Best of Houston

A Houston Noodle Tour

The original Tonkotsu Ramen from Ramen Tatsu-Ya
The original Tonkotsu Ramen from Ramen Tatsu-Ya Photo Courtesy of Pop Ratio
Houston, we are noodle folk. Broth runs deep through our veins.

It's time to get to know some of the essential Houston noodle houses. From piping hot, Sriracha-loaded pho to slurp-worthy ramen bowls, Houston is the stateside mecca of noodles. From the endless strip malls of Chinatown, to the OG Vietnamese kitchens in Midtown's Little Saigon, as far out as Pearland and Sugar Land, if you're in the Houston Metro Area you're never far from good noodles.

Of course, taste is subjective and this city has more than 100 restaurants that serve noteworthy noodles. That said, don't take this article as gospel. Rather, use it as inspiration. Work up an appetite and seek out your nearest bowl of vermicelli or tonkotsu immediately after reading.

click to enlarge Dry Tsukemen Ramen from Ramen Tatsu-Ya - PHOTO COURTESY OF POP RATIO
Dry Tsukemen Ramen from Ramen Tatsu-Ya
Photo Courtesy of Pop Ratio
Ramen Tatsu-Ya - Montrose

The Tatsu-Ya brand may be an Austin import, but Ramen Tatsu-Ya Houston has become an instant favorite in the city's ramen scene. Look, we've got to hand it to those Austinites — when they get it right, they get it right. The team behind Texas' favorite ramen chain take their craft to another level. They dedicate more time and effort into producing the best possible broths and the highest quality noodles than possibly any ramen shop in the country.

Tatsu-Ya's broths boil for 72 hours in their Austin "broth factory". By comparison, many ramen shops take 12-24 hours to make their broth. Bone is literally liquefied, leaving behind a broth so rich and flavorful that it has been accused of containing too much cream (it contains no cream).

Beyond the broth and noodle quality, the Tatsu-Ya team is constantly rolling out mouthwatering seasonal recipes featuring innovative ingredients like slow cooked brisket and crawfish. The Tatsu-Ya concept is both authentic and contemporary. Don't wait too long to try this Montrose instant classic.

click to enlarge Beef Pho, Vietnamese Coffee, and Vietnamese Egg Rolls from Pho Saigon - PHOTO BY CARLOS BRANDON
Beef Pho, Vietnamese Coffee, and Vietnamese Egg Rolls from Pho Saigon
Photo by Carlos Brandon
Pho Saigon - Midtown (Little Saigon)

Moving away from Tatsu-Ya's trendy hipster aesthetic, we take you back in time to when Houston had a thriving little Vietnamese neighborhood known as Little Saigon. In the district we now know as Midtown, one of the Gulf Coast's largest populations of Vietnamese immigrants once created a bustling commercial district that introduced this city to Vietnamese culture for the very first time.

Pho Saigon came along well after the original wave of immigrants established their community in Houston's neglected inner city, but has survived the onslaught of post-grad gentrification and urban redevelopment projects. Two decades later, the small mom and pop kitchen is a chain with nine successful locations and counting.

Despite new competition from what seems like hundreds of local pho shops, this family business stands above the rest for their unparalleled authenticity and range of choices. The menu features dozens of varieties of beef and chicken pho, egg noodle soups, vermicelli, and more. The Vietnamese coffee (a term used loosely by other half-ass shops) is served in traditional drip filters and ever so slowly brews at your table. Caffeine fiends can experience the joy of mixing thick black coffee with condensed milk themselves, then pouring the beautiful brown potion over ice.

The broths at Pho Saigon are aromatic and full of flavor. Douse your bowl in Sriracha and cure what ails you. Your sinuses will thank you.

click to enlarge Roast beef noodle soup at San Dong Noodle House - PHOTO BY CARLOS BRANDON
Roast beef noodle soup at San Dong Noodle House
Photo by Carlos Brandon
San Dong Noodle House - Bellaire (Chinatown)

Now that we've lingered inside the loop, it's time to take this tour to Chinatown. Leave your passports at home but bring your appetite (and cash) to this counter service noodle house on Bellaire just inside the beltway.

San Dong is the real deal, people. Know what you want before you show up because the menu is mostly in Chinese. The house favorite is the roast beef noodle soup. This traditional Taiwanese dish is a rich, heavily flavored beef broth soup with healthy helpings of green veggies, succulent roast beef, and firm noodles.

Though San Dong is a noodle house, and a damn good one at that, their offerings range far beyond noodles. They are as much, if not more, celebrated for their multitude of dumpling dishes. These include the deeply flavorful pork soup dumplings and the leak and egg filled fried dumplings called baozi.

Chinese cuisine is often misrepresented by the Americanization of its dishes and the creation of the, entirely separate, Chinese-American cuisine. While both have their merits, Houstonians should experience a more legitimate Chinese eatery like this one from time to time, given the ease of access we have to this level of quality and authenticity.

click to enlarge Spicy Soy Ramen from Kata Robata - PHOTO BY JULIE SOEFER
Spicy Soy Ramen from Kata Robata
Photo by Julie Soefer
Kata Robata - Upper Kirby

This would be no Houston noodle tour without this final stop. Kata Robata is regarded by many as the best sushi restaurant in Texas — perhaps the south. In truth, it is probably the best overall Japanese restaurant in the city. That is because they serve more than sushi; much more.

Among the diverse offerings on chef Manabu “Hori” Horiuchi’s menu are a series of ramen bowls that make the Upper Kirby institution one of the low-key finest noodle houses in the city.

Currently on the menu are two bowls whose richly aromatic broths and perfectly cooked noodles are worthy of the understandably more pricey dining experience — the Spicy Soy Ramen and the Lobster Ramen. This may be Japanese soul food at its core, but such refined versions of classic dishes merit certain levels of respect. The savory and creamy broth of the spicy soy is a thing of true beauty, while the lobster bowl adds a lobster claw to an already perfect bowl of noodle soup.

Probably best regarded for their broth quality, the ramen bowls at Kata Robata feature dense, creamy broths that pack a punch of flavor and spice. These are no light meals, but saving room for a sushi order is never a bad idea.
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Houston Press contributor Carlos Brandon is a freelance writer, blogger, and self proclaimed Houston hip hop historian. He contributes to various publications and can usually be found haggling with food truck cooks or talking politics on the METRO Rail.
Contact: Carlos Brandon