Pre-mixed and marinated poke, from the spicy — try the wasabi salmon— to the crazy — sambal marinated octopus — with impeccable sides are what's in store at this softly open poke cafe from the Mike Tran empire (Night Market Thai, Tiger Den, Mein, Ohn Korean). IT's casual, quick, unique and one of the better poke establishments in Houston, for sure. Bowls are $12, and the cafe offers acai bowls, smoothies, and coming-soon poke by the half pound.
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
The build-your-own-bowl concept now pertains to pho, albeit incredibly good pho with some of the best broth in town, at this new Downtown eatery inside underground beer hall and late night spot, Conservatory.
As Mai Pham writes, "The basic bowl, which comes with one choice of protein and unlimited fresh vegetable toppings, is $8. Protein topping choices, which you can add for $1 each beyond the basic bowl, include fried tofu, quail egg, shredded chicken, imitation crab meat, seafood meatballs, seafood meatballs, beef meatballs, flank steak, brisket and tendon... Premium proteins — bone marrow, beef rib and oxtail — are $3 each."
Hours: Mondays-Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 12 a.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 11. a.m. to 3 a.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
An expansion of sorts from Juice Girl founder Gretchen Todd,comes this new vegan-friendly (primarily cashew milk based) ice cream shop serves up cool flavors including charcoal strawberry and "unicorn," a swirl of strawberry, dragonfruit, lime, mango and blueberry acai ice creams, along with kombucha floats. Whatever your fancy, be it a simple vanilla scoopp or a wilder lemon poppyseed, Erika Kwee suggests getting your ice cream topped with the rich housemade strawberry sauce "that tastes like something you'd whip up in your kitchen after strawberry picking."
When the weather dips and you get that craving for all things smothered and covered, head to Mikki's Cafe, now with a brand new location off of Beltway 8 in the Greenspoint area. The new cafeteria location is no secret — the line stays long throughout lunch hours — but friendly, accommodating staff keeps it moving and lively.
Most people just order their food to go, even if they're dining-in because portion sizes are so dang big it helps to already have it in the obligatory takeout box. The collards pack some heat, the mac and cheese packs some garlic, and the gravy here is a must on all forms of meat and rice or mashed potatoes. The thing to order is the daily special, from smothered fried chicken to ham hocks (it changes daily), available with two sides and cornbread for around $8. Do yourself a favor and make the trip with some friends or family.
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Carbo-loading exercise fanatics and lovers of remarkably affordable housemade pasta will dig this new cafe where the house specialties such as tagliatelle, drenched as it is in a mouthwatering red sauce with succulent seven-hour braised Texas lamb, also arrive with a small bowl of finely-grated parmesan to "make it rain," as the youths say.
Even if you're not training for a marathon, you'll want to run to the undiscovered gem from Brescia, Italy native, chef Roberto Crescini, for build your own pasta bowls in the $9 to $12 range (chicken, salmon and shrimp add-ons are a few bucks more), kid friendly Roman pizzas, and $5 desserts including tiramisu, panna cotta and cannoli, and espresso drinks on the cheap.
It's fairly no-frills inside, but it's far more inviting than the city's cult of build-your-own establishments, with friendly service and a clientele that's already hip to the BYOB factor — Have you ever seen people linger over a meal in a fast casual eatery before? Best to stop in at nearby Vinology or Houston Wine Merchant for a Nebbiolo or Lambrusco if you're dining in, though take-out here is also a cinch with pastas, sauces and proteins to go.
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.