapas and a green wallpaper that approximates the tropical look of bamboo. There are private rooms now -- something the first Banana Leaf didn't dream of having -- and even a cozy bar, although Banana Leaf still encourages its patrons to indulge in its same generous BYOB policy (there's no corkage fee). And because both the dining room and kitchen are larger, the menu is, too.

But my favorite thing off the menu is still the pattaya-style soft-shell crabs, battered and fried until puffy -- and I've yet to find a mealy, frozen crab here -- then garnished with a merry confetti of mango, bell peppers, onions and cilantro in a barely sweet sauce that's tempered with a kick of red pepper. Wash them down with a Torrontes or a less sweet Riesling from home and enjoy.

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

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