100 Favorite Dishes 2014-15: No. 71, Bucatini Amatriciana at Paulie's

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Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.

Every time I order this dish over the phone to go, I get the same question.

"Have you had this before?"

Employees at Paulie's have to ask everyone if they've tried the bucatini amatriciana in the past, because those who are new to the dish might be in for a surprise once they taste it. It's very, very spicy.

Amatriciana is a simple, classic Italian dish, and one that I crave pretty much constantly thanks to the strong flavors and near overwhelming amount of garlic in the sauce. This is not the sort of thing you want to eat before you make out with someone.

It starts with Paulie's wonderful housemade pasta, in this case, bucatini, which is similar to spaghetti, only hollow in the middle. Paulie's makes all of its pasta in-house then cooks it to an ideal al dente--chewy but not raw.

The sauce on top is deceptively simple. Cherry tomatoes, garlic and smoked bacon are cooked in no small amount of olive oil and red chili fakes, from which the dish gets its signature heat. The tomatoes aren't cooked so much they turn into a mushy stew. Instead, they're heated enough to burst and spread flavor throughout the sauce while remaining mostly whole. The garlic is chopped in large pieces as well, so every few bites you get a rush of that signature garlic heat in addition to the heat from the chili flakes.

Mellowing it out a little is the bacon, cut so small you can't really see it. It imparts a smoky, meaty flavor to the entire dish without overwhelming. If you didn't know there was bacon in it, you might just suspect that there's something vaguely smoky about the dish without realizing exactly where that flavor comes from.

It's finished with a light sprinkle of shredded pecorino cheese (though I could always use just a touch more).

The great thing about this dish--aside from the fact that its so delicious--is that it's served in gargantuan portions. I can usually get a few meals out of a large order of pasta, and a half order is the perfect amount for a hearty but not heavy dinner.

See the full list of favorites on the next page.

The list so far: No. 72, Shorty Mac at H-Town StrEATs No. 73, Hog & Hominy Poutine at Underbelly No. 74, The Couch Potato Cookie at Fluff Bake Bar No. 75, Fried Chicken Ballotine for Two at Provisions No. 76, Parrillada Platter at Tinto's Grill No. 77, Spaghetti Carbonara at Coppa Osteria No. 78, The Outdoorsman at Pi Pizza Truck No. 79, Campechana de Mariscos at Goode Co. Seafood No. 80, Whole Fried Fish at Churrascos No. 81, Daughter-in-Law Burger at Natachee's Supper 'n Punch No. 82, Chiles en Nogada Tradicionales at Pico's Mex-Mex No. 83, Porkobuco at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 84, Chai Pie at Pondicheri No. 85, Tacos at Taqueria Maya Quiché No. 86, S'mores at 13 Celsius No. 87, Calamari at Lillo & Ella No. 88, Pulled Pork Nachos at Way Good Food Truck No. 89, Garden Sammie at Local Foods No. 90, Barbecued Salmon Salad at Brooks Family BBQ No. 91, Smoked Salmon Waffle at The Waffle Bus No. 92, Chirashi Lunch at Sushi Miyagi No. 93, Finocchiona Sandwich at Siphon Coffee No. 94, Combo Catracho at Mi Bella Honduras Restaurant No. 95, Tamal de Puerco at Andes Cafe No. 96, Cheeseburger at Sparkle's Hamburger Spot No. 97, Mi Quang at Simply Pho No. 98, Helado de Lúcuma at Pollo Bravo No. 99, Fat Fries at Fat Bao No. 100, Fish Bánh Mì at La Baguette

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