When temperatures turn a blistering 90 degrees and up, Houstonians start looking for fresh summertime foods to cool down from the inside out. It's also the season for grilled foods — burgers, steaks and hot dogs — and there's no better time to patronize our many food trucks than a clear summer day. Here are places to get the best of what you're craving.
Good Dog Houston, 903 Studewood, 832-800-3647
It's just not summer without a hot dog fix, and no one does it better than Good Dog Houston. This "little hot dog place that could" originally operated exclusively from a baby-blue truck. These days, it's in a charming cottage that's been converted into a restaurant with a genial front porch. Everything here is made by small Texas businesses, from the Slow Dough buns to the housemade chili. With the Picnic Dog, you can skip the basket. It's summertime on a bun and includes an all-beef hot dog with red potato salad, chorizo chili and "Short Bus Mustard" (also made in-house at Good Dog Houston, along with all of their other condiments).
Fat Cat Creamery, 1901 North Shepherd, 713-869-1080
"The Cats," a.k.a. owners Sarah and Jarvis Johnston, built a fan base through restaurants and retail outlets before they were able to open their very own storefront in The Heights. Now customers can pop in and see them directly for scoops of Cat's Meow vanilla on top of big waffle cones and milk chocolate stout malts. It doesn't hurt that Hugs & Donuts just opened next door, either. Look for some upcoming collaboration between the two shops. Donut ice cream sandwiches, anyone?
Cloud 10 Creamery, 5216 Morningside, 713-434-6129
Dessert wizard Chris Leung supplied the likes of Kata Robata and The Hay Merchant before getting a shop of his very own. Now, on any given day there are about a dozen of his inventive, seasonal ice cream flavors in the glass case up front. Many are inspired by Asian cuisine, like carrot lychee and toasted rice. There are also several novelties, like the strawberry lemon with toasted almond ice cream bar. Diners patronizing one of the many restaurants in the Rice Village area should consider saving room for dessert and making their way here.
Houston's, 4848 Kirby, 713-529-2385;
5888 Westheimer, 713-975-1947
This group of bustling bistros hasn't been a favorite among the trendy crowd since their acquisition by Hillstone, but the menu really hasn't changed much. Still in play are some of the best meal-size salads in town. These include seared tuna salad with ruby slices of ahi tuna with a bare sear on the outside; an outstanding grilled chicken salad dressed in peanut sauce that gets lots of crunch from a handful of tortilla strips taking the place of croutons; and a filling Thai steak and noodle salad.
Rainbow Lodge, 2011 Ella Boulevard, 713-861-8666
Decadent luxury and a beautiful hunting-lodge setting await in the big log cabin that is Rainbow Lodge. Get a seat on the patio (or get a window seat and stay air-conditioned) and dive into one of the best seafood salads in town. The half-shell lobster salad is completely dinner-worthy. The lobster is scooped out of the shell, combined with navel orange segments, shaved cucumber, sesame, honey and mustard dressing, then artfully put back into the shell before serving. It's glorious and won't load you down on a warm summer night.
Cool Thai Dishes
Little Thai Cafe, 12002 Richmond, #1200, 832-598-2402
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Some of the best cold dishes in the world originated in Thailand, and humble Little Thai Cafe in the Royal Oak area of west Houston has one of the best papaya salads we've tasted. While it's cold in temperature and made with a generous amount of shredded green papaya studded through with roasted peanuts, there's plenty of heat by way of the spicy Thai peppers used in the light, rice vinegar-based dressing. The resulting heat on your tongue might be a fair match for the temperatures just outside the front door.
1101-08 Uptown Park, 713-993-9096
Chef "Jett" Hurapan's Uptown Park restaurant proves that Thai cuisine is about much more than curries. Indeed, the restaurant's tagline says it specializes in "fresh, upscale Thai food." For summertime, the nuer nam tok, or grilled flat-iron steak with shallot and dry bird chili vinaigrette, is a meat-centric chilled salad that packs both tartness and peppery bite from the vinaigrette. Seafood lovers should try the larb ta lay, or shrimp, Prince Edward Island mussels and squid with yum saw leaf. It's as beautiful on the plate as it is on the palate.