Kids Put Their Nutritional Knowledge to Work in the Houston Rodeo Food Challenge

Courtesy of HLSR
An Iron Chef-style competition for FFA and 4-H kids.
Kids from 48 FFA and 4-H chapters all across Texas will put their food knowledge to the test in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Food Challenge.

This "Iron Chef-style" competition is designed to promote the importance of agriculture. Allyson Tjoelker, executive director of Agricultural Exhibits, says, "It's based not as much on the kids' cooking skills as it is on how much they know about nutrition. They'll also be judged on visual appeal and cost analysis."

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Papa John's Frito Chili Pizza Ain't Nothin' But Schwag

Photo by Nicholas L. Hall
Not a pizza for mid April.
A few weeks ago, Papa John's announced a new pizza and created a bit of an uproar. I won't weigh in on the espionage issue, but I will weigh in on the pizza. With apologies to Anthony Calleo. Or perhaps the opposite.

I've only had the Pi Pizza Truck 420 Slice once, and it was quite a while ago. That said, I remember it as surprisingly well balanced. I don't, however, remember it being all that much like a Frito chili pie. That's not a knock on the pizza.

The Papa John's Frito's Chili Pizza doesn't really taste like a Frito chili pie, either. Likewise, that's not necessarily a knock on the pie. This one does deserve its knocks, though.

Let's start with the chili. It's thin and acidic, like a can of Wolf Brand mixed with lemon juice. There's an overpowering taste of raw chili powder, like a bucket of the stuff was dumped in after cooking. This might not be entirely off the mark, judging by the slightly grainy texture.

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The Most Underrated Kolaches in Houston...According to You

Categories: Food Fight

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Photo by Christina Uticone
You think they sell kolaches at the Kolache Factory?
How many times have you spoken to a non-Texan friend about kolaches and they had absolutely no idea what you were talking about? Probably 99.9 percent of the time, right? Kolaches are a special part of Texas cuisine that the rest of the country is sadly missing out on. And no, kolaches are not like pigs in a blanket. They are so much more. So much more.

In October 2013, The New York Times published an article about the kolache, in which John T. Edge wrote about several doughnut shops and bakeries in Houston selling kolaches; he also interviewed Morgan Weber of Revival Market about the loved pastry. And FYI: Revival's kolaches are definitely NOT underrated; they're just not made often enough.

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The Most Underrated Fried Chicken in Houston...According to You

Photo by Robb Walsh
Barbecue Inn's is known for its cooked-to-order fried chicken.
Texas is known for its juicy barbecue, sensational Tex-Mex and oh so yummy comfort cuisine. But, it's also known for good old Southern food, and to us that means fried chicken.

It's a staple at picnic lunches or church potluck meals. The crispy, crunchy buttermilk coating around tender, juicy chicken meat is an undeniable combination. Smother it in white gravy, dunk in ketchup or barbecue sauce, or eat it in its state of perfection. Houston is blessed with a bountiful amount of fried chicken eateries and local restaurants serving up dishes showcasing the deep-fried Southern specialty.

We all know that if you want a solid bucket of fried chicken, you go to Frenchy's. Heck, you can even go to KFC and walk away a happy camper. But, there's also the Rice Box Truck where the fried chicken is served with an egg roll, and new-kid-on-the block Funky Chicken is making a name for itself with its choice of slow roasted or crispy fried chicken.

And who could forget Food & Wine ranking Barbecue Inn's fried chicken as one of the best in America? The cooked-to-order fried chicken has a crust that never falls off of the tender white meat, so each bite is laced with the beautiful golden crust.

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Another Day, Another Dress Code Dispute at Da Marco

Categories: Food Fight

Photo by Kent Wang
Everyone: Da Marco has a dress code. Just so we're all clear.
Welp. It's been a solid eight months since someone last contacted us regarding a dress code issue at Da Marco.

Yesterday, we got an email from a reader who relayed the following tale of Da Marco dress code woe:

My family of four and my friend got kicked out of DaMarco last night...My son had a navy blazer, white oxford button down shirt, and khaki (below the knee) shorts--given the 100 degree weather. He also had dark sneakers since I discovered too late that he had outgrown his dress shoes. I had no idea there was a dress code, "no sneakers, no shorts" policy. It says nothing on the website other than "jacket attire preferred" and they never said anything while making a reservation. My husband was in a suit, my daughter and I were in nice dresses. The hostess let me in to discuss plans with my husband who was already waiting inside...This was my husband's birthday celebration, and my husband and friend had already ordered $400 worth of wine which was opened and decanting in the back room. But while discussing our options, the manager came charging back to the table, yelling "Did I not make myself clear??? I said you are not allowed in the restaurant."
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Food Fight: Grocery Store Pizzas at Phoenicia and Whole Foods

Categories: Food Fight

Photo by Molly Dunn
Which specialty grocery store pizza will win this food fight? Phoenicia (left) or Whole Foods (right)?
You can always smell the fresh-baked pizzas at Phoenicia Specialty Foods located downtown when you walk by the prepared foods section. It's almost hypnotizing as you find yourself wandering over to the glass case with four different pizzas (BBQ Chicken, Cheese, Pepperoni and Vegetarian).

The same thing happens at the Whole Foods on Waugh. Sometimes during lunch there's an employee directing you to the back corner of the prepared foods section by the bakery saying, "Hot pizzas! You know you want one!" And other times the smell of a fresh-baked pizza is too much to resist and you end up taking home a large for only $13.99.

Both of these specialty grocery stores offer cheesy, gooey pizzas to-go, so we decided to find out which one is the best. Should you get your pie at Whole Foods on Waugh? Or should you head downtown for thick-crust personal pizzas at Phoenicia Specialty Foods? We decided to sample the BBQ chicken pizza at both locations as it has lots of cheese and requires distinct flavors to make it stand out among the rest.

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The Most Underrated Greasy Spoon in Houston...According to You

Photo by Gina Pina
House of Pies: Always a classic.
Ah, the old-fashioned American diner.

The place where the servers wear uniforms with tarnished gold name tags, the coffee tastes like city tap water and the food is nothing, if not predictable. It's been the same since man first walked on the moon, and it sure ain't gonna change any time soon.

Alternately called the "greasy spoon," the classic American diner is known for cheap eats--often with little nutritional value--served with a smile and blue plate specials featuring regional cuisine like chicken fried steak or migas with extra oily cheese on top.

Here in Houston, a city mostly unconcerned with health food and haute cuisine, our greasy spoons are some of the longest-lasting culinary institutions. From House of Pies to Dot Coffee Shop, these are the places that feel like home.

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Food Fight: Gỏi vịt (Duck Salad)

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Minh T Truong
Thien An's version of Goi Vit
If you're looking for the perfect summer meal, something light, cool and flavorful, gỏi vịt, or duck salad, is the way to go. This Vietnamese dish embodies summer and is exactly what you'd want to eat on a hot day.

Shredded cabbage and red onions are the traditional base for the salad with tender duck meat topping it off. The dressing for the salad is a tangy concoction of nuoc mam, or fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar. Along with the base ingredients, additional fixings such as carrots, bean sprouts and cucumber can be tossed in according to taste to make different variations of the salad.

For this food fight we take a look at the two different versions offered at Thien An and Huynh. Both distinctly their own and both very good.

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The Five Best Underrated Tex-Mex Restaurants in Houston (According to You)

Photo courtesy La Tapatia
Your number five pick serves traditional Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisine for the best of both worlds.
You know how we always say the Houston trifecta is composed of barbecue, burgers and Tex-Mex? Yeah, well Tex-Mex is clearly the victor, as more than 2,000 of you voted in our poll to determine the most underrated Tex-Mex restaurant in town.

And the same thing that happened with the barbecue poll happened again: The first and second place winners are separated by ONE VOTE. Madness! These two spots also got more than double the third place restaurant, indicating a clear preference.

Some of you took to the comments to argue that spots like Spanish Village are clearly not underrated and therefore shouldn't be part of the poll, and it seems like most people agreed, as even lesser-known spots received the most votes.

So who gets the dubious honor of being named most underrated among the best Tex-Mex joints in the country?

Here are your choices.

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Ceviche Throwdown: Cuchara and Latin Bites Duke It Out

Image by Cecilia Beaven
The actual duel won't be quite so messy.
Mexican ceviche and Peruvian cebiche are two very different beasts, as Cuchara owner Ana Beaven and Latin Bites owner Rita Castre frequently find themselves explaining to customers.

"A lot of customers ask why doesn't our ceviche have tortillas, and we have to explain that we don't have tortillas in Peru," Castre explains. "And Ana has the same questions when she has customers in from South America. They want to know where are the sweet potatoes?"

It's hard to say which type of ceviche is superior--Mexican or Peruvian--so Cuchara and Latin Bites are putting their goods to the test. On July 22 and 23 (that's Tuesday and Wednesday), both restaurants are inviting guests to come decide for themselves before a panel of judges makes a final ruling on Sunday, July 27.

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