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A Cook's Guide to Chinatown, Part 1

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Inside Mala Sichuan, one of JD's recommendations
Inside Mala Sichuan, one of JD's recommendations
Gary R Wise

We asked new contributor JD Woodward to offer a guide to the mass of restaurants along Bellaire in Houston's Asiatown. Whether one is among the perplexed who doesn't know where to begin or a more seasoned diner looking for new spots to try, consider the post below the first in a series that will demystify the neighborhood. -Ed

It would be impossible to do Chinatown any justice in one article, one blog post, or one visit; instead, one should make Chinatown a research project that never ends; treat it like a favorite bookstore or record shop, returning over and over to browse through the aisles for something that catches your eye, something new that you've never tried before, or a new edition of something familiar that you can revisit again and again.

For the beginner, there is no better area to focus on than the Dun Huang Plaza. Situated on Bellaire just east of the beltway, the Dun Huang Plaza is home to several of the best places that Chinatown has to offer, allowing a diner to park his or her car and simply walk from place to place. The first place to hit, without a doubt, is HK Dim Sum. Grab a couple of small plates: shrimp puffs, Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, steamed beef balls; build some momentum. It's fast, inexpensive, and boasts some of the best dim sum in Houston.

From there, walk across the parking lot and check out FuFu's Restaurant. They have a huge menu, yet they still manage to maintain an extremely high standard with all of the dishes that they put out. The dumplings and buns are outstanding; for example, the black pepper beef comes on a sizzling platter with the sauce still boiling as it hits the table. Don't leave without checking out the cumin lamb; at first it seems a little out of place, like its some kind of transplant from India or the Mediterranean. In actuality, it is a traditional Mongolian dish from the northwest with roots that date back to the second century. Read more about the history of cumin in Asian cuisine here.

If you've still got some steam left after FuFu's, make a trip across the street to Sihn Sihn and check out the wonton noodle soup. The wontons are more like pork dumplings that sit on a nest of perfectly cooked noodles swimming in a rich, hot broth of pork and poultry.

Fifty yards away is Hong Kong Food Street; as you walk in, you will see ducks and crispy pork bellies hanging from the ceiling. The first two pages of the menu are devoted exclusively to meat. Roasted pork belly, barbecue pork, Peking duck, and fish sauce chicken are just a few of the carnal pleasures that await the willing.

Mala Sichuan Bistro is about two minutes east of the Dun Huang Plaza and is the perfect place to go to turn up the heat. One of the spicier dishes comes in a crispy beef or crispy chicken version, it is packed full of peppers and Sichuan peppercorns and is a perfect compliment to an order of potatoes, chilies and vinegar.

Finally, the best way to cool down after all that spice is to head back to Dun Huang plaza and pop in to Gelato Cup Italian Ice-Cream. It is the only place around where you can get flavors like Jackfruit, Durian, and Black Sesame, along with a myriad of other Asian desserts.

While you might not be able to take in all of Chinatown in one, two, or even three visits, every trip can be a learning experience. Embrace it, take comfort in the fact that Chinatown will always be there, just like an old friend, ready to pick up right where you left off.

--JD Woodward

· Cumin: An Ancient SIlk Road Spice [Flavor and Fortune]
· All Chinatown Coverage on Eater Houston [-EHOU-]

Mala Sichuan Bistro

9348 Bellaire Boulevard, , TX 77036 (713) 995-1889 Visit Website