I read yesterday's Bon Appetit article on "Undercover Grub: Great Food in Surprising Places" with interest, hoping to catch a glimpse of a Houston restaurant in amongst the soda fountains and airport terminals.
I was disappointed to find, however, that of the eight restaurants listed, most were in places where you'd generally expect to find food (see previous sentence, re: soda fountains and airport terminals). And, of course, there were no Houston entries.
Which is a shame, really, because Houston almost specializes in wonderful food from weird and wacky places. I've rounded up eight of my own favorites below, in no particular order.
8. Sushi at a gas station
I've gotten a lot of grief over the years for eating at Natto, the Japanese/Chinese restaurant housed inside a lonely-looking Mobil gas station at Jefferson and Hamilton. But the dumplings are great, and the sushi is better than the stuff you'd pick up at a grocery store on the run -- it's freshly cut and rolled to order, although the dubious provenance of the fish undoubtedly turns many people off. I keep coming back, though, because the sushi -- while not ideal -- is cheap and tasty, and it's always served with a genuine smile.
7. Gyros at a convenience store
Al's Quick Stop is more or less a Montrose landmark by now. Everyone knows to head there -- not Niko Niko's, just up the street -- when you want a gyro, especially late at night. The convenience store is also conveniently located right next door to Rudyard's, meaning you can enjoy some inexpensive yet tasty falafel and a hookah before beering it up over live music later that night.
6. Burgers at the Greyhound Station
The lighted sign outside the dismal Greyhound Station on Main at West Gray advertises the "Best Burgers in Midtown." Strangely, they're not half bad. Especially given the fact that you can get one 24 hours a day, and at a certain time past midnight, your tastebuds become as disoriented as the rest of you -- making this burger a godsend at 3 a.m.
5. Tacos on the train tracks
Way out in Channelview, some of the best tacos anywhere are found next to a ridge of train tracks off Sheldon Road. Karanchos started out as a tiny food truck here, but it's now expanded to a full-service restaurant that still keeps its tacos de trompo true to their humble roots. But you still have to sit outside. Next to the train tracks. Where your kids can play, if you hate them.
4. Dabeli in a parking lot
Sure, Houston has a glut of interesting food trucks now. But two years ago? Five years? Bansuri Indian Corner was dishing up dabeli and dahi puri before anyone knew what a Great Food Truck Race was. Simpler times. Bansuri is still at it, too, serving excellent Indian food evenings only, from a busy parking lot way out in Meadows Place.
3. Burgers at a car wash
Facundo Cafe doesn't just make burgers, like the Greyhound Station. They make excellent burgers, which makes the location inside a full-service car wash even more charmingly bizarre. The bacon-avocado burger is my favorite -- even making it on our list of 100 Favorite Dishes -- and it's just as fun to watch them make your burgers in the little open kitchen as it is to watch your car float past in the wash through the adjoining glass windows.
2. Oaxacan tamales at a meat market
Eating at a meat market is nothing new in Houston. The long-gone Matamoros Meat Market on Washington used to serve some of the best breakfast tacos in town. Hell, we have an entire category on the blog devoted to eating in Mexican meat markets. But none of them serve Oaxacan-style tamales like Oaxaca Meat Market in Dickinson. Fat and pillowy with impossibly fluffy masa wrapped in a banana leaf to steam, these tamales are filled with tender pork and a red mole sauce that's nothing like the typical cornhusked tamales you'll find elsewhere.
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1. Parathas at a Pakistani game room
If you're white, you'll feel unwelcome here. If you're a woman, it'll be even worse. There is a parrot roaming the dining room, and Pakistani men throw you annoyed glances as they hover over the game room machines that occupy the adjacent "dining room" here at Alfa Capri. The parathas and lassis here seem to exist more as fuel for these gamers -- and the men who gather here to watch cricket matches -- than as menu items at an actual restaurant, but they're both so delicious that you won't care, instead listening for the crack of a cricket bat along with everyone else as you eat.