When I mentioned to a few friends that I was spending a lot of time recently exploring good ol' Katy, Texas, I got the same response over and over:
"Katy? Oh. I'm sorry."
Initially I was sorry too. The rush hour drive in a car without air conditioning in June was my own fault. The veritable restaurant wasteland (save for a few chain spots along I-10) that greeted me on my drive in seemed foreboding. Other than a handful of great, well-established eateries, what could Katy have to offer?
Exploring a little, I actually found plenty. I silenced the naysayers by texting them photos of my unexpectedly delicious meals and was met not with apologies this time, but with intrigue.
"I want that. Where is that? Surely not Katy..."
Yep, I found all this great ethnic food in Katy. Now get out there and do some exploring!
5. Thee Trini Hut Caribbean curries and stews are surprisingly refreshing during the heat of the summer, perhaps because they were invented on hot, humid islands. The spice of the food causes your internal body temperature to rise, producing sweat, which ultimately cools you off. It's called gustatory facial sweating. This is all just a fancy way of saying that the spicy goat curry, shrimp curry and saltfish are a great summer food option in Katy. The restaurant itself is small and unassuming (and virtually always empty), but the food is true to Trinidad, and the servers are more than willing to help you choose what you want from the rather large menu. For beginners, try the boneless chicken curry and a beef pattie as a way to ease into the regional cuisine.
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4. Budare Arepa Express Billed as a Venezuelan fast food restaurant, Budare Arepa Express isn't the most speedy arepa counter out there, but the maize cakes filled with meat, beans and cheese are legit. The owner suggested I try the "No. 11," called pabellón. It's a perfectly browned and crisped arepa about the size of a hamburger bun filled with seasoned shredded beef, black beans, crumbly queso fresco and sweet fried plantains. Venezuelan food isn't very spicy, but the shredded beef has a great flavor from stewing for hours in spices. One arepa is pretty filling, but once you taste one, it's difficult not to go back for more.
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3. Deli's Cafe I was surprised to find quite a lot of Venezuelan food in Katy, all of it very good. Like Budare Arepa Express, Deli's Cafe makes more than a dozen varieties of arepa (including another great pabellón), but it also offers empanadas, hamburgers and larger lunch plates with grilled chicken or roasted pork. You can't go wrong with any of the arepas, but the cachapas are the true stars. Cachapas are corn cakes filled with cheese (like quesadillas, only with a corn pancake instead of a tortilla), and at Deli's, you can get one stuffed with roasted pork and queso a mano--handmade cheese. Deli's also makes incredible criollo salsa that I put on pretty much everything I ate there. Oh, yeah, and all of this wonderful Venezuelan food is located inside an Exxon station. The hours are strange (open for breakfast, but closed anywhere from 3 to 5 p.m.) so call ahead. It's worth it.
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2. El Norteño Pollos Asados I stumbled upon El Norteño Pollos Asados looking for a different restaurant. When I arrived at the location Google Maps took me to, I didn't find a restaurant. I found a big, blue school bus with a painting of a chicken wearing cowboy boots on the back and the most amazing smells wafting out a vent in the top. At this humble food truck, you can order half a barbecued chicken, a cup of menudo, several tortillas and blindingly hot creamy green salsa for only $7. And this chicken is gooooood. The skin is still on, and the half of a small bird is chopped into manageable chunks after it's grilled over hot charcoal until the outside is slightly charred and the inside is smoky and juicy. The tacos al carbon showcase the same grilling method only with beef and onions stuffed into thin corn tortillas. There's another truck in Spring Branch if you live closer to there, and the same great food can be found at either. But note: The kind folks running both trucks only speak Spanish. It's easy enough to point at items on the menu, but if you want to order something special, you might have a hard time.
1. Super Pollo Rico Latin Grill & Bar This place is most like a traditional, sit down restaurant (you know, cause it's not in a gas station or a bus, and a waitress comes over and takes your order), but don't think that makes it boring. Super Pollo Rico specializes in Venezuelan and Colombian food but also offers Tex-Mex options such as a massive torta sandwich, super fresh guacamole and classic fajitas. The small eatery is known for its rotisserie chicken, which you can watch being prepared over a red-hot bed of coals in one corner of the restaurant. I'm partial to the cachapa llanera though--an "especialidad de la casa." It's crispy deep fried chunks of juicy pork with a bowl of black beans, fried plantains and a cachapa positively oozing with salty white queso a mano. The rotisserie chicken combos are big enough to feed a family, but make sure you order an extra side of the tangy green criolla salsa and some queso a mano. They're too good not to have with every meal at Super Pollo Rico.