Make a Toast

Our Latest Obsession: Hong Kong's Café

The West gets weird at a Chinatown family restaurant.

By Alice Levitt June 27, 2016

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Aunt Jemima has you covered.

Image: Alice Levitt

I am lucky enough to make my living thinking about (and yes, eating) food all day. This, of course, leads to some peculiar obsessions. Chief among them is geo-political crossroads that lead to fusion cuisines. For better or worse, colonialism is often part of this.

Hong Kong's cuisine, for example, bears deep creases of British influence after more than 150 years of occupation. Japan also left a mark when it held power over the region during WWII. The result? A cuisine as likely to include dishes of fried fish in cream sauce with corn and cheese baked over rice as uni spaghetti, takes on Japanese yōshoku classic omurice or green tea tiramisu presented like a potted plant with a sprig of mint "growing" from it (I ate that one at Flushing, New York's HK temple Cutting Board). Basically, it's the most lovably weird comfort food in the world.

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HK-style green tea tiramisu in New York.

Image: Alice Levitt

Last night, I was craving it. There are several HK-style restaurants in Houston, but none is as unabashedly westernized as Hong Kong's Café. Others trade mostly in roasted meats or dim sum. Hong Kong's Café has barbecue, too, but is focused almost entirely on dishes that would read as pleasant and approachable to practically any picky eater in America.

Since I arrived before 6 p.m., I was able to take advantage of the food-only happy hour menu. Mini baked spaghetti Bolognese and rice congee with fried bread sticks—each for $5.99—sounded good, but French toast with a chicken wing proved irresistible. The toast arrived with a pat of butter melting atop its coating of batter fried into tempura-like tendrils.

The enthusiastic proprietress excitedly encouraged me to drizzle Aunt Jemima syrup over it. But I wanted to wait for the accompanying chicken wing. After 10 minutes, I gave up and ate the toast, with its melting center, sans chicken. It's a pity, because the wing itself was excellent—cooked to a shatter and juicy with a ginger-soy marinade. It would have been nice to try them in their intended pairing.

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Baked pork chop with spaghetti, $9.25 with drink.

Image: Alice Levitt

The baked pork chop with spaghetti would not win any beauty contests. An award for its value? Definitely. For $9.25, I could choose any drink (I went with lovely peach iced tea), paired with a hulking portion of thick spaghetti topped with two thin fried pork chops and a sweet tomato sauce that may have drawn some influence from Italy, but that no one would ever have confused with Italian food. There were no herbs in the sauce, but there was a smattering of peas, carrots and corn insubstantial enough that they almost appeared to be a mistake. Same for the orange cheese on top, which took its sweet time melting with the red sauce.

It certainly wasn't gourmet, but there's no arguing that, like the rest of the meal, it hit one of my favorites spots: one somewhere between comfort and irony.

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