For adventurous diners, Bellaire Boulevard is the best, most consistently interesting street in Houston. While the term Chinatown is a convenient shorthand, Asiatown is both more accurate and more politically correct.
The nominees for this year's CultureMap Tastemaker Awards consist of Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Malaysian restaurants. Our sister sites in Austin and Dallas don't even have this category. The Bellaire restaurant scene is uniquely Houston, which makes celebrating it even more important.
Frequent Chinatown visitors might object that the restaurants listed below are too well known. That we're snubbing better restaurants in favor of big names. Consider our nominees a Chinatown guide for the perplexed, or, at least, the intimidated.
If that leads people to other spots, great. If not, well, at least a few new people got to try some of the Hall of Famers who've lead other diners to further dining adventures.
Not to ruin the surprise, but our Tastemakers panel overwhelmingly selected Mala Sichuan Bistro as the best restaurant in Chinatown. The reasons why are almost too numerous to list, but certainly the authentic Sichuan flavors are the biggest reason. The restaurant sources its own Sichuan peppercorns so that diners get the best possible mala tingle in every dish.
Add in the reasonably priced wine list created by former Oxheart sommelier Justin Vann, and it's clear why I run into someone from Houston's restaurant community on almost every visit.
Several Japanese restaurants are serving ramen, but no restaurant is catering to obsessives quite like Tiger Den. To ensure a steady supple of freshly made noodles, the restaurant imported a machine from Japan. While these things are difficult to track, it might be the only one in Texas
Even more than noodles, the broth is an essential component, and the 24-hour long cooking process for Tiger Den's tonkotsu makes it one of the most flavorful in the city.
Several Japanese restaurants are serving ramen, but no restaurant is catering to obsessives quite like Tiger Den.
Yakitori skewers and other snacks round out the menu. They're solid, but the sign up sheet at the door is for people waiting for ramen.
Traditionally a breakfast dish in Vietnam, late night runs to Pho Binh by Night have become a ritual for certain members of Houston's restaurant community. They go for the peerless broth, which has a depth of flavor that's unmatched at most restaurants. And they go to order a side of fatty, delicious bone marrow to add richness to the soup.
Just don't get so giddy from the meat high that you follow the path of Houston Press critic Kaitlin Steinberg and rescue a stray dog from the parking lot.
Where to find the best dim sum on Bellaire is a topic of endless debate, but Golden Dim Sum is our pick. First, the restaurant nails all the staple dumplings and steamed buns that are the best part of any dim sum meal. Second, the menu includes lots of pictures and English language descriptions that make it more accessible for first timers.
Finally, while carts are traditional, they're problematic. Sometimes carts run out of dishes, or they deteriorate as they tour through the dining room. At Golden, ordering off a menu means that everything arrives hot and fresh. Non dim-sum offerings like steamed lobsters are also worth ordering.
Vietnamese crawfish has emerged as one of Houston's most popular dishes, and nowhere does them better than Crawfish & Noodles, with its spicy, buttery, garlicky house seasoning. Those crawfish would be a sufficient reason to include Crawfish & Noodles as a Tastemakers nominee, but the restaurant's wide variety of dishes helps it stand out.
It's that rare restaurant where people can go more than once a week and have a slightly different experience each time.
From chicken wings caramelized in fish sauce to frogs legs to blue crabs to bo luc lac, everything on C&N's menu is worth trying. It's that rare restaurant where people can go more than once a week and have a slightly different experience each time.
One of the best communal dining experiences on Bellaire is a visit to a live seafood restaurant, and Hai Cang offers outstanding preparations of a variety of species. That begins with the $18.99 twin lobster special that's best ordered with the signature ginger and scallion sauce. Crispy Hunan-style tilapia is another can't miss dish, as is the crab meat and fish maw soup.
Go with a group, look over the tanks and order whatever's most appealing. It's going to be a good meal.
Thanks to a move last year to a bigger, better looking space in the Hong Kong Mall, Que Huong is flying higher than ever. Initial reports of service hiccups and uneven cooking have given way to a kitchen that turns out all the old favorites at the same level it has for 20 years.
The cold salad dishes are always reliable, and the bo luc lac is among the best in Houston. The crushed rice dishes with pork are also excellent. Cooking can be a little uneven, but the low prices decrease the pain.
Whether at the original location or the larger second store across Bellaire, Banana Leaf's Malaysian cuisine is one of the most reliable spots on in the area. The menu blends Indian, Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese influences, which gives it a something for everybody utility. From picky eaters to adventurous palates, there's always something new to try.
From picky eaters to adventurous palates, there's always something new to try.
Standout dishes include roti canai, coconut shrimp, stir-fried flat noodles and Hainanese chicken, but, with more than a hundred choices, it's hard to go wrong.
The roast ducks and pigs hanging in the window of this restaurant serve as a guide for why this restaurant is so popular. The roast pork is some of the best in Houston, with crispy, crackly skin and moist, flavorful meat. Other retro Cantonese highlights include staples like wonton soup and the various noodle dishes.
It's also open till 2 a.m. everyday to satisfy late night cravings.
When gathering a group of friends for a celebratory meal, (like beginning a new job as the food writer for a top news outlet), Arco makes the perfect destination. At lunch, Arco Seafood is one of Houston's most reliable options for dim sum.
Like Golden, it skips the carts in favor of an a la carte menu that means the har gow and shu mai arrive hot and fresh. At dinner, order from the live seafood tanks or feast on one of Houston's best Peking ducks.
True duck fans object to the use of buns instead of the traditional pancakes, but the combination is delicious, so stop whining and enjoy.