Courtesy of Comalito

The wait is almost over the next restaurant to debut at the Houston Farmers Market. Comalito, a new taqueria that’s inspired by the flavors of Mexico City, will officially open this Friday, November 17 (2520 Airline Dr.).

First announced this summer, Comalito replaces Wild Oats, Underbelly Hospitality’s Texas comfort food restaurant that’s moving to a new location in Spring Branch. It’s led by chef Luis Robledo Richards, an award-winning Mexican chef who has also served as a judge on Netflix’s Sugar Rush: The Baking Point, and his co-chef and business partner Atzin Santos. Their restaurant group Nixt operates a number of concepts in Mexico City including Tout Chocolat, Robledo Richards’ signature chocolate shop.

Comalito exterior

Courtesy of Comalito

Comalito opens this week.

Robledo Richards spoke to CultureMap about the opening (read on for our interview), and officially noted in a broad statement to the media: “Our vision for Comalito is to create a fun, affordable, and approachable concept where Houstonians can immerse themselves in the vibrant culinary landscape of a traditional Mexico City taqueria. We hope to become a go-to destination for those seeking simple, high-quality food and are excited to bring this unique dining experience alongside Underbelly Hospitality to The Houston Farmers Market.”

Luis Robledo RichardsStar chef Luis Robledo Richards will lead Comalito. Photo by Fernando Gómez Carbajal

As the chef notes, Comalito is designed to be a casual, welcoming restaurant. Its menu is based on a wide array of tacos, highlighted by pork pastor that’s prepared on a trompo, topped with pineapple, and paired with six housemade salsas. Other taco options include a chile-rubbed beef pastor, bistec (top sirloin), and marinated chicken. Diners will also find traditional braised meats such as beef tongue, beef cheek, and tripe. Vegan and vegetarian options include tacos de hongos al pastor (mushrooms al pastor), ensalada de nopales con quelites (cactus and purslane salad), and quesadillas.

Critically, the tacos are served on tortillas made in-house using heirloom corn that’s imported from Mexico. Santos is leading the restaurant’s masa program, which using a traditional nixtamalization technique to process the corn. The street-style tacos use tortillas that are roughly four or five inches in diameter, meaning it’s easy to eat a few during a meal.

Starters include a crispy chicharron de queso, guacamole, and braised onions. Cazuelas, small bowls filled with melted cheese, come topped with either chorizo or roasted poblano peppers.

Robledo Richards puts his skills as a pastry chef to good use with desserts that include flan, chocolate pudding, rice pudding, and churros. Beverage options include beer, micheladas, and a range of agave-based cocktails made with tequila and mezcal such as the margarita and paloma.

“It’s a simple taqueria. We’re trying to replicate the Mexico City flavors,” Robledo Richards tells CultureMap. “Simple techniques, simple recipes. We’re trying to execute them to the best of our ability.”

The restaurant held a couple of invite-only previews over the weekend to get read. The chef is pleased with his team’s progress but realizes they need a little more seasoning before the doors open officially on Friday.

“I think we’re making great progress. I think we’re maybe 90 percent of what I wanted it to be, especially in the little details of flavors and people executing the recipes,” he says. “It’s such a wide and very diverse team that we have. It’s not easy to make them understand the flavors, temperatures, textures, everything.”

For now, Comalito will be open for lunch and dinner daily from 11 am to 8 pm. Once the restaurant is fully staffed, it will add daily breakfast service featuring the chef’s pastries along with breakfast tacos and coffee. The process of getting to opening has been long, but Robledo Richards is ready for the next phase.

“I feel excited. This project was a long way coming. When we started, it was back in March 2020, right before lockdown. We had to wait,” he says.

“When we saw the first couple come in, I was, like, oh my God, finally. We get to serve someone. It was a big weight off my shoulders.”

Photo courtesy of University of St. Thomas-Houston

University of St. Thomas Alumni Association presents Two Saints and a Taco Tasting

Now in its 12th year, UST’s annual Two Saints and a Taco Tasting attracts guests from across the region for a friendly competition among some of the city’s best restaurants. The event aims to raise crucial funds for the University of St. Thomas Alumni Association Student Scholarship Fund.

Guests will dine on a diverse selection of delectable tacos as participating restaurants vie for one or both first-place trophies for best taco. Celebrity judges will award one trophy, and attendees will decide the other by popular vote. A selection of beer, wine and tequila will complement the tacos along with great entertainment.

Photo courtesy of Voice Media Group

Voice Media Group presents Tacolandia

The 9th Annual Houston Tacolandia is an outdoor taco-sampling festival will feature some of Houston’s best taquerias, from urban contemporary to authentic street-style. It will also include music, cash bars with beer and cocktails, and awards for best tacos in various categories.

Photo by Jay Ford

New crave-worthy Mexican restaurant and familiar Houston gastropub claim spots in bustling Upper Kirby park

Levy Park's 2 new restaurants

Restaurants have returned to Levy Park. The Upper Kirby park announced the opening of a new Mexican restaurant as well as plans for a popular Houston gastropub to open there by the end of the year.

Gaspacho’s Mexican Bites has claimed the former Love Shack kiosk near the facility’s dog park. An evolution of chef-owner Jennifer Perez’s successful food truck, Gaspacho’s is a Mexican restaurant that serves tacos, tortas, snacks, and drinks — both boozy and non-alcoholic. It’s open daily for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and happy hour.

Perez, an immigrant who grew up in the Mexican state of Michoacán, started the Gaspacho’s Fruits and Cravings food truck to serve snacks such as elotes, cut fruit, and juices. Her signature item on the food truck is the Gaspacho, a bowl that contains cut fruit and a mixture of lime and orange juice that’s topped with Valentina, Tajín, and cotija queso.

When the truck proved a hit with park regulars, Levy Park administrators invited Perez to join full time with Gaspacho’s Mexican Bites. Having access to a large kitchen has allowed her to expand the menu with tacos — choice of birria, carnitas, or pastor — along with quesadillas, flautas, ceviches, and a Mexican-style hot dog that’s wrapped in bacon and topped with crema, caramelized onions, elote, guacamole, and hot sauce. In addition, Gaspacho’s serves tortas, including a Torta Ahogada that’s dipped in spicy salsa and served in a plastic bag to prevent spillage.

Those dishes can be paired with Mexican beers, micheladas, and margaritas — choose traditional, cucumber, watermelon, or mango. Those who want a michelada and a snack can get it with candy, mangonada, or ceviche (see photo above).

“Food should taste and feel good. It should be healthy, have the freshest ingredients and flavors,” Perez said in a statement. “We like to surprise each guest with a unique experience and look forward to bringing our heavenly bites to Levy Park.”

Turning to the full-service restaurant, popular gastropub Hearsay has claimed the former Woodshed Smokehouse space for its fifth location. It will join Hearsay’s two downtown locations in Market Square and near Discovery Green, as well as restaurants in Galveston and The Woodlands.

Gaspacho's Mexican Bites exterior

Photo by Jay Ford

Gaspacho's Mexican Bites is now open at Levy Park.

Expected to open in December, Hearsay Levy Park will serve favorites such as its cheeseburger, crab-crusted redfish, and cocktails. Two private dining rooms will be available for celebrations and other events. Exclusive to the new location with be picnic baskets designed to be eaten in the park as well as soft serve ice cream for kids of all ages.

“We are excited to unveil the newest Hearsay location and become an integral member of the Levy Park community,” Hearsay CMO Shawn Collier said in a statement. “Guests of the park will enjoy our classic American favorites with that special Hearsay twist and park friendly surprises designed to delight.”

Both the Love Shack and Woodshed spaces became available last summer when celebrity chef Tim Love closed the restaurants after his license agreement with the park reached the end of its term. Levy Park is a 6-acre park that features a dog park, rain garden, and children’s play area. It regularly hosts events such as movie nights and yoga classes.

“Hearsay is an exceptional and beloved classic among Houstonians, and we are delighted to welcome them to the park,” park director Stephanie Kiouses added.

Photo by Fernando Gómez Carbajal

Historic Houston farmers market replaces Texas comfort food with Netflix star chef's hot new taqueria

Houston's next great taqueria

Houston restaurant group Underbelly Hospitality continues to evolve as it seeks to match the right restaurant with the right neighborhood. The company’s latest move is to relocate Wild Oats, its Texas comfort food restaurant, from the Houston Farmers Market to Spring Branch and replace it withComalito, a taqueria created by chef award-winning Mexican chef Luis Robledo Richards.

Netflix viewers will recognize Robledo Richards from his role as a judge on Sugar Rush: The Baking Point. He’s also been named the Best Pastry Chef in Latin America by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Instead of opening a Houston outpost of Tout Chocolat, his acclaimed chocolate shop in Mexico City, he wanted his first American project to focus on tacos.

“I don’t like fancy stuff,” the chef tells CultureMap. “I love simple things. I love tacos. If we can be successful with a taqueria, something else can come from that.”

Expected to open this fall, Comalita’s tacos will use corn tortillas that will be made onsite. The restaurant will import organic, heirloom corn from Mexico and treat it with a traditional nixtamalization process to make the masa that will become its tortillas. Approximately 1,000-square-feet of the current Wild Oats space will be allocated to tortilla production.

Taco fillings will start with two trompos (vertical spit roasters) — one with pork pastor and another with beef that’s marinated with recado negro, a spice paste from the Yucatan that gives the beef a dark, charred color. Other dishes will be prepared on a plancha, a nod to the comal that’s part of the restaurant’s name. Many of Comalito's ingredients, including spices, produce, and Texas wagyu beef, will be drawn from the market's existing vendors, including R-C Ranch.

Luis Robledo Richards

Photo by Fernando Gómez Carbajal

Chef Luis Robledo Richards will lead Comalito.

To develop the pastor recipe, Robledo Richards said he consulted with local taco experts to identify Mexico City’s 10 best variations. After tasting through the options, he and his chefs developed a pastor that captures their favorite flavors.

“We researched to try to find what Mexico City tacos geeks consider the best. There’s all kinds of guys who publish taco guides. I have friends who have written those,” he says. “We talked about the 10 best pastor tacos in Mexico City. We went to them. This guy the pastor is more spicy, another is sweeter or saltier. That’s how we came up with Comalito’s pastor recipe.”

On the weekends, Comalito will serve brunch that will include sweet and savory breads and pastries as well as Mexican coffee. Desserts will include the chef’s take on flan, chocolate pudding, and churros.

Comalito’s cocktail program will center around tequila and mezcal-based drinks. “It’s not going to be super complicated. Simple, straightforward, delicious agave drinks, pretty much mezcal and tequila,” Robledo Richards says.

The chef acknowledges that Houstonians have extensive choices when it comes to Mexican restaurants, including Picos, which is owned by his cousin Arnaldo Richards. Still, he sees an opportunity for Comalito to find an audience based on its tortillas, traditional fillings, and agave program.

“I haven’t seen a real, Mexico City taqueria like the one we’re going to make,” he says. “If you go to traditional ones in Mexico City, there’s always something different here. We’re going to do something more in the spirit of a real Mexico City taqueria.”

Once Comalito opens, the chef plans to spend approximately 70-percent of his time in Houston and 30-percent in Mexico City. He’s bringing a team with him to open this restaurant and develop additional concepts that will follow if Comalito is successful.

“I love the city. I love the people. It’s so diverse. There’s so many opportunities to do something besides a taqueria,” he says.

As for Wild Oats, the restaurant will remain open until September 3, which will allow it to participate in Houston Restaurant Weeks. Find its two-course lunch and three-course, $39 dinner menus here.

Developed by chef-partner Nick Fine, Wild Oats tells the story of Texas food by serving classic dishes such as chicken fried steak, chili, and campechana. While it earned praise from critics, it has struggled to find a durable audience at the Houston Farmers Market.

Underbelly Hospitality president Nina Quincy tells CultureMap the company thinks the restaurant will be a better fit for Spring Branch, where it will open a new location this fall that will be paired with a second location of Underbelly Burger. She acknowledges that Wild Oats first iteration offered up too many dishes that were personal to Fine — such as the cornbread-stuffed, bacon-wrapped quail he made on hunting trips with his father — without including more iconic Texas classics like San Antonio-style puffy tacos.

“We’re going to stay true to what we do and have creative dishes with great ingredients,” Quincy says. “We’re going to have dishes that are recognizable as Texas without having to tell people a story.”

Of course, she’s thrilled to be working with Robledo Richards on a taqueria that she’s confident will be a better fit for the Houston Farmers Market.

“If you don’t love tacos, you’re not allowed to live in Texas. I think that’s in the Constitution. You can quote me on that,” she says.

Between closing GJ Tavern, opening Italian seafood restaurant Pastore, and relocating Wild Oats, Underbelly Hospitality will complete a series of moves designed to ensure its financial success going forward. Recently, the company has made a number of key hires, including CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Bartender of the Year winner Sarah Troxell, culinary director Scott Muns, and Pastore chef (and Tastemaker Awards nominee) Jeff Potts. Working with a chef of Robledo Richards’ caliber only strengthens that.

“I can’t wait to eat his food. I’m really excited,” she says.

Photo courtesy of Goldee's BBQ

Where to find the most iconic — and best — meals in all of Texas

Hit the Road

Texans don't need much of a reason to hit the open road. Our state is brimming with natural beauty and charming small towns, but nothing motivates us to fill up the tank like a bonanza of regional foods.

There are renowned Texas flavors to be found throughout the entire state, from small towns like Round Top to the far west end in El Paso. And with meals ranging from Tex-Mex and barbecue to Frito Pie and kolaches, the Lone Star State is known for some of the most iconic foods in America.

When you hit the open road to explore (and taste) it all, know that a Hilton Hotel is nearby for a good night's rest. Whether you're traveling with family, friends, or as a couple, the right room is waiting with a warm welcome.

Hope you're hungry, because here is but a small slice of some of the best.

Goldee's BBQ, Fort Worth
Few barbecue joints in Texas can make a name without serving the holy trinity of brisket, sausage, and ribs. Still, the young chefs and pitmasters at this Fort Worth stop one-up the competition with unexpected sides like chicken rice and collard greens and crowd-pleasers like fish and chips.

Chicken Fried Steak
Babe's Chicken Dinner House, Carrollton
All Texans take their chicken fried steak with some degree of seriousness. We dare say this eatery — which originated in Carrollton and has locations all over North Texas — takes it the most seriously of all, with plenty of family-style sides to round out the table.

La Cocina, McAllen
Former oil worker Evin Garcia combines tradition and innovation at this McAllen haunt. Enjoy everything from birria tacos dipped in a luscious consommé to an octopus version served with traditional al pastor fixings like onion, cilantro, and grilled pineapple.

Elotes Fanny, Austin + North Texas
With locations in Austin, Fort Worth, and Garland, this snack shop mini-chain knows everything about corn. Get it by the cob or in a cup, and make sure to douse it in the fiery homemade Atomic Salsa.

Fried Chicken
Dolli's Diner, Nacogdoches
This diner does just about everything right, but the crowning jewel of the menu is undoubtedly the chicken fried chicken. It's served with mashed potatoes, gravy, and fresh veggies for color and is best enjoyed with funnel cake fries for dessert.

Frito Pie
RD's Burger, Cibolo
This casual stop does its namesake dish with aplomb, but found pure magic in its Frito Pie. It's served with no muss or fuss and occasionally on the insanely delicious burger.

Slovacek’s, West
When it comes to kolaches, any bakery in West will serve the real deal. Relative newcomer Slovacek's gets the vote for its dozens of fruit flavors and creative klobasnek (the meaty cousin of kolaches) filled with boudin, pepperoni, or kraut.

Royer's Round Top Cafe, Round Top
No trip to Round Top's famous antique fair is complete without a stop at this darling cafe. "Pie Man" Bud Royer makes every visit sweet with pies like buttermilk, pecan, and the multi-fruit Troy's Junk Berry.

L & J Cafe, El Paso
This El Paso tradition is by a graveyard, sure, but don't let that deter you from enjoying its queso. The miraculous concoction made with roasted green chile, tomatoes, and onions is served with just-fried tostadas.

Leal's Tamale Factory, Lubbock
A Lubbock classic, this mainstay doesn't go for newfangled tamale flavors like sweet potato. Order pork, chicken, or cheese and rediscover the fundamentals.

Viet-Cajun crawfish boils
Crawfish & Noodles, Houston
Who knows what James Beard-nominated chef Trong Nguyen puts in his secret sauce. What we do know is that it's one of the most intensely flavorful experiences in all of Houston.

Texas knows no bounds when it comes to to where you can go (and eat). No matter where your next foodie adventure takes you, a Hilton hotel is waiting for you.

With over 550 Hilton hotels spanning across the state of Texas, the possibilities to earn more while exploring the Lone Star State are endless.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Burger Bodega creator houstoneatz ranks Houston’s 25 best halal restaurants

houstoneatz's top 25 halal restaurants

Editor’s note: When Abbas Dhanani, the chef-owner of Burger Bodega and the man behind the popular houstoneatz social media accounts, asked to share his list of Houston’s top 25 halal restaurants with CultureMap readers, we said yes. Dhanani has spent the past few months eating at Halal restaurants across the city to compile this list, which covers various parts of Houston, includes both restaurants and food trucks, and goes far beyond the typical Mediterranean and Indo/Pak cuisines. Take it away, Abbas.

Muslims I know from around the nation tell me that Houston has the best and most vast selection of Halal food that they can get anywhere in the States — by a long shot. The variety of Halal food in Houston is far greater than that of Mediterranean or Pakistani food, although you will still see a lot of those below.

Before diving in to the list, let’s clarify a couple of points. First, Halal food is not just NY-style cart food, and it's not a cuisine. Rather, it's a way that meat is cut and prepared so that it is permitted or 'Halal' for Muslims to eat.

I also want to make one thing clear before moving forward. Although I am a devout Muslim, I don't follow a strict Halal diet. I am, however, by way of the Muslim community and my wife, who does follow a strict Halal diet, a friend and student of the Halal food scene. Regardless of my own practices, when I started Burger Bodega, I wanted to ensure I could serve my community and everyone else, so we use Halal meat for our burgers. You won't read about Burger Bodega below, because it's not up to me to decide if it belongs on a list of the best Halal restaurants.

To those who may not be familiar, as well as those who practice, or those who may drop in to tell me my list sucks by listing all the restaurants I missed in the comments, I hope that this list can provide some insight into the Halal world of Houston.

The Afghan Village
My favorite Pakistani dish may also define Pakistani cuisine, Karahi Chicken (or Karahi Goat), so naturally, I am always searching for the best Karahi. Although it's Pakistani, Afghanistan also adopted Karahi at some point in their history. During my research into Houston’s Halal restaurants, I was surprised that one of the best Karahis I found was not from a Pakistani restaurant but an Afghani restaurant. Alongside their amazing Karahi, which is named after the dish it's cooked in (kind of like a wok), they also serve some great Afghani favorites.

  • Chicken Karahi
  • Goat Karahi
  • Kabuli Pulao

Aga’s Restaurant and Catering
This list isn’t ranked, but Aga's would be number one if it were. Muslims I know consider Aga's to be the best Pakistani restaurant not just in Houston, but in the nation, and for good reason. Any Pakistani that travels to Houston has almost certainly been to Aga’s.

They have the largest menu I've ever seen from any Indo/Pak restaurant, and the consistency of every dish, from karahis to biryanis to chaat, is impeccable. The massive restaurant has the capacity to serve 800 or more patrons on its busiest nights, and the way they deliver an efficient yet personal customer service experience to each person dining there is truly a sight unseen anywhere else.

Literally everything at Aga’s is good. My favorite dishes change very often, but here are some that come to mind at this very moment:

  • Goat Chops
  • Chicken Shinwari Karahi
  • Butter Chicken Handi
  • White Kabab Karahi

Al Aseel Grill & Cafe
Palestinian chicken is the key here. From Musakhan to grilled chicken to nationally recognized fried chicken, Al Aseel specializes in chicken, and they do it right. They also do a great mansaf (lamb cooked with yogurt and served over rice) if you're not in the mood for chicken.

  • Grilled Chicken
  • Fried Chicken
  • Musakhan

Al Hawi Grill
Another late-night food truck specializing in charcoal cooking. What makes Al Hawi unique is that they serve their grilled meats on metal skewers. You eat it right off the skewer as if you're at a carnival. The beef with fat is especially exquisite, with chunks of beef and pieces of fat between each chunk. I also enjoy that same offering in a wrap.

  • Beef with Fat Skewer
  • Beef Tikka Wrap

Al Shami Mediterranean Grill
A list of Halal restaurants is not complete without mentioning my favorite shawarma. Al Shami sets themselves apart with their technique involving charcoal and shrak bread. If I were to travel to the Middle East and order shawarma, this is how it should taste.

  • Chicken Shawarma Sandwich with Spicy Sauce

Ashar’s Kitchen
Ashar's specializes in a Pakistani dish called nihari, a slow-cooked beef stew. Aside from their daily a la carte Nihari menu, they also hold a 'Nihari Night' every Wednesday, with a buffet of five different types of Nihari for one fixed price (currently $13.99).

  • Beef Nihari

Bismillah Restaurant & Café
Bismillah is one of the original restaurants Halal eaters turn to when they want something aside from the usual Pakistani and Mediterranean food. Inam Moghul opened Bismillah Café adjacent to his father's restaurant, Bismillah Restaurant. In 2019, Moghul combined the two and opened Bismillah Restaurant & Café.

One of the most popular dishes at Bismillah Restaurant is the Ten Chicken Sandwich, which features a fried chicken breast dipped in their Sriracha-based Ten Sauce. This sandwich is something many Halal eaters hold dear to their hearts both because of the taste and out of nostalgia for the dish’s roots.

Back in the early 2000s, finding a Halal restaurant that served classic American food like sandwiches and burgers was unheard of. Ten Café was one of the first to do it at the time and they featured the Ten Chicken Sandwich. Bismillah inherited this sandwich and let the legacy of Ten Café live on after its closure.

  • Ten Chicken Sandwich
  • Goat or Chicken Biryani
  • Papdi Chaat

Cedars Bakery
In Lebanon, there is a breakfast and lunch dish that closely resembles pizza called Manakish. Among my friends, Cedars is the unanimous favorite for Manakish. Each Manakish is freshly prepared and cooked in the bakery’s brick oven.

  • Sojok Manakish
  • Meat and Cheese Manakish
  • Cheese Zaatar Manakish

Crypto Burger
Asim Dah opened L&H Café several years ago in Kingwood, where he sold his signature Bunqua Burger — topped with grilled jalapenos, fried onions, pepperjack cheese, cayenne pepper sauce, and garlic sauce. He decided to close up shop to start Crypto Burger, a food truck in Sugar Land. Moving to Sugar Land allowed a major concentration of Halal eaters to enjoy the Bunqua Burger along with several others without driving to Kingwood

  • Bunqua Burger
  • Bull Run Burger

Do Darya Kabab House
Within Pakistani cuisine, there is also Pakistani BBQ, and Do Darya has recruited some high-quality kitchen talent to ensure they serve it at an elite level. The cook they hired is known as a Pakistani BBQ maestro within the grapevine. He sets himself apart using fresh, never packaged masalas and precise grilling techniques.

  • Chicken Tikka
  • Anything grilled

Gourmandize Mediterranean Grill
This Galleria-area food truck serves authentic Tunisian flavors. What caught my attention was the grilled chicken wings on charcoal served over rice. He also makes his merguez, a spicy beef/lamb sausage popular in Tunisia, in-house for the Merguez Wrap.

  • Grilled Chicken Wings over Rice
  • Merguez Wrap

Gyro Hut
In many areas of the country, especially the East Coast, when people say Halal food, they refer to cart-style food like Halal Guys that serve a rice platter topped with chicken, lamb, red sauce, and white sauce. This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Gyro Hut, my favorite Halal platter-style joint in the city.

  • Combo Rice Platter (Chicken and Lamb Over Rice). No salad. Extra white Sauce. Extra fire Sauce

Yemeni food, in its purest form, was unavailable in Houston until Hadramout introduced it in 2020 during the early days of the Covid pandemic. I have not been able to get enough of it since. Hadramout gets its name from the city in Yemen where Mandi came from, which they primarily focus on. Mandi consist of meat — usually chicken, lamb, goat, or fish — usually served on a bed of rice eaten communally. Since the opening of Hadramout, a member of their staff left and opened a nearly identical concept called Sheba.

  • Lamb/Chicken Mandi
  • Lamb Haneeth
  • Grilled Chicken

Chef Kaiser Lashkari is one of the city's most prominent chefs. He's done a great job of introducing the masses in Houston to Pakistani food and flavors. More recently, he's fused Pakistani flavors into American classics like his masala fried chicken.

  • Chicken Hara Masala
  • Nihari
  • Masala Fried Chicken

Kabab Shack
Kabab Shack is like the Afghani version of the Luby’s LuAnn Platter. You choose your grilled meats over rice and two sides. If you are familiar with the Halal scene in DFW, you know about Kebabs To-Go. I won't go into the details, but let's say this place has some ties there, which is why you will see some major similarities in the concepts and the taste of the food.

  • Chicken Kabab, Beef Koobideh, Ribeye Kabab on Brown Rice
  • Gyro
  • Sides: Eggplant, Potatoes, Lentils

Ly’s Kitchen
Located inside Imperial Pho in Katy (they also have halal pho), Ly's Kitchen offers your typical Chinese takeout menu and has joined forces with former Halal steak food truck The Steak Spot. Along with Ly's classic Chinese takeout dishes, both concepts have collaborated on a steak fried rice dish that combines the best of both worlds.

  • Kung Pao Chicken
  • Steak Fried Rice

Mad Dogs
Mad Dogs started as a hot dog pop-up and quickly shifted to a full-time hot dog food truck. Their signature hot dog, the “Mad Dog,” was inspired by well-known Houston hot dog stand Yoyo’s Hot Dog. Along with their signature hot dog, they have a variety of hot dogs to choose from, like the Elote Dog or the Chili Cheese Dog.

  • Mad Dog
  • Elote Dog

Mirchi Peri Peri
Nando's, a South African/Portuguese chain specializing in flame-grilled chicken, revolutionized this cuisine on a global scale, and they recently opened in Houston. Unfortunately for Halal eaters, Nando’s doesn’t serve Halal chicken. Fortunately for Halal eaters, they aren't missing out on much, because Mirchi Peri Peri provides a more than sufficient substitute. Mirchi changed the game recently with its weekend all-you-can-eat Peri Peri experience.

  • Half Chicken with Rice
  • Espetada

Located in the Galleria, Musaafer offers a truly unique experience as far as Indian food and atmosphere go. With chef Mayank Istwal at the helm, they take an avant-garde approach to Indian cooking. In a city with plenty of run-of-the-mill Indian restaurants, Musaafer offers a more upscale experience.

  • Chef’s Tasting Menu

Pinkerton’s Barbecue
Pinkerton's is where the worlds of Texas barbecue and Halal meet. Lucky for Halal eaters, Pinkerton's is very accommodating when you let them know you eat Halal only. They cook the Halal beef separately and change their gloves and knives when cutting the beef to ensure there is no cross-contamination.

  • Brisket
  • Beef Rib

Q’s Deli
Ali Qureshi and his father Fayyaz come from a background of deli shops from Blimpie to, more recently, Murphy's Deli. Fayyaz, or “Baba Q,” even has his original Blimpie uniform hanging on the wall. Ali took the operational know-how of running Murphy's and spun it into a completely new concept of his own.

Although the deli concept is very common throughout the country, for Halal eaters even the simplest deli sandwich was more commonly enjoyed at home. Q’s capitalized on the lack of Halal delis and did it right, providing the community with a style of restaurant it had never experienced before.

  • Q’s Best
  • Cali Club
  • Muffaletta

Reza Persian Grill
Persian food in Houston is typically meat-heavy and its quality depends on how well the meat is cooked and seasoned. In my experience, Reza’s meats have been the most consistently juicy and flavorful.

  • Chicken Thighs
  • Beef Koobideh

Stanton’s City Bites
During my time as a student at the University of Houston, I would frequent Stanton's City Bites before my long commute home. My go-to was always the Spicy Chipotle, no bacon. One day, the owner approached me and asked if I would remove the bacon because I was Muslim. Upon learning I was a Muslim, he mentioned that all the meat aside from the bacon is Halal.

In 2013, when Halal burgers were scarce, this was a big deal. I told everyone I knew whether or not I made a difference. Years later, Stanton's is still one of the most popular spots in Houston for a Halal burger. Just be sure to mention Halal when ordering, so they cook on a separate surface from the bacon.

  • Spicy Chipotle, no bacon

Steak 48
The few cuts of Halal meat this steakhouse offers are enough for any Halal eater on a fancy night out. I would confirm with your waiter what Halal offerings are available that day, but they generally feature a wagyu filet, wagyu New York strip, and lamb chops.

  • Wagyu Filet Mignon
  • Wagyu NY Strip
  • Corn Crème Brulé

Yummy’s Hot Chicken
Yummy's went from a Mediterranean Food Truck with hot chicken on their menu to focusing exclusively on hot chicken. They set themselves apart from the array of Halal hot chicken spots by using Syrian spices and offering a side of curry sauce.

  • Syrian Hot Chicken Sandwich

Houston halal guide

Photo by Abbas Dhanani

Everything is good at Aga's.

Cool Japanese culture, entertainment, and news TV channel dials Houston into the homeland

nippon live

Some big news for local Japanese expats and fans of international TV: Japanese culture programming, news, and more is now available in Houston.

NHK World-Japan— Japan’s English-language version of its sole public broadcast service, NHK — is now on cable and broadcast. Houstonians can now catch NHK World-Japan on Xfinity channels 304 and 1152 (HD), as well as via broadcast on channel 8.4. It is also streamable on Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV; online viewers can catch all the content here.

That means Houstonians can now watch a diverse blend of culturally specific programming, ranging from English-language, hourly live international news from Tokyo and 30 news bureaus around the globe, to curated shows covering Japanese society, politics, scientific advancement, culture, history, food, and of course, lifestyle and entertainment.

Those in the know will especially delight in episodes of Dining with the Chef, one of Japan’s most prolific food programs featuring hosts Yu Hayami alongside master chef Tatsuo Saito, and co-host Patrick Harlan cooking with chef Rika Yukimasa. (A “how much wasabi can you take” segment is our personal fave.)

Dining with the Chef Japan NHK World-Japan

Yu Hayami/Instagram

The popular series Dining with the Chef, starring master chef Tatsuo Saito (left) and Yu Hayami (right) airs NHK World-Japan — now in Houston.

Other shows delve into Japan’s robust culture; Journeys in Japan travels around the island chain, spotlighting trademark traditions and places. (An episode titled Shoyu, for example, centers on shoyu — or soy sauce, the condiment at the heart of Japanese cuisine — its history, and how it varies in creation and flavor across the country’s regions, and even shoyu bars.)

NHK World-Japan Cycle Around JapanNHK World-Japan's Cycle Around Japan rolls viewers through the country. Image via NHK World-Japan

More shows spotlight Japan’s economy via BizLine, while pop culture comes alive in shows like Anime Supernova, which showcases Japan’s global culture of animated entertainment.

The addition of Houston — thanks to a partnership between NHK, Houston Public Media, and Xfinity — now marks NHK’s 14th U.S. market; other cities include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle, Denver, Baltimore, Salt Lake City, and more. Globally, NHK World-Japan reaches more than 420 million households across 160 countries and regions, according to press materials.

“We are delighted to bring the news and unique cultural perspective of NHK WORLD-JAPAN to audiences across Greater Houston,” said Jun Takao, president and CEO of Japan International Broadcasting, Inc., in a statement. “The Houston community is one of the most diverse in the United States and its people thrive on international culture, so it is a pleasure to bring this content to its English-speaking Asian population and the broader audience that wishes to know more about Japanese news, current events, and culture.”

Texas charges up top-10 rank in states dealing with the most debt, per report

drowning in debt

It's not too late to rein in that holiday spending, Texas. A new financial report has revealed Texas is the No. 9 state with the highest debt levels in the country.

The report by personal finance website CreditDonkey examined each state's average mortgage debt, student debt, automobile debt, and credit card debt. Rankings were determined based on which state had the highest amount of debt.

Texas was ranked so highly due to its rampant amount of auto loan debt, the most out of all 50 states. Over 100 million Texans have loans on their cars, which has racked up more than $1.5 trillion in auto loan debt. The average Texan's auto loan debt stands at $27,739.

Texans' higher-than-average credit card debt was also a major factor, according to the report. The average credit card debt amount adds up to $6,542.

Speaking of debt, it's worth noting that this report comes after a recent survey that found The Woodlands ranks No. 10 in the U.S. for holiday spending budgets. (No word as to how much of that holiday spending ends up as revolving credit balances.)

The average mortgage debt in the Lone Star State is $217,461, while the average student debt amounts to $33,354. In Houston, first time buyers need to earn 13.9 percent more than 2022 to afford that first home, per a recent report.

While Texas' level of debt is no laughing matter, residents can find some relief they're not living in California. Californians have the most debt in America, with the average mortgage debt at nearly $423,000 per household, and an average student loan debt of $37,384.

CreditDonkey Director of Research Anna Ge explained the "multifaceted story" of why debt in Texas (and overall in the United States) has skyrocketed over the years.

"The causes for the surge in debt are rooted in a confluence of factors – from the pursuit of higher education to home-ownership aspirations and the challenges of rising costs across the board," she said. "The ease of access to credit, while providing immediate relief, has contributed to a culture where spending can outpace income"

Population growth and consumerism are two other driving factors, according to Ge.

"There are also more deep-rooted issues that are causing such drastic increases in debt, from rising costs of essentials such as gas and groceries, to healthcare and living expenses (rent and bills), as costs continue to rise many Americans are being pushed to the edge and require relief that inevitably results in the building up of debt," Ge continued.

The top 10 states struggling with the most debt are:

  • No. 1 – California
  • No. 2 – Hawaii
  • No. 3 – Maryland
  • No. 4 – Alaska
  • No. 5 – Colorado
  • No. 6 – Washington
  • No. 7 – Virginia
  • No. 8 – Georgia
  • No. 9 – Texas
  • No. 10 – Nevada
Steven Devadanam contributed to this article.