Where: Weslayan Café, 2900 Weslayan, 713-626-3663, open daily for lunch and dinner.
What $7 gets you: A massive pile of the best dumplings this side of Chinatown, or any number of outstanding sandwiches and sides.
Recommended? Without hesitation. Basking in the shadows of Central Market, the Wesleyan Café uses its marigold awning as a siren song, luring all who pass to stop in for chow. The diminutive joint is a sandwich shop by trade, yet the menu board claims "Houston's best" pan-fried dumplings, handmade with love daily using Mama Wang's original family recipe. Good dumplings? Here? But Chinatown's, like, seven miles away... Sigh. As a dumpling whore, I let curiosity win and decide to pony up.
I move to the window to place an order, and up pops an owner, cute as ever in her pinstriped fedora. Ahhhh, she must be the one who chose the animal print seat covers and funky local art. I like her immediately. Not five minutes later a plate full of steamy pockets arrives. These delicate beauties are lightly browned, perfectly molded, and bursting at the seams. The lean ground pork dumplings are as good as advertized, slippery and moist. And then? The veggies. Packed with greens, egg, tofu, vermicelli noodles, and shitake mushrooms, the vegetable dumplings have the grace of a ballerina with a hip-hop flair. Eureka.
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They're proud of the burgers, too, and with good reason. Angus patties are rich with flavor and topped with a variety of fresh accoutrements (Jalapenos! Horseradish Cheddar! A fried egg! And more!), and you're welcome to substitute chicken or turkey for any burger on the list. And then there are the sandwiches, the menu's bread and butter. An impressive Club anchors the list, but the Veggie Melt inspires just as many sighs. The delicious tuna salad and hummus is my favorite of the wraps.
Gold Star: This is truly a café for all seasons. Sandwiches are big and sides are plentiful. They just installed a new HD television, and they've got wireless Internet. Hizzah! What's more, you won't need to loosen your belt afterward. The steamed dumplings are *almost* as good as the pan-fried, and sandwiches are fresh and - for the most part - healthy.
FYI: Ask the outgoing brother/sister duo why they threw their hat in the restaurant ring, and they reflect wistfully on growing up in the industry. Their parents were in the biz for years, and their aunt is the lovely lady (you know the one) at the Ambassador Chinese Restaurant on Richmond.