Top 10 Restaurants in Chinatown
"You're going to do a top 10 Chinatown list, aren't you?" a reader implored last week on Twitter. Of course -- Chinatown is my favorite neighborhood for dining and exploration in the entire city. For every old favorite you visit, you're guaranteed to find at least two new restaurants to fall in love with. You may not be able to get around by foot here -- unlike some other cities' Chinatown districts -- but that's because Houston's Chinatown is one of the largest in the country, covering six square miles.
Photo by Troy Fields
The problem when covering a neighborhood this vast -- not just geographically vast, but also culturally vast -- is choosing only 10 restaurants out of the hundreds that dot the strip malls up and down Bellaire Boulevard. I could easily do a top 50 list in Chinatown, and I am emphatically not kidding.
Do you select the restaurants that are empirically "the best" (if there even is such a thing)? The ones which are best for newcomers to the area to dip their toes into? A wide spread of cuisines that are representative of the breadth of ethnicities -- not just Chinese -- which have made the area their home?
Because I could do one list for each of those three categories, and more (top 10 pho in Chinatown; top 10 dumplings in Chinatown; top 10 noodles in Chinatown; top 10 dim sum in Chinatown; top 10 Korean or crawfish or bakeries or Sichuan...), I decided to focus instead on simply my 10 favorite places in Chinatown. These are the restaurants I visit most often, the ones I implore others to try and the ones I dream about when it's been too long between visits.
Sandong Noodle House, for its pan-fried dumplings. Yummy Kitchen, for its gua bao and stinky tofu. Crawfish & Beignets, for its Vietnamese-style crawfish. B10, for its crusty banh mi. Wild Cajun Crawfish for its buttery crawfish and chargrilled oysters. Dim Sum King, for its all-day dim sum. Six Ping Bakery, for its baby cakes and sweet treats.
10. Cafe Kubo's
Photo by Troy Fields A hot bowl of ramen at Cafe Kubo's.
One of the hippest and yet most casual places to spend an evening in Chinatown is at Cafe Kubo's, the younger and far more mod sister of the staid Kubo's in Rice Village. Instead of focusing on sushi, however, Cafe Kubo's offers a much more traditional Japanese fast-food menu of dishes like curried pork cutlets over rice, bento boxes of fried chicken and bowls of tonkatsu ramen that complement its easygoing vibe. Happy hour runs every day of the week here, and the food and drink specials make it a huge draw in the evenings.
9. Seoul House
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt Haemul dolsot at Seoul House.
Seoul House is the laid-back little brother of the huge cook-your-own-food Korean restaurants that populate Spring Branch and parts of Chinatown. The bulgogi and bibimbap are as good as I've had anywhere, and the stir-fried veggies with clear noodles and seafood pancake are excellent. Serve yourself from the banchan cart that flanks one wall, and be sure to get at least one bowl of haemul dolsot -- the rice crisps up perfectly in Seoul House's stone bowls every time.
8. Pho Binh by Night
Photo by Michael Shum Pho dac biet at Pho Binh.
It used to be that the Chinatown go-to for late-night dining was Tan Tan. And while it's still a strong contender for the list, you can get far better food at Pho Binh by Night until 3 a.m on Fridays and Saturdays. (It's open until midnight the rest of the week.) Pho Binh is an offshoot of the immensely popular Pho Binh trailer in south Houston -- owned by the very same family, so you know the pho is still every bit as amazing -- and offers a specialty rarely seen elsewhere: bone marrow, which you can add to your pho like so much meat butter.
9889 Bellaire Blvd., Houston, TX