Phaedra Cook is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes of 2015. It's a collection of personal favorites that is also indicative of Houston dining. It's a scene where a vast range of dishes coexist: highbrow and lowbrow; local and international; cheap and expensive; modern cuisine and beloved tenets — and everything in between.
Many are the wonders to be found in Super H-Mart, the big Korean grocery store at 1302 Blalock. (There’s a newer one at 9896 Bellaire as well.) Not the least among them is the vast selection of economical, hearty meals in the food court.
The stunning thing about it is, unlike a mall food court where the food is expected to be fast, processed and not particularly healthful, many of the dishes at H-Mart are peers to their sit-down restaurant counterparts. Vegetables are as important in some of the dishes as the meat.
Take, for example, the outstanding bulgogi bibimbap from the stand called BiBiJo Express. It’s $8.65 after tax and is served properly, in a searing hot stone bowl encased in a wooden box, so you can pick it up without burning yourself.
Care must be used — don’t dive down to the bottom of the bowl and start eating, or you’ll regret it — but the heat serves a very important purpose. It’s for crisping the bottom of the rice until it’s crunchy and brown. Don’t mess with it until it’s had a chance to work — the reward is worth the wait.
It’s not even just a dish. It’s a full meal. There’s the bulgogi, of course, or beef marinated in soy, sesame oil, sugar, garlic, ginger and other seasonings. A whole egg is cracked on top and is meant to be mixed into the dish. Then there are julienned daikon, carrots, pickled tree ear mushrooms and a hunk of water spinach artfully laid on top, all of which adds texture and color. The spicy-sweet gochujang on the side can be added as needed to lend a little more complexity and heat.
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The bulgogi includes a cup of miso soup and two banchan, the little side dishes that make Korean fare such a fun experience. (Imagine if every time you ordered a burger, the French fries were free.) In this case, cabbage kimchi and marinated soy bean sprouts are included.
That’s just one of the dishes available in the food court. There are about six other stands, each with its own offerings. BiBiJo has dozens of offerings all to itself, which means there are unlimited — and economical — adventures to be had. Then, afterward, cruise H-Mart and pick up a few necessities. Better still: Pick up a few things you’ve never tried and teach yourself how to use them.
The List of Top 100 Dishes of 2015 So Far:
No. 56, Vegetable Plate at Hugo's
No. 57, The Cured Plate at Revival Market
No. 58, Simply Grilled Fish at Ibiza
No. 59, Tonkotsu Black Ramen at JINYA Houston
No. 60, The Rancor Burger at The Petrol Station
No. 61, Heritage Sampler Platter at Rudi Lechner's
No. 62, Oxtails at Le' Pam's House Of Creole
No. 63, The 420 Slice at Pi Pizza Truck
No. 64, Frenchy's Fried Chicken On Scott Street
No. 65, 3 Pig Mac & Cheese at Urban Eats
No. 66, Pucchia Pugliese Foggia at Sud Italia
No. 67, Triple-Smoked Pastrami On Rye At Kenny & Ziggy's
No. 68, Fume Pizza at Pizaro's Pizza Napoletana
No. 69, Banh Mi Thap Cam at Café TH
No. 70, Caramelized Onion Soup at Mockingbird Bistro
No. 71, Milk Chocolate Stout Malt at Fat Cat Creamery
No. 72, Pork Ribs at Roegels Barbecue Co.
No. 73, Carrot Pizza at Weights + Measures
No. 74, Jalisco Wings at El Big Bad
No. 75, Mussels at Cafe Brussels
No. 76, Cresta di Gallo at The Pass & Provisions
No. 77, Beef Fajitas at El Real Tex-Mex
No. 78, Chicken Tikka Masala from the Tandoori Nite truck
No. 79, Chocolates at Cacao & Cardamom
No, 80, Hummus Supreme at Al's Quick Stop
No. 81, Red Oil Dumplings at Mala Sichuan
No. 82, Tex-Cajun Fries at BB's Café
No. 83, Mac & Cheese at The Oceanaire Seafood Room
No. 84, The Principal Burger at Bernie's Burger Bus
No. 85, Hunter's Honey-Roasted Duck at Brennan's Of Houston
No. 86, Fish & Chips at Good Dog Houston
No. 87, Sausage, Egg & Cheese Biscuit at Blacksmith
No. 88, "Saucy Balls" At Brooklyn Meatball Company
No. 89, Perry's Steakhouse/Perry & Sons Pork Chop
No. 90, General Tso's Chicken from The Rice Box
No. 91, Eggs, Refried Beans, Hash Browns and Hugo's Sauce at 59 Diner
No. 92, Shipley Do-Nuts Plain Glazed
No. 93, Housemade Bologney at Public Services Wine & Whisky
No. 94, Bo Luc Lac at Cheno's (formerly Chino's) Fast Food
No. 95, Combo #5 at Soto's Cantina
No. 96, Carnitas Salad At Chipotle
No. 97, Pickled Shrimp At Punk's Simple Southern Food
No. 98, Lobster Roll At Maine-Ly Sandwiches
No. 99, Chili-Cheese Coneys At JCI Grill
No. 100, Corned Beef Hash And Eggs At House Of Pies