A few months ago, I wrote about the enviable Hainanese chicken rice at Sugar Land's Singapore Café. "Poached chicken is not for everyone," I admitted at the time. "But Hainanese chicken rice can earn ardor even from the greatest crisp-skin devotees." But imagine all the juicy, ginger-marinated flesh hidden beneath an equally flavorful crisp skin. It turns out, the Vietnamese had just that eureka moment long ago and created their own version, com ga—literally "chicken rice."
The place to get it in Houston is Pho Nhi. Though noodle soup is in the name, most diners know that the reason to visit Pho Nhi is the chicken. For $8, diners who order it are in for a feast. The dish comes with a bowl of soup densely woven with dark seaweed. Have a few sips, then move on to the hefty plate of chicken, with a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes and pickled onions, that's really little more than decoration.
About the size of that chicken: It's the largest chicken thigh I've ever seen. When I separated it from the leg, it looked like it had come from a small turkey. The good news is, if you're not a heavy eater, this is actually two meals for $8.
But size isn't its only asset. The meat is marinated down to the bone with funky fish sauce and ginger, leaving it not only intensely flavored but also eminently moist. It's fried to a crisp copper that shatters with every bite or fork stroke. It's not breaded or battered, but that doesn't mean it's not among the best versions of fried chicken in Houston.
And then there's the rice, with firm grains so cloaked in fat you'd think it was fried. It's not, instead it's cooked using chicken schmaltz, leaving every bite flavored with poultry. If that's not enough uses of a chicken for you, the stack of rice is crowned with a sunny-yolked fried egg. You'll never be more glad to skip the pho, or more jazzed that the Chinese landed in Vietnam, bringing their Hainanese chicken rice with them.