The Essential Guide to Asiatown

How to Spend a Day in Dun Huang Plaza

The Bellaire Boulevard strip mall can be overwhelming to newcomers. Here's an itinerary to get you started.

By Abby Ledoux June 22, 2018 Published in the July 2018 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image: Amy Kinkead

first experienced Dun Huang Plaza last Thanksgiving. With no plans, no family in a 2,000-mile radius, and no idea how to cook a turkey, it was the perfect time for this Newstonian to pay a visit. From the outside, I’ll admit, 9889 Bellaire Blvd. didn’t look like much. But appearances deceive. After finally finding a parking space, I wandered the little shops, tasty bakeries, and great restaurants lining the plaza’s four multi-story buildings, entranced. I’ve now returned many times, usually with visiting friends in tow, always eager to introduce them to this little strip mall of magic. Every time is like the first, and no one leaves disappointed. Want to plan your own day at Dun Huang? Here’s an itinerary to get you started.

11 a.m.: Brunch at HK Dim Sum

Set the tone for a day of indulgence, and be sure to bring a friend—this is a meal made for sharing. Supplied with a menu and pen, you order by marking off your chosen fare; we love the steamed barbecue pork buns and red bean sesame balls. A word of advice: Go for the smaller portions, as you’re going to need to pace yourself.

12:30 p.m.: Shopping at Ichimaru

Walk off your morning meal by wandering the mall. Don’t miss this Japanese beauty store full of novelty face masks in charcoal, gold, and patterned sheets, the last of which will transform you into a cat or a princess. And be sure to grab a squishy keychain, one of those cute toys—think smiling sushi—that act something like a stress ball.

1 p.m.: More shopping at Korean Blooming Cosmetics

Around the corner, there’s a vast selection of K-Beauty, the highly popular Korean skin-care products known for their youth-infusing, hydrating properties. Super-light, water-based sunscreen is a bestseller; we also recommend the lip tints in packaging shaped like wine bottles.

1:30 p.m.: Gelato at Frozen Café

Editor's note: Sadly, after more than 11 years in the biz, Frozen Cafe served its last scoops of gelato after Houstonia's print deadline and has since shuttered. A Facebook post announcing the closure says the shop will still take online to-go orders through social media for all flavors excepting the boozy ones—for that, customers must supply their own liquor.

Turns out, this traditionally Italian frozen treat is a perfect partner to the sweet, tropical flavors of taro and mangosteen. You’ll want to try a bite of each, plus buttery avocado, rocky road, and tiramisu, but for our money, the boozy gelato is your best bet. A scoop of grapefruit Patrón tastes like an edible margarita, while other concoctions, such as peach Bellini and cheesecake Baileys, are refreshing spins on standard cocktails.

2 p.m.: Goodies from Six Ping Bakery

For just a few bucks, you can stock up on any number of stuffed breads—from milky coconut to green tea to red bean—at this popular Chinese bakery. Mouthwatering cakes beckon from behind glass, some stacked with colorful fruit and others shaped like cartoon characters, including Totoro and Hello Kitty, which make picture-perfect souvenirs … until later, when you devour them. 

2:30 p.m.: Treatments at Canyon Foot Massage

You’ve been working hard. The opportunity to lie down and relax in a dark, cool room and de-stress is a beautiful thing. Head to this modest massage center, where a standard hour-long reflexology session runs $25, and the most expensive service on offer—90 minutes of foot and body massage, plus a steam—caps at $60. Draped in a blanket with your feet dangling in warm water, you may find it all too easy to fall asleep to the sounds of soothing piano, but adroitly applied pressure will wake you up and leave you feeling ready to continue the day. 

4:30 p.m.: Mall walking

Just wander the plaza, exploring, making your own discoveries, and working up an appetite.

Image: Kate LeSueur

5:30 p.m.: Dinner at Mamak Malaysian Cuisine

Dinner options abound at Dun Huang, but we can’t get enough of the flavorful Malaysian fare served up in this spacious, mod eatery. An excellent meal begins with roti canai, Indian-style flatbread with a spicy curry-chicken-and-potato dipping sauce, followed by beef rendang, fork-tender chunks of meat bursting with spice after simmering in coconut milk with cinnamon, cloves, lemongrass, and chiles. 

6 p.m.: Pics (and dessert) at Aqua S

We told you to pace yourself! It’s time for one last treat. The line often snakes out the door at this new mall tenant—the chain’s first U.S. location—offering soft serve in black-sesame cones. Sea salt is the trademark flavor, but there are also twice-monthly rotating options such as pistachio, red bean, yuzu, lychee, and matcha. Highly photogenic toppings like a giant cloud of cotton candy, Pop Rocks, caramel corn, and toasted marshmallow make this trendy dessert more like a work of art. It’s the perfect way to cap an indulgent day—and your Instagram story. 

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