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The Best Things We Ate in August and September

The Ol' Zapata hits the spot at Good Dog.
The Ol' Zapata hits the spot at Good Dog. Photo by Troy Fields
It's hard to believe that we're a month out from Hurricane Harvey. September was, well, a month of stress, panic, anxiety, love, community and reflection. It is still an ongoing process to recovery, but Houston's restaurants have been nothing but extraordinary in terms of helping bring relief and comfort to the community, whether it was through donating meals, feeding first responders or just getting back open. We tip our hats to the hospitality industry, and with that, here are the best things we ate in September, which run the gamut from hot dogs to gumbo to desserts. Feel-good foods, naturally.

Since the August edition of The Best Things We Ate got lost in the Harvey fray, we're also including dishes we tried last month as well.

Hurry up, soup weather.
Photo by Cuc Lam
14. Duck Soup at Pepper Twins, 1915 West Gray, Suite A

"A lunch meeting at Pepper Twins was the right call," says contributor and chef Cuc Lam. "We enjoyed one of their most popular dishes, the Pepper Twins Chicken cooked with dozens of Szechuan peppercorns and burn-a-hole-in-your-stomach chile peppers. The tongue-numbing peppercorns are an experience all Houstonians must try. Our other dishes hit the spot as well. The Dancing Squid, with cucumbers, celery and another butt-load of peppers, was delicious, but the Duck Soup with Pickled Mustard Greens was the most delightful dish of the meal. Rich, deep, gingery broth and whole cut-up duck made for the perfect bite."

Crab. Shrimp. Mango. Repeat.
Photo by Jennifer Fuller
13. Lump Crab and Shrimp Tower and Crab Beignets at Marais, 2015 FM 517 East

"The first week after Hurricane Harvey, we went down to Dickinson to help our friends pack up what belongings had been saved after three feet of water flooded their home," writes Lorretta Ruggiero (read her Harvey Hangover tale here). "Later we ended up, kids in tow, at Marais along the Dickinson Bayou. After days of junk food, it was nice to eat food that was fresh and vibrant. We adults decided to share a number of appetizers so that we could get a taste of the restaurant’s offerings. The best thing we ate was the lump crab and shrimp tower. We carefully tucked in, making sure to get all of the ingredients in a bite. The sweetness of the crab was enhanced by the citrusy sweetness of the diced mango and the creamy avocado. There were only two shrimp, but those were snagged by someone else, so I didn’t get to taste them, but that’s okay. More crab for me. The second best thing was the crab beignets. We were concerned that they might be heavy, but they were actually quite light, letting the taste of the blue crab come through the pastry, and only needed a tiny dab of the rémoulade sauce to give it a little extra flavor. It was a welcome meal after days of wine and Doritos."

Whiskey Cafe summons fall with a dessert that relies on good old bourbon rather than pumpkin spice.
Photo by Jennifer Fuller

12. Whiskey Cake at Whiskey Cake Kitchen & Bar, 23139 Grand Circle

The signature dessert at Whiskey Cake is basically "a mouthful of autumn," says Jennifer Fuller, thanks to its buttery richness and warmth, along with majorly comforting flavors: toffee, spiced pecans and bourbon anglaise.

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Octopus and gnocchi, all right all right all right.
Photo by Jamie Alvear

11. Smoked Ricotta Gnocchi at Radio Milano, 800 Sorella Court

"A recent visit to Radio Milano to chat with its new sommelier, Joshua Theis, presented me with an opportunity to try the Smoked Ricotta Gnocchi," says Jamie Alvear. "Pillowy, handmade gnocchi are topped with grilled octopus, tomato sauce and shaved Parmesan. The dish paired perfectly with an Owen Roe Rosa Mystica Cabernet Franc."

Dim sum delights at Fung's Kitchen.
Photo by Cuc Lam
10. Dim Sum at Fung's Kitchen, 7320 Southwest Freeway, Suite 115

"Fung's Kitchen knocks it out of the ballpark every time with the dim sum," says contributor Cuc Lam. "Traditional faves like the har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings) and xiu mai (pork and shrimp dumplings) are must-haves, and one of my personal favorites is the black bean clams and the congee with preserved egg. Fung's offers dim sum every day, all day long."

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A take on Singaporean chile crab.
Photo by Mai Pham
9. Chili Crab With Fried Bao Buns at Aqui, 520 Westheimer

"While there were many memorable bites at Aqui," Mai Pham, contributor and reviewer, says, "starting with a melt-in-your-mouth uni toast, and the beautifully constructed tuna kinilaw, the dish that stole the show for me — and is one of the best things I've eaten in a long time — is one called Chili Crab and fried bao. It's a take on Singaporean chile crab by chef de cuisine Gabriel Medina, and I've had it twice now at Aqui and loved it both times. Fresh crab is folded into a thick, burnished orange, dip-like paste topped with shallots and cooked with galangal, tomatoes, egg and a slew of spices. The bao buns are plush, like brioche, with the light, crispy exterior of a beignet. You scoop the crab paste onto the bao buns and wham! Rich, briny and full-bodied like a stew that has been left to marinate in its flavors overnight, the crab essence, combined with the texture of the bao buns, just kind of rocked my world. Lick-the-bowl delicious."

Sit and roll over for Good Dog.
Photo by Troy Fields

8. The Ol' Zapata, Chili-Cheese Dog and Tofu Dog at Good Dog, 1312 West Alabama

"The super-buttery and gorgeously griddled buns alone are enough reason to love Good Dog," contributor Brooke Viggiano says, "but when you stack on snappy, Texas-made dogs and condiments from scratch, things get real. I can never decide on just one, so my husband and I usually split two. This time we made the right choice: the jam-packed Ol' Zapata, plump with bacon, sweet caramelized onions, fiery jalapeño relish and mayo; and a build-your-own dog smothered with chorizo chili and a side of the divine mustard cheese sauce that doubled as a dip for the fries."

Likewise, contributor and reviewer Erika Kwee says, "A vegetarian hot dog isn't the most inspiring image, but Good Dog Houston serves up a surprisingly tasty tofu dog option. All dogs come enrobed in a pillowy Slow Dough challah bun that's basically worth the price of admission, and the classic New Yorker comes piled with sauerkraut and a spicy whole grain mustard that'll make your nose tingle."

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Gwendolyn Knapp is the food editor at the Houston Press. A sixth-generation Floridian, she is still torn as to whether she likes smoked fish dip or queso better.