Hot Plate

Nothing Fishy Here: I had been eating at Van Loc [3010 Milam, (713)528-6441], one of my favorite Vietnamese restaurants, for nearly two years before I discovered the short spare ribs cooked in fish sauce ($8.95). Tasting nothing, absolutely nothing, like fish, these bite-size rib chunks emerge steaming from the kitchen in a rich, dark sauce, studded with slices of sweet caramelized onions. The ribs themselves are meltingly tender; the sauce, a stunningly complex balance of sweetness, saltiness and spice. The dish is so good, in fact, that I mourn the loss of the two years that I wasn't ordering it. I've since spent hours obsessively poring over Van Loc's voluminous menu, wondering what other gems I've been missing.

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Dennis Abrams