June 1, 2022



Kabab Arbil (or Erbil) on Hillcroft - Could this be the FINEST kabab place in Houston?

It has been awhile since I got happy enough over a meal that I wanted to “champion” a restaurant to assure that it gets well known. Kabab Arbil is such a place. When you go, and you must put this on your list for 2022, go with at least two other persons so that each of you can order something different. Because the ground beef, chicken and lamb shank offerings were all spectacular! I wish that I could post the videos here of the dishes as they were brought out to us. But on my Facebook page (Jay P. Francis) and also on the Houston Chowhounds group that I admin, I have the videos of our lunch.

A. Jay Francis writes: " Another John Nechman discovery. He tells me he was driving down Hillcroft and saw the sign. And this place is a winner. Starting with a lamb or beef broth called marak (?)(Im using Google translate with some of the staff) followed by the exceptional mezze you see in this photo. We confirmed that several of the persons are Kurd, so there may be a Kurdish influence on the cuisine here. Several people were pleased to chat in English but I was so happy to be able to use Google translate app to communicate to everyone here. "

B. John Nechman writes: "Our nation's 4 largest cities have the most astounding diversity and greatest food in the country, but the 4th of the 4 (and soon to be 3rd!) has the best of all. Maybe not the largest number, the most countries/cuisines, and not even always the most authentic. But Houston's is the most accessible. In many cities, venturing into ethnic enclaves often leads to awkward indifference and a distinct sense of unwelcome. I've never felt that in Houston. Not once.

And our welcome yesterday at Kabab Arbil كباب أربيل (3330 Hillcroft) was genuine to the point I wanted to start huggin'. The staff beamed with pride that we were there to enjoy their food and hospitality. Though I've eaten at and loved Iraqi food before, the family here is Kurdish, and they hinted that we were about to embark on one hell of a Kurdish feast.
We lunched with our friend and foodie extraordinaire, Jay P. Francis, who loves as much as we do to sample all the rich cultures and foods of our city. Jay makes every effort to embrace and engage in the cultures of the places he visits--he was somewhat unnerved to learn that using homemade pita as a headdress is akin to dropping the soap in the shower at a LUEY Weekend Shower Party.
Our dapper server informed us that many of the menu items were unavailable, but he suggested we order whatever kind of meat we wanted. Jay went lamb, Richi chicken, and I beef. We then received several spectacular mezze dishes--a gloriously creamy, tahini-juiced humm s; another hummus of red chile pepper; a smoky baba ghanouj, a vinegary chopped red cabbage salad, and another salad of eggplant and peppers. He also served us steaming bowls of a lamb stew in a fragrant paprika-infused broth. I could have eaten bowl after bowl of this remarkable stew.
The massive entree plates arrived, covered by hubcap-sized homemade pita. All 3 meats were extraordinary--Richi's chicken looked to be burned, but it was the spices coating the meat, which was fork-tender and juicy throughout. My kebabs were as delicious as I've had anywhere in Houston, and Jay's lamb shank was succulent and bursting with flavor. Every detail on the plate shined, from perfect spiced rice to roasted tomatoes and onions that maintained their integrity instead of being burnt to the point of flavorlessness. Sides of stewed beans and fresh baby okra added to a near-perfect lunch.
And it really was--this was one of the best meals I've had in Houston...hell, anywhere. You can taste the influences from areas surrounding Kurdistan--obviously, the Middle East, but also from the Subcontinent, Russia, and quite a bit of Turkey. But Kurdish cuisine is distinct and brilliant, and we are very fortunate to have this delightful place right here in H-Town's Gandhi District.

Coffee in Houston - Great Artisanal Coffee Places in Houston - Many of Which Do Their Own Roasting

Click on the map in order to enlarge it:

1. Here is the actual link to the map so that you can explore it in greater detail:

2. Here is a link to an excellent blogpost by Carrie Colbert on her favorite coffee spots in Houston:

3. There was a terrific show on Houston Public Media with Eric, Gwendolyn and David on their favorite coffee shops. Here is a link to that show. 

2nd Hand Stores - My Favorite 2nd Hand Stores in Houston

The Google Map (Click on any of these in the sidebar to get full address)

Favorite 2nd Hand Stores in Houston

Screenshot of the map:

May 31, 2022

A Taste of China Restaurant - A Michael Shum Discovery

Michael Writes:

"Thanks to the recommendation of a friend and a most talented chef herself, we had lunch with another couple on a nice spring Saturday at Taste of China for the first time.
My guests were excited immediately upon seeing the menu, taking charge of ordering, relieving me of the responsibility.
The NanJing Style Salted Duck was their first pick as a cold dish appetizer. It has a clean presentation with the duck chopped into precise pieces by a skilled person. The taste is subtle, with a mild saltiness. The meat is tender and the skin is softened.
My favorite is probably the Dried Bamboo Shoot with Roasted Pork Belly. The dried bamboo shoots are imported from China; fragrant and slightly salty. They infuse the soy sauce that's used to roast the pork belly, resulting in the lean part of the protein being super flavorful and the fatty part of the belly satisfyingly melting in your mouth.
We were going to skip a dish that turns out to be a crowd favorite, thanks to the insistence of our waitress. The Diced Beef Tenderloin in Black Pepper easily is a must-order dish, with fatty and tenderized beef cubes, prepared in an umami sauce with the right amount of pepperiness, resting on a generous bed of vegetables.
I personally could not pass on the Xiao Long Bao, which we all like, and these may belong to the top-tier level in Houston. Seeing my elderly Chinese guests skillfully scoop up and devour those tiny dumplings filled with soup is a sight to behold; showing how they are accustomed to this dish.
The only dish that packs some heat is the Stir-fried Preserved Chinese Bacon with Bamboo Shoots and Dried Tofu. The spiciness comes on two fronts, the initial spike from the chili oil and then a slow burn that builds up after.
Our guests, who went through the Cultural Revolution back in China shared with us life experiences of dire hardship and threat of survival. They worked so hard to finally immigrate to the US because of their academic achievements and hard work at the University. We felt fortunate to listen to them, sharing their special life stories.
Taste of China is a hidden gem right in Sterling Plaza, the heart of Bellaire Chinatown. My Chinese clients assured me that the food is on par with what they had in China with the bonus of safer and cleaner ingredients. I will come back for this authentic Chinese restaurant that serves delicious and unique regional Chinese dishes. When you want to take a break from American-Chinese food and sample similar dishes that are served in China, this is a place you should consider."

John Nechman writes: " The quality of Asian food in this city continues to stagger, and near the top of the list is a spot in Bellaire's Asian District called Taste Of China (9888 Bellaire). Of course, Mr. Bellaire himself Michael Shum first reported on this spot, and today, my brother Scott and our friend Jay P. Francis enjoyed a fabulous lunch feast, ordering most of Michael's recommendations.
Here's the blueprint for a stellar meal:
1. Bamboo shoots with roast pork. The dish arrives looking almost like a dessert, resembling a mound of German-style red cabbage studded with blocks of shiny caramel. The base is actually seasoned steamed bamboo shoots with an almost smoky, slightly sweetened and salty flavor, and the candy-lookalikes are actually braised pork belly chunks, about 2/3 lucious pork and 1/3 glorious fat. We all fell in love with this dish.
2. Diced beef tenderloin in black pepper sauce. The beef chunks ae juicy and expertly-cooked in a dazzling black pepper sauce with an assortment of different colored peppers, onions, celery, outragesouly-flavorful and chewy mushrooms, and garlic. Pretty much every other dish you've ever seen on other Chinese menus that sounds like this one will pale in comparison.
3. "Spicy chicken." Ok, no style points for names here. But this was one of my favorites--expertly-fried and surprisingly tiny chunks of chicken cooked in a glistening oil with tons of sliced fiery red chili peppers and peanuts--the chicken had a flavor that hinted cumin and Sichuan peppercorns though I didn't see any in the dish. I could not stop eating the chicken and the peanuts.
4. Xiao long bao--spectacular Shanghai soup dumplings. Michael places them near the top of his Houston list of these soup-packed delights. 'Nuff said.
5. Stir-fried baby bok choy with yuba (tofu skin)--a vegetarian stunner. The yuba pulls a flavor from the sauce that makes it almost taste like morel mushrooms.
Our server Cammi took wonderful care of us, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that we experienced some unforgettable flavors and dishes today. We look forward to many returns.

Miri Persian Kitchen - Memorial Drive

 A new and wonderful Iranian restaurant has opened inside the loop. A group of us enjoyed a wonderful familly style platter of classic grilled meats. But, we also shared the fesenjan (one of the best I have had in Houston), a thick yogurt dip with dry shallots (I learned about this from an Iranian friend. The best are a type of wild shallot harvested in Iran. An Iranian grocery store ( iran-iranian-bakery-and-grocery-store.html ) on Wilcrest does sell big bags of dried shallots and I've bought from them for making this at home), hummus and a plate of radishes, parsley, basil, white cheese. That fesenjan though. I'm already dreaming about going back.

Still, I have an allegiance to the wonderful Avesta on Wilcrest as well, and I will have to split my visits between both of these. As Avesta is wonderful, also. 

John Nechman writes of our lunch today:

"Another piece of Houston’s beautiful puzzle—one of the largest Iranian populations in the country, and that translates into several sensational Iranian restaurants. Based on lunch today, Miri’s Kitchen Persian at 5801 Memorial Dr. near the entrance to Memorial Park, is my choice for the best of them all ( https://www.miriskitchen.com ).

And what a treat to share a meal there today with some of Houston’s foodie elite—Bellaire-Asiatown Mayor Michael Shum, Mr. Chowhound Jay P. Francis and his wife Irene, and Coffee-teur Allen Leibowitz, co-founder of Ann Arbor, Michigan’s beloved Zingerman’s. Being a large group meant that we were able to try the best of the menu.
The restaurant is welcoming and airy with soaring ceilings and lovely plateware. The choice of background music (Dan Fogelberg’s greatest hits?) could use some work, however. We started with a respectable hummus and the obligatory plate in most Persian establishments of herbs, radishes, and feta-like cheese served with flatbread, perfect for rolling the healthiest tacos in town. But then, the kitchen really started to show what it could do.
A vibrant, minty shirazi salad, sort of like a Turkish farmer’s salad, paired perfectly with a scrumptious kashk bademjan (eggplant dip), which we were all fervently attacking with the gusto of a child given honors with the leftovers of granny’s buttercream frosting.
And then our delightful Kazakh server Aseeya cleared the table to make room for a plate she had suggested for us, the size, scope, and beauty of which left us all gasping and drooling: a family-style silver platter designed for the 5 of us but looking like it could feed Cyrus the Great and a couple of his platoons. Heaping mounds of saffron-gilded rice and baghali polo were festooned with juicy, top-quality sultani kebabs, lamb kebabs, dainty quail, lamb chops, 2 types of marinated grilled chicken, and chunks of filet mignon that you would expect to pay a fortune for at a pricey steakhouse. A combination of colorful sweet and spicy roasted peppers and tomatoes completed the picture. We also added a fessenjan (whole pieces of chicken drenched in a dense, exotic sauce of walnuts and pomegranates) that left us all stunned with awe. And one of my favorite dishes was one of the simplest—a bowl of creamy yogurt blended with dry shallots, which feature prominently in many Persian dishes, Jay Francis informed us.
For the quality and quantity of the food, this feast is a remarkable bargain, and the restaurant is willing to size up the servings according to the number of diners partaking. The menu also features a remarkable number of vegan dishes, and while they await a liquor license, Miri’s is BYOB with no corkage fee!
I already have the perfect Texas red blend in mind to enjoy the next time we dine here, which will be very soon. "

Chā Giô Houston - Crispy Rice Paper Vietnamese Spring Rolls

 I've set out, for my next project, to explore Houston in search of the perfect chā giô. A lot of places have moved over to offering these with the lumpia/spring roll type wrapper that is wheat based. But I am looking for a traditional one with a clear rice paper wrapper. 

Making these perfectly requires skill and finesse, as frying rice paper can result in a burned and/or greasy result. The rice paper is dry and is reconstituted with a water and sugar bath. The sugar helps with the browning and helps create a bubbly surface texture. Chewiness and crunchiness. 

This version of spring rolls made by wrapping filling in clear rice paper wrappers (bánh tráng) and then frying them. The filling usually consists of ground pork, vegetables, wood ear mushrooms, and glass noodles. They’re often served with lettuce and herbs, for wrapping, and, with nuoc cham as a dipping sauce.

I went to the Facebook group, Chowdown in Chinatown - Houston, for recommendations. I'll be publishing that list at a future date. 

At the same time, my friend Michael Shum messaged me "I know a place". And honestly, his recommendation for Phat Ky, well, I can probably stop my search now. But I won't.

On my own, I've visited Thien An and Kim Son, both in the downtown area. Both were good...perfectly acceptable. 


I'm looking for "spectacular".

Next day saw me at Phat Ky with Michael and friends. We enjoyed an excellent catfish clay pot, mango and shrimp salad, and the chā giô. Enough to order a second serving. Just great. Here are some pictures.

Zaina Market - Middle Eastern Super Store on Fondren!

 Phoenicia is a Houston treasure and has helped create an awareness of the amazing food of the Near East and Middle East.

A new kid on the block, and a store that blew me away is Zaina Market at 2735 Fondren. A store that you must go to visit as soon as possible.

There is a fresh produce section that includes shelled walnuts and pistachios. 

There are aisles upon aisles of the latest and greatest food products from this area of the world. And there is a meat section, and a bakery. They'll even make a pizza for you if you ask the baker.

I'll let the photos give you a taste of the place.