Earlier this year, it was impossible to avoid the news that roving gourmand and TV host Anthony Bourdain was scoping out Houston’s culinary scene. As we obsessively watched where Bourdain was eating, the hype surrounding the first-ever Parts Unknown episode to be filmed in Texas hung thick ahead of the Houston-focused episode.
Tonight, it was easy to see why. As he roved through Houston’s ridiculously diverse array of cultures and cuisines, Bourdain himself seemed pretty impressed with Clutch City’s offerings. He had lunch at Kaiser Lashkari’s Himalaya, dining on goat biryani and green curry chicken spiked with tomatillos, and enjoyed tandoori chicken with the Houston Indian Cricket Club. Put simply, Anthony Bourdain appears to have underestimated Houston.
There’s almost too much greatness in this episode to break down, but these five moments decidedly represented both the best of Houston, and the best of Bourdain.
The Bollywood dance at Keemat Grocers
It may seem like a totally unassuming grocery store, but Bourdain proved that Keemat Grocers on Hillcroft is decidedly part of what Masala Radio owner Sunil Thakkar described as “the best Little India in the country.” In addition to a pani puri eating contest, Bourdain watched with awe as dancers took over the aisles of the supermarket and performed a Bollywood dance that would put the professionals to shame.
East Texas barbecue at Burns BBQ with Slim Thug
In the kind of experience that you have to know someone to get, Bourdain got a behind-the-scenes look at Houston’s car culture courtesy of the one and only Slim Thug. At Burns BBQ, a place that Bourdain had visited for some “network travel show” about 15 years earlier, the group dined on brisket, pork and beef ribs, sausage, and meat-stuffed baked potatoes the “size of a human head.” Of course, Bourdain also got an explainer on syrup, Houston’s unofficial beverage, or codeine-promethazine cough syrup mixed with Sprite.
A trip to Palacios
Even many native Houstonians haven’t made the trip out to Palacios, just 90 minutes outside of the city. Here, Bourdain visited The Point, a Vietnamese restaurant/bait shop/convenience store operated by immigrants who came to the city after fleeing violence in Vietnam in 1975. Apparently, the pho is killer, as are the “migas-style” (breakfast?) tacos and ceviche prepared at the restaurant by the city’s best Mexican cook. As such, you might want to plan a trip to Palacios.
Eating cafeteria food at Lee High School
It isn’t the type of culinary excellence that you’d generally associate with Houston’s restaurant scene, but the cafeteria at Lee High School keeps more than 1,700 students fed every day. In the cafeteria, Bourdain chowed down on chicken sandwiches, potato wedges, and a carton of chocolate milk as he talked with students that had recently immigrated to the U.S. from Burkina Faso, Iraq, and El Salvador. It was as much a sort of glimpse into Houston’s future as it was a testament to the city’s incredible diversity.
Dinner at Plant It Forward Farms
Much of Bourdain’s Houston dining didn’t actually occur in restaurants. At Plant It Forward Farms, owners Albert and Gertrude Lombo served a Cajun-Congolese feast made from produce grown right in the gardens. More than the food, though, everyone at the table talked about Houston’s exceedingly friendly population, which helps bust some of the stereotypes that Texas is a place that lacks an open mind when it comes to new people and cultures.