Sure, you live in Houston. Maybe you even grew up in Houston. But are you a true Houston foodie?
Do you plan your days off around which type of ethnic food you most want to eat, and stick to a single neighborhood for hours so as to properly indulge and explore?
Do you make a sport of going to Revival Market for doughnuts and Shipleys on North Main for boudin kolaches on the same day in an attempt to actually acquire both before they sell out?
Do the folks behind the counter at Burt's Meat Market greet you by name?
Do you know the significance of the red cup at Ruchi's?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you might be a Houston foodie. Here are some other criteria.
10. You identify four seasons: Oyster, crawfish, margarita and tailgate. Oyster season falls during the winter months, obviously. Wait, or is that the other way around? Nah, here in Houston, the beginning of oyster season and the beginning of winter are simultaneous, though clearly one is more a reason to rejoice than the other. After that is crawfish season--roughly the equivalent of what everyone else calls spring. Then there's margarita season, aka summer, and finally tailgate season in the fall, when we spend our free time grilling and rooting for the Texans, even if they suck.
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9. When you hear "breakfast," your first thought is "tacos." For much of the country, breakfast consists of a bowl of cereal. Maybe some pancakes. An egg or two and a strip of bacon. But here, breakfast can only mean one thing: Tacos. The taco itself has a long and storied history dating back to before the arrival of Europeans in Mexico. Buuuuuuut I'm pretty sure the breakfast taco was invented right here. Some might argue for Austin. Whatever. If the breakfast taco wasn't invented here, we certainly perfected it.
8. During any given week, you will shop at (at least) four of the following places: H-Mart, 99 Ranch, Central Market, Viet Hoa, Fiesta, Phoenicia, Asia Market, La Michocana, Canino Produce Company, Eastside Farmers' Market and H-E-B. There is no single grocery store in Houston where you can get everything you need for the various ethnic meals you'll be cooking throughout the week. You might start with the Eastside Farmers' Market on Saturday, where you'll pick up some fresh, local produce and some cheese from Blue Heron Farm. Next, head over to H-Mart for fresh kimchi and a gallon of gochujang and hit up Fiesta on the way home for yerba mate and fresh lucuma fruit. For some fancy sauces and spreads, stop by Phoenicia or Rice Epicurean Market. Oh, and then go to H-E-B when you realize that in all your stops, you forgot to buy milk.
7. You know Beyoncé is from here, but you're more likely to brag about Chris Shepherd. You know, Chris Shepherd, our very own hometown James Beard Award winner? Grammy schmammy. The James Beard award is a big deal. Shepherd, known for his Mutt City cuisine at Underbelly, is so modest that he thanked the entire city of Houston for supporting and inspiring him in his acceptance speech. Underbelly really is a reflection of Houston cuisine, so it's exciting to see a chef get national recognition for doing something that all of us already know is awesome. Also, Shepherd is the first Houstonian to receive the award since 1992, when Robert del Grande won. He's our very own culinary celebrity. Let the bragging commence anew!
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6. You like to tell the entire histories of Ninfa's and Carrabba's restaurants (and name at least three generations of Laurenzos and Carrabbas) for your friends at parties. Who among us doesn't know the rocky history of Ninfa's, the restaurant where fajitas were invented and margaritas were perfected? We can all recite the story of the single mother who worked her way from small tortilla stand to restaurant empire, only to lose it all when the chain went bust shortly before her death. And we know that the Laurenzo family now owns El Tiempo, where Mama Ninfa's dreams and recipes are kept alive. And then there are the Carrabbas, related, of course, to the Mandolas. The two large Italian families came to Galveston with little but the clothes on their backs and some killer recipes, and now there are Carrabba's chains all over the country. If you don't know all this, you can read about these folks and more in our First Families of Houston Food feature.
5. Your hot dogs and burgers are designed by chefs, hand-formed and never previously frozen. In Houston, we won't settle for Oscar Mayer or McDonald's. Not when we've got James Coney Island (now JCI Grill, if you're into that), Bernie's Burger Bus, Good Dog Houston, Hubcap Grill and any number of other purveyors of hand-ground, chef-made hot dogs and hamburgers. Typically relegated to the realms of crappy fast food, we take our franks and burgers seriously in Houston--so seriously, in fact that JCI hosted a series of chefs to make their own hot dogs, and we don't often think twice about paying upwards of $10 for a great burger.
4. You know exactly which Tex-Mex restaurants make the best salsa. Any respectable Tex-Mex joint--be it a classy, sit down establishment or a lowly taco stand--makes its own salsa, and it's usually served gratis with a container of freshly fried corn tortilla chips. It's a magical moment when you taste a new salsa for the first time and realize you're going to fill up on chips and dip before the entrees even arrive. And sometimes it's so good, you have to ask for a to-go container to take some home with you, because store-bought salsa just won't do.
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3. You don't see anything dirty in the phrase "twist and suck." Or "pinch and suck." Or "suck the head." We're talking about crawfish, people! Crawfish eating is practically a local pastime this time of year, and we're all about being as fast and efficient as possible when getting those mudbugs into our bellies. Other people might not understand the lingo and get a little, well, offended. That's OK. More crawfish for us!
2. You're pretty sure pho and bánh mì were invented here. You've heard of Vietnam. You're aware it's a country. You know what Vietnamese food is and that both pho and bánh mì fall into that category. Still, you know there's just no way any city or country makes better pho and bánh mì than we do right here in Houston. We probably have more variety too. Just saying.
1. You know that even though Dallas, San Antonio and Austin get more credit, Houston has the best food scene in Texas. Things are looking up in the Bayou City. Nationally recognized chefs are choosing Houston as the next spot to open new restaurants. Chris Shepherd was just named the best chef in the southwest by the James Beard Foundation. We have two magazines--My Table and Sugar & Rice--solely devoted to the Houston food scene. We have some of the best restaurants in the country according to publications like GQ and some of the best chefs, according to Food & Wine. So, enough, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin. You're hip. You're cool. You're fun. We get it. But in the food battle, we totally win. You gave it a valiant effort, you really did. But do you have Chinatown? Do you have the largest population of Vietnamese in Texas? Did you invent Tex-Mex? Do you have gulf coast seafood? No. And that's why Houston is the best culinary city in Texas. Next stop: national domination.
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