Macaroni -- Hold the Cheese -- at Tan Tan

One can be forgiven for missing an entire section on the enormous menu at Tan Tan. After all, there are 265 different dishes (yes, 265; yes, I counted) to choose from at the Chinese restaurant, which is popular with late-night diners and families seeking old-fashioned comfort food like congee.

It was at the brand new Tan Tan (8066 Westheimer) that I discovered the "stir fried macaroni/vermicelli" portion of the immense menu. Tan Tan's second location is in an old strip mall -- albeit much newer than the 1980s-era strip mall at the original location on 6816 Ranchester -- close to Dunvale and Westheimer. I was initially excited to hear that Tan Tan was opening a new location until I realized that it was also going to be fairly far out on the west side of town, nearly to Beltway 8, just like the original. At least the new one is slightly farther north, I suppose.

As I marveled at finding a new and intriguing part of the menu, I also marveled at the buildout that Tan Tan has created in the new space. With gorgeous mahogany tables, sleek glass hot pot stations, beautiful aquariums and airy ceilings, this is not your mother's Tan Tan.

After my dining companion and I took it all in for a bit, I finally settled on the shrimp macaroni -- H03 -- for $10.95 from the large macaroni section and a bottle of Tiger beer.

What came out was a giant plate of elbow macaroni with a few scallions scattered throughout, next to a sizeable pile of sauteed shrimp sitting pertly on a bed of tomatoes and cilantro. The macaroni was slightly charred in places and coated with a light sheen of oil. It smelled smoky and vaguely nutty, unlike any macaroni you'll encounter out of a blue box or otherwise.

The macaroni tasted as if it had been boiled and then flash-cooked in a wok on incredibly high heat, the smoky oil imparting that luscious tang and a gentle glaze of fat that made any thought ever coating macaroni with cheese vanish instantly from my mind. I couldn't eat it fast enough or slow enough at the same time.

"This might be the best macaroni in Houston," I told my dining companion. "Maybe this should win the Best of Houston award for Best Macaroni & Cheese!"

She laughed at me. "There's a little something missing there," she smiled.

"Taste it!" I demanded.

She delicately speared a few pieces of pasta on her fork and tasted it. Within seconds, I'd turned my plate over to her entirely, as she grabbed her spoon and began shoveling the macaroni into her mouth as quickly as I'd done only minutes before. Between the two of us, we polished the entire plate off posthaste, with the poor shrimp as a vague afterthought to the delicious pasta.

I'm looking forward to trying out the other iterations of Tan Tan's macaroni on future visits, such as the roasted chicken or the French-style diced beef. And I think I just might have found my new favorite comfort food.

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