At Night Market, the new Chinatown curry house and grill from restaurateur Mike Tran, you don't get chips and salsa when you sit down. Instead, a bowl of feather-light papadum chips arrives with a side of house-made Sriracha. On the table, there’s more Sriracha if you want it. You can find it in a repurposed Jarritos soda bottle.
I couldn’t help but smile to myself when I saw what Tran had done with Mexico’s most popular soda. It didn’t really have anything to do with the pan-Asian theme of Night Market, but I read it as his way of saying,“We welcome everyone,” something that he excels at in all of his restaurants.
Tran, for those who don’t already know, is the man behind Upper Kirby’s hugely popular Aka Sushi House. He followed that up with the even more popular Tiger Den (Houston’s first Hakata-style ramen house), and Mein Chinese Restaurant after that.
Night Market resides in the space adjacent to Mein, off of the main Chinatown Bellaire Boulevard drag. The newest of Tran’s restaurants (he plans to open several more, including the upcoming Ohn, a soju cocktail bar), opened quietly the first week of December. The only thing that signaled its opening was the fact that the red neon Night Market sign was turned on (when the restaurant is closed, the light is turned off).
Night Market has no windows. When you walk through the heavy wooden doors, the space has a cool, secret underground feel, the kind usually associated with nightclubs that have bouncers at the door.
I loved how that red neon light (which shines both inside and outside) illuminated the entire space with its reddish-pink hue. It's the kind of light one often sees walking the late night food markets in Asia (hence, the name), and sets the stage for the cuisine that Tran and his partner, Rikesh Patel (formerly of Ambrosia) created for the space.
“The food is meant to be shared,” says Tran, who contributed the East Asian and Southeast Asian dishes to the menu while Patel dished up the Indian ones. But dishes don't dogmatically stick to a particular cuisine—take the tomato salad with feta, capers, slivers of red onion and a rice vinaigrette dressing to start. It's an Asian version take on the Greek salad, and a definite winner.
You're going to want to order some grill items, like the five-spice-rubbed ribeye or the saffron salmon. I almost passed on the salmon, but I’m glad I didn’t: Brined in yogurt and grilled just until it’s charred on the outside, Tran used sashimi-grade salmon (the perks of owning a sushi restaurant) so that each chunk of fish was just bursting with succulence.
The curries, obviously, are not to be missed. And be prepared to sweat (or if you're a spice wimp like me, cry). All of the curries—even the chicken curry which Patel described as his version of chicken tikka masala — are richly spiced. No watered downed stuff here—the spices are roasted and ground fresh on site and added without apology for a taste that brims with authenticity.
Just take your pick and order whatever protein suits your fancy. My orders included an extraordinary vegetarian chole masala made with cauliflower and chickpea, the aforementioned chicken curry, and a Malaysian-style pork belly curry with fried plantains and fresh herbs. There’s a goat curry on the menu I plan to try next time, and a Thai-style coconut brisket curry that supposedly melts in your mouth.
Make sure to order a paper-thin, beautifully blistered, buttered garlic naan to go with your order (they only fire up the naan after you order it). You’ll want to break off huge chunks to swipe through all that delicious sauce. The only other thing you might need? A cold bottle of Tiger beer to wash it all down. Night Market has a beer and wine license, so they’ve got you covered. They’ve also got a small bar area, perfect for solo diners, so even if a group is probably more ideal, you can definitely pop in for a nice and incredibly affordable meal on your own.