Editor's Note 12/25/2016: In celebration of the holidays, we bring back this CultureMap Classic.
Many families in the Houston area will celebrate Christmas traditionally by going to church, opening presents and enjoying a home cooked meal. To those readers, we say, "Merry Christmas!"
This list is not for you.
This list is for people who, for reasons either religious, geographic or personal, want to enjoy a day off in the middle of the week but either don't have a family to celebrate with or aren't interested in a traditional home cooked meal.
Jewish Christmas starts by sleeping in, continues by taking in a movie or two and ends with Chinese food.
For those people, may we suggest Jewish Christmas? The tradition isn't limited to Members of the Tribe, although they tend to be its foremost practitioners. Jewish Christmas starts by sleeping in, continues by taking in a movie or two and ends with Chinese food. Or go out for Chinese food and then hit the movies. No need for tsuris over the proper order.
This guide contains options for both kinds of diners — those who want traditional, American-style Chinese food and those who want more authentic fare. Be aware that several mainstream restaurants, including Qin Dynasty, Cafe Ginger, 888 Chinese, Kam's Fine Chinese Cuisine and 369 Oriental Bistro are all closed on Christmas. Many, but not all, restaurants in Asiatown will be open.
Call your neighborhood favorite in advance to determine availability.
American Style Chinese Food
Cafe East: Celebrate a day off by stuffing yourself silly at this four-outlet, buffet mini-chain. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Prices vary by location.
Hunan Garden: This Kingwood staple welcomes diners from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (last seating at 7:15). Recommended dishes include chicken wings, beef and shrimp in sa tsa sauce and Phoenix chicken.
Shanghai River: Located in River Oaks, this restaurant has a sign on its wall testifying to its high quality: A picture of legendary Houston broadcaster Marvin Zindler. Fried dumplings, hot and sour soup and Mr. Dan's chicken are all can't miss.
Cafe Chino: Head to this restaurant on the Southwest Freeway for dim sum without leaving the Loop and Hunan specialties. Expect excellent dumplings from the dim sum side or consider beef chow fun if in the mood for a heartier entree. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Kim Son: All three locations of this Houston institution are open Christmas Day. If eating downtown, classic dishes like Vietnamese fajitas and black pepper crab are can't miss. Both the Sugar Land and Bellaire locations will be serving dim sum during the day.
Bellaire Asiatown/Traditional Chinese Food Options
Golden Dim Sum: Asking which restaurant on Bellaire serves the best dim sum is sure to start an argument, so I'll just say Golden is my current favorite. Classics like the various steamed dumplings and buns are all consistently excellent, and more exotic fare like chicken feet and tripe are available. Ala carte ordering means getting what you want more quickly than places with carts.
Peking Cuisine: Looking to capture a little of the magic of the meal in A Christmas Story? Head to this restaurant on the Southwest Freeway. As its name suggests, the Peking duck is excellent. However, families who lose their Christmas dinner to a surprise dog invasion are out of luck — the restaurant requires all ducks be ordered a day in advance.
Arco Seafood: Then again, why choose between dim sum and duck? Arco Seafood serves one in the morning and the other at dinner. The upscale decor adds a touch of class to the overall experience.
Mala Sichuan: Our Tastemakers winner for best Chinatown restaurant only closes on Thanksgiving, which means Christmas Day is the perfect occasion for rounding up friends and family for a meal of lip-tingling deliciousness. It's almost impossible to go wrong on the menu, but start with favorites like mapo tofu, Dan Dan noodles and red oil dumplings.
Hai Cang Seafood: Of course, if neither duck nor dumplings has any appeal, consider a seafood feast. Hai Cang offers a two lobsters for $20 deal that's almost irresistible. Go with a group to enjoy fish and shellfish from the restaurant's massive tanks.