Food fight: The best hand roll from The Heights' new hot spots
The Heights remains Houston’s hottest neighborhood for new restaurants. Already one of the city’s premier dining destinations, recent additions like Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams and Common Bond — not to mention the impending arrival of Mico’s Hot Chicken — only enhance the area’s elevated status.
Add hand rolls to the mix. In the last month, two restaurants devoted to temaki have opened in The Heights: Hando and Handies Douzo. They’re jumping on a national trend of restaurants that feature the uncut sushi rolls.
Both restaurants sport a similar design with U-shaped counters. Sushi chefs present the rolls individually, so that each one can be consumed quickly and at maximum freshness. The experience offers some of the quality of a chef-led omakase tasting at an upscale sushi restaurant for a much lower price point than one would encounter when eating individual pieces of nigiri.
Two restaurants serving similar menus mere blocks from each other? Seems like the perfect excuse to revive the Food Fight.
For people who weren’t reading the Houston Press’ food blog circa 2009, a food fight pits two restaurants that serve a similar dish against each other. Their merits are assessed, and a winner is selected.
I’ve visited each restaurant twice. Each time, people who follow me on Instagram want to know which one is better. Let’s discuss.
Located in a newly constructed shopping center on 11th Street, Hando unites proprietor Jason Andaya, a native Houstonian and veteran of several restaurants in Los Angeles, with chef Man Nguyen, whose resume includes the Azuma Group and Nobu’s Galleria location.
From a comfort and convenience standpoint, Hando stands out. Not only does it have dedicated parking, but its counter includes two ADA-compliant seats with a lower counter.
Turning to the food, Hando offers a dozen hand rolls, including two cooked and three vegetarian options. Priced individually from $4-8, three ($15), four ($20), and five ($25) rolls sets are also available. Hot and cold small plates round out the menu.
Hando offers a full liquor license with sake, wine, and cocktails. Non-alcoholic options are also available.
This restaurant replaced Happy Fatz on White Oak. While it lacks dedicated parking, street parking is available on both White Oak and on nearby side streets. Chefs Patrick Pham and Daniel Lee are both Uchi veterans who already made a splash with Kokoro, their well-regarded sushi counter at Bravery Chef Hall.
Like Hando, Handies features a U-shaped dining counter with backless stools, but it lacks the ADA-compliant lower counter. A railing in the dining room marks where diners should stand while they wait for a stool.
Handies offers six hand rolls, including one vegetarian option, along with six different sashimi dishes and two crudos. Prices range from $5-9 for the individual hand rolls, with set menus of three ($17), four ($23), and five ($29) also available. Diners may BYOB or choose from a selection of non-alcoholic beverages.
Objectively, Hando is the more complete restaurant. It has a larger menu that’s slightly less expensive, plus dedicated parking and a comprehensive beverage menu of alcoholic and non-alcoholic options. For vegetarians, cocktail fans, or people who like sitting in a regular chair, it offers distinct advantages over Handies Douzo.
Handies, however, excels in one important area — flavor. Pham and Lee toast their nori in a way that makes the seaweed wrapper incredibly crispy, and that added texture elevates each roll. It also means that each bite has a pleasant hot-and-cold contrast. Hando’s nori is chewier and a little more difficult to eat.
Both restaurants have their merits, but the crispy nori gives Handies Douzo the edge. It wins this Heights hand roll battle.