Being the lead freelance food writer and restaurant critic for the Houston Press means I usually end up visiting several different restaurants every week. Sometimes I encounter truly great dishes that may or may not fit into a story I’m working on. Regardless, I think Houston diners should know about them. To that end, here’s a roundup of the best things I ate at Houston restaurants this past week. There were many smoky meats involved, and, interestingly, none were traditional Texas barbecue. I also found a dish that proved beets are not a played-out trend, as well as exquisite, handmade pasta being served from a food truck.
Lamb Ribs at Helen Greek Food & Wine, 2429 Rice
Even after the meat off these tender, slightly smoky, succulent ribs was gone, it was hard not to keep nibbling, even when there was practically nothing left on the bone. At least there's a brothy base of orzo that serves as consolation when the meat is all gone. A plate comes with a stack of four, and it’s listed as the Butcher’s Cut on the menu. While the Butcher’s Cut is subject to change, the ribs are frequently featured. (By the way, it was just announced this week that the team behind Helen is opening a new Italian place in the Heights.)
Trio of Dips at Helen Greek Food & Wine, 2429 Rice
Helen changes up the dips from time to time, and one creamy, lemony dip (called taramasalata) incorporates carp roe for more richness, as well as plenty of good olive oil. Also featured are a red pepper dip with feta cheese and Helen's charred eggplant dip. Even people who don’t think they like eggplant should try this dip and risk becoming converts. The staff is happy to bring more pita triangles to scoop up every morsel if needed.
Spinach Pappardelle With Lamb Shank at The Lucky Fig food truck
The deep green pasta from chef Luca Manfè’s truck would be right at home in any fine Italian restaurant. It’s dotted with colorful edible flowers and dabs of smoked burrata with fennel. Check The Lucky Fig’s website to see where the truck will be next. It’s normally out and about Wednesdays through Saturdays.
Wang Galbi at Republic Diner + Sojubang, 1221 West 11th
This dish, intended for two people (or one ravenous person who hasn’t eaten in two days), is a heap-ton of seared short rib meat with a sunny-side up fried egg and several Korean side dishes called banchan. That includes cabbage kimchi, salty black beans, marinated bean sprouts and more. There’s a big bowl of rice on the side and a stack of fresh, cool lettuce leaves for making wraps. Twenty-four dollars is a very fair price for this feast, and Republic Diner has a varied selection of Korean, Japanese and domestic craft beers that go great alongside.
Roast Beets With Goat Cheese & Honey at Hunky Dory, 1901 North Shepherd
Hunky Dory has both composed and side vegetable dishes, and I made myself a mostly guilt-free dinner by ordering several one night. Ironically, I hadn’t meant to order the beets. I’d ordered the peas, but “peas” and “beets” sound a lot alike. It was a fortunate error, as the goat cheese and honey complemented the natural sweetness of chunks of red, gold and chioggia beets in the most delightful way. The buttery peas with mint were awfully good, too, though.
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Fuku Chicken Tenders at Underbelly Wine Bar, 1100 Westheimer
Available during happy hour (3 to 6:30 p.m.) and reverse happy hour (10 p.m. to close) only, these moist, breaded chicken strips are chef Chris Shepherd’s homage to David Chang’s casual chicken concept in New York City’s Midtown. There’s a generous scattering of Sichuan spice and habanero aioli alongside. It’s a happy hour dish that will frighten the timid and put the taste buds of the bold into a pleasantly numb trance.