The Five Best Hidden Restaurant Gems in Chinatown in Houston

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Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
Can you guess where this little spot is? Hint: It's No. 5 on the list!
I spend a lot of time in Chinatown. Between shopping for squid fryers at Japanese import store Fit, getting foot reflexology at Lucky Feet and eating my way through hundreds of restaurants, I could pretty much never leave if I didn't have to, you know, go to work and feed my cat and whatnot.

Whilst roaming Bellaire Boulevard, I'm constantly surprised to see a new hole-in-the-wall restaurant I've never before noticed, the meaning behind its Chinese characters a complete mystery to me. There is so much to see and do and so many places to eat that it would take years to visit them all.

Fortunately, I know people who've been hitting up these small joints in Chinatown long before I moved here last July. I've managed to find several places on my own, and with the help of my intrepid foodie friends, we've compiled quite the list of places not-to-be missed.

Here's where you should be eating in Chinatown that you probably aren't.

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Top 5 Foods to Buy at the British Isles Shop

Categories: Sweets, Top Five

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Photo by Joanna O'Leary
Are there really ONLY 57 varieties in England?

If you're an Anglophile, you're probably already aware of the cuteness that is the British Isles shop in Rice Village. Filled with trinkets (both high end and touristy), foodstuffs, and housewares reminiscent of Ole Britainnia, this store is a godsend for British expats and a source of fun English foods for the rest of us Yanks. Here are five to try:

5. Funky Heinz Condiments. Too many relishes, spreads, sauces to narrow down to just one. A few of them can be found in the foreign foods aisles of local grocery stores, but most are just too esoteric (Piccalilli Pickle) to appeal non-Britons (or non-Briton wannabees).

4. Aunty's Sticky Toffee Pudding. I used to rely on Branchwater Tavern for my sticky toffee pudding fix; alas, the demise of the restaurant meant a dearth of excellent freshly prepared sticky toffee pudding in Houston. Aunty's puddings, which you can reheat in the oven or microwave, push the envelope in a good way in terms of sweet syrupy flavor and boast subtle pleasant butter undertones. This sticky toffee definitely needs no accompaniment, but if a scoop of vanilla ice cream happens to fall on top, so be it.

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Top 5 Baked Good Recipes to Try for Easter

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Photo courtesy of Two In The Kitchen
Peanut Butter Gooey Easter Bars

In terms of food, Easter is traditionally all about eggs, ham, and candy. This Sunday vary your spread of sweets with some cookies, bars, cakes, pies, etc. Food bloggers near and far have designed some incredible Easter-themed baked goods, and I've picked my five favorites.

5. Peanut Butter Gooey Easter Bars. Gooey is a funny word. It's a positive descriptor when applied to food, but in most other realms comes off pejoratively; for example, "that wound is so gooey" and "there's some sort of gooey film covering the bottom of my bookshelf." Anyway, I digress. These bars offers a divinely rich flavor thanks to the inclusion of peanut butter M&Ms in addition to peanut butter proper and mellifluous interior created by the inclusion of sweetened condensed milk.

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Photo by Lizzie Mae Early
Coming-Up-Carrots Cupcakes

4. Coming Up Carrots Cupcakes. So named because they look like carrots emerging from soil, these cupcakes have a moist cocoa base of devil's food cake and a crown of mascarpone cheese frosting dusted with crushed Oreos. And on Easter, each cupcake counts as one serving of vegetables.


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Top 5 Ravioli to Try in Houston

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Photo by Arturo's Uptown Italiano
Veal Ravioli with Walnuts

Ravioli? Seems so...square. Yes, boring, pedestrian versions abound (thank you, Chef Boyardee). Fortunately, Houston is a bastion of innovative takes on stuffed pasta. Try one of these five standout plates and rethink your stance on ravioli.

5. Veal Ravioli (Arturo's Uptown Italiano). "Earthy" is perhaps the best word to describe Arturo's ravioli. The pasta pockets are filled with supple calf meat, then dressed with with a decadent truffle butter sauce and walnuts, making for a dish that sings of autumn and Italy.

4. Tortelli di Bietola (Giacomo's Cibo e Vino). This dish's description -- "ravioli stuffed with Swiss chard, ricotta, goat cheese, sage butter sauce" -- may leave you initially wondering, "Where's the meat"? After one bite, you'll think, "Who the hell cares?" The pairing of two cheeses with a robust herb such as sage and the botanical fiber from the chard means that these ravioli pack a punch in terms of texture, cream, and flavor.

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Five New (& Easy!) Sides for Your Easter Meal

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Photo by jules
Sweet potatoes and fresh herbs make this dish a winner.
Whether it be a lavish brunch or a potluck dinner, we love a good Easter Sunday meal. Unfortunately, the same deadbeat dishes seem to make an appearance year after year. This time around, we're giving the usual suspects (think scalloped potatoes and buttered peas) a bit of a makeover.

Here are five ways to turn those tired sides into something special:


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Five Matzoh Dishes to Help You Survive Passover

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Photo by Quinn Dombrowski
We've found a few better ways to use your matzoh.
Leave the leavened bread at the store, folks; Passover is here.

The Jewish holiday observes the biblical story of the Exodus, in which Israelites were freed from Egyptian slavery. The story goes that after the Pharaoh finally released the Children of Israel (ten plagues later), the Israelites had to leave in such a hurry that they couldn't even wait for their bread dough to rise before baking it.

Today, the unleavened bread, matzoh (or matzo, or matzah, or matzot, or...ehh screw it), has become a major symbol of the holiday.

But just because matzoh doesn't rise doesn't mean it can't be delicious. We've already covered the classics -- including Matzah Ball Soup, Matzah Brei and the unleavened s'mores we've named S'matzahs -- but here are Five More Ingenious Dishes to Help You Survive The Feast of Unleavened Bread:

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Top 5 Discontinued Chips We Want Back!

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Photo by theimpulsivebuy
Apparently, chips can be wild AND mild.

Nothing lasts forever, and we both know snacks can change. Well, that is not exactly what Axl Rose sang, but his sentiments about ephemerality, I think, apply to junk food as well as love. In the world of chips, flavors come and go; here are five that made their mark and deserve a comeback.

5. Mozzarella Cheese Stick Pringles. Back in the day, Pringles issued a line of chips called "Restaurant Cravers," which, as you might guess, were supposed to replicate the flavors of popular mainstream restaurant appetizers such as Mexican layer dip, cheese fries, a fried (a.k.a. "bloomin'") onion, etc. Miraculously, the cheese sticks chips actually did taste of marinara sauce and fried mozzarella.

4. Wild and Mild Ranch Fritos. I'm convinced these chips were dusted with cocaine, so addictive were they from the very first crunchy, peppery bite. Many thought the flavor sacrilege because it was antithetical to the taste tenets of traditional corn-forward Fritos, which is perhaps why they never gained traction among die-hard Fritos fans.


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Top 5 Underrated Burgers in Houston (According to You)

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Photo courtesy Just Burgers
The Texas Burger at Just Burgers is a force to be reckoned with.
Well, Houston, you've proven your love of burgers yet again.

More than 1,100 people voted in our poll to determine which burgers in Houston don't get their fair due, and the results are in. It actually wasn't even close for first place, either. Forty-five votes separate first and second places, though the rest of the votes were a little closer.

Some of you wondered in the comments how the winner of last year's burger bracket, Rainbow Lodge, could be underrated. My answer? I don't know, guys, you picked these spots! I do think that all of the options were good ones, though, as they aren't places I would have immediately thought of when wanting a great burger.

Of course, they are now. And I'm on a mission to try them all.

Without further ado, here are the most underrated burgers in Houston.

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Top 5 Tortellini to Try in Houston

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Photo courtesy of Paula Murphy
Tortellini at Trevisio

For Lent this year I considered saying "basta" to pasta in an attempt to eat more vegetables and protein. Thank God I had a change of heart, because it seems like every day I run into another scrumptious macaroni dish. My penchant for stuffed pasta, in combination with my fascination with ring-shaped foods, means I naturally gravitate toward tortellini (and their more buxom cousin tortelloni). Here are five to try in Houston:

5. Tortellini al sugo rosa (Giacomo's Cibo e Vino). There are many things to love about Giacomo's, such as the inventive array of cicchetti and the succulent secondi, but if you do not sample stuffed homemade pasta during your visit, you have missed out. The meat and cheese tortellini can be dressed with three different sauces (parmesan cream, tomato, and tomato cream), all of which robustly flavorful. The sugo rosa (tomato and cream), however, is my favorite for the way it balances garden flavors with decadent dairy.

4. Tortellini with Roasted Red Pepper Pesto (Papa Mio Italian Cafe). Old-school, Italian-American restaurants like Papa Mio can break the rules in terms of culinary propriety and offer things like a create-your-own pasta option rather than forcing diners into more traditional flavor combinations. Their plump meat or spinach and cheese tortellini go from merely satisfying to snazzy with the addition of some red-pepper pesto. If the mild heat overwhelms you, just request some extra grated cheese.


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Top 5 Banana Breads in Houston: Just Like Mom Makes

Categories: Sweets, Top Five

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Photos by Molly Dunn
Slather some butter on that warm banana bread and you're in heaven.
Good banana bread is moist; it's full of bananas; it's sweet, but doesn't make your teeth rot; it's comforting; and it's just what you need at the end of a hard day (or any day, for that matter).

While your grandmother or mom (or you) probably makes the best banana bread you've ever had, there are several bakeries around Houston serving up the classic sweet treat (some with a twist), and theirs might be just as good as Mom's, if not better.

Whether you prefer the addition of nuts (or no nuts), chocolate or fruit, or you like it plain and simple, you can find it in Houston, so here are our top five banana breads in the Bayou City.

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