What We're Ordering Out This Week: Bento Boxes and Outstanding Pho
Since Covid-19 is still here and restaurants continue to stress alternative options to dining in, we’ll bring you each week a roundup of takeout meals recently enjoyed by dining editor Timothy Malcolm.
A few months ago, River Oaks Japanese restaurant Shun launched Hako, a bento box company specializing in custom boxes. It's an attractive lunch option as the 9.5-inch-by-9.5-inch restaurant-quality black boxes contain a substantial amount of food. You get a protein (choose between items like chicken teriyaki, beef teriyaki, tofu, Japanese hamburger, grilled salmon, and a few spicy upgrades), fried option (egg rolls, truffle seaweed fries, popcorn chicken, takoyaki, Corn Flake pork katsu, fried brussels sprouts), salad option (kimchi, spicy cucumber, seaweed salad, edamame), and white rice. You can also get a fixed bento box or baby bento box, and specials include eight- or 15-piece takoyaki on Tuesdays. All ordering is done online.
I ordered spicy tofu, Corn Flake pork katsu, seaweed salad, and white rice, and I was pretty happy with the result. Everything was fresh and stayed warm and—in the case of the tofu and rice, especially—firm 15 minutes after I picked up the box curbside. Bonus: Each box is fitted into a sealed bag for extra protection. Double-bonus: That katsu, and especially that breading, was perfect. My final order, after tip, came in at about $21. A more basic custom box starts at $13 and, with a 20-percent tip, you're spending about $17 overall.
This is a fine lunchtime treat and a really solid move by the crew at Shun. I'm looking forward to my next Hako box.
In my continuing quest to find my favorite pho in Houston, I came upon this spot at the former Pho Dien at a shopping center on Bellaire Boulevard, west of Asiatown. Pho 54 is relatively new, being part of our tapestry for about a year and a half, but I was instantly excited upon seeing duos of diners digging into bowls during the lunch rush. Seriously, just about every table in this socially distanced, bright, and friendly dining room had a bowl on it.
I took mine (bo vien, or with meatballs) home, and man, oh man, this is one of my favorites. The broth has that impeccable sweetness from that sharp star anise flavor. I'm also glad I picked up a starter of beef marrow broth and proteins with soft baguette (banh mi xi quach), which I don't remember seeing on a Vietnamese menu previously. Literally there was no better late-night snack than taking a couple dips into this fatty, hearty soup.
I'll be back to Pho 54 to try some bun bo hue, which was the only offering at the shop when it opened. They probably do that pretty well here, too.
Neeta's Indian Cuisine
Another quest: Find all of the spicy foods. Neeta's in the Mahatma Gandhi District has a contender in its goat chaap masala. Here, goat chops are slow cooked in a thick gravy, whose spice level can be adjusted. (As in how many peppers would you like?) I went for the highest level, appropriately called "spicy," and it certainly was, requiring plenty of white rice and garlic naan to temper the heat.
Luckily, I also ordered some paneer makhani masala, in which cheese cubes are served in a very rich tomato sauce that's big on cream. It's a vegetarian's version of butter chicken. If you love grilled cheese and tomato soup with a blitz of garam masala, this might be your thing. It's the kind of comfort food I'm big on, but I advise you to be ready for the richness.