100 Favorite Dishes 2014-15: No. 87, Calamari at Lillo & Ella

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Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
Re-think calamari at Lillo & Ella.
Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.

Though it's only been open a few months, Lillo & Ella is already drawing a crowd to the space that was formerly El Gran Malo in the Heights. The colorful building is now a "Pan-Asian" bistro of sorts featuring the same thoughtful food that made a name for chef Kevin Naderi at his other restaurant, Roost.

Because I love Roost so much, I was reluctant to go to Lillo & Ella for fear that I wouldn't enjoy it as much as Roost. The two places are so different, though, that they're hard to compare. Roost is small, dim and intimate, serving creative riffs on classic comfort foods. Lillo & Ella is bright and airy and focused on the type of Asian food that Naderi likes to eat, having grown up with a wealth of Asian cuisine here in Houston.

The dish that, to me, most clearly straddles the divide between Roost and Lillo & Ella is the calamari--a traditional dish with a unique Asian flair.

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100 Favorite Dishes 2014-15: No. 88, Pulled Pork Nachos at Way Good Food Truck

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Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
These nachos are not finger food.
Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.

Since 1928, West Alabama Ice House has been serving cold beer and southern hospitality to neighborhood folks, bikers, dogs, college students and everyone in between. It's changed a lot since it first opened 86 years ago, but one thing has remained constant: The lack of a kitchen. The ice house has never served food, so it's been up to a rotating lineup of taco trucks and, more recently, Papou Jerry's Gyro Truck, to feed the beer-soaked crowds.

There's a bit of a rivalry going on between Tacos Tierra Caliente across the street and whatever more modern (gourmet, if you will) truck has been parked directly in front of the ice house. If you want tacos, go to Tacos Tierra Caliente, because they're some of the best old-school tacos in town. If you want nachos, though, or risotto balls or hummus and pita chips, the new Way Good Food Truck now parked on the ice house property is the way to go.

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100 Favorite Dishes 2014-15: No. 89, Garden Sammie at Local Foods

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Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg
That's one colorful sandwich.
Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.

Local Foods makes some of the best sandwiches in Houston. They're diverse--everything from egg salad and roast beef to smoked salmon and falafel. They're interesting, featuring such ingredients as pineapple chips, onion jam and olive crumble. They're filling--that pork torta or crunchy chicken sandwich is enough for two meals. And they're local, or at least they try really hard to be. Many of the ingredients used in the food come from nearby farms and ranches.

Most people will tell you that when dining at the new local foods in Upper Kirby, the sandwich to order is the crunchy chicken. It's packed with poultry and served on a crusty pretzel bun with crisp pickles and mixed nuts in between adding texture. It's a great sandwich. But it's not my favorite. My favorite is the garden sammie.

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100 Favorite Dishes 2014-15: No. 90, Barbecued Salmon Salad at Brooks Family BBQ

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Photo by Troy Fields
Barbecued salmon on a bed of field greens and strawberries is a unique option at an otherwise beef-heavy restaurant.
Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.

I eat a lot of unhealthy (but delicious) food for this job. I don't turn anything down, and sometimes when I tell myself to just take a few bites of something, a few bites turn into whoops-I-just-finished-that-whole-plate-of-pasta. Because of this occupational hazard, I'm always on the lookout for meals that are both tasty and waistline-friendly.

I found that at Brooks Family BBQ, where the salmon salad is so rich and succulent, I don't feel like I'm denying myself or overindulging when I eat the entire thing. Unless I eat the thick, buttery slices of jalapeño cheese toast that come with it. But I can't let that go to waste...

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100 Favorite Dishes 2014-15: No. 91, Smoked Salmon Waffle at The Waffle Bus

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Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
It's an unlikely combination, but it works.
Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.

I love waffles. I love smoked salmon. I was pretty sure, however, that I wouldn't love smoked salmon on a waffle.

Lox and bagels? Sure. Salmon in pasta? Yes, please. Tartare on toast? Absolutely.

But something about the slight sweetness of a waffle just doesn't seem like it would lend itself well to pairing with the briny taste of seafood and the accompanying vinegar. So, of course, when I saw this dish that couldn't possibly work on the menu for The Waffle Bus, I had to try it.

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100 Favorite Dishes 2014-15: No. 92, Chirashi Lunch at Sushi Miyagi

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Photo by Matt Chow
At $12, this is the best deal on high quality raw fish in town.
Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.

This is not a deal you can easily find inside the Loop. But you won't find Miyagi inside the Loop either.

Not the Miyagi of Karate Kid fame, of course. We're talking about an even more badass Mr. Miyagi: The sushi chef and owner of Sushi Miyagi in Chinatown, a nondescript Japanese restaurant with some of the best sashimi in town.

Sushi Miyagi opened nearly seven years ago, and since then, it's slowly been developing an ardent following thanks to the care and precision with which Miyagi and his wife, the restaurant's only employee, prepare and serve Japanese cuisine. And with 11 lunch specials to choose from--the best of which is only $12--the value can't be beat.

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100 Favorite Dishes 2014-15: No. 93, Finocchiona Sandwich at Siphon Coffee

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Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
Cured meats and melty cheese...what's not to like?
Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.

I make a conscious effort not to go to restaurants, bars or cafes right after they open, especially if I'm planning to write about them. I like to give them time to get their bearings. No matter how much you prepare, that first wave of customers will always teach you a thing or two. It seems unfair to judge a place when it's not yet accustomed to the crowds.

And yet I found myself at Siphon Coffee on opening day, laptop in hand and starving. Amanda McGraw, the consulting chef at the new cafe, apparently recognized me immediately, and I felt bad.

"I'm not here to write about anything!" I wanted to tell the staff. "I'm just going to settle in a chair, eat a sandwich and get some work done. Carry on!"

But then I took a bite of the finocchiona sandwich, and I changed my tune.

"Crap," I thought to myself. "I'm definitely going to write about this."

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100 Favorite Dishes 2014-15: No. 94, Combo Catracho at Mi Bella Honduras Restaurant

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Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
Does a combo platter count as more than one favorite dish?
Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.

I don't think I'd ever eaten food that's specifically Honduran before I discovered Mi Bella Honduras nestled in a run-down shopping center in Spring Branch. I made the assumption, as many probably do, that the cuisine would be similar to Mexican food, just based on its proximity to our southern neighbor.

I was very wrong.

It's more similar to Caribbean food than Mexican or the Tex-Mex to which we're accustomed, but it's also influenced by the native Indian cuisine and, interestingly, African food. The best way to sample a little bit of everything Hondurans love to eat is to order the Combo Catracho at Mi Bella. Just make sure you bring someone to help you eat.

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100 Favorite Dishes 2014-15: No. 95, Tamal de Puerco at Andes Cafe

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Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
This tamal is about the size of a kitten.
Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.

I love tamales. I love them all. Even vegetarian ones. Even grocery store ones. Even sorta dry ones (though, obviously, I prefer the moist varieties).

In grad school in Missouri, I missed tamales so much that I'd stock up on the frozen variety from Trader Joe's. It was as close as I could get to the Tex-Mex tamales of my home state, and though they were far from authentic, they were passable. Now that I'm back in Texas (thank God/Willie Nelson), I order tamales every time I see them on a menu. Irma's and La Mexicana's are some of my favorites, but I recently discovered a new tamale-esque dish that is way up there on my roster of best tamales in town.

At Andes Cafe, chef David Guerrero makes a traditional Peruvian tamal de puerco that rocks my world. It's pretty different from the Tex-Mex tamales we're used to, but it's different in all the right ways.

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100 Favorite Dishes 2014-15: No. 96, Cheeseburger at Sparkle's Hamburger Spot

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Photo by Erica Ray
This is my guilty pleasure burger.
Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.

I went years without eating hamburgers. Before I became I food writer, I was a little more picky than I am now. I had an issue with ground meat (you just don't know what's in it!), and as such I avoided things like burgers and hot dogs at all costs.

As you can see, I've since changed my tune, and I've changed it in a big way. For a time, as I dove back into burgers, I couldn't get enough of the bacon-topped, blue cheese-stuffed variety--the more upscale, the better. After all, I figured, if I'm gonna slum it with ground meat, it had better be the best.

Now, though, I'm back to where I started with hamburgers. No, I still won't eat at McDonald's, but I have a certain nostalgia for the old-fashioned, fast food style burgers. The kind that are a little burnt on the outside and are served with a simple slice of American cheese melting into the crumbly patty.

And at Sparkle's Hamburger Spot, that kind of nostalgia is exactly what you get.

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