Tag Archives: Houston

Casual Restaurant Critic – Houston, Texas

Once again, it’s time for a visit to Houston which is becoming quite the culinary destination and the Critic has had the opportunity to visit and revisit some great restaurants. Here’s the latest:

Tiger Den
The Casual Restaurant Critic didn’t even know that such a sprawling “Chinatown” existed in Houston, or that is was stuffed with small and large eateries of all Asian types, from Korean BBQ to Hunan Chinese with Thai and of course Japanese thrown in the mix as well. It’s not really a “ChinaTown” but more like a large commercial area with several shopping centers, all Asian themed and with more foot massage places than you shake a set of toes at.

The destination was Tiger Den, on many lists of the best places to get ramen, the soul satisfying, mouthgasm-inducing broth that takes hours or days to get just right. The Critic and Better Half were joined by two other, younger and local diners, both male, who agreed to share a table of four and cut the waiting time by at least 10-15 minutes. Yes, there is a lineup every night and the owner, is not shy about warning smartphone-game-playing teens that there is to be no game playing once seated – you are there to eat. If not, “I throw you out!”

While the Critic, BH and friends talked about the latest news (guns, Texas, Dallas) everyone enjoyed a their ramen soup. BH and Critic had the tantan-men soup, with ground pork garnishing a hearty broth and with large, thick melt-in-your-mouth mini-slabs of slow cooked pork belly floating among the noodles. It was, according the Better Half, the best ramen ever, surpassing last years Momofuko which itself was outstanding.

There are other things on the menu like ribeye skewers and chicken hearts too, but stick to the soup and you will be one happy camper.


Tantan men soup – courtesy Yelp

9889 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77036

The Critic had been to this award winning sushi destination alone, and so was eager to share the find with Better Half, who, to make a long story short, proclaimed the evenings meal as one of the top three… ever. High praise indeed from a lover of great food and exotic locales.

The thing to do here is the omakase tasting menu, where the chef decides what’s best for you and serves nine stunning and delectable courses that range from tiny to generously large and run the gamut from fresh oysters flown in from Prince Edward Island to fresh toro from Japan. Everything is sparkling fresh and your place at the bar (do sit at the bar, not a table) is a wonderful vantage point from which to enjoy the artist Hori-san at work with his largely latino team.


When Better Half noticed some people nearby having a bone marrow dish, she asked the waiter if it would be possible to try that as well. Chef Manabu Horiuchi (above, right) was consulted and included it – a large bone sawed in half and the marrow baked with condiments and spices – in the tasting menu.

The crab, according to our excellent waiter, was so fresh that it had been alive when we walked in. This waiter, by the way, was probably the best waiter the Critic has ever had, at any restaurant, anywhere.

Wine and sake accompanied the 9-10 dishes, including dessert. The experience lasted 2 and a half hours and was truly sublime. Extremely highly recommended.



Ceviche, toro tuna and watermelon, among other delicacies

Ceviche, toro tuna and watermelon, among other delicacies

Rainbow carrots

Rainbow carrots

Seafood custard, sea urchin

Seafood custard, sea urchin

Massive sashimi platter

Massive sashimi platter



The object of desire, bone marrow

The object of desire, bone marrow

Nigiri trio

Nigiri trio

Crab, tempura style

Crab, tempura style

That is foie gras, really

That is foie gras, really

Sea urchin

Sea urchin

Toro tuna with salmon eggs on top just for fun

Toro tuna with salmon eggs on top just for fun

Our one and only noodle dish

Our one and only noodle dish

Dessert too!

Dessert too!

3600 Kirby Dr, Houston, TX 77098
(corner of Kirby and Richmond)
(713) 526-8858


Have you heard of chef Hugo Ortega? You might have as he has been around for a while, has visited the Yucatan (we visited the Santiago market together) and runs a very successful restaurant called … Hugo’s. More on that place a little later.

Caracol is a seafood restaurant with a definitely Mexican twist featuring a $29 dollar margarita which is quite delicious and packs a kick. The pescado zarandeado is amazing, as are the mejillones. Better Half and Houston Cookie Baker enjoyed, along with the Critic, an amazing meal in a crisp cool room, with attentive service and the location near the Galleria makes it an easy destination for those of the shopping mindset who need a relaxing and refreshing break from the madness of retail.

Service was prompt and friendly; however, for a restaurant of this caliber one expects a side plate for the mussel shells and wait staff to not barge into the middle of a conversation with their obligatory “so, how is everything?” question. Wait until there is a break in the conversation, people.

Mejillones, aka mussels

Mejillones, aka mussels

Poblano chile relleno

Poblano chile relleno



Pescado sarandeado

Pescado sarandeado

Chocolate ice cream made in house, coffee

Chocolate ice cream made in house, coffee

2200 Post Oak Blvd #160, Houston, TX 77056
(across from the shopping center w DSW, Container Store, etc)

Famous in Houston for years,  the Critic was searching for the best brunch on a Sunday and this place always came up, so off he went, with the ever accommodating Better Half in tow.

A buffet was set up and although the seating was at the very end of the brunch schedule, not one of the steam table trays showed any signs of neglect and were promptly refilled with a delicious selection of Mexican food items, all obviously made with quality ingredients (no skimping) and prepared authentically, with dishes ranging from huevos poblanos to pan de cazon.

The desserts are not only pretty to look at, they are actually very good. Which is not always the case in a Mexican restaurant. Service was top notch.

Absolutely amazing and a must-do on your next trip to Houston. Just plan on a siesta afterwards as you will not be able to move.









1600 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006
(lots of restaurants in this area)

Dolce Vita (TripAdvisor link – website domain name expired)
This Montrose-area pizza restaurant was recommended by chef Horiuchi at Kata Robata (above) as the best place for pizza. Thin crust and officially recognized by the pizza association from Napoli, Italia as the real thing, the pizza (margherita) was good but not overwhelmingly OMG good. The crust was indeed thin and a tad soggy, but the sauce and cheese and basil were right on. Service was very friendly, prices were reasonable and the place has signs outside prohibiting gun carriers, concealed or open, to abstain from entering the premises.

It was hard to fit in the pizza after the brunch that same day, but somehow the Critic managed.



500 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006
(if you were at Hugo’s previously, it’s in the same area, just a little further down Westheimer)

Paying it Forward – the Houston InfoDesk Volunteers

PART ONE – I am stuck in Houston, thanks for a mental seniors moment that caused me to miss my flight back to Merida today. A couple of things stand out from today’s experience, which really doesn’t upset me that much as make me feel stupid and will help be a little less relaxed next time I travel.

Having arrived well after the airplane doors would have been closed, I was sent off to the side and after waiting an interminable amount of time in line at the United customer service desk I played it as humbly as I could with the unsmiling lady behind the counter. It’s hard to play the indignant customer when the fault was entirely mine. Having already  checked on line it was no surprise when she told me that tomorrow’s flight was booked solid with the exception of one business class seat at $1300 USD. Now that is pretty steep even if you do love leather and cutlery but I thought, what the hell, and told her to book it. Perhaps I could get some credit for the flight not taken and if not, well so be it.

She stabbed at the keyboard for a while and told me that she had to check with someone to see if in fact that seat was still available. She was put on hold and told me that it would be at least 10-20 minutes. By this time she and I were on good terms and I suggested maybe Cancun would be an option. Cradling her phone between her shoulder and cheek, she hit a few more keys and a morning flight appeared for $500 and then, miracle of miracles, she announced an 11:30 flight that could be had – at no charge at all.

I was so happy I almost jumped over the counter to give her a hug but that would have been inappropriate and so I settled on a hearty and thankful handshake. When I then asked about a hotel recommendation she actually gave me a coupon for a discounted hotel stay, the kind you get when THEY screw up. I was most grateful and again thanked her enthusiastically.

PART TWO – I am at the info desk at terminal E, the United terminal where two elderly folks in red uniforms are helping people with questions related to all manner of things. They wear tags that have their names on them and the fact that they are volunteers. The lady whom I will call Lady helps me with a phone to call the number on the United coupon to set up the hotel, offering to let me use her cell phone in case their courtesy phone didn’t work for what was obviously a non-local number.

Meanwhile the man whom I will call… Man, is dealing with a sloppily-attired individual who demands to know the flight schedule of ANA from Tokyo to Houston. They are obviously flummoxed and can not pull up any information on their computer, which seems to be not working. Mr. ANA is very rude and sarcastic with them, telling them that any Google search would display the information – oblivious to the fact that these are senior citizens and probably not the most tech-savvy people in the world. It is obvious from their expressions that they don’t even know what ANA is. I wonder why he doesn’t check it himself on his own computer or a rental somewhere.

As I complete my hotel booking over the phone, I can hear a lady in the wheelchair behind me loudly ask if there is a time limit on the use of the phone, to which Lady answers ‘no’ which is met with ‘well there should be’ which I choose to ignore since she is already in a wheelchair and I don’t want to further complicate her existence with a smack on the head with the telephone receiver.

The Man has now consulted with the Lady about Mr. ANA and they both are now trying to find some info on the computer and at the same time apologizing to Mr. ANA who remains unfazed and continues his eye-rolling and relentless questioning.

An elderly lady of the oriental persuasion appears and demands attention in that impatient and oh so charming way that some older folks have developed. Lady points her in the direction she needs to be moving.

Throughout all this, both Lady and Man are smiling, patient and while frustrated, they do not take it out on their ‘clients’.

I pull up the FlightTrack app on my iPhone and find the ANA information and tell the guy what he needs to know and finally, to the relief of Lady and Man, he walks away. What possible satisfaction this man gained from knowing that ANA’s flight from Houston landed at 3:55 PM at Narita airport is beyond me.

Wondering what motivates them to be there in the first place, I ask if every day they had difficult people like this guy. Their features relax and they smile a tired smile.

Lady answers first. “Some days, yes.”

But they both shrug it off.

“I just wish that coffee line wasn’t so long” says Man, pointing at the Starbucks outlet in the corner, where a long line of people waiting to order coffee stretched into the terminal, almost blocking the children’s Christmas choir doing their best to sing Jingle Bells in tune.

“I’m going to buy you a coffee” I tell him.

He comes back with an energetic “No, you are not!”

But I go stand in that line anyway, which takes forever as this is the one Starbucks in all of the great state of Texas that has the winner of the Slow-as-Molasses Ass-Dragging Contest working the till. Her companion, whom I will briefly refer to as Scruffy Mexican, looks out at the line with dead fish eyes, bored beyond belief and chewing his gum with a gusto reserved for recently rescued shipwreck survivors when fed their first meal.

I buy a couple of coffees; black – who knows if Lady and Man have milk allergies, high blood sugar or whatever – and a couple of packages of biscotti. I then head back and set them on their counter. “Merry Christmas” I say.

Man makes a move to reach into his back pocket. “How much do I owe you for those?”

“Absolutely nothing. Just want you to know that you are appreciated. Thank you for what you do and the way you do it” I tell them.

I shake their hands, grab my bags and head outside to wait for my hotel shuttle feeling like I have returned a little of the goodwill I received from the United lady earlier.

‘Twas Two Nights Before Thanksgiving; United Cancels its Flight

Merida airport, November 26th, 2013

The lineups this morning
were moving quite well
United was full
but soon all went to hell

At the door of the plane
we were stopped in our tracks,
first class settling in
sipping drinks, eating snacks

The security man, flustered
for a moment or two;
then a woman came running
she said to us: “You

must stop here and wait”
while I see what’s the matter;
the captain and crew
are raising some chatter

Then I heard it myself:
about windshields and cracking,
this wasn’t so funny
and I began backing

up the ramp to the gate
where, sitting dejected,
fellow passengers waited
feeling specially selected

and that their god was not,
as benevolent this day
so perhaps they should turn
to the good book and pray

Alas, it was not
to be, as they say
and reservations be damned
we were all doomed to stay

When windshields do crack
on an airplane you see,
It’s not like Home Depot:
buy one, and get three!

In fact my dear reader,
what it means essentially:
is you’re stuck here in Merida
but WILL get out eventually

Another day in this city
and we wanted to go
we’d had enough tacos
de cochinita and so

We changed well-made plans
to make up for that crack,
some of us knowing, that
tomorrow we’d be back

and a fresh plane would come
and whisk us away,
to eat turkey with loved ones
and celebrate the Day

Of Thanksgiving and then,
with our bellies quite round
we’d embark on some shopping
as discounts abound

Twas two nights to Turkey Day;
United canceled our flight,
be thankful and grateful
you avoided a fright.

A crack in the glass
is a pain, on the ground
but at thirty thousand feet…
… we would most certainly not be having this conversation today.

Happy Pre-Thanksgiving!


The Full Story

Getting up at 3 AM is no fun for anyone, but if you are flying to Houston via the only American airline still operating a direct flight from Merida to the United States, you need to be up early to make it with plenty of time for its 6:50 AM scheduled departure, especially if you are anything like me and finish packing on the morning of the flight.

Although the french press – which admittedly is missing a part – did not produce the rich coffee I had hoped for but one that turned grey when milk was added to it, I was able to finish packing and get everything in the car. I even remembered to leave food out for the dog, whose full dish I put in the kitchen where only he can get at it, as he has learned how to open the screen doors and the black, squawking x’kaues with their insatiable appetite for protein filled dog kibbles, have not. I drove the police-ridden periférico without rushing for once and with the windows open, enjoying some cool morning Merida air. I had even planned ahead to have someone pick up the car later. No worries.

And yet, airport check ins are always a little stressful, what with the foreign passport, the residency card, the timing. Before the flight I think sometimes that I must be forgetting something important, like the expiration date on my passport or the actual date of the flight, and obsessively check them to calm my nerves.

However, today all went well. Plenty of time, the reservation was there, the immigration process went smoothly and I was able to chat with one of the ladies whom I know from years of renewing permits and has chosen the Instituto Nacional de Migración as her ticket to the much-sought-after government pension. Sucking on a Hershey’s chocolate milk breakfast, I plugged in my iPhone and “checked in” on Foursquare and checked my emails.

According to the United personnel, the TSA in the US is not completely satisfied with our lax security boarding procedures here, so we were soon herded downstairs to the arrivals area where some Costco tables had been set up and there, security people went through everyones carry on luggage before sending them back upstairs to the waiting room at gate A. Some confusion resulted as late arrivals were not aware of the extra security move and mingled with their non-marked boarding passes amongst those of us who had ours marked, until they were informed that they too, had to go downstairs.

Finally, boarding began. First class passengers, as well as a few others, were on the plane when I arrived at the plane door and noticed an airport employee doing that monkey-like grimace and the hand shaking indicating a problem. You know, like the kids do when something bad happens;  the arm comes up with the hand towards the face, and then the hand shakes back and forth. Something was up. A United employee came running down the boarding ramp, disappeared into the cockpit and came running out, telling us to remain where we were and that boarding would resume in a minute. I heard someone mention the word “quemado” (burnt) and joked to the people next to me that perhaps the pilot had burned himself with hot coffee.

An airport employee wearing a fluorescent yellow vest standing next to me was watching the commotion and I asked him quietly what was happening. “Se cuarteó el panorámico” he replied. This was interesting. The windshield was cracked??

Sure enough, everyone was sent back to the waiting area and an announcement was made that the boarding process would begin again as soon as the captain had declared the coast clear. No further details were provided but I soon heard other passengers mention the cracked windshield and a second announcement acknowledged that there was a mechanical problem and that further news would be forthcoming. Finally, a third announcement came that the plane would not be flying today and that everyone would be taken care of. Luggage had to be de-planed and picked up and those who filled out immigration forms, needed to collect these vital stubs from the security people who were in charge of handing them back to the passengers. Obviously it is a very important piece of documentation that you will not be able to leave the country without, and so, again we all stood in line while two flustered airport security women, stacks of stubs in their hands, went through them all for each and every passenger. The immigration officials, who had been there moments before, were definitely NOT authorized for overtime and although you would think this would be a sufficiently important function for them to at least supervise, if not fall completely in their jurisdiction, they left.

After the lineup for the stubs, there was the lineup for the luggage and then the line up for at the United ticket counter for re-routing and alternate flight plans. Some continued on via Mexico City while others decided to continue their trip the next day and accept a hotel voucher (Hyatt – nice!)

While standing in line for about 2 hours or so, thankful for my Hershey’s breakfast and communicating the change of flight plans to all concerned, I checked my United app (yes, there’s an app for that) and lo and behold, my flight was already changed for tomorrow. However, the connecting time between flights in Houston was 1 hour, 2 minutes, hardly enough time to negotiate the immigration and customs horror that is Houston, one day before Thanksgiving, with a storm in the area and Dallas Ft. Worth cancelling up to 200 flights today for weather reasons.

So the folks at United and I explored options and settled on a later flight to a different airport that would leave a more workable 3 hour window between connecting flights at Houston.

Throughout, everyone kept their cool and the United employees are to be commended for their handling of the situation which of course, was completely not of their making.

My one, supreme overwhelming thought – a thought that rose above all the others in my head – was one of gratitude that the cracked windshield had been detected on the ground in Merida, and not at 30,000 feet!

Tomorrow, we’ll try again!


Casual Hotel Critic in Houston – Indigo at the Galleria

In the ongoing interest of commenting on all things Yucatan, it is useful to include information on the those points of entry into the Yucatan, of which Houston is an important one as the United (formerly Continental) flight into and out of Merida is the only American airline covering that route.

And for Yucatecans, Houston is an important and attractive destination for all sorts of reasons; medical, financial and of course touristic.

The Casual Hotel Critic doesn’t appear often on this blog, but he is back and this time he comments on a recent stay at the Indigo Hotel at the Galleria.

This is a funky hotel with friendly staff, especially the Mexican ladies working the breakfast shift in the café/restaurant/bar just off the lobby. Funky because the colors and feel of the hotel will almost convince you that you are in Miami Beach and not Texas. The rooms are all handicapped accessible, if that is a term that can still be used and remain politically correct (not that the Critic is particularly concerned about such matters) which makes for an interesting closet situation, where the bar that you hang your shirts on is at waist level and the longer items of clothing will reach the bottom of the closet furniture mueble.

An important point to note for those with noise vs sleep issues: the air conditioning is loud. Very loud. It is a constant loud so it wouldn’t be bad – at least for the Hotel Critic – as it masks out outside and hallway noises, but unfortunately the a/c clunks off when the room hits the temperature set on thermostat and the switch from buzzing hum to silence will wake you. Every. Single. Time. The only way to ensure that the air conditioner does not go off is to set the temperature at the beef-aging meat locker setting and tuck yourself in very well.

The location though can’t be beat and is just behind the Galleria mall, at the Nordstroms entrance, so it is perfect for those who come to Houston to shop. The parking is free, another nice touch and right outside the hotel, something that definitely does not happen for example at the Westin Galleria where gigantic corner room 1906 is a personal favorite of the Hotel Critic.

Plenty of restaurants nearby both on Westheimer and up on Richmond, ranging from Starbucks to Pappas luxe steakhouse to Mexican and a gazillion Asian places that range from Vietnamese to Japanese to Thai.

Good place to stay? Yes. But the sleep vs noise issue is one that needs to be considered.



Vietopia – Houston, TX

A quick layover in Houston on the way to Vancouver gave Better Half and I the opportunity to try the Vietopia restaurant, a busy with the lunch crowd Asian place in a strip mall near the Galleria area. The food was fine, although I have had better, particularly the General Tsao chicken. Better Half had some vermicelli with goodies on top and it came in a huge bowl which seemed to never empty. It was good, but not an OMG moment.

Go back? Probably not.

Speaking of markups on wine… a Houston story

A reader comment on Rosas y Xocolate by Guest Critic Mark Makers regarding the markup on wines reminded the Critic of a funny experience he once had in the good old US of A.

On a not-so-recent trip to Houston, Texas, the Better Half and the Critic went out for a celebratory (ie ‘nice’) dinner at Pappas Steakhouse, the one on Westheimer, and after going through the opening sequence cocktail and having the dinner order taken by their flawless staff, a “house wine” was offered. Apparently this was a special wine that Pappas was serving this evening, blah blah blah.

“Sure, why not?” said the Critic. And he ordered two glasses, one for him and another for the Better Half. Along comes another server, pushing a cart with a gigantic bottle in a special sling and makes a great show of pouring two glasses of this wine for the Critic and BH. Other diners stare with amazement at the sheer size of this bottle.

Midway through an excellent steak, a delectable, cooked-to-perfection prime rib-eye, if the Critic recalls correctly, a second round of wine was offered. This time, only the Critic acceded to another glass. Again, the giant bottle on a cart show.

There was no room for dessert, as usual, but dessert was ordered anyway and it was fantastic. Gooey Pecan Pie. You will die and go to heaven if you order it – mouthgasms galore.

But the point of this story was the mark-up angle, remember?

Well. The bill comes to the table and lo and behold, that ‘house wine’ came in at 57 dollars a glass!!! Was the Critic in shock? You betcha. But hey, what can you do, right? Complain? About what? So the Critic paid and chalked it up to experience. And the Better Half and he laugh about it to this day.

Pappas Website – Highly recommended! But ask for the price of the house wine if it is offered!

Burkhas and DSW – Houston Multiculturalism

We see so precious little of the flamboyant burkha in Merida, so it was a bit of a surprise to come upon a gaggle of burkha-clad women in what I thought was the last place I would encounter this always flattering attire: a DSW shoe store just off Westheimer near the Galleria mall in Houston.

Peering intently at the sandals and snazzy dressup shoes through those narrow, rectangular eye slits, they checked out the selection with enthusiastic interest.

This amazed ignorant me, because I assumed women bought shoes to be seen wearing them, and these womens’ feet were securely hidden under their burkhas.

So enlighten me. Is it just another manifestation of the fairer sex’s addiction to footwear, regardless of whether or not anyone will see them?

Houston’s Finest Cookies

Michaels Cookie Jar in Houston is where you can enjoy some absolutely scrumptious cookies baked by talented pastry chef Michael Savino.

The Critics favourites include the macadamia cookies bursting with nuts and a hint of orange; the chewy buttery candied ginger shortbread and the lemony lemon bars!

He delivers nationwide so if you are in the US, order some today.


Pappadeaux Revisited – Houston Airport, TX, USA

The Critics’ favorite airport restaurant is still in Houston but their buffet is not a gastronomical experience the Critic would recommend or repeat.

Upon being seated, the Critic and his Better Half were informed that ordering was possible off the menu or that the buffet was available until 3 pm for only $10.95. A deal! The Critic and the BH ordered the buffet, which, upon closer inspection, consisted of the following:

  • Mixed Green Salad (pretty plain, but alright)
  • Penne Pasta Salad with Goat Cheese (bland, not much going on here flavor-wise)
  • Breaded, Deep-Fried Chicken (just OK)
  • Breaded, Deep-Fried Fish (ditto)
  • Catfish Filet (this actually looks good, but is pretty bland)
  • Cooked unpeeled Shrimp (yummy, too bad there were only 5 of them)
  • Gumbo-like Soup with Rice and Shrimp (hot, peppery and delicious)

There is the hilarious moment when you unwrap your napkin to find your fork and spoon, in authentic silverware. Then the waiter appears with a plastic knife, since having a real metal knife would pose a deadly temptation for those would-be seafood-loving terrorists. The Critic imagines that stabbing someone with one of those metal forks would be more effective than any damage one could cause with dull silverware knife.

In general the buffet food is bland, but this seems to be a constant in the U.S. With so many concerns about salt content, and appealing to the masses, kitchens in many restaurants eschew flavor. The Critic recommends skipping the buffet and ordering from the menu, which has many a delicious, plentiful and well-presented dish.