Chef Chat

Where the Chefs Eat: Bryan Caswell, Randy Evans, Danny Trace

In Houston, the restaurant community is so tight that everyone has worked together in some shape or form over the years. For this week's Where the Chefs Eat, we check in with chefs Bryan Caswell, Randy Evans and Danny Trace.

Evans is affiliated with a bunch of local chefs thanks to his time at Brennan's, and Danny Trace, the current executive chef at Brennan's, is one of them. Evans is also linked to Bryan Caswell, though not in a direct working relationship. The two are so active in the community that they're always bumping into each other at events and functions. Caswell and Evans are also active participants and tour guides for the chef-led Houston Culinary Tours.

Let's see where these chefs are eating when they're not working in the kitchen.

Bryan Caswell Chef/Owner of Reef, Little Bigs, El Real Tex-Mex

Standard go-to: There are so many places. I go to Aladdin when I'm hungry. The food's great, but the best thing there is the watermelon and strawberry juice, and if you add a vodka shot, it's like a party. I visit Himalaya often, too -- the goat biryani is the reason I go. Inside the Loop, I've been going to Uchi quite a lot. The service is very good and the food is excellent. For Vietnamese, I go to Que Huong a bunch as well -- been going there for years. I don't know what it's called, but I always get this sticky rice cake with dried shrimp and crispy fried onion strips.

Cheap eats: Christy's Vietnamese-owned kolache shop at Montrose and West Gray. I always get the sausage, jalapeño and cheese kolache. Their croissants are great as well.

Late night: My new favorite is this Japanese/Korean place that's open until 12 a.m. on Gessner near Long Point called Dadami. Chris Shepherd and I took John T. Edge there when he was in town. They have all kinds of live seafood like live fluke and live abalone, but we went there for the live octopus. It was badass! It was alive and curling around, and it actually suctioned up to the roof of my mouth when I tried to eat it. It's something like $150 for the order, but it comes with 30 different small Korean dishes, and a huge plate of sashimi to go with it.
Randy Evans Chef/Owner of Haven

Standard go-to: Barbecue Inn for anything fried: chicken, shrimp, oysters, chicken-fried steak. My parents have eaten there since the '50s, then they took me there since I was a kid in the '70s, and now I bring my daughters.  It is truly a family restaurant where the waitresses still call you "sug" and "hon" and remember your kids' names.  I have never had the barbecue and think I never will, since the fried food is so good! The fried chicken is fried to order and they state on the menu 25-minute cook time, worth the wait. Usually one of us gets the chicken and one gets the fried shrimp and oyster combo to share.  Their salad is a simple chopped iceberg with ripe diced tomatoes, and all their dressings are homemade; the Thousand Island is my fave. 

Cheap eats: Lankford Grocery's Cheeseburger w/ Mix/Mex.Their burgers have to be the messiest (juiciest) in town.  They have their meat ground from whole muscle daily.  The meat is seasoned perfectly and has just the right amount of caramelization on the edges.  I get the Mix/Mex fried match sticks of onions and jalapeños as my side.  I love going to see what holiday-motif  tablecloths they have that week. I like to go midday after the lunch crowd has left.

For Sushi: Kata Robata. The entire menu is excellent! I go there for happy hour as an early date night with my wife before Haven's dinner service.  We usually get the entire happy hour menu, then move on to medium fatty toro, hamachi and anything else chef Hori says is the best.  I trust his skills over any chef in the city. 

For Pie: My Dee Dee's Pie Shoppe. I love the Coconut Meringue Pie. I've been getting pies here since I was a kid, when she was selling out of a converted trailer house.  Her crust is amazing, and her secret is she bakes in glass pie pans (you have to put a deposit on the glass).  The crust is light, tender and flaky, never soggy.  The meringue is just sweet enough and never rubbery.  What I love best is she sells by the slice so you can try more than one flavor.  I have never had a bad pie from My Dee Dee's.

For Chinese: I go to Confucius Seafood and get the Black Pepper Lobster. Where else can you go and get two one-pound lobsters for under $20?  There are two preparations: The ginger green onion is my wife's favorite, the lightly fried black pepper lobster is mine.  We usually get both and share while I fight my daughters for the lobster.  This has to be one of the best values in Houston, and the place is always busy, bright and clean, which is a must for a live seafood restaurant.

Danny Trace Executive Chef at Brennan's of Houston

Standard go-to: Dolce Vita. I'm a pizza-head and love their homemade dough. I typically order the taleggio or prosciutto e rucola pizza and the truffle egg bread. I also frequent Ginza in the Galleria.  This family-run restaurant does everything well, but don't miss the sea urchin at the sushi bar. You'll crave that fresh uni until you're back again.

Cheap eats: Taqueria Laredo. I get the spicy potato or chorizo and egg. The line can go out the door, but it's worth the wait. Their horchata is pretty good, too. Too bad they do not open on Sundays! Since we're located in midtown, we get a lot of banh mi's at Les Givral's or Pho at Pho Saigon Noodle House.

Other faves: Fu Fu Café. Love everything: noodles, rice, hot pot. Just like Taqueria Laredo, you might have to wait a bit for a table. I also go to Banana Leaf for Malaysian. It's BYOB and I'm still working my way through the menu, but love the Korean short ribs and whole fish. They have a second location across the street if the first location is too full. And finally, Bar Munich. Once you have their brats, you'll think about them for a week. They don't always have them, but when you can get them, do!
If you missed our previous posts, click below to see more of Where the Chefs Eat:

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham