When it opened in 2002, Hot Breads Bakers & Confectioners was part of a worldwide chain of Hot Breads franchises that originated in Madras, India in 1989. And while the family at Houston's Hot Breads -- headed by matriarch Laila Vastani -- bought out the place some time ago, you can still read all about the fascinating global spread of Hot Breads' unique brand of French-Indian fusion food in this Robb Walsh article from January 2003.
It's clear that the Vastani family didn't need to be part of a larger chain to succeed: The now independently owned restaurant is still packed every single day -- they're open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. -- with Indian and Pakistani families local to the Hillcroft neighborhood and those who drive in from all over town.
And although most of those folks are grabbing their goods to go, you're just as welcome to pull up a seat at one of the handful of bright-red tables and enjoy your salty lassi and goat keema-stuffed croissants.
There are mango lassis to be had, too, but -- if you aren't averse to the taste of slightly tart, slightly salty yogurt -- those salty lassis are a far better match for the puffs and croissants here, each filled with a different Desi specialty. Spicier treats, especially -- like the aloo capsicum -- practically beg to be eaten with a salty lassi to calm your palate after each peppery bite.
There are wraps and paninis here, too, but they're not where Hot Breads shines. Instead, work your way through the case of Indian-inspired puffs and croissants, choose two or three, enjoy those and then dive headlong into the pastry case. (This is the first step of a three-part process.)
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Step two involves enjoying dessert. More typically French pastries like the mango cake seen above, with its impossibly thin layers and delicate, fragile construction, are very good. But the Indian aspect of Hot Breads shines at its brightest in the salt and masala cookies.
"Salt" in this context merely means that the cookie isn't actively sweet. It tastes more like a piece of Walker's shortbread, showcasing the bakery's skill in areas other than pretty cakes and flaky croissants. And true to its name, the masala cookie provides a tiny punch of cardamom, ginger and cumin with each crumbly bite.
And for step three, grab some bread to-go from the back of the store. I like the fruit bread in the morning with a cup of coffee when I'm pressed for time, a clever little twist on eggy bread and fruitcake all rolled up into one.