Local Spotlight

Metropole Center: Three Favorites in One

Metropole Center, on Bellaire Boulevard between Corporate and Ranchester, is one of the oldest strip malls in Chinatown. It's also home to Yummy Kitchen, the subject of this week's cafe review, along with a few old and new favorites, namely Six Ping Bakery and Mala Sichuan Cuisine.

The trio makes for an excellent mini food crawl if you're looking for an intriguing staging ground from which to explore a little pocket of Chinatown. Yummy Kitchen serves a mixture of Taiwanese and Northern Chinese cuisine. And Taiwanese food, as mentioned in the review, is not for the faint of heart.

But if you can brave the occasional manure-saturated scent of stinky tofu, the cuisine will reward your efforts. Witness the pork belly-filled gua bao in its soft bun, which secured a fairly high spot on our list of 100 Favorite Dishes, or the soft slices of pale intestine in a ginger sauce.

Next door, Mala Sichuan amps up the heat for spicehounds. It seems that nearly every dish contains chile oil or those famously numbing Sichuan peppercorns. Ants on a Tree is one of the few non-spicy dishes, with diced beef clinging to vermicelli like ants on a tree branch. Couple's Lung spices things back up, though, with soft beef shank and chewy tripe in a bright red chile oil.

Finish your food crawl at Six Ping Bakery, where our blogger Mai Pham recently took us on a tour of its weird and wonderful $1 pastries. My personal favorite are the pastries labeled as "Baby Cakes." If you think that name is funny, you'll love what they actually look like:

Yes, actual baby heads. But baby heads that are made from an eggy, barely sweet spongecake, decorated with dark chocolate and sandwiching a layer of soft, whipped, chocolate-flavored buttercream. Baby heads never tasted so good, especially for only $1.

In fact, you won't spend more than $15 a person between the three restaurants, ordering wisely. Even if a dish is $3.95 on the menu, it's going to feed two or three people -- so don't be afraid to share.

See more photos from inside Yummy Kitchen in our slideshow before you embark on your own mini food crawl.

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Katharine Shilcutt