To most of us, Alief means “Little Saigon,” the area along Bellaire Boulevard, roughly from Highway 6 to the Beltway, filled with many of the city’s best Vietnamese restaurants. But the neighborhood is more eclectic than that label would imply, offering everything from Malaysian to Hawaiian food.
Fish cakes, made fresh every day, are the backbone of this restaurant’s small menu. The eponymous item, bun cha ca, is a fish cake–noodle soup made with sweet chicken broth and sharpened with fish paste and chile oil, which burns the diner’s lips with each bite. The chefs show off with three types of meaty fish cakes in each bowl, along with a motley collection of veggies.
Meat and seafood lovers rejoice at the selection of stews and fried flesh that changes every day on this loaded buffet. Cross your fingers that there’s kare-kare, a rich stew of pork hocks, green beans and eggplant melting in peanut butter–coconut sauce. The crispy-skinned lechón (suckling pig) and fried calamari are far better than you’d expect on a hot line, too.
There are no carts at this dim sum specialist. Instead, diners order from a picture menu and profit with fresh, made-to-order cha siu bao, rice rolls and congees. Weekday lunch specials, like curried seafood with rice, cost no more than $6.99. The heart-shaped mango pudding is appealing, but we recommend heading down the street to ECK Bakery for heavenly egg custard tarts.
We all know that the banh mi is the result of French colonization of Vietnam, but this Euro-centric bakery makes the idea a little more prominent. There are only a few options on the menu posted above the counter, but among the expected chicken and meatball sandwiches, there’s also French ham and saucisson, salami’s Gallic cousin. Get it on a crusty baguette or croissant, both baked in-house.
In the former Seoul House space in Saigon Houston Plaza, Korea’s first fried-chicken franchise is serving America its signature twice-fried birds. Get it on-the-bone or as tenders, with spicy or mild sauces—either way, your chicken will come with pickled daikon and crispy, salty fries. The bulgogi-and-slaw-topped hot dogs are worth a try, too.
It’s impossible to encompass the diverse scope of Indonesian cuisine in a single restaurant, but this counter-service mom-and-pop spot gives it a courageous shot. Get a whole or half fried chicken with shrimp paste, or deep-fried duck with rice and spicy sauce. Love sate? There are three varieties here, including lamb with sweet soy sauce.
The poké trend takes a fast-casual, build-your-own form here. Join a counter staffer as he assembles your bowl or sushi burrito to your every specification, from base to protein to unlimited mix-ins. Pair yours with a bottle of off-brand Ramuné soda and serve-yourself mochi ice cream—we especially love the mint-chocolate flavor.
There are banh bao and a few jelly desserts on offer here, but most people come for one thing: bo ne. The Vietnamese steak-and-egg dish is exceptional, and, as evidenced by the Sunday crowds, clearly the neighborhood’s preferred hangover remedy. The sweet, marinated meat is served on a sizzling platter with a homemade baguette for dipping in the broken yolk, which mixes deliciously with the marinade.
The restaurant’s rice rolls, known as banh cuon, are some of the best in the city, but for those who can bear to skip them (or take them home for later), there are rewards. Chief among them is cha ca thang long, turmeric-and-galangal-marinated catfish served on a sizzling platter with dill. Break off pieces into a bowl, combine with noodles, herbs and fermented shrimp paste, and enjoy the funky flavors.