by Natalie Dressman
Houston is home to the second largest Asian population in the United States (behind Los Angeles), so naturally a part of the city is full of restaurants and businesses run by the Asian community. The area is known colloquially as “Chinatown,” but is by no means limited to only Chinese influence. Originally, Chinatown was located on the East side of Houston (now known as EaDo, now has grown and largely relocated to the Southwest.
This section of Southwest Houston is populated by Houstonians with Vietnamese, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Korean, and many other heritages. Treasures of many kinds exist throughout Chinatown, but they can be hard to spot from the street.
Chinatown is bursting at the seams with international cuisine. The only real question is: where should you start? Whether you are familiar with some Asian cuisine or are looking to familiarize yourself, these options will leave you full and happy.
Crawfish & Noodles off Bellaire Blvd.
Naming a single signature dish of Houston is a controversial topic, but many would name Vietnamese Crawfish. One place to try this unique mix of flavors is Crawfish & Noodles, a hidden gem inside a strip center in Chinatown. Those who have discovered (or are yet to discover) the beauty of Vietnamese Pho will be thrilled to hear of Pho Binh, which is a staple for Vietnamese families in the area. Saigon Pagolac and Kim Son are also known for exquisite Vietnamese, and will ensure you make frequent reoccurring trips to Chinatown.
If you like the idea of seafood but prefer a Chinese flair, Fung’s Kitchen was listed in USA Today as one of ten great places to “welcome prosperity” for the Chinese New Year. Other notable Chinese cuisine in the area includes Lucky Pot, Ocean Palace, and Hong Kong Dim Sum.
The San Dong Noodle House is the place to go for Taiwanese dumplings and noodle soup, while the Tiger Den is a new ramen shop in Chinatown. The Tiger Den also has more adventurous dishes, like grilled beef tongue or chicken gizzards. Other tasty Chinatown flavors include Banana Leaf for authentic Malaysian cuisine, Avesta Persian Grill for Persian and Middle Eastern, and London Sizzler Indian Bar and Grill for UK-style Indian fare.
Even if you aren’t in dire need for anything from Japan or China, going shopping in Chinatown is an enjoyable and eye-opening experience. These stores provide opportunities to expand your tastebuds, music preferences, wardrobe, home decor, and more.
Harwin Drive is Chinatown’s bargain shopping district. You can find everything there, from cellphones to toe rings to formal wear, at great prices. The vendors and items change on a frequent basis, so even if you’ve visited before, the selection could be completely different now. With dozens of stores to peruse, visiting Harwin Drive has plenty to keep anyone busy.
Hong Kong City Mall is Chinatown’s own indoor mall, contaning more than 20 restaurants and cafes, a few dozen small shops, plus the famous Hong Kong Food Market. Most of the shops are Vietnamese, but the food market stocks all sorts of uncommon and international foods and trinkets. Some of the notable items at the market include fresh jackfruit, durian, stingray meat, bamboo shoots, kimchi, taro ice cream, and shredded dried squid. If you are looking to get some boba (bubble) tea and look through Vietnamese karaoke before buying a pint of taro ice cream, you may have found your bliss.
Asian Heritage Tours provide the chance sample aspects of authentic Chinese culture through the Chinese Community Center. Take a tea-tasting and herbalogy tour, a Chinese calligraphy tour, dim sum, Tai Chi, or a shopping tour. These heritage tours are available by appointment only, and can be different sizes of groups. These outings are taught by those who have extensive and personal knowledge on each of the topics. What better way to gain a greater understanding of Chinese culture and history.
If you seen all there is to see in Chinatown, your feet and muscles may be sore. As luck would have it, Chinatown has the answer for that, too. Reflexology massages are becoming increasingly common in the area, and there are a few places to choose from when deciding on your massage. Reflexology is thousands of years old, and focuses on pressure points (mainly in the feet) to restore energy and blood flow throughout the body. Oasis Massage and Salon, Lucky Feet Houston, and Soul Inn Reflexology are all located off Bellaire Boulevard, and have reputations for good prices and strong masseuses.
Many of Chinatown’s businesses accept cash only, so make sure you’re prepared before you take your trip.