Two weekends ago, I called my father up to see if he wanted lunch. I was craving pupusas and was pretty certain he'd never had any. And what Mexican man wouldn't enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet of tortillas, beans, cheese, many combinations thereof and as many bowls of chicken soup as you can pour down your throat?
"Where are we going?" he asked as I climbed into his truck.
"Pupusa Buffet, on Bellaire," I replied.
"Where on Bellaire?" he asked again.
I hesitated. Finally: "Over in Gulfton."
"The Gulfton ghetto? Great," was his somewhat grumbled reply. The Gulfton ghetto -- as it's still called, although it's less "ghetto" these days -- was his old beat when he was a young HPD officer many years ago. More recently, it was the site of the city's largest pro-immigration rally when more than 7,000 people took to the streets to protest the passage of Arizona's SB 1070 bill in May of this year.
It's not surprising that the march took place in an area like Gulfton, where immigrants from all over the world have made their home. Unlike the old days that my father remembers, when Hispanic -- predominately Mexican -- restaurants were the norm, Gulfton now possesses such a wide range of ethnic cuisines, restaurants and grocery stores, it can almost be seen as a microcosm of Houston.
Below are our 10 favorite spots to eat in the area. If we missed any of yours, sound off in the comments section below.
10. Pupusa Buffet 5920 Bellaire Boulevard
Cuisine: Salvadoran What to get: The $4.99 all-you-can-eat buffet, which includes spicy chicken soup and at least six different pupusas at any given time. Vegetarians, take heart: There are bean-and-cheese-only pupusas, as well as loroco, made with squash. Wash it down with a glass of jamaica and a sweet tamal de elote for dessert.
9. Tierras Colombianas 6053 Bissonnet
Cuisine: Colombian What to get: Empanadas (not your standard Mexican empanadas, obviously) and the bandeja paisa plate, which is big enough to share between two people and allows you both to sample a little bit of everything that the restaurant offers.
8. Sabor! Central American Cuisine 5712 Bellaire Boulevard
Cuisine: Salvadoran, although there are some Honduran items as well What to get: Breakfast, which is enormous -- eggs, plantains, rice, beans and more -- and comes with warmly spiced Salvadoran coffee. You'll drink so much of it that you'll be wired the rest of the day, but it's worth it. Pupusas are another sure bet here.
7. La Paletera 5720 Bellaire Boulevard
Cuisine: Hispanic-influenced sweets and snacks What to get: This chain of Texas-based shops is a great place to stop for a cup of elote and paletas, frozen fruit bars made with plenty of fresh fruit and very little else. Smoothies and raspas round out the menu along with other snack items like nachos and corndogs, but it's the corn-in-a-cup and the fruit bars that keep me coming back.
6. Pollo Bravo 6015 Hillcroft
Cuisine: Peruvian, with a few Mexican elements What to get: Ceviche, made with your choice of tilapia or shrimp, accented with plenty of sweet corn, snappy red onions and tart citrus juice. Roasted chicken with sides like maduros (fat, thick slices of fried plantain) and salchipapa is another hit, especially when washed down with a pisco sour.
5. Nazareth Ethiopian 6617 Chimney Rock
Cuisine: Ethiopian What to get: What not to get? Ethiopian food is one of the great, underrated cuisines. Everything is good here, especially the doro wot (spicy chicken stew) and the vegetarian platter. It's good for vegetarians and celiac diners, too -- the injera bread used as a utensil and side dish is made with teff flour, which is gluten-free.
4. Sheikh Chili's 6121 Hillcroft
Cuisine: Pakistani What to get: The thick, fluffy, slightly grease-sheened naan bread is the main draw here; what you get to eat with it is almost a secondary thought. Biryani and saag paneer are excellent, as are the kebabs, and you'll get a lot of food for very little money. But beware the spice level if you're unacquainted with Pakistani fare.
3. Pico's Mex-Mex 5941 Bellaire Boulevard
Cuisine: Mexican, not Tex-Mex What to get: Although there are some Tex-Mex items on the menu, you're advised to steer clear of them and enjoy what Pico's does best: real Mexican food. Yes, it's a little pricy, but you're paying for the ambiance as much as the food, so enjoy those mariachis while you eat the best menudo in town. And in season, the soft-shell crabs can't be beat.
2. Droubi's 7333 Hillcroft
Cuisine: Middle Eastern What to get: Shawarma, tabbouleh and anything from the pastry case; all of the baked goods are delicious. But don't forget: This is primarily a grocery store, so you can't leave without picking up some Mediterranean staples like feta cheese and olives.
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1. Honduras Maya 5945 Bellaire Boulevard
Cuisine: Honduran What to get: Baleadas, the most perfect street food ever created, along with a steaming bowl of conch soup that will have you wondering why more Central American dishes don't involve coconut milk. Honduras Maya also serves breakfast all day, but if you get there before 10:30 a.m., the excellent coffee is free.
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