As someone who's only lived here a few weeks, I consider myself a relative newbie to the Houston food scene. I'm keen to try everything and visit as many eateries as possible. I'm from England, so that's the kind of food I was raised on, but I've also spent 11 years in the Canary Islands and Spain and the past 6 years in Holland, so my palate is used to adapting all kinds of new foods. I do visit England a couple times a year so I can get my fix of fish and chips (hold the mushy peas), warm Cornish pasties or a fresh-baked scone with strawberry jam and Devon clotted cream once I'm there. But here, I just want to dive into the local gastronomy. Here's some of what I've learned.
Y'all Like to Eat a Lot
I have to say the biggest surprise thus far has been the portion sizes. I'm talking about getting your food piled high on a platter—and that's just the appetizer! "Would you like a to-go box?" seems to be used just as much as, if not more frequently than "Would you like dessert?" While technically my husband and I could order one appetizer and one entrée to share and still both be full, it's always nicer to try a range of dishes, which is why the to-go box is such a necessity. I mean, what would be the point of just wasting all that food?
Top Notch Service
Overall, the service here is amazing in my experience. You get a menu and ice water practically the moment you sit down, the server is almost always friendly and knowledgeable about every item on the menu. On the bill of fare itself, options tend to be plentiful. The drink refills are something I'm not used to but I like very much, and I think you get good value for money just about everywhere. At least everywhere I've been so far.
In England it's fair to say the level of service depends largely on the type of eatery you are in, while in Holland the service is notorious for being largely absent. We could sit in a restaurant and get one menu between four people or be refused tap water because they wanted us to pay for bottled (that's happening more and more there).
Perhaps it's partly to do with the tipping system since tips aren't expected in many parts of Europe and servers earn at least minimum wage. A lot of restaurants in Holland employ students who are just making extra money, but ask them what kind of wine they have or what the chicken comes with and they'll usually have no idea.
Side Dish Heaven
Something else I noticed in Holland is each meal comes with whatever sides the chef feels like making (usually fries but sometimes potatoes and a small salad or some vegetables) while here you can often choose which sides you want. I prefer the American version, rather than someone else telling me what I am going to be served. I just like to choose, and mix and match it up. If there is mac-n-cheese on the menu, odds are I'm going to have that regardless of the main dish!
Open All Hours (Usually)
I've observed that here, a lot of restaurants open during the morning and stay open until late at night, unlike in Europe where many open from noon until 2 p.m. for lunch, and then from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. for dinner. And if you arrive somewhere during the siesta hour (or 4 hours) in Spain hungry, you might be out of luck! Yesterday a friend and I were asked to leave a Thai restaurant at 2:30 p.m. because they wanted to close and we were obstructing the vacuum cleaner, but that appears to be an exception rather than the norm.
Something for Every Palate
So far it seems that you can find just about any cuisine here and all kinds of restaurants, bars and grocery stores to suit your palate and mood. I've already tried a variety of restaurants, although we haven't eaten out every day. I loved the delicate fresh oysters at The Oceanaire, the meaty French dip sandwich at Grand Lux Café, my first taste of Korean food at Bon Ga, and even some quick, guilty-pleasure meals at The Cheesecake Factory (and no, I never have had room to order the cheesecake afterwards).
I enjoy cooling down with a tall frosty glass of ice tea or kicking off a fun evening out with a margarita. I love sitting outside a coffee shop on a balmy evening sipping a sweet, creamy ice blended drink, or sampling some unusual wine at The Tasting Room. I adore how the locals cook ribs—you can always expect the meat to be melt in the mouth tender, just falling off the bone with ease. And, oh, the beef! Whether it's a strip steak served with fries and creamed spinach; a thick, juicy hamburger; or even a bowl of good ol' Texas chili, I don't think I could ever be disappointed with the local beef.
How about Eating at Home?
Something else that has opened my eyes (and tempted my taste buds) about living here are the grocery stores and supermarkets. Central Market, Whole Foods, farmers' markets, HEB—there are so many possibilities. Now if only my cookware and utensils weren't somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic being shipped across, I could stop eating out and start cooking at home more. For now, though, I'm having too much fun and my refrigerator is full of to-go boxes!