Takeout Trials: Tokyohana in Greenway Plaza

Categories: On the Menu

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Spider (Hand) Roll

In the pepto-bismol colored shopping center known as the Greenway Plaza lies Tokyohana, a Japanese restaurant that offers patrons a Benihanaesque dining experience, i.e., communal tables surrounding a hibachi grill manned by a chef charged with entertaining as well as cooking. But, according to the website, Tokyohana isn't your standard teppanyaki establishment: "And, unlike so many other traditional Japanese operations, you can also enjoy a rather extensive frozen cocktail."

Why skip an extensive frozen cocktail alongside an equally extensive performance/meal involving lots of grilled proteins?

First, perhaps you're in the mood to try Tokyohana's specialty sushi rolls; second, you're in a "can't face other humans" headspace following a challenging day at work; and third, you're financially incentivized via a current grubhub deal for $6 off your first takeout order over $10. Time to create another email address and get that coupon.

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Eat This: The Salted Caramel Peanut Tart at Tout Suite

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Photo by Molly Dunn
The Salted Caramel Peanut Tart at Tout Suite is a work of art.
Before Tout Suite opened in East Downtown, I knew the cafe would be serving incredible desserts and pastries, like those delicate macarons and beautiful cupcakes sold at the sister bakery, Sweet in CityCentre, along with a savory menu served throughout the day. But, the tarts and treats were a surprise.

As I stared at the gorgeous display of bright yellow mango passion tart cakes, matcha green tea chiffon cakes and lemon yuzu tarts, one of the employees approached me asking if I had any questions about the offerings at Tout Suite. I told him I was interested in purchasing the "Paris Houston," a chocolate almond cake with a fruit filling and a generous topping of swirled frosting, but he advised me to choose a different pastry, the Salted Caramel Peanut Tart.

He said it is one of the best offerings in the display case, and that he was one of the chefs who makes the pastries at Tout Suite.

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Middling Appetizers, Better Entrées at Polovina Italian Cafe

Categories: On the Menu

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Peppers Rios

On the never-ending restaurant row that is Washington Avenue, it is easy to overlook Polovina Italian Cafe with its generic facade and mini-strip mall locale. Or, perhaps, people do look at Polovina and are confused. The menu features many red sauce Italian-American classics like chicken marsala, fettuccine alfredo, and eggplant parmesan, but there's also outlier dishes like cannelloni stuffed with chicken and vegetables and "straw and hay" (egg and spinach fettuccine tossed with mushrooms and peas in a cream sauce), which seem more adventurous if not more "authentic" Italian. Other parts of the menu suggest an over-eagerness to cater to broader palates. The build-your-own pizza section, for example, offers unconventional toppings such as avocado, crawfish, and shrimp, and the array of "signature" pastas are available in wheat, gluten-free, and spinach forms.

The latter offering particularly suggests a willingness to accommodate children and adults with special dining needs and in combination with the very casual opening dining space, initially leads you to conclude, "Okay, this is a place where I can take the whole family, even gluten-intolerant little Timmy and Mediterranean food-loathing Uncle Ralph."

But then there's the heavily advertised daily drink specials, which make you wonder if Tuesday, "Bourbon Night $3," is the best time to take the pee-wee football team for a post-game supper.

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Eat This Stellar Chicken Parm Sandwich...At The Hay Merchant?

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Photo by Julie Soefer
This is no ordinary chicken parm...
The Hay Merchant is known for craft beer and even craftier fare, serving everything from sweet and spicy pig ears and gochujang-spiced chicken wings to a plate of taco-meat-smothered nacho fries that is kind of like something you'd come up with in college when you were drunk, only with way better ingredients.

So when the brewhouse started serving a chicken parmesan sandwich this summer, it seemed just a little too...ordinary.

Of course, this being The Hay Merchant, the sandwich is nothing like the sub you'd get from your local pizzeria.

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Pre-Theater Dining at Damian's: Spaghetti & Meatballs and Complimentary Shuttle Service

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Photo by Mai Pham
Spaghetti and Mama Mandola's Meatballs at Damian's make a perfect pre-theater meal.
Going to the theater district should be an occasion. Maybe you have tickets to the Houston Grand Opera or the Houston Ballet. Maybe you're getting dressed up to see the Houston Symphony's new music director, Andrés Orozco-Estrada. Occasions like these make for a perfect date night -- especially if you start the evening with a great meal.

These days, however, the options for pre-theater dining near the theater district are limited. Within walking distance of Wortham Center, the choices are The Hard Rock Cafe, The Blue Fish for sushi, Biraporetti's for pasta, the Bistro at The Lancaster hotel, and Sambuca or Azuma at the Post Rice Lofts. Closer to Jones Hall, there is Perbacco. The Hobby Center has Artista -- and that's about all one can find within a two-block radius of the major performing arts venues in town.

A less obvious choice for pre-theater dining is Damian's Cucina Italiana in Midtown. Their pre-theater program is pretty hard to beat. Though it's definitely further out than the above mentioned restaurants, dining there will actually get you closer than driving into downtown because their complimentary shuttle service will drop you off right at the entrance to your show.


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Eat This: Summer Salad and Crawdads Biscuit at Punk's

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Crawdads Biscuit

The calendar says September, but it still feels like summer in Houston, so why not indulge in some warm-weather fare as long as it's on offer? See Punk's Simple Southern Food, where one of the best things on the current menu is the "Summer Salad." Although most patrons go to Punk's for the fried chicken (despite its high price tag), you will be just as satiated (in a different, less bloated way) by ordering this sweet, refreshing assemblage.

With a spinach and romaine lettuce, over-sized candied pecans, mandarin orange slices, strawberries and avocado bits all dressed in a strawberry poppyseed vinaigrette, the salad might verge on cloying if not for the earthy salt from the pecans and creamy botanical flavors of the avocado.

Ask for the dressing on the side to fully appreciate the salad's "naked" flavor, which is arguable as just as good plain as dressed. Also know that the Summer Salad is certainly enough for one at lunchtime but also great to split at dinner, especially as a precursor to richer dishes. And speaking of which...

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The 5 Best Happy Hours in the Galleria

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Photo by Troy Fields
Recognize this bar? We'll give you a hint: free pizza.
If you love happy hour as much as we do, you'll love this new series. We're taking a look at the best happy hours in town, 'hood by 'hood. To narrow it down, we're focusing on the spots with the best deals on not only drinks, but eats, too. From upscale eateries serving bar bites and half-priced wine to dives with cheap beer and burgers, we've got it all. See the complete list at the end of this post

This week, we're moving on to the bar and restaurant packed 'hood around the Galleria.

Note: For purposes of this list, the Galleria is defined as anything west of Loop 610, south of Woodway, east of South Voss/Hillcroft and north of Richmond Avenue.

Honorable Mention: Craft cocktails and small plates at RDG Bar + Annie, fresh and bold Peruvian flavors at Latin Bites, and 7 for $7 at Table on Post Oak.


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Try These Seven Non-Burger Sliders in Houston

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Photo by Brooke Viggiano
Little Big's does sliders right.
These days, there's way more to sliders than just burgers. And while we of course love the mini beefcakes, we're pretty excited to see some new kids on the block. From a breakfast treat to mini dogs, here are five new kinds of sliders to check out in Houston:

Chili Cheese Dog Sliders
Where to find them: Little Bigs

Little Big's has long been the king of sliders, offering the tiny sandwiches in burger, pulled pork, and fried chicken form. But last year, the almighty trio got an upgrade when the restaurant added Nathan's slider-sized hot dogs to the menu. They're almost too cute to eat....almost. We love them smothered in slow-cooked chili, shredded cheese, and jalapeños from the toppings bar.

Pancake Sliders
Where to find them: Union Kitchen

If breakfast appetizers aren't a thing that you participate in yet, they totally should be. UK proves that with these miniature pancake sandwiches, which get the royal treatment with a Canadian bacon, breakfast sausage, and fried egg filling. Share these with friends and thank us later.

This story continues on the next page.


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First Look at Pho & Crab Restaurant, a New Vietnamese Restaurant on Houston's West Side

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Photo by Mai Pham
What do you order at a restaurant called "Pho & Crab?" Pho and crab.

Approaching from the west, the prominent signage of the one month old Pho & Crab Restaurant is easy to spot. The letters are in bold, the sign's black background pops, and, despite the neon brightness of the Ninfa's sign behind it (its neighbor), the words Pho & Crab Restaurant Vietnamese Cuisine stand out.

That's definitely going to be one of the restaurant's advantages. The fact that it's probably the only Vietnamese restaurant in the near vicinity of Memorial Drive and Dairy Ashford is another. If it's aiming to become the neighborhood Vietnamese hotspot, it's got a good chance, a fact that was underscored during a late Sunday evening visit, when the restaurant was lightly occupied by tables of different age groups and ethnicities.

Like most Vietnamese restaurants, the menu is fairly large, encompassing way more than just pho and crab (there are appetizers, rice plates, rice vermicelli dishes, wok entrees and curries), though it's probably a safe bet to start with those two dishes. We made sure to order both of these, getting a bowl of the "singed beef" pho on the recommendation of Andrew Tran, the general manager. We also ordered the tamarind dungeness crab (they also offer the king crab and soft shell crab, as well a salt and pepper flavor in lieu of the tamarind), a Vietnamese delicacy that is hard to master.

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Chicken Sandwich Chronicles: Jerrybuilt

Categories: Meat!, On the Menu

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
This might taste better than the burger version.
Following a less-than-stellar experience with Smashburger's chicken sandwiches, advice poured in as to where better versions could be found.

Among those venues suggested was JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers, whose seasonal burgers, at least, have been impressive.

In fact, prior to the chicken sandwich tipoff, I had planned a trip to the restaurant to try their special September burgers designed by local food writers and bloggers as part of JerryBuilt's ambassador program.

Two chickens could be killed with one stone during this visit, however, as almost all the ambassador burgers can be made with a chicken breast rather than a beef patty.

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