I decided to take it to take Battle Sesame Chicken to the streets. Caroline, one of our readers, suggested I check out 168 Beijing, a new stop for me. Would Beijing's sesame chicken beat out my pick of Lai Lai Dumpling House's off-menu version? Let the battle begin.
Lai Lai Dumpling House (9262 Bellaire Blvd.)
First things first, I love Lai Lai. The restaurant, like so many in the area, provides that perfect hole-in-the-wall atmosphere that I so desire. Everything is good here, so I figured it to be the perfect landing spot for this fight. Lai Lai's take on this non-authentic classic is probably a little sweeter than most eaters would prefer. Within minutes of ordering, the waitress brought out a huge metal platter of piping-hot chicken topped with sugary, syrupy goodness -along with a few pieces of rubbery broccoli garnish. The deep-brown, crunchy, bread-coated chicken was doused with slices of garlic and a heavy hand of sesame seeds. Because the pieces of thigh meat were variably sized, there was some inconsistency in the dish such that smaller bites were overcooked, stringy to the bite, and dominated by the breading.
168 Beijing (10535 S. Post Oak Rd.)
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168 Beijing is another hole-in-the-wall, but this time in somewhat unfavorable surroundings. In other words: perfect! Once I saw the exterior, I had a feeling it would be good, and it was. My buddy and I sat down in the stark restaurant. The only aesthetic highlights were a flat-screen television and a mid-size fish tank. The adequately portioned sesame chicken had an orange coloring and was less than generous with the seeds. But here's the thing: we couldn't stop eating it. The uniformly cut chicken (mostly thigh meat) was perfectly cooked and appropriately overpowered the breading. The dish was sweet, but not cloying, and was balanced quite well with an overall, almost citrus-y, tanginess. The meat was very tender and not greasy.
My unwavering love for Lai Lai will never falter, but on this day, 168 Beijing won the fight. The tenderness, excellently textured chicken and balance of flavors were just too much for Lai Lai. But there's no shame in losing to 168. Lai Lai, you've still got my favorite dumplings. A special thank you to Caroline for suggesting 168 Beijing.
What's up next? How about a Battle Veggie Burger? I'm selecting Houston's Restaurant, but I need a competitor. Please feel free to chime in with a suggestion. One will be selected. Will it be yours?