Two of the best Turkish restaurants in Houston, Pasha and Istanbul Grill, are a stone's throw away from each other in Rice Village, yet empirical evidence suggests the latter is more heavily frequented than the former. Perhaps this is because Istanbul Grill is located in the very heart of Rice Village within stumbling distance of many bars, while Pasha is just on the outskirts and dons a comparatively small awning.
This perceived discrepancy in popularity cannot be due to any glaring issues with Pasha's food, which is excellent, and service, almost even better. To enjoy both, as well as the cute domestic interior with decorative tea sets and scarlet hues, however, you do have to survive parking in its cramped lot out back or take your chances on dubious street parking.
For your patience and perseverance, you will be rewarded with a warm greeting from the owner, who will urge you to sit at a table and enjoy a complimentary cup of tea even if you're ordering takeout and (you fear) your post-workout sweatiness and less-than-fresh body odor detracts from the charming atmosphere.
Take the time, if you can, though to linger and eat in either Pasha's upstairs or downstairs dining rooms, both of which boast small tables dressed in white and fastidiously arranged cutlery yet without even the hint of pretension.
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Although Pasha offers terrific renditions of Turkish favorites such as pide and lahmacun, whose diverse toppings rest on soft, pillowy crusts and kebab platters, the choicest dishes are in the appetizer section.
To relieve of the tyranny of choice when it comes to selecting which cold mezze to order Pasha offers a lovely combination plate that includes hummus, ezme (an crisp, spicy salad of chopped tomatoes, onions, parsley, crushed walnuts, and red peppers), baba ganoush, tabouli, eggplant salad, dolma stuffed with rice, currants, and raisins, and lebni, thick Mediterranean yogurt laced with garlic and dill. The large fluffy pita bread slices that accompany the platter is the best vehicle for scooping and enjoying the various dips and salads.
With regards to hot appetizers, the sigara borek is the richest (what else do you expect from feta wrapped in filo dough then deep-fried) and most likely to swiftly curb your hunger. Take a chance also on the arnavut cigeri, small chunks of calf's liver breaded and served with onions and tomatoes. This dish is most decidedly not like the liver and onions foisted on you by decrepit relatives when you were a child. Any disconcerting metallic twang of the liver is completely overridden by good seasoning and a careful pan-frying process that yields succulent, earthy bits of tender meat.
Two final pieces of advice: 1) Again, allow ample time to secure a spot nearby and 2) save some lebni from the mezze platter--it tastes great with the liver.