As a New Yorker, when I hear "Chinatown," I picture fish gut-covered streets, cheap dumplings, dried seafood, old ladies with shopping carts poking at vegetables, restaurant supply stores, and inexpensive Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants lining every street in a one mile square area. So when I signed up to go on a tour of Houston's Chinatown with chefs Randy Evans (of Haven) and Van Pham (of the Phamily Bites truck) as part of the Where The Chefs Eat series of Houston Culinary Tours, I expected some walking in the Texas sun, perhaps an outdoor market or two, and a whole lot of noodles and stir-frys.
Not so. See, in Houston, "Chinatown" should probably more aptly be named "Asiatown," or perhaps even "Vietnam-town," as the population there is by no means solely Chinese. I might suggest calling it "Little Saigon," but there's nothing little about it either. Occupying a 6 square mile area, it's bigger than New York's Chinatown, Little Italy, Soho, Lower East Side, East Village, West Village, Flatiron District, and Tribeca combined. Heck, there are single mega-supermarkets in Houston's chinatown that are big enough to house the entirety of New York's Chinatown.
Bigger doesn't always mean better, but in this case I can say that the Vietnamese food in Houston's Chinatown is some of the finest I've had anywhere outside of Vietnam.
Check out the slideshow above for a look at the food we tasted.
Restaurants and Stores Visited:
9600 Bellaire Boulevard Houston, TX 77036 (map); (713) 988-6106
Tan Be Le Baguette
11169 Beechnut Street Houston, TX 77072 (map); (832) 351-3389
Nam Giao Restaurant and Bakery
6938 Wilcrest Drive Houston, TX 77072 (map); (281) 568-4888
Sun's Wholesale Club
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.