HOUGuide

Best Restaurants In Houston’s Chinatown

Dan dan noodles, bánh cuốn, and xiaolongbao—consider this your bucket list to it all.
Best Restaurants In Houston’s Chinatown image

photo credit: Quit Nguyen

Houston is home to the second largest Indochinese population in the United States (we’re coming for you, LA), so it makes sense our Chinatown is equally as massive. The neighborhood, which sits southwest of downtown Houston along Bellaire Boulevard, comprises six square miles of bubble tea and trendy desserts shops, travel agency and dental offices, cosmetic and beauty supply stores, and every kind of restaurant under the sun. There are hundreds upon hundreds of places serving dishes from a multitude of countries and regions, whether they’re Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Japanese, or Korean (to only name a few). You could pop into any restaurant and likely have an excellent meal. Or, you can use this guide as a compass to begin your exploration of Houston’s Chinatown.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Quit Nguyen

Taiwanese

Chinatown

$$$$Perfect For:Cheap EatsSerious Take-Out Operation
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Even though San Dong Noodle House feels specifically designed for utility and carry-out purposes—all dine in utensils are of the to-go variety, for example—the comforting menu of Taiwanese noodle soups and pan-fried or steamed dumplings erase any cramped-quarters seating discomfort. A fulfilling meal for two here totals up to less than $20, meaning you can save your coins for dessert or a couple of extra rounds of karaoke. Bring cash, tip the cashier, and don’t bother asking for any takeout container: just grab what you need from the shelf.

What to order: 牛肉麵 (roast beef noodle), 鍋貼 (pan fried pork dumplings)

Hai Cang, a Vietnamese-Chinese seafood restaurant, will load you up with spicy and tangy seafood by the truckload. The massive platters of crab, lobster, and noodles are perfect for a big group dinner or perhaps an informal seafood eating contest. Get wild with pounds of lobster wok-fried in savory dry spices and a fire-red Dungeness crab carcass for fried rice, and soft scrambled eggs and juicy shrimp. Roll as deep as possible to Hai Cang, and give the table’s lazy susan an extra spin for good luck.


Stepping into the barbecue spot Gao’s Kabob means you’ll be whisked away to a world of skewered meat, beer towers, and maybe karaoke. Bring a group of friends here before a bar crawl to load up on grilled proteins and garlic chives. Or show up at the end of a boozy night and let tender skewers of beef serve as your first line of defense against the drinks from earlier in the night. The later you show up, the more likely you’ll feel emboldened to do karaoke numbers as you pour from the beer towers that sit on the ends of tables, like taps of liquid courage.

What to order: small beef skewers with fat, garlic fish, large lamb skewers


The canh chua cá trê at Bodard Bistro will change your life. The tropical, refreshing soup is a Mekong Delta staple with an otherworldly tang from tamarind and pineapple. It’s like summer itself got distilled into a single dish, along with tender filets of fresh catfish, okra, stewed tomato, and whole cloves of roasted garlic. After slurping down a bowl alongside nem nướng pork sausage spring rolls, and perhaps some fluffy bánh khọt savory pancakes with shrimp, you’ll start to feel as beautiful as the well-cared for tropical plants filling the tiny restaurant. 

What to order: canh chua cá trê, bánh khọt, nem nướng


The Taiwanese breakfast spot Tao Rice Roll is connected to a karaoke spot, but there isn’t much serenading happening. Instead, you can expect rice rolls the size of a small pooch made-to order to hit your table with a resounding thud. Start your day with a sweet rice roll or a sausage-filled egg pancake. There are about four tables inside of Tao Rice Roll, so plan to take the party to your car unless you get lucky and snag a spot inside.

What to order: tao roll, sweet roll, double egg pancake


While the ramen at Toyori is totally craveable, you also get an adorable tiny probiotic drink at the end of the meal, which, you know, cute. The nondescript interior dark walls, rows of utilitarian booths and tables make the floor-to-ceiling gold Toyori mural feel like a special backdrop once you taste the glistening pork buns or spicy tan tan ramen. Maybe the menu resembles ones at other ramen shops, but the quality and consistency keep us coming back for bowl after bowl. 

What to order: Toyori bun, spicy signature tan tan ramen, signature rib steak sizzling plate


Once you taste the dặc biệt bánh mì at Alpha Bakery & Cafe inside of Hong Kong City Mall, it will tease you forever, reaching out in daydreams like a pork-laden angel. Even though this place is packed with every tiny snack known to man—banana-leaf-wrapped sausages, little rice balls, spices upon spices—it’s the bánh mì you want. The sandwich that arises from this modest little prep station—saddled with thick cuts of cured pork, luscious pâté, perfectly cut cucumber, and a blissful amount of butter—only costs $5 cash. Ordering two every visit should help combat the inevitable cravings.

What to order: bánh mì dặc biệt


Kind of like highway billboards and humidity, Mala Sichuan Bistro is part of what makes Houston, well, Houston. Despite the expansion of Mala across Houston, the original Chinatown location is where it all started. Grab a group of friends and take in the blissful, numbing effects of the mala peppercorn packed into nearly every dish. Each successive bite of Sichuan noodles or tender fish enhances the peppercorn’s effect, kind of like sucking too long on Warhead candy, but the tingling, battery-acid sensation is habit-forming. Maybe Houstonians are gluttons for punishment (look at the Texans), or maybe we just know how to have a good time.

What to order: red oil dumplings, dan dan noodles, water boiled fish


What to order: Lao sausage, cracky belly, and any laab

Lao’d District is one of the few Thai-Lao spots in Chinatown. Like a few other restaurants in the neighborhood, Lao’d District doesn’t employ servers, but rather uses QR codes. Grab some Lao sausage, chicken laab with sticky rice, and crispy pork belly along with some sake cocktails. Roll up here if you enjoy loud hip hop and want an easygoing meal packed with flavor and spice.


Myung Dong Kyoja, an LA Koreatown import—one our LA buds also like a lot—feels like a food courtyard cafe at a mega-spa. Considering Houston is hot as hell most of the year, MDK’s soothing bowls of handmade cold noodles, made with chlorella and arrowroot, should be your summer obsession. The chewy noodles loaded with spice, funky kimchi, and cold vegetables are filling but not heavy, meaning you won’t have to crawl across lava-hot pavement to your car.

What to order: 비빔국수 辣朝鲜冷面 (mixed spicy chlorella noodle)


Any place that pre-sets a table with a giant pitcher of tangy fish sauce knows how to party, which makes Thien Thanh the Vietnamese lunch it-spot in Chinatown. Thien Thanh specializes in soft rice paper crepes known as bánh cuốn, hence why the fish sauce flagon exists. The cash-only spot loads up the thin crepes with mushrooms, grilled pork, and dried shrimp, which diners then stuff with bean sprouts and dunk into, you guessed it, fish sauce. 

What to order: bánh cuốn thanh trì chå, bánh cuốn thịt nướng


For a casual and quick sushi spot, the vibe at Hokkaido is incredibly soothing. Tucked into a shopping center corner, the Tatami-mat lined restaurant feels like a warm, golden light bath, but one where you can eat nigiri and slurp endless bowls of silky miso soup. Order everything at the counter and sit wherever you like. The cashier will somehow, miraculously, find you and correctly deliver all of your food. How they achieve this feat is a mystery. Perhaps the last person to order is likely the least blissed out from the yellow light therapy, or something. Embrace the unknown, and order some extra nigiri. 

What to order: seaweed salad, sashimi and nigiri combo, dragon roll


Another California import, Mian is one of many Sichuan spots in Chinatown, but the handmade noodles and comforting peppercorn-tingle set it apart. Service is quick, as you order everything from your phone at the table. The beef noodles soups are deeply comforting, as are the red oil drenched dumplings—especially on a rainy day, or any day you feel like pouring your feelings into a giant boil of semi-spicy soup that won’t give you any attitude back. 

What to order: house beef noodles, chili oil chaoshou dumplings, Chengdu zajiang noodles


We could probably eat the fresh, flavorful soups and sandwiches at the Da Nang-style seafood restaurant Bún Chå Cá Da Nang everyday. Like bún chå cá, a thin vermicelli noodle soup with a pile of greens, or the bánh canh chå cá, a delicate fish-broth soup with thick udon noodles and fish cakes. And even though you could reasonably expect everything to taste like the sea, the food just sort of lightly washes over you, like slurping up a warm breeze.

What to order: bún chå cá, bánh canh chå cá


The original Fu Fu Cafe on the west end of the Dun Huang Plaza has satisfied late-night soup dumpling seekers for decades. Service is quick, if not slightly unforgiving, and food arrives faster than seems reasonably possible. Nothing at this combo Vietnamese-Chinese spot is mind-blowing, but rather satisfying, a little gust-busting, and reliably straightforward. All of which makes Fu Fu a solid spot to split a bunch of dumplings, rice dishes, or spicy hot pot with a big group after a long night out.

What to order: 葱油饼 (green onion pancake), 韭菜水饺 (pork chive dumpling), 椒盐鱿鱼 (salt toasted squid)


Chinatown’s worst-kept secret might be the xiao long bao at One Dragon. Made-to-order and steaming hot,. each soup dumpling is thin and silky, filled with light, savory broth and tender minced pork dumplings. Order as many as possible (you will want more), but don’t skip out on the crispy bottom bao and bowls of braised pork belly in sweet sauce. Try to visit One Dragon early on a weekday, otherwise you will have to wait outside for a table.

What to order: xiao long bao, crispy bottom pork bao, braised pork belly


Toukei, an izakaya just off Bellaire, is the best spot to pregame a night out, or post-game since it’s open until 1am. The expansive menu spans from sushi to yakitori to ramen, with an eye-crossing bar menu. This Prohibition-era bomb shelter has so much booze that an entire wall of the restaurant is one giant floor-to-ceiling liquor cabinet—and there’s even more stacked up behind the bar. If you eat here and aren’t drinking, then you maybe shouldn’t be here (or just order a lot of food to distract the staff). 

What to order: a drink


Don a bib and comically large pair of plastic gloves, and explore the explosive flavor of every dish at Crawfish & Noodles, a Viet-Cajun institution. Order crawfish boiled with lemongrass and ginger, spice-laden turkey necks, or noodles soaking up fish sauce and chile. Dining here sometimes feels like stumbling into a confused sports bar—the TVs blare Astros games amidst an unconventional mix of decor (why is there a Darth Vader helmet in the corner?). But as with all Houston institutions, it doesn’t have to totally make sense, the food just has to be really, really good. And it is.

What to order: crawfish by the pound, turkey neck, phở


Thim Hing, a cash-only bánh mì spot, exports what appears to be a metric ton of sandwiches. Every day around lunch time, at least two or three people appear to be stuffing multiple plastic bags bulging with bánh mì into the trunk of their cars. Although the sandwiches have traditional fillings like pâté and grilled pork, the baguette here is a little different than most: rail-thin, long, and super crunchy, giving each bite more texture per square inch. Take a note from the folks rushing in and out of Thim Hing, and make sure to grab enough for the whole family, team, or neighborhood. 

What to order: bánh mì xíu mại (meatball), bánh mì thập cẩm (combination)


Handam BBQ is our favorite place to go when we want to speed-run a KBBQ dinner. Service is lightning fast but still attentive—servers will begin cooking your meat for you if your grilling isn’t efficient enough. Handam only takes reservations for parties of six or larger, so either put yourself on the waitlist before the drive there, or corral a group of friends ahead of time to help you divide and conquer the corn cheese and combination platters. And if your stomach is feeling particularly bottomless, Handam offers an all-you-can-eat option (but there’s a $20 fee if you don’t clean your plate).

What to order: cheesy corn, kimchi stew, C3 handam combo


The Huế-style Vietnamese dishes at Nam Giao’s dishes are impressively tiny, like carefully constructed works of art made with dried shrimp, pork, and periwinkle snails. This culinary wonder is conveniently disguised as a strip center restaurant, one which happens to have the youth vote. On any given night, there are usually young couples canoodling over delicate, tiny ramekins of steamed bánh bèo and unwrapped banana leaves. Maybe the kids are alright.

What to order: bánh bèo


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