March 31, 2022
The lines form around 11:30 for the opening at noon. There are only 12 tables and the restaurant is staffed by the sushi master and his wife handles front of the room.
The food is fantastic and I will let the photos tell the story. There is a lunch menu from which we made our choices. Recommended: the curry udon soup ; and the salmon salad; but everything here is great.
On most days Sushi Miyagi is open only from 12 to 3 (see photo of business hours). I can't recommend this place highly enough. A Houston institution.
I first heard about Sao Lao on N. Shepherd, just a little bit north of the B&W Meat Market in early 2022 through the Houston Heights Foodies food group on Facebook (I'm a member). The photos of the dishes looked fantastic, and, in February, I had my first opportunity to check it out. Wow.
A small menu, and that is a good thing. A lot of attention to each dish. The chef told me that she started with some family recipes for the Boat Soup, but then kept working and working on it until she was satisfied. A lot of spices, prepared in a way that none overwhelmed the others. Just a fantastic broth with rice noodles pork meatballs and tender ribeye steak slices. Again, wow.
To begin, order the jerky, which comes with sticky rice and a sauce and lettuce and have them show you the way to eat it.
Next, go for, well, based on our experience, just about anything on the menu is going to be fantastic. But we had the boat soup, and the crunchy crispy Laotian rice. And we had dumplings.
I have a gut feeling that this place is going to become incredibly popular so go before the crowds discover it.
John Nechman writes: “ Our friend, foodie and expert on all things fried chicken and Mexican, Jay P. Francis, was sweet enough to pick up a jar for me of something I've been trying to hunt down for a long time--mayhaw jelly. I've had a crazy work schedule but wanted to meet up for lunch (and to get my jelly!), and to be able to include Richi, who was anxious to see Jay, we needed a place between the school where he teaches in the North End and the Galleria, where he had some serious shopping to do. We settled on Sao-Lao Thai Café (5013 N. Shepherd), a place Jay highly recommended.
Though humble in size and appearance, Sao Lao more than makes up for it in flavor. I went full-on Lao, ordering the house-made Lao beef jerky with a traditional spicy tomato sauce and sticky rice. It put to shame anything I've bought at Bucee's.
As my imagined/imaginary Laotian grandmother would likely tell me--WASH YOUR HANDS! Little pouches of sticky rice come with just about everything--the idea is to pinch off a portion, roll it into a ball, and dunk it into the omnipresent sauces while eating whatever they come with. Richi ordered what was described on the menu as sliced filet ignon but which was actually a Laotion specialty that appeared to be a beef tartare made with ground tripe and served with lettuce leaves to make "tacos," along more of that sticky rice. He scarfed down every bit of it.
I had the Nam Khao, which looked like a large bowl of paella adorned with lettuce leaves. The rice was crispy fried and cooked with a red curry sauce, dessicated coconut, cilantro, green onions, spices, peanuts, and ground fermented pork. It is served cold, but I enjoyed its unique and complex flavors. Jay spoke glowingly of the beef boat noodle soup, which looked like a Louisiana gumbo rich with roux. It must be great--Jay ordered it on his first visit as well.
We ended the meal with a mango sticky rice and thanked the sweet server at the register who we all thought was Lao but is actually El Salvadoran. Like us, she appears to really love the food at this delightufl little spot. “
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.
Tucked into a little strip center just one street over from Fry Road is a delightful grocery store with regional cheeses and specialties from Venezuela.
Friend, John Nechman, calls this area of Fry/Mason : "Katyzuela", because of the number of South American eateries and options out there.
Here is where you will find your various ground corn for arepas and other South American dishes, and cheeses, and snack foods.
Look out for the assortment of ají chile based hot sauces and the extensive collection of cookies and chocolates.
Even Venezuelan style sandwich bread (butter bread).
Tequeños in different flavors, (a fried snack) perfect for parties, are available in the freezer section. And empanadas, also in the freezer section (see menu below).
We chatted with one of the owners about methods for making arepas. Although one can buy electric arepa makers, similar to a waffle maker, a good old griddle or cast iron pan will work just fine. Lots of recipes on YouTube if you want to tackle them at home. And the owners will walk you through the corn flours for the masa when you visit.
I was asked if I’d like to do an article on paleterías and I immediately said “Heck yes!” Today’s explore took me to Crosstimbers (El Pibe and La Florecita Michoacana). And in driving around I came across an absolutely terrific place called Tierra Nueva (corner of Irvington and Crosstimbers). Check out the photos. One stop shopping for fruits, vegetables, spices, candies, et al….. just as one might find in México! Check out these photos.