An enjoyable meal with a diverse and interesting menu. Named after a Canadian politician, Louis Riel, who (apparently) did many good things for Canada. We took the advice of our neighbors who had been previously and ordered: cauliflower tempura, a bannock style soda bread, mushroom empanadas, pierogi, kim chi carbonara, grilled fish, eggplant, sticky toffee pudding. Recommended. Not cheap, but an impressive dining experience with great waitstaff.
July 31, 2022
Beginning in February of 2021, I began sampling gumbo at restaurants around town. Some were not great. Some were good enough. And some would warrant a return visit.
First off, the ones that I did not like.
Acme Oyster and Seafood. The first time I sampled it, there wasn't any seafood to speak of in it. Just a mediocre, lukewarm gumbo broth. The second time, pretty much the same experience. Not recommended.
Eugene's Gulf Coast Cuisine. The day I went the chicken in the gumbo had that warmed over flavor profile that comes from refrigerating chicken and bringing it out of the fridge the next or subsequent days.
Eunice Restaurant. The chicken was so heavily smoky that this became a one note gumbo. Smoky chicken.
Goode Company Seafood. A thick, flour-y gumbo broth that was really unpleasant. See roux comments under "Flying Fish".
State Fare Kitchen on I-10. I sat at the bar and ordered the gumbo. The bartender said "let me bring you a sample first to taste as some people think it is too dark." Well, I LOVE a good gumbo where the roux has blackened sufficiently. It shows the chef has the necessary skills. In this case, it wasn't a dark roux. It was a burned roux. And I was so grateful that I got to do a taste test first. Big tip to the bartender that day.
Flying Fish on Durham. I really wanted to like the gumbo here because they are local to the Heights. When you make a roux, that hot oil breaks down the glutenin and gliadin, the two proteins that form the gluten web when liquid is added. So the flour loses its thickening ability as it develops for the nutty roux flavor we all love. Although the roux here was dark, the gumbo had this thick flour paste feel and taste to it that was very unpleasant. There was a nice amount of sausage and shrimp but I couldn't get past that flour paste consistency. Same problem that I had with Goode Company Seafood.
Alfreda's. I remember not liking this one bit. Can't remember if it was because it was really greasy (but not in a good way like at Viola and Agnes) or that the spicing was just unbalanced. I seem to remember thinking "clueless kitchen".
Joe's Deli on Winkler on the East Side. More like a gumbo porridge. Cheap sausage, with a texture more like Vienna sausages. Broken up bits of rice cooked down in the gumbo.
And now, on to some gumbos that I liked.
Bayou City Seafood on Richmond. I liked this gumbo a lot and it was one of the true bargains for the price. Big shrimp. Real seafood. I've been back three times now.
Viola and Agnes on NASA Road 1. Still my favorite. The chef is from Lake Charles. The gumbo is really rich, with a layer of spicy oil on top, and includes a crab claw and a chicken drumstick. This is a place I would take out of towners as I pretty much like everything on the menu. (http://www.houstonfoodexplorers.com/2021/07/gumbo-viola-agnes-nasa-road-1-in-clear.html )
Zydeco Restaurant in downtown Houston. I ordered both a seafood gumbo and a chicken and sausage gumbo. The steam table looked really sad, but the gumbo. These were the simple but well prepared gumbos that I could eat every day. Actually, I had planned to just have a taste of each bowl and take the rest home. But spoonful followed spoonful and I burned through both bowls. And the jalapeño cornbread was tasty, too. Now, they had jars of Kary's Dark Roux for sale. I'm not sure if they make their own or just use the jar roux.
Le Pam's House of Creole out on 1960. Very Louisiana. Very home cookin'. I liked the way the gumbo came together as it was ordered. Some roux and broth. Add some seafood. Heat it up. Tasty gumbo for sure. One thing that I suspect, though I'm not 100% sure...unlike every other gumbo I've tried, the Le Pam gumbo seemed to have a hint of Zatarain or Louisiana Foods crab boil liquid in it.
7 Spice Cajun Seafood (right across the street from Le Pam's, and, I see that there is now one on Westheimer also). Funny that I did two places in one day. I suspect the gumbo at 7 Spice is more "chain restaurant", might have been where they just opened a jar of roux, etc. But you know, something about it, I kinda liked it just as much as Le Pam's. Go figure.
Grace's on Kirby had a decent gumbo that I would order again.
Supreme Gumbo. A little food truck on Southmore at Almeda. A tasty gumbo with a real Lousiana feel to it. I look forward to having it again.
Lucille's. They feature a gumbo z'herbes, which I always thought was a meatless gumbo for Lent made with 9 kinds of greens. But theirs had meats in it and I've since learned that this is not out of the ordinary in the world of Louisiana gumbo. Online, I've seen a bunch of recipes for this type of gumbo that include ham hock or other types of meat. (the Leah Chase recipe has chorizo, sausage, brisket, etc. for example : https://www.southernliving.com/recipes/leah-chase-gumbo-z-herbes) It was a tasty gumbo.
Little Daddy's Gumbo Bar. In Galveston and also in League City. I've always liked their gumbo and enjoy getting a bowl when I am out that way.
Saigon House. The Vietnamese restaurant of chef Tony Nguyen, located out on 1960 (aka Cypress Creek Parkway). And a mile or so from Le Pam's and 7 Spice. A gumbo that I really enjoyed. Some comments from others indicate it may be a tad inconsistent so, fingers crossed, it will be delicious on the day that you visit. Here's a photo of their gumbo presentation.
"Good Enough" gumbos.
Abe's Cajun Market in Clear Lake. A salty gumbo which would normally be an instant deal breaker. But I really like this gumbo. Even with its saltiness, it has a nice amount of sausage and chicken and a pretty good flavor profile.
Brennan's. Again, a gumbo with no soul. Kind of bland. Kind of boring. I wouldn't order it again. But not bad, so I put it in this "good enough" column.
A friend said good things about the Jason's Deli gumbo (prepared at one location in their commissary). I tried it at two locations and found it tasty enough.
Crawfish Cafe in the Heights. And I think the original location is on Bellaire Blvd. Again, a perfectly acceptable gumbo. The place is rocking at night, due to the boiled crawfish or seafood that you order sauced to your particular tastes.
Crescent City Beignet on San Felipe. An "okay" gumbo with no soul to it.
Captain Benny's. A perfectly acceptable gumbo.
Frank's Americana. It was a thicker gumbo than is my preference, but I liked the flavor. And the shrimp in it weren't over cooked.
Roux Pour. Various locations. A decent enough gumbo from a chain.
Joyce's. A perfectly acceptable gumbo.
Pier 6 in San Leon. Another "okay" gumbo. Smallish serving. Decent flavor. Included okra in the recipe. Included two oysters which was a plus. But they cooked the smallish shrimp in the gumbo instead of cooking them separately and adding to the hot broth just before serving. So the shrimp were tough and not very appealing.
John Nechman Writes:
Back in the 1980’s, I visited Copenhagen at least 10 times, mostly stopping for a day or 2 en route to or on return from the rest of Scandinavia. This was pre-Noma and a time when I traveled by backpack, often budgeting under $1 per day for food. So I lived on loaves of rugbrød (super dense dark rye bread), and when I could afford it or found someone willing to buy it for me, I’d get smørrebrød (that same bread topped with butter, cold cuts/fish/liver pate and garnishes) or my favorite snack food of all, pølse (bright red boiled hot dogs sold all over town). In those days, I never had the chance to learn that there was much more to Danish food than that.
How wrong I was! And now, the world, too, has discovered the delights of Denmark. Copenhagen is home to several of the world’s most coveted reservations, in addition to René Redzepi’s remarkable Noma. And finally, Houstonians don’t have to board a 9 hour flight to enjoy Danish food because Copenhagen European Kitchen and Bakery (981 Mason Rd.) has come to Katy!
In a space once occupied by a spot serving mediocre Mexican-inspired pizzas, Copenhagen features a pan-European menu with several dishes of Danish roots. Richi loved his peppery goulash. I tried the chef’s mother’s homemade ham pie, consisting of a super-buttery and flaky puff pastry filled with chunks of sweet ham, a savory cream sauce, and tons of melted gruyere. Both were served with a tasty mixed salad and boiled potatoes in a bland cream sauce. We also split an order of frikadeller (a formed meat patty) that would have benefited from a sauce but that still tasted delicious with the rødkål salad served with it.
The best part of the meal is the sensational coffee and the display of desserts. We chose a classic kransekake. Our sweet server looked at me like I’d blurted out an F-bomb when I pronounced it the way it would be pronounced in Norwegian—I had no idea the Danes pronounce “kake” the way Americans say “cake;” Norwegians pronounce it more like the Spanish slang word for poo poo. The appearance is totally different as well—in Norway, a kransekake looks like a towering Christmas tree, but the version here is a mini-kake though scrumptious nonetheless. It features a chocolate base and a filling that approximates one of my favorite of all foods—marzipan.
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 ).
“ The bustling crowd is chatting lively in my native tongue of Cantonese, the aroma of familiar food permeates the air, this place makes me feel like I've returned to one of my childhood places.
The Ginseng Chicken Soup 花旗参炖竹丝鸡汤 makes its grand entrance, it comes with the Special Combo Clay Pot Rice 双拼煲仔饭 that we ordered. The slight bitterness of the herbal root tickles my tongue, reminded me of homemade Soup that takes time and patience. The proper Dark-skinned Chicken is not spared to make this nutritious soup, believed by my culture to nourish the body, and in this case, warm my soul too.
The sizable bowl of Spicy Beef Brisket Noodle 牛腩汤面 comes out next. In my constant search for the ideal bowl of Beef Noodle Soup, I have missed digging into my own roots, shame on me. The waitress helped us pick the right broth, this one has just the right amount of spiciness. The noodles are so smooth and slurpable, I wonder what magic this is. Needless to say, the Beef Briskets are "forking tender", nice to bite on, yet fall apart easily, this is mainly due to the skill of an experienced Chef. The Bok Choy and Pickled Mustard Greens are like little jewel trinkets on this fantastic bowl of high-quality noodle soup at a super value.
I dare to nominate their Popcorn Chicken 盐酥鸡 as the best version of this dish. Fried with clean oil and in precise crispiness and texture, these Chinese-style Karaage deliver to my mouth the taste of saltiness, pepperiness, sweetness, to summarize in one word, Umami. I challenge anyone to not order this again upon the next visit.
The name of the restaurant is Rice to Meet You 煲来饱去, their plat de résistance is Clay Pot Rice 煲仔饭 with a wide range of selection. It's not the type I had back in Asia, where actually Clay Pots with burnt bottoms, cooked in Charcoal burning stoves, and I would be a complete dick to expect that at a restaurant in a shopping strip within the city limit. With that disclaimer out of the way, let's get down to business.
You must read and follow the instruction conveniently stationed at every table to fully enjoy the Clay Pot Rice. Once the sizzling pot is put down, the squeezable red bottle of special soy sauce should be ready to be deployed. Drench the hot steaming rice generously, and I do mean, generously, with this low sodium soy sauce, and quickly give it a mix. Stop now and sit back, let the scorching surface of the Clay Pot, the Rice that has been infused with flavors, and all the ingredients and proteins work their magic to please your mouth in a few minutes. If the God of Clay Pot favors you, you'll be blessed later for your patience, with the reward of crispy rice stuck to the pot called Fan Jiao 饭焦. Be polite and share those treasures with the table, don't kung fu each other for them.
The choice of protein is easy, at least for me, I must have the Cantonese Cured Pork Belly that also comes with Chinese Lap Cheong 腊肠, it's blasphemy to not have it in a traditional Bo Zai Fan. These Cured Meats diffuse all their aged flavors, juices, and fat into the White Rice, making every bite an enjoyable exploration of complex flavors. We pick Mushroom Chicken 香菇滑鸡 as the 2nd choice of this Combo Clay Pot Rice. The Chicken has a silky smooth texture and the earthiness of the Chinese Mushroom enhances the whole clay pot of rice.
I don't really like to type this much, but the love of my Cantonese heritage compels me to share this joy I have today at lunch. Cantonese food is more subtle in flavors, we like to have ingredients as natural seasoning instead of heavy salt or spices. I appreciate this type of cooking because I feel I need to participate in detecting all the delightful nuances in the food instead of overwhelming seasoning that forces me to taste. For the time my wife and I spend enjoying this Cantonese-style lunch, I feel like I am back in my childhood home.
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.
Alrawshe Mediterranean Grill.
A new discovery and one that I will be returning to often for the lamb shank. But today we went for an Egyptian dish called kochari. Ultimate comfort food. Lentils, pasta, rice. Like an Egyptian version of the Kraft Dinner. It's some kind of delicious.
John Nechman writes: "It's always an awesome experience going out on a food exploration with Jay who let me choose from my never-ending list of places to try in the 8 county metro region, and I chose a Guatemalan spot I'd seen on Mason Road called Los Celajes. Alas, we'd waited too long--Los Celajes (which means "the clouds") appears to have passed on to Foodie Heaven.
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. A hyper-intense slightly sweet broth of chilis, lime, celery, Thai chard, galangal root, five spice, medium rare ribeye pieces, pork rinds [Yep, from the bag. Delicious] and house-made (I believe) noodles underneath ($15.00). Cannot emphasize enough the perfectly rare, perfectly tender ribeye pieces.
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 delightful little spot. “