As promised, this week, I’m delving into foods my hometown of Houston is known for. Of course, being Asian-American and having grown up near an abundance of local Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants (also known as Bellaire Blvd.), I have to talk about the wide variety and quality of east Asian cuisine we’re lucky to call our own.

First, a short history of the Vietnamese diaspora: in the 1980s, the first Vietnamese to settle in this city made the area near Hobby airport in south Houston their home. That’s where you’ll still find the famous original Pho Binh Trailer (which, I’m happy to report, has just recently opened their latest outpost in my stomping grounds of the Heights–in fact, that’s there bowl of soup pictured above). The first Little Saigon sprouted in what we now call Midtown, and this is where my first memories of eating pho and banh mi thit with my parents were made. We did our ethnic grocery shopping in midtown, stocking up on 20-lb bags of jasmine rice, fresh Gulf shrimp, bottles of Squid brand fish sauce.

Years later, many Vietnamese, with their shrewd business skills and ability to spend below their means, acquired a little money and were able to move west towards the suburbs, now known as southwest Houston, or the locally notorious Alief district. This is where we moved when I was in the third grade, and where I remained until high school graduation (with a two-year exception when I lived in California).

Bellaire is a prominent boulevard running east and west through Alief, and the Chinese staked their claim of the street first just east of the Sam Houston Tollway/Beltway 8. When the Vietnamese moved in, we took mostly the west side of the Beltway. This makes Bellaire one long street crowded with Chinese and Vietnamese businesses and restaurants. Here are some notable spots; keep in mind this is not an exclusive list, but just a sample to get you started. Also, bring cash since many places still don’t take credit card.

For pho, Vietnamese beef (and chicken) noodle soup

The landscape of one of my favorite dishes has changed drastically over the decades. When I was eight, we ate at Pho Bang, which is now Don Cafe (more on this later). When I was eighteen, I ate at Pho Cong Ly, a chain at which the hubs once worked in high school. Then there was Pho Saigon post-college and Pho Danh throughout most of my twenties.

My current go-to pho shops on Bellaire are Pho Hung, which received praise from food critic Alison Cook, and Pho Binh By Night, which I appreciate for its late hours, dried chicken pho with soup on the side, and optional bone marrow. Both shops produce solid dishes characterized by fresh al dente and slightly chewy rice noodles; flavorful beef; and (most importantly) a clear, well-balanced broth.

Pho Hung
10800 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, TX 77072
281-575-9177

Pho Binh By Night
12148 Bellaire Blvd. #101
Houston, TX 77072
832-351-2464

For banh mi thit, Vietnamese sandwiches

The other food item people think about when they think of Vietnamese food is the French-influenced sandwich with its crusty bread and southeast Asian filling. Like pho restaurants, there are dozens of sandwich shops on Bellaire (and throughout Houston, for that matter). I haven’t had a chance to do a banh mi crawl to find the most superior in Houston, but two solid choices, in my humble opinion, are Alpha Bakery and Deli in the Hong Kong center and Don Cafe (as mentioned previously).

I always get the cold cut original (banh mi thit thap cam, which translates to “combination sandwich), but other options include grilled pork, grilled chicken, shredded chicken, meatball, or even tofu. Alpha has excellent bread and is cash only. Don has a wider range of filling options. Both are good and cheap.

Alpha Bakery & Deli
11209 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, TX 77072
281-988-5222

Don Cafe
9300 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, TX 77036
713-777-9500

For other Vietnamese foods

Vietnamese food is so much more than pho and banh mi thit. Here are some of my favorite dishes you should try.

Bun bo Hue is a spicy beef lemongrass noodle soup, and growing up, I loved this more than pho. It’s got sweet, spicy, salty, and sour notes all rolled into one, and the thick vermicelli noodles offered a refreshing alternative to the rice noodle of pho. Bun bo Hue is named for the region from which it originated: the central region of Hue, which is also the ancient royal capital of Vietnam. Hue dishes are often bold and spicy, and BBH (as it’s affectionately dubbed) is no exception. This is the best BBH joint right now. I dare you to order the xe lua—firetruck (read: extra large)—bowl and finish it all.

Bun Bo Hue Duc Chuong
11415 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, TX 77072
832-351-2622

Steamed rice cake filled with pork and mushroom

A favorite of ours, banh cuon originated from northern Vietnam.

The hubs’s favorite Vietnamese dish is banh cuon, a thinly steamed rice noodle or cake often stuffed with ground pork and wood ear mushrooms, although you can order it with shrimp, beef, grilled pork, or nothing at all. The thinner the rice sheets, the more prized the banh cuon. Dip it in some mildly spicy fish sauce vinaigrette, and the meal is golden.

The hubs loves this dish so much, I had it catered for his re-30th birthday. This is the dish he always craves when he’s splurging on carbs.

Thien Thanh
11210 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, TX 77072
281-564-0419

When you’re in the mood for feasting or need to find a place suitable for a large party, bo 7 mon is a good choice. Literally translated to mean “7 courses of beef,” my family reserved bo 7 mon for special occasions like holidays and family get-togethers. Because it can be a lot of food, it’s perfect for group dining. You get a little of everything (seven courses, to be exact), which is good for those with easily bored palates like mine. You can also order shrip, squid, or a whole fish to be eaten in the same style if you aren’t feeling beef. The majority of the meal requires DIY assembly of rolls using rice paper at the table, so maybe it’s not ideal if you’re juggling children.

Saigon Pagolac
9600 Bellaire Blvd. #119
Houston, TX 77036
713-988-6106

I can’t talk about Bellaire without bringing up Tan Tan, the long-standing cornerstone of Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine. Tan Tan seats many, is open late, and has a huge menu, so there’s something for everyone. They’re efficient, inexpensive, and consistent. My go-to orders are either the A1 (banh bot chien—pan-fried rice cake and egg omelette); com chien bo luc lac (sautéed cubed beef steak with fried rice—make sure you dip the beef in the salt/pepper/lemon juice sauce); or the won ton noodle soup.

Tan Tan
6816 Ranchester Dr.
Houston, TX 77036
713-771-1268

For Chinese food

Houston also boasts a large Chinese population, so it’s natural we’ve got some great Chinese food on Bellaire, too. Like its Vietnamese counterpart, there are just so many choices, and so many of them good, it was hard to come up with just a few, but in order to prevent this entry from being a hundred pages long, I narrowed it down to just two. And like I said, these suggestions are just to get you started.

Sichuan dishes at Mala

Our spread at the new Mala outpost on Westheimer in Montrose. This was just for me and the hubs. What can I say? We love to eat.

A recent Houston craze comes in the form of a mouth-numbing sensation known as mala, produced by the Sichuan peppercorn and reflected in the menu of the sensation’s namesake. Mala Sichuan Bistro is deemed by some as inauthentic, but there’s still something solid about these atypical spicy dishes. Mala just opened another outpost in more central Montrose with a slightly different menu, but either place you go, get ready to turn up the heat. Our go-to orders usually include the spicy oil won tons, beef tendon, couple’s lung (made here with brisket, tendon, and tripe), and spicy crispy chicken. Rotating orders consist of ma po tofu (tofu with fermented black bean paste), water spinach sautéed in garlic, green beans, and one of the fish dishes. Many like the dandan noodles, but I can do without ‘em.

Mala Sichuan Bistro
9348 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, TX 77036
713-995-1889

Xiu mai

Okay, so this xiu mai is from Fung’s Kitchen and not Chinese Cuisine, but I needed a stock photo.

I love dim sum, and even though Vancouver and the Bay area have better dim sum, Houston isn’t bad. You can get the loud, crowded, cart-filled dim sum experience weekend mornings at Fung’s Kitchen, Kim Son, or Ocean Palace, but I prefer my dim sum ordered from a clipboard which we fill out ourselves—I can’t see what’s rolling by on the carts anyway, you see? My spot as of late is Chinese Cuisine, which, yes, I know, is a terrible name for searching online or asking for directions. “Chinese Cuisine? It’s everywhere on Bellaire!” (I promise you, this is the exact response my lost Caucasian friends got when they tried asking an old Chinese man in their broken Mandarin, “Where can we find Chinese Cuisine?”) Our usual order: xiu mai (pork and crab or shrimp steamed dumplings); har gow (crystal steamed shrimp dumplings(; fried taro puffs; Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce; sticky rice in lotus leaf; fried shrimp balls; and steamed rice noodles stuffed with your choice of shrimp, pork, or beef and doused in a sweet soy sauce. Sometimes we like to get jellyfish salad or pork spare ribs with black bean, too.

Chinese Cuisine
9888 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, TX 77036
713-774-2828

Fried taro puff

My favorite dim sum dish by which I judge dim sum restaurants is this fried taro puff.

Just writing this entry made me hungry. What are your thoughts on these places? Want to know where to find other dishes not featured here? What else on Bellaire have I missed? Leave a comment.

P.S. I’ll be on holiday next week, so my blog will likely go on temporary hiatus. In the meantime, you can keep up with my whereabouts on my Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Till next time, eat well. xoxo

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4 Discussion to this post

  1. @JeffD503 says:

    Well, my first thought is to stow away on the first plane heading down to Texas. lol There's not a lot of any of that around here, although there is one good Chinese restaurant , one (and only one) Malaysian place, and one amazing Indian locale in my area. I've had dim sum only once, but it was something I'd like to have again. Sounds like Chinese Cuisine is just the place, so it's on my to-eat list.

  2. Katie W. says:

    Hi, I am from Hong Kong and Hong Kong is the origin place for Dim Sums. It’s defiantly loud and crowded when it’s Saturday or Sunday at Hong Kong’s ‘Cha Lou’ (the dining place where we usually eat Har Gow and Xiu Mai).

  3. Neelu says:

    All are mouth watering. Because I am here in Dubai so can't go there to test these, but Yes, I have my own local Chinese restaurant named chowing. I will definitely go there and will ask for similar.

  4. Wow! How delicious the chicken soup! I just love any type of chicken soup. I live in Australia, if I go there I will definitely visit your restaurant and taste the soup. Although I am always busy with my work, so whenever I can try to taste the Chinese food, I always ordered these. I hope after some days I will be free, then I will definitely visit your restaurant. Thank you so much.

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