Hello Houston!

This past weekend I took a highly needed complete break from all academia to travel back home to Houston for the weekend.  I flew back for a friend’s wedding, which was absolutely beautiful, and I got to hang out with my parents for a few days.  Really, I feel like I was eating 95% of the weekend (with 3% talking, 1% dancing, and 1% forcing myself not to compulsively check my e-mail).  So let’s take a break from some recipes today to relive my glorious, food filled weekend.
My flight to Houston was early in the morning, so I was awake at 5:30- a foreign time of day for me.  Apparently, the world still exists at this hour?  I had heard rumors but never saw it myself.  Due to my early wake up, I was hungry as soon as I landed in Houston, so after a traffic standstill on the freeway (Ah, Houston, you never change) my mom and I headed out to a early bird’s lunch as soon as restaurants started opening at 11:00 A.M.    Our destination that day was BB’s Café where we chowed down on some delicious Cajun Po Boys.
My choice of poison was the Surf and Turf Po Boy- half fried shrimp, half roast beef with debris gravy.  Yummm. . I highly recommend this sandwich:  the bread was soft, the shrimp was crispy, and the roast beef was tender.   Mom chose the half and half with fried shrimp and fried oysters, and we split some Tex Cajun fries- shoestring fries topped with debris gravy and queso.  All were excellent choices.
After lunch, we headed out to the new Trader Joe’s in Houston.  After much hype, I was pumped.  And then I was a little disappointed.  The location was cool since it is in an old theater, but it was fairly small.  I still saw some great items but didn’t buy much.  I did come home with some cheap saffron I am itching to cook with.
After all that leisure and play, mom and I buckled down for some serious shopping.  We went hunting for a wedding gift and some shoes to wear to the wedding.  Success on both ends.  I actually found a cute pair of heels that don’t leave blisters or hurt my feet too bad.
After Mom was accosted at a Whataburger by being offered a free senior soft drink, we met Dad in Houston for dinner at Kenny & Ziggy’s.  Oh lord was this a great choice.  Kenny & Ziggy’s is basically a New York Jewish deli in Houston, and they give Texas size portions a new meaning.  We started with an “appetizer” of potato pancakes that were the size of our head served with apple sauce and sour cream.  Yummy.  I then ordered a pastrami on rye, Dad ordered corned beef on rye, and Mom ordered the Monte Cristo.  The pastrami was sooooooo delicious that I want to fill up this page with ooo’s.  I don’t know if I will ever be able to eat any other pastrami now.  Dad’s corned beef was also divine, and Mom’s Monte Cristo  was the size of a small infant.  All the food was good, and you might think that I after eating all that I wouldn’t be able to eat any more.  Obviously, you don’t know me very well.  As always, I rallied for dessert. The world’s largest Éclair- the size of my arm.  No regrets.  Although we couldn’t finish the eclair at the restaurant, Mom and I quickly finished the job later that night as a midnight snack.

The next day I began my beauty regiment for the wedding but also had some time to stop by our local Asian grocery store where we picked up some goodies from the bakery and deli for lunch.  We picked up red bean paste sesame balls, sugar cane friend shrimp, a peanut pineapple roll, and a sweet black bean roll.  I had no idea there were so many variations of Asian pastries, and all were very good (albeit very unique).  That night I went to the wedding and had a blast.  The dress, flowers, and décor were all perfectly beautiful, and the bride had the biggest smile on her face all night.  I danced and ate the most delicious butternut squash bisque.  I had no idea I liked butternut squash, but now I am hooked.

I slept like a rock that night and then woke up for one final meal in Houston at Dim Sum with my Aunt Lena.  Dim Sum is one of my favorite things to do for lunch.  You sit and chat as people drive carts of food all around you.  Point, pick, instant gratification.  I love so many things but can never remember the names.  Today my Aunt taught me the names of some of my favorites: Shumai, Har Gow, and Char Sui Bao.  My flight out of Houston was late that evening, so I took some extra Dim Sum to eat on the plane.  Thank goodness I did because I am now sitting at the airport at 10 P.M. waiting for my delayed flight.  I am ready to get into my warm bed but already missing Houston.

What I Ate in Houston

For the past 22 years, I have happily called Houston home.  (Well maybe more like 15ish years due to lacking infant cognitive abilities).  Today I have packed my car and a moving truck to the brim with all my stuff to make the 9 hour trek to my new home in Lubbock, Texas.  As a farewell to my fair hometown, I have compiled a list of some of my favorite local eaterys (still with so many more to try, guess I will have to come back and visit).
Houston really is a great foodie city.  Due to its location

and its inhabitants, we have a huge range of cuisines to choose from.  Great Chinese, Greek, Cajun, Thai, Polish, Vietnamese, Argentinian, BBQ, steak houses, Tex-Mex, and more can be found within city limits. I am definitely going to miss Houston food (as well as a few other things in Houston too) while living in Lubbock.  Without further ado, to the food:

All photos are taken with Instagram,  my new favorite iPhone app.
Let me begin our culinary journey with one of my absolute favorite places in Houston.  Have you ever had an empanada?  If not, I am here to tell you that your life thus far has been incomplete.  An empanada is a personal sized hand pie with a flaky pastry crust wrapped around a warm filling.  While traditionally the filling is usually a ground beef, Marini’s has a long list of fillings to choose from. 
 My favorite savory emapanada is the Hippie Argentino- salami, raisins, onions, and spices.  It’s sweet, salty, and oh so yummy.  But the real show stoppers here are the dessert empanadas.  Yes, dessert emapanadas.    Often I will eat one savory empanada and then gorge on dessert. My favorite here is without a doubt the Snickers empanada. Melty peanut butter and dulce de leche with a warm melted snickers inside.  It’s a moment of pure ecstasy when you take that first gooey bite. And it’s a moment of pure sadness as you take that last bite and lick the remaining bits of peanut butter off your fingers. My other favorites include fig and blueberry & cream cheese. I always try at least one new empanada each time I visit but always return to the my few favorites.  So many good choices here.  Yummmmmmmm.

Houston has a million choices when it comes to Tex-Mex,and while I often enjoy a hole in the wall, non-chain restaurant for my Mexican food, I fell in love with Pappasitos. How could I not when the restaurant has the best frozen strawberry margaritas I’ve ever had?  My favorite dish here is the appetizer sampler where you can get a little bit of everything: queso, guacamole, floutas, quesadillas, and nachos.  It’s perfect for sharing. Their chicken floutas are some of the best I’ve had- inside the chicken stays moist and succulent with a crispy exterior tortilla.  And they also have an addictive mystery cream sauce that I always lick clean. And, of course, you are met with fresh tortilla chips and salsa to overeat before your even get to order your food.  If you ever stop by Houston (or anywhere in Texas), please do me and yourself a favor and have some Tex Mex.

You don’t have to go to New York to get great Asian food, you can also go to Houston.  Houston has a large Asian population ranging from Chinese to Vietnamese.  Drive down Bellaire and there are Asian restaurants as far as the eye can see.  It’s fabulous.

If you can’t tell that I like Tan Tan from all these pictures, then listen up: I love Tan Tan.  This Asian restaurant has a large menu (reminiscent of Cheesecake Factory length with numbered pages), full of all types of Asian cuisine. I love the peking duck, served with fluffy soft buns and hoisin sauce. Other favorites include crispy pan  fried noodles with black bean sauce, House Special Rice Cake, dumplings, egg rolls- basically almost everything I’ve tried.    But my absolute favorite is their congee served with fried “dunkers” (fried dough, come on people!).  Congee is a rice soup which doesn’t look super pretty, but trust me,  people, it’s deeeelish and Tan Tan does it best.

One of my biggest regrets about my culinary life is refusing to try Cajun food until a few months ago.  No gumbo, shrimp, crawfish, Po Boys, and more- what a fool I was.  Ragin’ Cajun has a fun, casual atmosphere (with zydeco music often playing), and if you love subs/sandwiches/hoagies, you must try the muffaletta.  This is where my love for the salty, cheesy sandwich began.  And the olive tapenade- to. die. for.  I have been meaning to try making my own tapenade at home, and now that I will be living 9 hours away from my muffaletta fix, I may have to.

The. Best. Donuts. Ever.

Forget any donut you have ever tried, these are better.  My favorite is any filled donut, especially the cream and bavarian cream.  Never had a bad donut here.

Because my parents are from the Philadelphia/Delaware area, I have been imbibed with an affinity for all things Philly, including cheesesteaks and subs.  While subs from the north are always going to be the best, it’s nice to have a great taste of Philly here in Houston.  Jake’s is a great place for any sandwich lover- with good meats, simple toppings, and soft bread it’s a winner. Fast, delicious sandwiches.  I personally recommend the cheesesteak and fries.  Add some cheese whiz if you are feeling daring.
This candy store has many locations across the country and is not only in Houston, but there is no store in Lubbock unfortunately.  I love, love, love their caramel apples here. The caramel is soft and sweet with almost any topping you can imagine on the outside. My favorite is the banana apple, which actually has a great banana flavor that goes well with the apple.  I always want to try new flavors, but I always return to my favorite.  There may be a location near you, so get going!

Favorites Not Pictured:
Ocean Palace– Great Dim Sum
Saltgrass Steakhouse– Fun Texan atmosphere and possibly the best cheesecake ever

What I Ate in Austin

Last week I got to tag along with my mom and sister for her college orientation.  For her it was a jam-packed few days of information about housing, classes, majors, and more.  For me, it was a solid three days of what felt like walking and eating. With a little bit of planning ahead, I found some great places to eat.  This trip to Austin was definitely a foodie success, as documented by my iPhone.  I have definitely been inspired to try making some of these dishes myself.

We started our trip at a small little Italian restaurant off 6th street.  I split a  meatball calzone and a muffuletta, which is one of the most delicious sandwich combinations in existence with salty salami and topped with a olive tapenade and cheese. The muffuletta was good  and salty, and the meatballs in the calzone were juicy and tender.  On the table, there was a dead fly in our Parmesan shaker, which did not bother me but instead sparked a conversation of how said fly got in there in the first place.  Death by Parmesan- I wouldn’t mind going that way.

Hyde Park Bar and GrillThe next day for lunch we went to a small restaurant in north Austin.  I had a fried eggplant sandwich, which was good but should have been called a mushroom sandwich given the vegetable ratio, and Hyde’s famous fries.  The fries were good, different that your average fry with a crunchy coating, but the real specialty was Hyde’s special dipping sauce.  Creamy and tangy, so good.  For dessert, I split banana cream pie with my mom.  The banana cream pie was yummy and got better with each additional bite.  We also had a celebrity sighting here- we saw Lyle Lovett. And I also learned who Lyle Lovett was that day.

Although it took a longer walk than planned to get here, Franks was definitely worth every step it took to walk there.  The restaurant sounded good when reading the menu, but it surpassed my foodie expectations.  The dishes were all unique with changing weekly specials (including pineapple aiolis, homemade sausage combinations, and homemade buns).  I ordered the Jackalope- a rabbit, antelope, & pork sausage with a huckleberry compote, cheddar cheese, and sriracha aoili.  The homemae bun was soft and pillowy, the huckleberry compote was sweet, the cheese was sharp, and the sausage was crispy and delicious.   With this I had poutine waffle fries.  Fries with gravy and cheese curds- enough said. This meal still haunts my dreams.

Let me set the scene for you.  It’s 9:30 in the morning, the sun is barely peeking through the clouds, and we are sitting in an empty handicap spot in a parking lot in an already long line for barbecue.  Franklin Barbecue has been dubbed the best barbecue in the state (and even the country by some), and it has sold out every day before mid-afternoon.  We may have been over-ambitious with our meat ordering (I will not admit our actual total weight of meat), but we rallied through (as evident by the before and after photos above).  The meat was tender, and the barbecue sauce was tangy.  Yum.  My personal favorite was the ribs, but the brisket and turkey were also divine.  Definitely a fun experience.

A donut food truck- where can you go wrong? Although it was hot as blazes outside, I still ate a piping hot donut. First I had the Cherry Bombs- donut holes covered with cherry sauce, cake batter mix, and cinnamon sugar. There are few things in life better than freshly made donuts- warm and crunchy and soft all at once. These donuts were so good, and I knew my sister would love them that we made a pit stop and took them to go before driving home. The second time I ordered the blue balls- donut holes covered in blueberry sauce and blue icing.

We saw Amy’s Ice Cream all over Austin. Definitely a fun ice cream place, with a few standard flavors and new flavors every day. I had a waffle cone with white chocolate ice cream with snickers mixed in. I also sampled key lime pie and rum raisin. All very good (actually tasted like their flavor!) and creamy.

Our parting meal from Austin was lunch at this Vietnamese cafe.  I have never really delved into Vietnamese 
food before and was excited to try it. The menu offers a nice range of Vietnamese dishes- from summer rolls to pho to Bánh mì to noodles all with different meats.  I ordered the vermicelli noodle dish with mushrooms and tofu (I was still recovering from the meat overload from the day before eating barbecue), and the dish was good although a little spicy.  It was crisp and refreshing, and the tofu especially was fabulous.
Halfway between Austin and Houston is a little bakery on the side of the highway.  It’s the perfect place to stop for gas or to use the restroom on a road trip.  An added bonus is the delicious sweet and savory kolaches they make here.  Although we arrived there mid-afternoon and the kolaches weren’t immediately fresh, they were still very good.  A sweet dough surrounding a cheese and cherry filling.