Editor's Picks

One of a Kind: Houston's Most Unique International Eats

Tracking down 10 hard-to-find cuisines from across the world

By Alice Levitt June 1, 2016 Published in the June 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Molokhia with half chicken at Dandanah Café & Grill

Image: Alice Levitt

Houston earned its Mutt City moniker thanks to the immigrants who have made our home the most diverse city in the country. But not every nationality is well-represented—yet. These restaurants are either Houston’s sole exemplar of their home cuisine or one of very few in town.


Cuisine: Sardinian

At Efisio Farris’s culinary paean to his native land, right across the street from the Galleria, pasta dishes include teardrop-shaped gnochetti and delicate, hand-braided rings of lorighittas imported from Sardinia, topped with ragús of wild boar and goat, in keeping with the island’s rustic fare. Save room for house-cured meats and salt-crusted branzino, carved tableside.

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Bouché de poulet at Café Brussels

Image: Alice Levitt

Café Brussels

Cuisine: Belgian

There’s a bookshelf lined with Belgian comics—Asterix, Spiro et Fantasio and Les Schtroumpfs (featuring the original blue, toadstool-dwelling villagers)—at Houston’s tiny slice of Belgium in the First Ward. There’s no Jacques Brel on the stereo, but richly sherried onion soup, moules marinières and creamy chicken stew in a puff pastry shell more than complete the picture.

Dandanah Café & Grill

Cuisine: Egyptian

The service is inattentive at best at this spot off Westheimer near the Galleria, but it’s worth braving that and the shisha smoke for a taste of pharaonic food, such as the flaky feteera pastries, halfway between a pizza and a croissant, once used as religious offerings. Order the sweet version, filled with indulgent custard and topped with almonds and coconut.

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They're not sparing with the dumplings at Dong Bei Restaurant

Image: Alice Levitt

Dong Bei Restaurant

Cuisine: Dongbei

The portions are enormous at Chinatown’s only restaurant serving the foods of the northeastern region of China known as Dongbei, whose proximity to Korea and Russia influences the hearty, cold-weather cuisine. The service is brusque, but you won’t mind after tasting the tender fried mutton with cumin, hearty sauerkraut stew, and slivers of smoked pork ready to be tucked into pockets of fried bread.

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A smörgåsbord at IKEA

Image: Alice Levitt


Cuisine: Swedish

The only Scandinavian cuisine in Houston may be as pre-fab as the furniture sold at IKEA itself, but you won’t care after a few bites of juicy pork-and-beef meatballs with mashed potatoes and tart lingonberry jam. Pair them with a box of elderflower juice and a marzipan prinsesstårta, or princess cake, for dessert. Find Swedish candies, creamed fish roe, frozen entrées and other Viking-style treats for sale downstairs.

My Pita

Cuisine: Israeli

The same foods you’d find at casual eateries in Jerusalem are available at this tiny Meyerland outpost. Shawarma and kebabs are made with Glatt kosher meats, but we recommend the pargiot, boneless chicken thighs etched with grill marks. Don’t miss the pareve homemade bread or the small selection of wafer-filled Israeli chocolate bars.

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A combination of chicken and goat at Haitian Caribbean

Image: Alice Levitt

Haitian Caribbean

Cuisine: Haitian

Chances are, not everything on the menu above the counter will be available at every visit to this Haitian restaurant off Highway 6 near George Bush Park, but diners willing to take what they can get are in for a treat. Long-marinated chicken legs, goat and turkey are fried crisp and served with rice and beans and plantains. The $6.99 lunch special provides enough piquant food for two meals.

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Oporto Fooding House & Wine's lamb ribs

Image: Alice Levitt

Oporto Fooding House & Wine

Cuisine: Portuguese

The patio, with its herb garden and blue mosaic tables, is irresistible at the Midtown location of this two-restaurant chain. So are the smoked, coriander-and-fennel-crusted lamb ribs glazed with pomegranate molasses, and the crunchy salt-cod-and-potato fritters with piri-piri aioli. Pair the tasty tapas with Portuguese wines by the glass or bottle.

Trinity Bar & Grill

Cuisine: Ivorian

If you’re not from the Ivory Coast, chances are, you’ve never heard of attiéké, much less eaten it. Located on S. Gessner near Harwin, this comfortable tavern, decorated with native musical instruments, is the only place in town to enjoy the fermented and grated cassava, which resembles couscous in appearance and texture. To go with it, diners choose a protein, such as marinated chicken served with dark-brown pepper sauce, while a pile of plantains and an onion salad make the meal fit to feed two or even three.

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Yaal Tiffins' creamy tilapia curry

Image: Alice Levitt

Yaal Tiffins

Cuisine: Sri Lankan

The Saturday brunch served on banana leaves at this Westchase favorite is rightfully famous, but the variety of Sri Lankan dishes available at dinner is even more staggering. Creamy tilapia curry comes in a clay pot with a big helping of fragrant basmati rice. The coconut-milk gravy in the kulambu curries are rich enough to fill you up quickly—all the better, to bring home leftovers. 


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