100 Favorite Dishes 2012: No. 1, Korean Braised Goat and Dumplings at Underbelly

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
This year leading up to our annual Best of Houston® issue, we're counting down our 100 favorite dishes in Houston. This list comprises our favorite dishes from the last year, dishes that are essential to Houston's cultural landscape and/or dishes that any visitor (or resident) should try at least once.

See Also:
- The Foodie's List of 100 Things to Eat Before You Die
- The 10 Best New Restaurants of 2011
- The 10 Best New Restaurants of 2010

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Photo by Troy Fields
I don't think it's any secret that Underbelly is my favorite restaurant in Houston at the moment. I'm completely in love with the highly unique "Mutt City" cuisine (another John T. Edge-coined term I'm far more comfortable with than "New American Creole") that chef Chris Shepherd and his talented team are creating and re-creating every day and equally in love with the overall accessibility of it all.

Underbelly is not a fancy restaurant. You don't have to wear a tie and jacket and you don't have to spend an entire paycheck to eat well. You can drop in nearly any time of day or night -- the bar, which serves only beer and wine, is open until 2 a.m. every day of the week except Sunday and serves an assortment of the restaurant's most popular dishes -- and you can always feel at home in the big, open dining room that showcases the equally wide-open kitchen. There's a sense of comfort and community here that is unexpected in such a hyped-up, over-talked restaurant, but -- while it's easy to see where all the well-deserved hype comes from -- I've never quite gotten the feeling that any of this has gone to Shepherd's (or anyone else's) head.

Instead, Shepherd is content to keep turning out dishes that are reflective of his personality and of Houston itself: boisterous, warm, welcoming and highly diverse. Just as Houston takes all comers, so does Shepherd embrace all of our "native" cuisines in his cooking -- Vietnamese to Middle Eastern, Mexican to Korean, German to Thai. And his Korean braised goat and dumplings is, to me, the dish that's most reflective of this open-arms attitude.

Is it a spicy Korean twist on old-fashioned, Southern-style chicken and dumplings? Sort of. Is it a nod to the tender cabrito found in old-school Mexican joints like El Hidalguense? Sort of. Is it a spin on the ruddy, sesame-studded Korean goat stew found at places like Bon Ga? Sort of. Is it all of these and more? Yes -- and that's the point.

But even if you don't care about the backgrounds and influences that went into creating the braised goat and dumplings (and you shouldn't have to in order to enjoy a dish), you'll care about the tingle that sparks across your lips and tongue like Black Cats as you take your first few bites of the shredded goat in deep red gojuchang sauce. Once that tingling sensation settles down into a low hum, you'll start noticing the rich, dusky flavor of the goat and the sweet, nutty pops of sesame seeds that are scattered across the top of the dish.

And when you get to the "dumplings," prepare for something that's quite unlike traditional Korean mandu and more like thick, tube-shaped gnocchi that's been pan-fried until slightly crisp at the ends. Get through that initial crunch and the dumplings have a complex texture that's both enjoyably chewy and slightly tough. Complex and thought-provoking textures are as appreciated in Asian cuisines as the flavor of the food itself, and to see this so well translated into an American dish makes me grin every time I eat it -- just as I can't stop smiling over every dish at Underbelly, a restaurant which has captured the Houston culinary zeitgest of the moment in the most charming and disarming of ways.

The list so far:

No. 100: Chili cheese mac at Jus' Mac
No. 99: Texas turkey sandwich at Spec's
No. 98: Custard at Petite Sweets
No. 97: Caprichos mixtos at Taqueria Monterrey Chiquito
No. 96: Pineapple-wasabi burger at Lankford Grocery
No. 95: Farmer's MKT Pizza at Phoenicia's MKT Bar
No. 94: Potatoes at Money Cat Brunch
No. 93: Breakfast tacos at Sunrise Taquito
No. 92: Hot dog at Tacos D.F.
No. 91: Avocado gelato at Frozen Cafe
No. 90: Chicken sandwich at JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers
No. 89: Beer-battered asparagus at Hearsay
No. 88: Honey Badger omelet at Kraftsmen Cafe
No. 87: Pastelitos de carne at El Jalapeño
No. 86: Pancakes at Union Kitchen
No. 85: Wild boar and crab pizza at Boheme
No. 84: Breakfast croissant at BB Donuts
No. 83: Pretzel at Anvil Bar & Refuge
No. 82: Short rib sandwich at Shepherd Park Draught House
No. 81: Grilled shrimp po-boy at Pappadeaux
No. 80: Dahi puri at Shiv Sagar
No. 79: Aporreado at Los Corrales
No. 78: Oxtail francobolli at Aldo's Cucina Italiana
No. 77: Tonkotsu at Cafe Kubo's
No. 76: Spinach danish from Angela's Oven
No. 75: Pupusas at El Petate
No. 74: Pheasant dog at Sammy's Wild Game Grill
No. 73: X-Tudo burger at Friends Pizzeria
No. 72: Esparragos gratinados at Tintos
No. 71: Gua bao at Yummy Kitchen
No. 70: Geisha dog at Happy Endings
No. 69: Oyster po-boy and gumbo at Goode Co. Seafood
No. 68: Ceviche at Sirena Seafood
No. 67: Caldo de mariscos at Taqueria Arandas
No. 66: Banana pudding at Pizzitola's
No. 65: Fried catfish and gumbo at Cafe-A-La
No. 64: Soft-shell crabs at Banana Leaf
No. 63: Macaroni and cheese at Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse
No. 62: Torta burger at El Gran Malo
No. 61: Black bean burger at Ziggy's
No. 60: Parillada at Pampa Grill
No. 59: Peanut butter and jalapeño jelly burger at Wicked Whisk
No. 58: Eggplant involtini at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino
No. 57: Lone Star dog at James Coney Island
No. 56: Sushi at Sushi Miyagi
No. 55: Palestinian chicken at Al Aseel
No. 54: Roast beef sandwich at Local Foods
No. 53: Mexico City plate at Molina's Cantina
No. 52: Tacos at Brothers Taco House
No. 51: Branzino at Lucio's BYOB
No. 50: Beef sweetbreads at Feast
No. 49: Golden Doomba Special at the Rice Box Truck
No. 48: Malted waffle at City Cafe
No. 47: Banh mi bo kho at Cafe TH
No. 46: Chicken fried steak at Triple A
No. 45: Larissa plate at Harry's
No. 44: Spaghetti carbonara at Coppa Ristorante Italiano
No. 43: Wings and grits at The Breakfast Klub
No. 42: Frito pie at C&D Burger Shoppe
No. 41: Pollo con mole at El Gallo de Jalisco
No. 40: Fried avocado taco at H-Town StrEATs
No. 39: Rigatoni in bolognese sauce at Paulie's
No. 38: Chorizo kolaches at Peña's Donut Heaven
No. 37: Sashimi at Dadami
No. 36: Half-pound burger at benjy's
No. 35: Fried chicken at Haven
No. 34: Whole-fried speckled trout at Liberty Kitchen
No. 33: Moules congolaise at Jeannine's Bistro
No. 32: Pancakes at Fountain View Cafe
No. 31: Pineapple with chile en polvo at Canino's
No. 30: Fried chicken at Barbecue Inn
No. 29: Dirty Burque at Green Seed Vegan
No. 28: Egusi at Finger Licking Bukateria
No. 27: Brisket and turkey at CorkScrew BBQ
No. 26: Menudo at La Mexicana
No. 25: Shrimp and grits at Shade
No. 24: Kinilaw at Reef
No. 23: Lamb at El Hidalguense
No. 22: Gumbo at Danton's
No. 21: Chicken-fried water buffalo at The Hay Merchant
No. 20: Roasted cauliflower at Roost
No. 19: Truffled egg toast at Dolce Vita
No. 18: 63-degree egg at Brasserie 19
No. 17: Drunken foie gras at Philippe
No. 16: Beet salad at Triniti
No. 15: Yogi thali at Pondicheri
No. 14: Bialy and lox at The Hot Bagel Shop
No. 13: Ribs at Gatlin's
No. 12: Venison carpaccio at Thanh Phuong
No. 11: Camarones henesy en hamaca at Arturo Boada Cuisine
No. 10: Prosciutto and arugula pizza at Pizaro's Pizza Napoletana
No. 9: Crawfish at The Hideaway on Dunvale
No. 8: Pho at Pho Binh
No. 7: Ceviche at La Fisheria
No. 6: Ma po tofu at Mala Sichuan
No. 5: Machi cure at Uchi
No. 4: Tuna and bottarga at Tony's
No. 3: Roast summer squash at Oxheart
No. 2: Amberjack sashimi and foie gras at Kata Robata



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Location Info

Underbelly

1100 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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30 comments
SayItAintFro
SayItAintFro

I have heard that the dumplings are just frozen store bought. Does anyone know if this is true or not? 

Melephant00
Melephant00

@EatingOurWords good pick with @underbellyhou also enjoyed your words on the space: feel at home, showcases, comfort, community, reflective

MPB2012
MPB2012

Great dish, really one of my faves overe there.

Love the space! Great design to canvas the chefs & their creations.

All feels good!

epikwhite
epikwhite

For what it's worth, the dumplings are based on Korean ddeok, which are also known as rice dumplings. Also, I love this dish to death.

Eddie Kiel
Eddie Kiel

My favorite dish there, for sure.

johnnybench
johnnybench topcommenter

I think that was the favorite thing I've eaten in the past year as well.  So much of Underbelly's menu is designed to share with fellow diners, but that dish is really hard to share.  Ordering the goat and dumplings would be the perfect litmus test for an early date.  Your companion will quickly reveal themselves to be completely selfish or utterly lacking in taste.  There's no in between. 

yangtze7
yangtze7

@StevenGalvan1 Great out of all things you find this lol

DJBriteLite
DJBriteLite

@ConnorBarwin98 its 5 homie!!! #bullsonparade

Houston Press
Houston Press

Kirk Childress, I think there's a misconception that Underbelly is prohibitively expensive. The Korean goat & dumplings is $12 at lunch; you can also eat in the super-casual bar, like I usually do.

TxIsisGoddess
TxIsisGoddess

@connorbarwin98 R u coming to Brazoria w/the cheerleaders next thursday evening? It wld make my LIFE if u did!

MRiegelman
MRiegelman

@ConnorBarwin98 @cshepherd13 Oh heck I remember those for sure. They are amazing! Congrats Chris! Need to hit 1 of ur tailgates! #underbelly

Ryan Bradley Heine
Ryan Bradley Heine

had it. after one bite, I put it in my top 10 all time favorite things

RocktheBurch
RocktheBurch

@EatingOurWords It's the texture of the @UnderbellyHOU dumplings that kills it. Chewy, crunchy pieces of heaven. I need some NOW.

Don Aucoin
Don Aucoin

Possible my favoite recurring dish there....

jennifer_king
jennifer_king

@EatingOurWords Had the dumplings for dinner last night. It's my #1 favorite dish right now too! @UnderbellyHOU

Mary Jane Poorman
Mary Jane Poorman

Completely agree. One of the bed meals I have has this year.

SirenaSeafood
SirenaSeafood

@UnderbellyHOU @EatingOurWords very, VERY nice , congrats on an amazing week!

esandler
esandler

@EatingOurWords It may have been pretty obvious, but I'm still pretty happy to have guessed it

joannatroy
joannatroy

@EatingOurWords @underbellyhou soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo good

Sharon Elletson
Sharon Elletson

Sorry to disagree, but I hated the texture of the dumplings.

Melia Hughes
Melia Hughes

Excellent choice! I've had it every time I've been there (goat or rabbit, whichever was available that night), and it's been a hit with all of my dining companions.

houstoneats
houstoneats

 @SayItAintFro Absolutely not.. handmade and rolled/cut.  I know that for a fact, but you can tell by the slight variations in weight and texture. 

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