Underrated Brunch Spots
Even with the plethora of Sunday funday restaurants, I flock to the same old eggs benedict/French toast/pancake/bottomless mimosas options every week. One Sunday, I had an epiphany. I decided to venture out of my comfort zone.
I looked up what other cultures eat for breakfast and truth be told . . . I ended up really enjoying trying new things for my first meal of the day. If you’re ever in the mood to stray from old favorites, here are some international options in Houston that will tease your taste buds.
Though it started as a weary farmer's snack during tea breaks, dim sum has evolved into one of the most popular forms of Asian brunch. Most Westerners are under the perception that dim sum is the most popular form of breakfast in Asia when in reality most of the continent does not eat tapas portioned dumplings for brunch.
Typical Chinese breakfast consists of baozi (steamed bun) or congee (porridge) accompanied by hot or iced soy milk. The best soy milk in Houston can be found at San San Tofu on Wilcrest. Made fresh in house, the soy milk here has a roasted soy bean flavor, not unlike that of coffee. This is typical of the flavor of soy milk in Asia.
It's homestyle and served to you with a bit of attitude by older ladies.
I remember my first sip of Western soy milk as completely unrecognizable (and please don’t get me started on rice milk). San San has a variety of steamed buns to nosh on, each of them more tasty than the next. Even though it’s more of a dessert than breakfast, the sweet doahua is not to be missed. Thin slivers of the tofu pudding is drizzled with ginger syrup and it's sure to warm you up on a cold day. You can also request soft-boiled peanuts as a topping.
Most Chinatown residents flock to Classic Kitchen for a traditional breakfast. The restaurant lives up to its name: Dishes here are classic and quintessentially Chinese. It's homestyle and served to you with a bit of attitude by older ladies, who like most moms (or at least the ones I know) seem like they’re mad at you for not cleaning your room. Try the chive pockets (think pan fried pierogies stuffed with chives, cellophane noodles, ground pork and egg) and stewed beef sandwich, which has slices of beef that has been simmered in five spice, soy sauce, and garlic (similar to the kind you find in beef noodle soups).
The bun is a cross between phyllo and tortilla, encrusted in crunchy sesame. Avoid the sadly flavorless radish-filled pastries and egg-coated savory pancakes (a better version of the latter can be found at Cafe 101).
Six Ping’s second and newer location offers not only freshly baked treats but Taiwanese breakfast as well. Beware of the breakfast hours, which are different than the bakery hours. Breakfast is served everyday from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. other than Wednesdays.
The standout dish here is the glutinous rice ball, which is wrapped around a fried cruller, pickled veggies and dehydrated pork. The chewy outside with the crunchy interior is one of the best play on textures I’ve ever tasted. Try their made in-house soy milk, and if you’re adventurous, try the peanut rice milk. Similar to an horchata, this milk is flavorful and not too sweet.
You'll also find Taiwanese favorites like diced braised pork belly over rice soup dumplings. Last of all, don’t forget to take home a tray full of egg tarts, taro bread and almond shortbread cookies. Not only does Six Ping constantly rotate its oven-fresh goods, the bakers experiment daily with different recipes that are rarely repeated.
Formerly named Tan Ba Le Baguette, Bo Ne on Memorial is known for its house-made baguettes and the half aioli/half pate spread that goes alongside. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, the baguette here doesn't crumble everywhere and it won’t cut up the roof of your mouth.
Robb Walsh, barbecue and Tex-Mex connoisseur, calls the bo ne here the “best steak-and-egg breakfast in town,” saying that it might just beat the Vietnamese steak and eggs at local favorite Blacksmith. The flavorful skirt steak is marinated and arrives sizzling on a hot platter, mixed with thinly sliced onions and served with two sunny-side-up eggs.
Watch the kids around you to learn how to best eat this dish: Mix the aioli and pate and smear gobs of it on your baguette. Layer the beef onto the sandwich, then carefully lift the eggs on top. Break the yolks and take a huge satisfying bite. End the meal with sua chua, also made in house. The Vietnamese yogurt (made with condensed milk) is creamy and sweet with a hint of lemon.
With two James Beard Award nominations under her belt, chef Anita Jaisinghani’s brunch at upscale Indian restaurant Indika is well-known around town. I arrived with a massive hangover that was quickly cured by the Masala Mary, a bloody Mary that was made even better with chai-like spices.
Starved, I hovered over the chaat (snack) bar filled with starters until the server offered to bring me a plate with an entire sampling of all the appetizers. I perked up when I bit into the samosas, filled with sweet potatoes instead of the traditional potatoes, and the mushroom and cheese naan and chicken and egg vindaloo made me even happier. If you’re a fan of more traditional breakfast items, be sure to try the coconut pancakes.
Stuffed with chunks of fried bananas, you have to stop yourself from ordering more than one plate.
Unlike the Mitch Hedberg joke where he compares comedians to pancakes (“You can't be like pancakes . . . all exciting at first, but then by the end you're sick of em.”), these are not the kind you stop eating after a few bites. Stuffed with chunks of fried bananas, you have to stop yourself from ordering more than one plate. Make sure to also check out Jaisinghani’s more casual eatery, Pondicheri, where the bake lab will have you drooling over chocolate brioche buns, packed full of spices like cardamom and saffron.
Hugo’s is another brunch buffet staple in Houston. The struggle to open the door that seems to weight at least two tons (seriously, why is that door so heavy?!) is worth your efforts as you are greeted by a lively mariachi band and the buffet tables. Oh, the buffet tables! Filled to the brim with sopesitas, huevos rancheros and tamales still in the banana leaves, you won’t even know where to start your brunch adventure.
Why not indulge and start at the dessert table, where you can help yourself to a mug of hot chocolate and a plate full of churros to dip in the rich drink. A mixed crowd of yuppies and parents trying to keep their kids in check mingle. Everyone is welcomed here as margaritas and mimosas flow freely. Brunch is a nice chance to try the many dishes Hugo’s is known for, from the suckling pig to oxtail soup.
El Salvadorian Breakfast
With three locations of El Pupusodromo, there is no excuse to miss the best pupusas you will find in town. The Renwick location is housed in a former Taco Bell, so the surroundings are nothing to write home about but you can write a book about the fluffy pupusas.
Skip the traditional meat and seafood entrees and order yourself these cheap-as-dirt, thick, handmade corn tortillas, stuffed with your choice of ingredients. Our favorites were the chicharrones —although the zucchini and cheese didn’t disappoint either. The pupusas go well with huevos rancheros, and if you want something a little different, try the huevos con crema — two perfectly poached eggs smothered in cream sauce with beans and plantains on the side.
I had no idea what Ethiopian brunch consists of. I love Ethiopian food (who doesn’t love eating with their hands?) and if you want traditional entrees during breakfast hours, head to Blue Nile on Richmond which opens at 9 a.m. on the weekends. If you’re curious like I was about what Ethiopian breakfast is, instead of just looking it up on Wikipedia, get a taste of it at Sheba Cafe.
What I found was comfort food without the boredom.
I made myself comfortable in Sheba's unassuming interiors, expecting Ethiopian staples like goat stew and exotic braised vegetables. Instead what I found was comfort food without the boredom. Sheba’s breakfast specialty is an Ethiopian dish named (somewhat unfortunately) foul. Similiar to refried beans (mashed fava beans, to be exact), foul is served with scrambled eggs, tomatoes, onions and jalapenos.
The familiar sight of the arrival of a basket of warm injera bread was much welcomed as I helped myself making my own Ethiopian breakfast wrap, scooping mounds of the enqulal fir-fir (Ethiopian omelette) onto the flat bread. My eyes popped open at the strong, black coffee that didn't flinch when I poured in the cream — just the way I like it. Steaming hot with a spice I couldn’t quite identify, Sheba’s coffee is something you won’t find at the numerous craft coffee shops in town.
Fellow caffeine fiends can have their fill of free çay (black Turkish tea) at Nazif’s Turkish Grill & Deli on Westheimer. That is just the tip of the delicious (not to mention inexpensive) brunch buffet. Make sure to get there as early as possible (they open at 10:30 a.m.) and order a plate of simit (Turkish bagels) as soon as you sit down because they almost always sell out by noon.
The air is filled with traditional Turkish music on Sunday mornings while you fill your plates with specialties like etsiz (vegetarian “meatballs”), börek (puff pastry filled with spinach and cheese), and an assortment of fresh sheep’s milk cheeses, honey and jams to smear on the hot bazlama (think English muffin). You can also taste more traditional Turkish lunch items like saksuka (similar to a baba ganoush but in a yogurt sauce), hummus and ezme (marinated tomatoes, peppers and walnuts).