Gallery: A Tour of Houston's Chinatown with Randy Evans and Van Pham

  • Bo Thom Muc Nuong Vi at Saigon Pagolac

    Their signature dish of grilled squid, shrimp, and beef arrives at the table raw, with an insane amount of sweet fried garlic. A sizzling hot plate is placed in the center of the table and you cook the meat on your own, Korean barbecue-style.

    Van Pham Cooking Beef

    The meat slowly sizzles on a cast iron platter, each piece absorbing the flavors of all the ones that came before it. The aromas of seafood, caramelizing fish sauce, and garlic waft around irresistibly in the large restaurant space.

    Ready To Wrap

    Ready To Wrap

    The dish comes with a side plate of carrots, radish, bean sprouts, cucumber, lettuce, and fresh herbs, all meant to be stuffed into hand-rolled rice paper wraps. Dip the rounds of rice paper in the bowl of warm water, top it with fillings, and roll tightly. It takes a bit of practice, but it's key to getting a bit of everything in each bite.

    Ca Nuong (Baked Catfish)

    I'm not much of a catfish fan—that muddy flavor overwhelms my palate—but even I couldn't turn one down when it comes as crisply roasted as this. Showered with handfuls of cilantro, scallions, peanuts, and fried shallots, the best bits are the tiny chunks of crisply fried pork rind, which offer a nice crunch and porky richness to contrast with the moist, tender fish.

    The Faux Meats at Sun's Club

    Sun's Club is like the Costco of Asian supermarkets. Ever go into a normal supermarket and think to yourself, "This ain't bad, but I wish there about two dozen more varieties of dehydrated faux meats in economy-sized bags"? Then Sun's is the market for you.

    Dried Goods

    Pallets and pallets of bags of rice, corn, and other grains, ready to be cooked, ground, or dumped into a giant swimming pool so you can swim around Scrooge McDuck-style in golden kernels of corn.

    Frozen Seafood

    Ever wonder where all the fake crab in the world is kept? RIGHT HERE.

    Soy Sauce

    Not only can you get your soy sauce in five gallon buckets, you also have your choice of packaging date vintages.

    Mung Beans

    15 pound bags of mung bean sprouts for $6.95/bag. Perhaps the highest sprout-to-dollar ratio I've ever seen.

    Need A Uniform?

    It's literally a one-stop-shopping mecca. Ever wonder why all of the workers at vietnamese restaurants in Chinatown where similar clothes? This is why.

    A few aisles over, there are pots, pans, ovens, burners, fryers—a full line of commercial kitchen equipment.

    Tan Ba Le's Steak and Egg

    The baguettes at Tan Ba Le are crisp on the outside, soft, and airy with that particular light banh mi chew to them on the inside. You can get them pre-made into sandwiches, but the real way to go here is with the steak and eggs. For under $9, you get a salad along with a cow-shaped sizzle platter housing tender cubes of marinated steak and two crisp-edged, runny-yolked fried eggs. A cup of pâté, Vietnamese sweet mayonnaise, and carrot-flavored sweet fish sauce come alongside. You can eat as-is, but the best thing to do is mix it all up and stuff it into those crisp-chewy hunks of rice flour baguette.

    Tan Ba Le's Vietnamese Crepe

    A crisp rice flour crepe stuffed with dried shrimp and bean sprouts, served with herbs and sweet fish sauce for dipping.

    Bánh Bèo Chén from Niam Gao Bakery

    Steamed rice pancakes topped with dried ground shrimp, green onion, and fried pork rind. Delicate, tender, aromatic, and inexpensive—a perfect snack for the table to share.

    Bánh Bôt Loc

    Shrimp and pork-stuffed dumplings made from sticky tapioca starch. Like the steamed rice cakes, the flavors are subtle, and the textures unique—you don't find this kind of steaming mastery often.

    Bánh Nâm

    A tamale-like rice flour-based dumpling steamed inside banana leaves and flavored with ground pork.