Oh, Long Point Road. You are a foodie's dream destination.
There are consummate favorites Vieng Thai and El Hidalguense. There's Korea House, one of the most popular Korean restaurants in town, and Tacos Del Julio, home of greasy but delicious trompo. Detour a little and you'll find Polonia, Houston's only Polish joint, where the owners are happy to keep the vodka and pierogis flowing, and H-Mart, a Korean-food-lover's dream grocery store.
But Long Point Road and the surrounding area--let's just call it Spring Branch so as to be all-encompassing--also contains a multitude of culinary gems you might not know about. Here are five of the best relatively unknown spots in the area.
Oh, and each restaurant is representative of a different country. Don't you just love Houston?
Disclaimer: For the purposes of this post, Spring Branch is defined as bordered by Clay Road and Highway 290 to the north, Beltway 8 to the west, Katy Freeway to the south and Loop 610 to the east, but excludes the Memorial Villages (as those are categorized as Memorial).
5. La Plaza Mexican Restaurant Since 1964, La Plaza has been serving up your Tex-Mex greasy spoon guilty pleasure cuisine morning, noon and night. It's an odd spot--part American diner filled with Longhorns memorabilia, part humble Tex-Mex and Northern Mexican eatery. It's old-fashioned Tex-Mex fare here, nothing cutting edge or fancy. As Robb Walsh suggested when he reviewed the spot back in 2009, your best bet is to skip the American diner food portion of the menu and go straight for the tried and true Mexican classics like milanesa and machacado.
4. Variedades El Salvador Because Chris Shepherd of Underbelly is a huge fan of Long Point Road restaurants (and he knows them all) I approached him for an opinion of his favorite little-known spots. His response contained no words, just a photo he texted to me of the exterior of Variedades El Salvador. He wanted me to see for myself. When I entered, I discovered the place is a seemingly incongruous mix of pupuseria, convenience store and discount clothing outlet. Whether you want a soft drink, a soccer jersey or a pupusa con loroco with a side of curtido, you'll find it here. Make sure to get a side of curtido--lightly pickled cabbage slaw--to eat with the pupusas to cut the fat. These stuffed corn cakes filled with cheese are heavy, but wonderful. Also note that no one speaks English here. Fortunately for people like me who only know French and Italian ('cause those are super useful in South Texas), rudimentary sign language and a smile also work.
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3. Mi Bella Honduras Restaurant Honduran cuisine is a unique fusion of Caribbean and Spanish sensibilities with elements of indigenous and Mexican food as well. All of these diverse cuisines are evident on the lengthy menu at Mi Bella, where you probably won't run into anyone who's not already familiar with Honduran food. For the best idea of all that Honduras has to offer, order the combo catracho, which comes with enchiladas, tacos de pollo, a beef pastelito, a baleada, fried yuca, fried plantain strips, smoky grilled chicken and chunks of queso fresco and encurtido as condiments. The baleada, a sort of quesadilla with black beans and queso fresco, is particularly delicious when dipped into the pickled encurtido.
2. BBQ Garden Korean The Spring Branch area is rife with Korean food, but one of the less popular spots is BBQ Korean Garden. The small restaurant has one long table in the middle, but the rest of the space is composed of semi-private dining rooms with sliding doors that close, should you choose. Each table has a grill in the middle for barbecuing your own meat, but when it's a slow night, the server will offer to have the kitchen grill the meat for you, just to speed things up. The banchan, small dishes served along with rice (ask for the purple rice) is some of the best in town, and the soups are similarly alluring, filled with spices and vinegary kimchi. Almost as good as the food is the fact that the restaurant is open until 2 a.m. every night to satisfy your late-night bulgogi cravings. That's not just me, right?
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1. Tinto Grill If you're a fan of Pampa Grill just down the road, you'll be a fan of Tinto Grill, an Argentinian spot specializing in parrilladas. Tinto Grill was started by a former owner of Pampa who parted ways and brought many of the employees along. The small but very charming space has been open about a year, and it's serving up the best parillada platters in town. The "Grill for 1" (which they kindly agreed to serve to two people on a recent visit) features the juiciest, smokiest skirt steak, flank steak and sausage you'll find, along with unlimited chimichurri bursting with spicy garlic and parsley flavors. The empanadas are equally delicious. Order the six-empanada sampler plate to try everything from the classic ham and cheese to the Italian-influenced caprese. Much of the menu is composed of Italian and Mediterranean-influenced dishes, but don't let that confuse you. Due to waves of immigration in the 19th and mid-20th centuries, spaghetti is almost as popular in Argentina as beef. And at Tinto Grill, it's just as good.