Chinatown remains one of Houston’s most thrilling dining neighborhoods. While the name, a colloquial shorthand for a 5-plus mile stretch of Bellaire Boulevard that’s home to restaurants serving food from countries across east and southeast Asia (China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and more) may flatten the area’s diversity, savvy diners know they can find something to suit just about every taste at the hundreds of restaurants in the area.
All that diversity is a great thing, but it can also be intimidating for the uninitiated. Many of the restaurants on Bellaire are small, dimly-lit, and have menus that are pitched to people who are already familiar with the cuisine. Feeling confused about where to go and overcoming potential language barriers may hinder some people from trying dining experience they might truly enjoy.
One Houston developer wants to simply the process while showing the best of what Asia has to offer. Working with his family, Kevin Kan tore down an apartment complex and replaced it with a development that’s poised to become one of 2019’s most exciting new dining destinations. Dubbed Bellaire Food Street, the project will feature 13 restaurants and a 200-plus car parking garage.
Kan tells CultureMap that trips to Asia inspired his vision for the project. He noticed the restaurants there are very different than most of the places he encounters on Bellaire.
“A lot of the restaurants in China are gorgeous, they’re amazing. Coming back to Houston is like stepping back in time,” Kan says. “I want to showcase what the Asian community can become. Not just your basic chop suey place or a very basic noodle place where people are used to seeing the same old thing. If people have never been to Asia, they might think this is [all that] Chinese culture is.”
To achieve that goal, Kan has recruited a range of savory restaurant and dessert shops to fill Bellaire Food Street. Many are international brands making their Houston or Texas debut, but a couple are locally-owned. So far, Kan has filled 12 of the 13 spaces and can reveal the names and details of 10 establishments.
The first tenant, a second Houston-area outpost of Japanese cream puffy bakery Beard Papa’s, will open by the end of the month. Most of the remaining restaurants will be open by this summer. Here’s a brief overview, as explained by Kan and Bellaire Food Street marketing manager Lin Teng:
- Meet Fresh: A Taiwan-based dessert concept with over 1,200 stores worldwide. Already open in Katy Asian Town, the restaurant serves taro balls, shaved ice, and grass jelly desserts.
- Beard Papa’s: A second Houston-area location of the Japanse cream puff bakery.
- PopFancy: The first brick and mortar outpost of the locally-owned popsicle concept will step up from its mall kiosk roots with popsicles, soft serve, and poptails made with champagne.
- Shi MiaoDao: Already open in New York City and Canada (part of 2,200 outposts worldwide), this restaurant from China’s Yunnan province serves thin rice noodles that are cooked in a clay pot in just 10 seconds. The noodles are then topped with a selection of meat and vegetables.
- Pepper Lunch: This Japanese teppanyaki restaurant with over 400 stores worldwide recently expanded to California. The menu features steak and other ingredients cooked in a cast iron skillet that are combined with vegetables, corn, and cheese.
- Tom N Toms Coffee: Known as the Starbucks of Korea, this coffee shop features a range of beverages plus butter bread that’s topped with fruit and savory pretzel breads filled with various proteins.
- Chatime: An international bubble tea shop from Taiwan that has over 2,500 locations worldwide, mostly in China and Vietnam.
- Fat Ni BBQ: Originally started as a food cart in New York, this restaurant that serves Xinjiang-style skewered meats has already become a hit in Dallas.
- Migo Saigon: Created by a local chef, this Vietnamese restaurant eschews the familiar pho and spring rolls in favor of traditional bar and finger food.
- Wai Station: This offshoot of the Shangai Restaurant in the Welcome Supermarket shopping center will pair between 20 and 30 of its parent restaurant’s most popular dishes. Similar to establishments like Hong Kong Cafe and House of Bowls, the restaurant is a Hong Kong-style cafe that serves everything from French toast to noodles.
Two additional restaurants have signed leases but haven’t provided authorization to release their names yet. Teng describes one as being serving chicken that’s cooked in a dry pot and the other as a Korean spot that serves both fried chicken and barbecue.
If the project is successful, Kan and his family own additional land that could become a second development. Once it’s demonstrated that Houstonians have embraced the idea, the new Bellaire Food Street could potentially attract even higher-profile operators to make their Houston debuts.
“We hope we’ve picked the best of each category,” Teng says. “As a diner, you just park your car and walk down the street to visit every store.”