On a Tuesday afternoon in Rice Village, Politan Row was humming in the way its owners hoped it would. Ladies were lunching, students were refueling, and foodies were perusing the menus before settling in on a decision. Full seating areas—two-tops, raised countertops, family-style tables—turned over as bussers went around clearing dishes and refilling water glasses.
When I tell people about Politan Row, which occupies a one-story mid-century building at Times Boulevard and Kelvin Drive (basically the midpoint of the shopping district), I get two responses: "Another food hall?" and "In Rice Village?"
It may seem like we're inundated with food halls, but four downtown isn't that many, especially considering the amount of workers hustling for a bite to eat underneath the streets. As for the other response, well, yes, Rice Village. It's a shopping district and a destination for Houstonians; the surrounding neighborhoods are teeming with families; and the area is an easy walk for university students. The downtown food halls face the issue of quieter crowds around dinnertime, but Politan Row is uniquely positioned to take advantage of an all-day customer base.
Politan Row is like Bravery Chef Hall in that its focus is to give opportunities to breakthrough chefs, and that sets it apart as a place you should visit a few times, if only to get a taste of everything there. The concepts are fresh, like Masaru Fukuda's Pacha, which spotlights Nikkei, a cuisine that combines Peruvian and Japanese flavors and traditions; and Torshi, an Egyptian eatery that covers dips like baba ganuj and labna, and platters with roasted eggplant and grape leaves. And the space is bright, welcoming, and energetic. The workers carry smiles and step bouncily; the music is modern but never loud; and you're already making plans to come back one evening to hang at the bar.
I'm still gathering all my thoughts on Politan's grub, but so far I'm impressed with what I've seen and tasted. Most of all, I'm excited about whatever Victoria Elizondo does at Cochinita & Co. One bite of her eatery's namesake taco—a cochinita pibil, or braised pulled pork—and I was hooked.
Similarly, the sour yellow curry from Kin by Evelyn Garcia (Decatur Bar & Pop-Up Factory) held that delicate balance between tart and sweet, and was a nice warm elixir on a cooler afternoon. I'm psyched to try her brisket roti, next on my list.
On a previous morning I grabbed a citrusy So Fresh & So Green juice from Nice Sprout and one of its avocado toasts, then washed it down with a coffee from Susu Kopi & Boba. I'll be back for its soft serve and milk teas.
I'll be interested to see how the food holds up over time, and especially when crowd sizes increase, since the chefs all cook from a commissary kitchen in back and bring their food to their stations for warming. But hey, it's a good start for Politan Row. Make a lunch date or head over for happy hour drinks.