I travel to the Lone Star State regularly in order to visit my relatives, and that means I get to eat at some of the area's most noteworthy restaurants. Here are a selection of some of the gastronomical finds in this enormous state:Duc Phuong Thach Che
The Bellaire area of Houston is notable for its large Vietnamese population, many of whom immigrated here after the fall of Saigon in 1975. This means that in the heart of Houston, you can have some reassuringly authentic Vietnamese food. And it's not just Vietnamese lunch and dinner; there are a number of dessert shops in Houston that have a variety of sweet treats from southeast Asia.
A good example is nestled in a shopping center - Duc Phuong Thach Che (excuse the lack of Vietnamese language characters). "Chè" is the generic term for any number of sweet desserts in Vietnamese cuisine - most contain some combination of beans, rice jellies, and coconut milk. My personal favorite is "chè đậu đỏ," a refreshing combination of red beans, crushed ice, and coconut milk. At $1.75 per glass, the chè desserts are a very cheap way to satisfy your sweet tooth.
3/4 starsTan Tan
Tan Tan is a Bellaire landmark that's been serving people in Houston for years. It was so popular among area residents that I even saw Rudy Tomjanovich, head coach of the Houston Rockets, dine there after the Rockets' championship run.
This used to be one of our favorite Vietnamese restaurants, until they expanded and the food quality and service took a noticeable tumble. Nevertheless, they still serve up some good dishes (the pan-fried rice cakes with egg taste fantastic, though they do tend to come out tongue-scaldingly hot). The Tan Tan menu has enough variety to please virtually anyone (everything from wonton soup to hot pot dinners), but everything has a Vietnamese tinge to it.
2/4 starsShrimp N Stuff
Many of Galveston's seafood restaurants jockey for supremacy along Seawall Boulevard, but the excellent "Shrimp N Stuff" restaurant has made a name for itself ensconced comfortably within the island, a short walk away from Galveston College. Don't let the lack of an oceanfront view and the seafoam-green interior turn you away - this is some of the best fried seafood you can get in Galveston.
As you might guess from the restaurant's name, the fried and boiled shrimp are the stars here. The fried shrimp are marvelous, crispy and delicate on the outside but having a pretty big shrimp inside. The peel-and-eat boiled shrimp are slightly closer to the average, but they're definitely nothing to sneeze at. Shrimp gumbo is merely passable, consisting mostly of rice and smaller shrimp, but at least it comes in a rich, salty brown broth.
The rest of the "stuff" is good, too - oyster po' boys, cole slaw, hush puppies, and other Gulf Coast staples are executed well. It's apparent the restaurant has a huge following (the joint was packed on Friday night, and they get plenty of traffic from the nearby schools during lunch time), so check it out if you're ever jonesing for fried shrimp in Galveston.
3/4 starsPizzitola's BBQ
"Archetypical" is the word I'd use to describe Pizzitola's BBQ, a Houston barbecue joint located a short distance from downtown off of I-10. That's not to say that Pizzitola's is the best barbecue I've ever had, but that it fully evokes what most people think of when they picture a Texas highway barbecue joint - dark walls bedecked with pictures and knickknacks, a huge woodpile in the back for smoking meat, and friendly service with Texas-sized hospitality.
According to the locals, the ribs are the most popular thing here, but I found them to be a bit dry compared to the Southern-style spareribs you can find throughout northern Florida. In contrast, the beef brisket was smoked to a healthy pink, and had just the right texture when doused with some of Pizzitola's slightly spicy barbecue sauce. There was live music, and the owner even came out to give us an extra pound of meat for free (sure, it was left over from lunch, but it was still decent).