Our 2013 Best of Houston® winners have been announced, but in many cases, picking the best item in any category was no easy task. In order to show off all the culinary greatness Houston has to offer, we'll be rounding up the "rest of the best" in some of our favorite categories during the next several months. Bon appétit!
Recently, a friend of mine uttered something so shocking, something so unbelievable, something so incomprehensible, I was shaken to my very core.
"I don't like french fries."
"What, now!? I'm sorry, It sounded like you said you don't like french fries, but I know that can't be true, because everyone likes french fries, even Michelle Obama, a self-proclaimed health food fanatic. So, come again?"
It was true, he said. He doesn't like french fries. But because every other sane person in the world does, we've rounded up a list of the best french fries in all of Houston -- from the thin, crispy frites, to the truffle-laced, to the bowls of potatoes topped with everything under the sun. Houston has some amazing fries. Here are some of our favorites.
10. Lowbrow Brand-spanking new bar Lowbrow has a menu that's still evolving, but one thing the spot need not meddle with is the thick, hand-cut fries. Former Liberty Kitchen sous chef Rachel Merk recently stepped in as head chef at Lowbrow, but much of the menu was designed by Matt Marcus of Eatsie Boys, which accounts for things like a jalapeño- and fontina-stuffed burger and those awesome fries. Marcus says the only way to do fries is to cut the potatoes by hand -- no frozen fries or fancy equipment allowed. They're thicker than any of the other fries on the list, but they manage to stay firm and crispy in spite of their heft. Marcus uses Kennebec potatoes, which he swears are the best for fries, and pairs them with a spicy mixture of sambal (chile paste) and mayo, which gives them a slight Indonesian flair. Just try to resist eating the mayo with a spoon, or you'll get some weird looks.
9. Hubcap Grill Sure, the burgers at Hubcap are a thing of beauty, but don't forget the burger's favorite side dish. At Hubcap, you can choose from 12 different types of fries topped with everything from country cream gravy to marinara sauce, but those in the know know that the Hell Fries are the most heavenly of them all. They're made from freshly cut and twice-fried potatoes, then tossed with cayenne and chili powder, drizzled with Sriracha mayo and sprinkled with chopped jalapeños. If they don't sound that spicy, allow me to warn you: They're really damn spicy! Order a side of milk with these fries. You're going to need it.
8. Boheme I've previously waxed poetic about Boheme's Bangkok fries, and nothing's changed since I first wrote about them several months ago. They're still thin and super crispy, and still topped with melt-in-your-mouth charbroiled pork, vinegary hoisin sauce, spicy Sriracha, homemade yellow-curry mayo, crunchy crushed peanuts and fresh cilantro. They elevate fries from side dish to main course, and the mix of flavors is both a bit strange (yellow curry mayo?!) and familiar (fried potatoes). One serving of this can easily feed two people, but I highly doubt you'll want to share.
7. The Burger Guys I used to have pet ducks, so for a while the thought of eating duck was unpleasant to me. Had someone introduced me to The Burger Guys' duck fat fries earlier in life, I don't think I ever would have thought twice about eating duck. This is why ducks were put on earth. These Belgian-style frites are fried in duck fat not once, but twice, which gives them an extra-crunchy crust and decadent flavor. For dipping, choose from house-made ketchup, herbed ranch, chipotle aioli, salted caramel and cilantro-jalapeño blue cheese sauce. And when I say "choose," I mean pay extra for all of them.
6. Café Rabelais What makes the fries at Café Rabelais so delightful is their simplicity and their price. For just $2.50, you can get a basket of piping-hot frites wrapped in parchment paper and a side of the most incredible aioli. The fries are wonderful on their own -- cooked to an ideal golden brown with a slight crunch, and never soggy -- but combined with the aioli, they're some of the most delicious in town. The aioli is better than your average garlic/mayo combo because Café Rabelais first makes the mayonnaise in-house, then roasts garlic and mixes coarsely chopped chunks of it with the mayo, then adds a sprinkle of fresh parsley. It's a dynamic aioli.
5. MKT Bar These ultra-thin fries give new meaning to the term "shoestring." They're thin and a little curly -- almost like fried onions -- and sprinkled with za'atar, which is made of dried and crushed thyme, oregano, marjoram and sumac, as well as a bit of salt. The flavor is unlike that of any of the other fries on this list (which tend toward French or Asian influences), but it's not so unique as to make them tiring after a few bites. Oh no. I ate nearly the whole plate of them on a recent visit, and I think it's supposed to serve a few people.
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4. Bernie's Burger Bus These fries never survive the drive from wherever Bernie's is stationed back to my apartment. It's not that they get soggy or cold on the way home. It's that I eat them all before I even get a chance to look at my burger. I have never yet been able to resist the temptation of those perfectly crisped, skin-on, truffled Parmesan and green onion shoestring fries, which is a shame, because they pair so well with Bernie's homemade ketchup. But I never have the time (or the dexterity) to attempt to dip the fries while I'm driving. My one focus is always to eat them, as many as possible as soon as possible.
3. Brasserie 19 The Lazy Lane Frites at Brasserie 19 consist of slightly curly, dark orangey-brown fries tossed in sauce au poivre, grated Parmesan, truffle oil and chives. Then the mound of frites is topped with a generous portion of seared foie gras. Somehow the fries manage to stay crispy under the thick pepper gravy, and the truffle oil flavor is delicate enough that it doesn't overwhelm the entire dish. The earthy Parmesan and bright chives add minute flavor nuances to each bite. And then there's the foie gras, which is so rich that I eat it every other bite or so only, using the (also quite rich) fries to cleanse my palate. Sound over-the-top? It is, but in the best way.
2. Koagie Hots One word: Kimchi. Though the Korean fermented-cabbage dish isn't universally loved, I happen to be obsessed with it. So the combination of my favorite healthy snack (kimchi) with my favorite unhealthy snack (French fries) is pretty magical. Koagie Hots tops its fries with homemade kimchi, spicy mayo, salty feta cheese and chopped scallions. The fried potatoes themselves may not be the best in town, but the kimchi sure is. Pile that and the other goodies on top, and you've got one helluva Korean fusion dish. It's perfect at 2 a.m. if ... you know ... you happen to still be out then, for whatever reason ...
1. Fat Bao Come to Fat Bao for the bao, but stay for the fries. The signature steamed Chinese dumplings are good, but the french fries are out of this world: hand-cut, perfectly fried and excellent all on their own. I recommend dipping them in Fat Bao's homemade kimchi mayonnaise (kimcheenaise) if you're feeling fancy, or ordering the Yummy Fries for a couple of extra bucks: They're tossed with a sauce of fresh rosemary and creamy Parmesan cheese. Simple, unassuming and the best fries in Houston.