Spending any time outside in the summer heat of Houston sounds like a chore, but even the most sweaty, sticky afternoon can be turned around with a cool, refreshing slice of watermelon.
The Texas-grown fruit is at its peak right now, and individuals and restaurants alike are scooping up melons and making a little magic with the sweet, thirst-quenching red flesh. If you want watermelon in your own backyard, go pick one up from any grocery store (and maybe turn it into a vodka melon using these handy instructions). If you want to go out for all your melon needs, though, look no further. We've scoured local restaurant menus to bring you the best watermelon dishes from around town.
Get 'em while the getting's good!
Soups Every year around this time, restaurants trot out their versions of watermelon gazpacho, a Spanish soup usually made with raw tomatoes and served cold. It can be difficult to make a good watermelon gazpacho; it's often too sweet or the flavor of the watermelon gets lost in the other ingredients. Ninfa's makes an excellent gazpacho de sandia garnished with poached jumbo shrimp, crunchy taro root chips and slices of pineapple and jicama. At Latin Bites, chef Castre is also serving up watermelon gazpacho blended with just a hint of avocado and basil. The soup, made from produce from local farms, is garnished with compressed watermelon, dehydrated broccoli, caramelized nuts, avocado and carrot purée for a dish almost too pretty to eat. For those seeking something a little more substantial than soup or salad, check out Radical Eats's "Watermelon Grouper," a hearty filet of line-caught fish served with a side of watermelon gazpacho.
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Salads Watermelon salads are probably the easiest and most popular dish to take advantage of watermelon season. Many restaurants make a variation on the salad (often with spinach and some sort of mild white cheese), but Hugo's takes it a step further by adding avocado, sliced purple onions, cucumbers, radishes, cotija cheese and lime juice. The combined effect is super crisp and refreshing, and the cheese adds some creaminess to the mix. At RDG + Bar Annie, the watermelon salad gets upgraded with the addition of shrimp, mint, basil and a unique Thai curry dressing. One of the simpler watermelon salads in town is also one of the best. At Lucille's, the chefs mix baby arugula with red onions, crushed pistachios and creamy, tangy feta cheese.
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Drinks The most popular way to get watermelon straight to the stomach is often in drink form. Mix the majestic melon with a bit of vodka, rum or tequila, and it goes down mighty smooth. Down House recently introduced a new summer cocktail called "Fly By Night" featuring house-made watermelon syrup mixed with white rum, aquavit, Absinthe and lime juice. They're calling it summer in a glass. Pappasito's is famous for its tantalizing watermelon margarita made with Milagro Silver tequila, fresh watermelon and lime and lemon juices and served on the rocks. If you're feeling like teetotaling, don't worry, there are watermelon drinks for you, too. Think outside the typical watermelon agua fresca with the watermelon liquido at Tampico Refresqueria. It's essentially a watermelon smoothie made with milk, fruit and ice.
Desserts Surprisingly, few restaurants feature watermelon desserts this time of year, perhaps because watermelon is so great when it's hardly been meddled with as in the salads or the blended soups. The Juice Box, a local shaved ice joint, knows we want to have our watermelon and eat it too (so to speak), so at the shop, they sell watermelon shaved ice, which is essentially just ice topped with fresh nuggets of watermelon. For a real treat, add ice cream and sweetened condensed milk. Rita's of NW Houston has taken it a step further by debuting "Watermelon Chip Ice Cream." It looks like watermelon ice cream with small black seeds, but take a bite and you'll discover it's packed with chocolate chips. It's a surprising combination, but it sure does work wonders on a hot, steamy day.