Top 10 Restaurants In Chinatown
"Chinatown" seems like an awfully lopsided epithet for Houston's enormous and vibrant pan-Asian community, straddling Beltway 8 on the southwest side like an entire city unto itself. There are Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, sure. But there are also Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Japanese, Malaysian, Laotian, Taiwanese, Filipino, Indonesian restaurants and just as many that are crazy, exciting, fascinating fusions of multiple Asian cuisines in one.
It used to be that Houston's Chinatown was limited to the small warehouse district on the east end of downtown, home to a small but robust assortment of Asian supermarkets and restaurants. There are still remnants of "Old Chinatown" left in EaDo now, but the base has moved out to the suburbs, where land is cheap and Asian immigrants have built an empire on the mostly treeless plain between Sugar Land and Westchase.
Given that the restaurant density in this area is roughly equivalent to the population density of Vatican City, there is a nearly endless list of places to choose from. Taking that into account, the list below is more of a jumping-off point -- an assortment of sure bets and easily accessible restaurants -- for those looking to explore the vast swath of Chinatown's amazing culinary options. Leave your own choices for Chinatown's best restaurants in the comments section below.
10. Lee's Sandwiches, 11210 Bellaire Boulevard
What to get here: ice cream, cafe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee) and freshly made deli manjoo cakes. Lee's might not have the best banh mi in town -- so much for always ordering the dish in the restaurant's name -- but it does have some of the best desserts. Ice cream flavors run the gamut from vanilla and rocky road to the floral taro and the rotting corpse-scented durian. Bonus: The ice cream, like the bread and the deli manjoo cakes, is made in-house. Take your kids, and they'll enjoy watching the deli manjoo cakes -- tiny corn cakes filled with custard -- come hot off the line and into their little mouths.
9. Classic Kitchen Restaurant, 9888 Bellaire Boulevard
Breakfast at Classic Kitchen.
What to get there: breakfast. Yes, there is such a thing as Chinese breakfast, even if you don't hear about it very much in Houston. You didn't think the Chinese just skip the most important meal of the day, right? The breakfast served here is more traditionally Taiwanese -- items like you tiao (fried dough that tastes similar to donut sticks) and dan bing (egg pancakes made with scallions, wrapped inside a tortilla) -- and not entirely removed from a typical Western breakfast. Don't mind the horrible service; you're on a breakfast adventure, after all, so just have fun and ignore the surly attitudes of the waitstaff.
8. Tofu Village, 9889 Bellaire Boulevard
What to get there: bibimbap, bulgogi and soondobu. The fun thing about ordering Korean food is how bouncy and joyful the names of the dishes sound tumbling out of your mouth. While Tofu Village isn't the best Korean restaurant in the city, it's the best in Chinatown. The bibimbap is especially fun to order; the rice, vegetables and meat (or seafood, if you choose) are served up in a piping hot stone bowl, sort of the Korean equivalent of a comal. You do get what you pay for here, however; although the food is cheap compared to other Korean restaurants, the service is abysmal. But you didn't come here to be treated like royalty, right?
7. Dim Sum King, 9160 Bellaire Boulevard
The newbie-friendly menu at Dim Sum King.
What to get there: dim sum, any time of the day or week (except Tuesdays). It's a long-held brunch tradition to head out for dim sum with the family on Sundays. But sometimes you just want dim sum without all the fuss or scheduling constraints. Dim Sum King serves up Hong Kong-style dim sum all day long and even has a picture menu to help the uninitiated choose their dishes. Favorites are the nicely charred turnip cakes, the juicy beef balls and the just-sweet-enough sesame balls with red bean paste for dessert.
6. Crawfish & Beignets, 11201 Bellaire Boulevard (inside the Hong Kong City Mall food court)
What to get there: Well, crawfish...but not beignets. One of the more unusual pairings on the list comes to us courtesy of Houston's Vietnamese population (the largeset in Texas and the third largest in the country). Crawfish is very popular with the strongly French-influenced Vietnamese culture, and traditional New Orleanian foods like beignets and po-boys are being adopted too. When crawfish is in season, you get an enormous and cheap bag of boiled crawfish to feast on at the food court tables along with an assortment of sauces. What about those beignets? The restaurant stopped serving them at some point a few years back, but don't let that get you down. Just grab a bubble tea from Tea House next door for dessert.