Whats Eric Eating
What's Eric Eating Episode 164

Meet Spring's taco maestro, plus Houston's hottest new Vietnamese restaurant

Meet Spring's taco maestro, plus the hottest new Vietnamese restaurant

Belly of the Beast tuna tostada
Belly of the Beast's tuna tostada with avocado, winter citrus, and charred shishito vinaigrette. Courtesy of Belly of the Beast
Belly of the Beast chef Thomas Bille
Chef Thomas Bille. Courtesy of Belly of the Beast
Xin Chao braised pork belly
Braised pork belly with crispy rice at Xin Chao. Photo by Eric Sandler
Belly of the Beast tuna tostada
Belly of the Beast chef Thomas Bille
Xin Chao braised pork belly

On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," chef Thomas Bille joins CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss Belly of the Beast, his modern taqueria in Old Town Spring. Lured to Texas from California by the more affordable cost of living, Bille has been earning raves from diners for his carefully crafted tacos, ceviches, and other dishes.

Bille describes how he blended his Mexican heritage with his culinary training — including a lengthy stint at acclaimed Los Angeles restaurant Otium — to develop Belly of the Beast. He takes pride in making everything from scratch, including nixtamalization of corn for the restaurant's tortillas.

"I look at the taco as its own complete dish. My canvas is the tortilla. The root of Mexico is maize, it's corn, and it always will be," Bille says. "Everything we do here is a lengthy process. The chimichurri is a two-hour prep . . . Some people are like 'oh, it's just a taco.' To me, it's a lot more than that. It's a dish on a tortilla. I take it seriously."

Belly of the Beast serves other classic dishes, including cochinita pibil with habanero salsa, birria tacos made with sirloin from 44 Farms, and ceviches with Gulf seafood. As word of mouth has spread, Bille has started selling out of food on weekends. Ultimately, he hints that he might be interested in opening a second, larger location closer to the center of Houston, a prospect Sandler encourages.

Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Matt Harris discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: the potential ramifications of Pappas Restaurants owners Christopher and Harris Pappas acquiring Luby's assets, the closing of downtown cafe Coterie, and the recent reopenings of places such as Nancy's Hustle, Xochi, and Nobie's.

In the restaurants of the week segment, they share their experiences dining at Xin Chao, the modern Vietnamese restaurant from chefs Christine Ha and Tony Nguyen. In particular, they praise the braised pork belly over crispy rice, which is a variation of a dish Ha served as part of the meal when she won season three of Masterchef

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