Around the World in Houston

(When I was) New in Houston

A few years ago, I was a wet-behind-the-ears college graduate seeking employment in the teaching field.  Taking a job in the Houston area opened me to two worlds: the world of education and a new city.

After having lived with family and worked in the NYC area for two summers, I felt I had the whole “city life” thing down pat.  I was ready to sell a car and move to Brooklyn (don’t tell my grandparents that).  I knew Houston would be much different, and saw what it offered – a low cost of living and high standard of living – as a positive.  When I first moved here, I decided to leave “Texas” behind given that I was in a major American world city.  Houston was my new home.  Below are the best ethnic restaurants I’ve found.

The Food

Houston’s food scene is – at first glance – pretty frakkin’ bland.  Like most major American cities, chain restaurants like Applebee’s and Chili’s dot the landscape as the city’s propensity for fast food is seen in Jack-in-the-Box, Whataburger, Sonic, and the regular line-up of American chains.  I never knew what a Jack-in-the-Box was until I moved here… now I hold an irrational fear of its mascot.

The best restuarants, as always are locally-owned.  Here’s my lineup of Houston-only spots:

1.) Jang Guem Tofu & BBQ House (9889 Bellaire Blvd.); Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/jang-guem-tofu-and-bbq-house-houston

I was first introduced to the awesomeness that is Korean food here.  The ways they make tofu soup are pretty fascinating, as are the side-dishes you get included in the meal.  These side-dishes do include a whole pan-fried mackerel, so some Americans might get a little freaked out.  Don’t let it happen, though – just pick some meat off the back or ask someone who knows their way around to help you out.  Also included is kimchi, a pickled cabbage – which is very good if you like any kind of spicy food… or sauerkraut, for that matter.

Main dishes include barbecue meat (e.g. “bulgogi,” a marinated, grilled steak) and tofu soup – which comes in a variety of ways.  I recommend both.  Personal favorites include the Gyoza (beef dumpling) Tofu soup – though it could always have more… gyoza :)

2.) Mogul Indian Restaurant (2416 Bay Area Blvd.); Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/mogul-indian-restaurant-houston

Ahhh, Indian food.  While you can find a lot of it throughout Houston, this is the only place in the Bay Area.  And even though it’s outside the loop, it’s a great find.

This is a great place for people trying it for the first time.  I’m a fan of the Chicken Vindaloo, though I realize that it’s probably not authentic.  I’m not familiar enough with Indian cuisine to say just HOW authentic this place is, but for a good, run-of-the-mill Indian experience, check it out.  They have lunch buffets daily, so these might be a good option for people trying for the first time.

3.) Cafe Layal (6328 Richmond); Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/cafe-layal-houston

Hookah places always scare at least some people away, but this place is on my list because of not the food or even hookah – but the atmosphere – which is required for a decent experience anywhere.

In all honesty, the food is – not bad – but not amazing.  The shawarma wraps and falafel are a good intro. to Middle East cuisine, but not the best I’ve had.  In all honesty, this place DOES have some frakkin’ amazing french fries (not sure why…).  The hookah is good, but how can you really compare that?  As far as service, I agree with some of the Yelp reviewers…

The atmosphere though is where this place stands out.  Go during a weekend in Ramadan, and you’ll have an empty place until nighttime – then WHAM – it will fill up.  Arabic music videos are played on the LCD and belly dancers are in one room.  It’s a great experience, if anything.

Houston has a lot to offer.  You just have to be open-minded and search for it.  God knows this isn’t an extensive list – but this is: http://www.houstonpress.com/ (see the food blog: ) http://blogs.houstonpress.com/eating/

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