Saturday, May 31, 2014

Best Clear Lake restaurants: Two additions to the list

Up until now I haven't had a "Restaurants" blog post label because the pickins have been so slim in the Clear Lake area of greater Houston that it hardly seemed worth it.  Oh, sure, if you want the usual grease and 1,800-calorie gob-smothered entrees, there are plenty of run-of-the-mill chains from which to choose...
My father's favorite term for cheap, low-quality restaurants is "slop chute".  I've never heard a single other human being use that phrase to describe an eatery, but I have to admit, the experience is similar to its original definition: stuff that is only faintly reminiscent of food gets dumped in front of you and you're supposed to actually consume it.  My father worked at a naval base many years ago and probably picked up the term there.

Screengrabbed from Google.  
... but our suburbs are legendary for their poor dining choices, even as greater Houston itself is nationally renowned for both the quality and diversity of its food offerings.

To make matters even worse, in the past couple of years Clear Lake lost several of its most authentic eateries, including Korean BBQ on El Dorado Blvd., Hans Mongolian Wok in the old Fiesta center (I still get regular hits on that URL as people continue to pine for it), Portofino in Clear Lake Shores (killed by Hurricane Ike), and Dimassis at Bay Area and IH-45 (that one being done in by the worst possible location, location, location).

With the loss of those four, I was down to just two restaurants that I really enjoyed in this area of almost a quarter million people:  Tokyo Bowl on Space Center Blvd. and Chuyos in League City.
But fortunately, Houston restaurant critic Alison Cook continues to do her job exceptionally well (so well in fact that she has been nominated again for several national awards), and recently revealed two more local venues that are worth stopping for.
The first is Bada Bing which is located in (of all places) the HEB Bay Colony shopping center complex at IH-45 and FM646.  When they describe themselves as "Houston's best Italian restaurant", they aren't even remotely kidding.  You can read Alison's positively ecstatic review here.

Pictured above are a couple of generously-proportioned 12" pizzas my husband and I ordered there last weekend (note that there was almost an hour wait even at off-peak times - it's a popular place).  It was without question some of the best pizza I've eaten in my life.  REAL pizza - note the huge chunks of artichoke and fresh red pepper.  Not just gobs of the usual grease and low-quality ingredients that are found at most pizzerias.
The second local venue to surface in the news recently is Pho Binh trailer, which is more Southbelt than Clear Lake, but we'll take what we can get - it's close enough.  Pho Binh is number 14 (!!!) on Alison's 2013 list of Top 100 Houston restaurants.  Here is the slideshow version of the list, and here's the write-up (may be paywalled).  
It's all pho, all the time - there's nothing else on their menu.  
I am a pho fan, but until my inaugural trip to Pho Binh trailer yesterday, I hadn't eaten it in many years, for one simple reason:  Most of the restaurants that serve it load it down with MSG, and I am one of those individuals who experiences adverse reactions to MSG, especially headache.

List screengrabbed from this Mayo Clinic site.  
I am pleased to announce that I experienced no symptoms after consuming this large bowl of Pho Binh's offering.  If they are putting MSG in there, it can't be very much, because I didn't feel it.  
A few pointers if you decide to visit Pho Binh:

  • From Clear Lake, it's most easily accessed by going north on IH-45, west on Beltway, first exit Beamer, head north and see it on your left just past the school.  Note that there is a satellite parking area just south of it (mind the potholes).  
  • Get there early, at off-peak hours.  It's a tiny set of trailers cobbled together, perhaps the most ramshackle building in greater Houston.  With it being one of Houston's top-rated restaurants, competition for seats is fierce.
  • If you do get a seat, be prepared to share your table with other folks, who will probably be friendly Vietnamese-American youths.
  • If you've never eaten pho, prepare yourself for a slurpy experience.  I suggest you start by watching everyone else in the restaurant (which will be full of people) and decide which individual style best suits you.  It would be to your significant advantage to know how to use chopsticks (I don't know if they have forks).  Even if you are a chopsticks virtuoso, there's still no delicate way to eat this stuff.  You alternatively shovel and stuff noodles and spoonfuls of the soup into your mouth.  It's part of the experience.  

Happy noshing, and hopefully there will be more noteworthy local restaurants to come.

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