Where the Chefs Eat: Christine Ha and Alvin Schultz

Categories: Chef Chat

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Master Chef Christine Ha and MasterChef Contestant Alvin Schultz
This week, our Where The Chefs Eat series turns to two amateur chefs turned television reality stars: Christine Ha and Alvin Schultz. Both living in Houston and Vietnamese by descent, they each snagged a spot on the TV reality show MasterChef.

Schultz, who was featured on Season 2, is known for his Modernist techniques. In the task that clinched him a spot on the show, he used a homemade immersion circulator to create a sous-vide egg, serving it on top of his famous Hawaiian-themed "loco moco" dish to earn Gordon Ramsay's praise as a "freak genius."

Ha, the first visually impaired contestant to appear on the show, is a former Eating...Our Words blogger, has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Houston, writes a killer blog called The Blind Cook, and famously won Season 3 of MasterChef in September of 2012, taking home a cool grand prize of $250,000 and a cookbook deal.

They both had a lot to say when I asked them where they like to eat. Get ready to take notes and bookmark this post, because they share some pretty awesome tips.

Christine Ha
MasterChef USA 2012

Standard go-to: I enjoy Poscol for their reasonably priced Italian small plates and always order the baby octopus with cannellini beans, black wild rice and spicy shellfish, and the garlic and bottarga bruschette; but all of their dishes are great.  For special occasions, I love Uchi.  My favorite absolute must-gets at Uchi are any of the raw fish selections served with citrus overtones (ask the server for recommendations), the Brussels sprouts with fish sauce caramel, the bacon tataki, and anything with super-fresh uni (also ask the server for recs).  

I go to Himalaya whenever I crave Indian food and order their chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, specialty naan and samosas.  Taqueria El Rey satisfies my taco hankering: I'll get the Three Amigos (one al pastor taco, one Cuban taco, and either one barbacoa or ropa vieja taco) with a side of chicken tortilla soup.  For dim sum, I'll dine at Fung's Kitchen or Chinese Cuisine; my dim sum spread always consists of xiu mai (pork and shrimp dumplings), har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings), char siu bao (steamed barbecue pork buns), cheong fun (steamed rolled rice noodles with sweet soy sauce), lo mai gai (sticky rice in lotus leaf), pai gwut (pork riblets), gai lan (Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce) and wu gok (fried taro puffs).  Always order some hot tea to help wash the grease down.

Cheap eats: I'm all about cheap eats.  My all-time favorite cheap eat has got to be pho.  I like Pho Hung on Bellaire and Wilcrest or Pho Danh inside the HK mall.  I'm a purist when it comes to pho, so I like only the basic round eye steak (always asked for on the side so I can "cook" it in the hot broth myself tableside).  I forego all the extra herbs and sauces and only add lime juice to my broth. Sometimes, I'll ask for a side of onion slices soaked in vinegar for extra flavor.  

Whenever I'm in the mood for noodle soup but not pho, I'll get bun bo Hue (spicy lemongrass noodle soup originating from the central region of Vietnam); Kim Chau is the original place for this noodle soup, though I've been meaning to try some of the new bun bo Hue joints that have been popping up in Chinatown on Bellaire.  Another cheap eat I grew up eating and loving is the banh bot chien from Tan Tan (#A1 on the menu): egg omelette with fried rice cakes.  I also love the kimchi fries from Coreano's food truck topped with cheese, pork belly, scallion and cilantro, among other delicious toppings.  For a simple slice of pizza, I'll go to Pink's and get the slice of cheese -- it's humongous and tastier than their whole pies.

Other great eats around town: Houston has been flying under the radar in the food world, but it's got so many good eats and, I believe, is on the up-and-up.  Pappas Bros. Steakhouse has the best steaks hands-down.  Chinese Cafe is where I go to for cheap Chinese take-out.  Phoenicia's got the best chicken shawarma, Niko Niko the best gyro, A Ly the best Peking duck, Chino Fast Food the best won ton noodle soup, Laredo the best breakfast tacos, Nu Cafe the best shaved ice, Bodard the best grilled pork spring rolls, Lee's Sandwiches the best baguettes to take home and eat with butter and pâté, Central Market the best sandwich (the California Connection). Now you've got me hungry...

Alvin Schultz
Private chef/Owner of Eat.Drink.EXPERIENCE
MasterChef Season 2 contestant

Standard go-to: Asia Market and Golden Palace dim sum, both for brunch on Sundays. Both are a perfect way to spend Sunday morning with friends enjoying flavors aside from typical brunch fare. At Asia market, nothing's bad but I love the Kang Massaman curry (E7). I've been known to bring my own sunny side up egg, but they'll probably put one on there for you if you ask nicely. At Golden Palace, get the ham Sui Gil (deep fried mochi dumplings with pork).

Cheap eats: Chris Frankel turned me on to Shiv Sagar, best samosas in town three for $3. But my super secret ninja squirrel move: Dynasty Market on Bellaire and Corporate. Show up at the right time (Saturday of Sunday afternoon) and pick up a whole roasted pig head for $4. Forget bringing a bottle of wine to your friend's house, give the gift of perfectly roasted pork.

Late night: Pho Binh by Night bone marrow pho, or Hong Kong Food Street mapo tofu.

Comfort food: phamily bites egg rolls or Jonathan Jones's ceviche.

Pizza: Whatever special Anthony from Pi Pizza has that day.

Sushi: Has to be from chef Hori-San at Kata Robata.

Dessert: Anything from Chris Leung at Kata Robata or Philip Speer and the team at uchi. Those guys are seriously taking dessert to new levels!
I love popping into either after dinner elsewhere for a sweet note to end the night.

Happy hour: Never had an unhappy hour at El Gran Malo.

Misc eats: Goat feta from Blue Heron Farms, Saturday morning bagel (everything with lox) from Hot Bagels, fried banh bao from Bun Bo Hue inside of Hong Kong mall.

If you missed our previous posts, click below to see more of Where the Chefs Eat:

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Location Info

The Hot Bagel Shop

2009 S. Shepherd, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Bun Bo Hue

11209 Bellaire Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Pi Pizza Truck

, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Phamily Bites

(Mobile), Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Hong Kong Food Street Restaurant

9750 Bellaire Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Pho Binh By Night

12148 Bellaire Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Shiv Sagar

6662 Southwest Fwy, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

New Golden Palace Seafood Restaurant

8520 Bellaire Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Central Market

3815 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: General

Lee's Sandwiches

11210 Bellaire Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Bodard Bistro

9140 Bellaire Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Vinoteca Poscol

1609 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


904 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Himalaya Restaurant & Catering

6652 Southwest Fwy, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

El Rey Taqueria

910 Shepherd, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Fung's Kitchen

7320 Southwest Fwy, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Pho Danh

11209 Bellaire, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Kim Chau Restaurant

6806 Long Point, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Tan Tan Restaurant

6816 Ranchester, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

5839 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Phoenicia Specialty Foods

1001 Austin St., Houston, TX

Category: General

Chinese Cafe

5092 Richmond, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Niko Niko's

2520 Montrose Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Chino's Fast Food

12313 Bellaire Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Laredo Taco Place

915 Snover St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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FattyFatBastard topcommenter

Wow, Christine was WAY off on a lot of her "bests."  First, Vic & Anthony's runs circles around Pappa Bros. I can only assume she's never been to the former.  Chinese Cafe vs. Hong Kong Chef?  Not even a contest.    Phoenicia's over Zabak's is yet another swing and a miss.  Roadster grill has made better gyros than Niko's since they opened.  And Central Market's "California Connection?!?"  A blatant copy of the far superior "California Dreamin'" at Spec's?  Really...

I'd do a food battle with each of these.


For my friend Christine, I recommend A Ly on Bellaire for great Chinese-Vietnamese.


@FattyFatBastard This fat bastard has been trolling me since the days I was a writer here. I'll never win. You're right--I've never eaten at those other places. No time nowadays.


@manny34 ...oooops, I missed that, she knows about it. Only thing is she recommends A Ly for Peking Duck, which is not one of their stronger dishes

FattyFatBastard topcommenter

@theblindcook@FattyFatBastard While that may be, I have had the opportunity to try the places you mentioned, except for Central Market's California sandwich, and the ones I mentioned are, for most I've spoken to, better.  Anyway, I don't "troll."  But I do state when I disagree with someone.  

That said, you were fun to watch on MC, and I expect great things for you in the future.  But try out other food suggestions from time to time. 

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