Crazy for Korean food? H Mart is undoubtedly your temple. Whether it's the food court, staples like rice and ramen, or frozen treats, you're sure to have your particular altars at the Korean grocery chain. On Friday, Houston's two H Marts were joined by one in Katy's Asian Town. Lines snaked all the way to week-old Chung Wang Chinese BBQ, at the far corner of the building adjacent to the one that holds H Mart. An employee rolled a grocery cart filled with free bottles of water down the queue to prevent any medical emergencies while shoppers waited roughly half an hour in the heat for their chance to enter the Promised Land.
K-Pop and beauty stores greet guests as they enter, as does the funk of fresh durians. It's just enough to overwhelm the smell of frying chicken at Hoodadak, the first of six restaurants you'll find in the food court. The Katy KFC specialist isn't the only familiar face. Regulars in Houston's Chinatown will recognize Jang Guem Tofu & BBQ, unquestionably the most popular vendor at the first lunch service. Lunch boxes filled with bulgogi and spicy tofu soup with sides of barbecue appeared to be going especially fast. Food truck Oh My Gogi has its first brick-and-mortar spot in the food court, serving up Korean-inflected burgers, tacos, and even quesadillas. Spring Branch seafood purveyor Crab Ave. also has a location at H Mart. Live crawfish are its raison d'être, but the menu ranges from creamy seafood noodle soup to onion rings and garlic bread.
The other vendors are new to the Houston area. Chef Han turns out Korean-style Chinese food like bean paste noodles jajangmyeon, but also General Tso's chicken and Korean japchae noodles. Donkey Yaki, which has a location in Austin, specializes in teriyaki and tonkatsu, including classic pork or fried mozzarella versions with both regular katsu sauce or curry.
A giant range of prepared foods from New York company Jinga greets shoppers beyond the food court. Specialties include everything from pickled vegetables to acorn jelly to fried fish and surimi pancakes. The fruits and vegetables are diverse even for an H Mart, and those fresh durians are available both whole or already removed from their spiny shells.
The extra-large meat section is also enviable. Boneless cuts of beef ribs from wagyu breeder Snake River Farms are fanned out in aesthetically pleasing displays, just like the luxury pork on offer, such as slices of Duroc jowls just begging to be seared on a Korean grill. In need of a $25 jug of beef blood? They've got that, too. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to imagine a cut of meat, from duck breast to frog legs, that this H Mart is missing.
After you pay for your groceries (and if you're like me, the bag MUST contain corn ice cream), it would be a mistake not to stop at H Mart pastry warhorse Tous les Jours. This one has an uncommonly deep display of manju and colorfully decorated rice cakes, along with the usual cake rolls and croissants. And don't miss the bear-shaped chocolate cake.
This is all very good news. But the best news is the first day and weekend have passed, and unlike me, you won't have to wait half an hour and push through traffic jams of grocery carts to get your taste of H Mart Katy.