For some diners, dining in the International District can be a bewildering, overwhelming and even intimidating prospect. To those who head in without a destination in mind, with so many options and the occasional language barrier to contend with, it’s easy to become perplexed, and there’s nothing worse than being both hungry and confused. That’s a prescription for a dreaded “hanger” episode and harsh words amongst dining companions. We’ve all been there.
Bellaire Food Street (9393 Bellaire Blvd.) offers an easy cure, a compact and easy-to-navigate wonderland featuring a multiplicity of Far Eastern cuisines all right next door to one another.
So what will you find at Bellaire Food Street?
A roll call is in order:
Fat Ni BBQ offers Xinjiang-style skewered meats, seafood and vegetables along with noodles in a rustic-looking setting somewhat reminiscent of a Texas barbecue house. This is the second Texas expansion for founder Guixiao Chen, “Fat Ni” herself, who got started at age 14, grilling everything from quail to lamb tendons to squid in New York City food trucks. Fat Ni prepares their noodles fresh in-house daily. Such noodle-and-skewer fare is wildly popular street food fare in Beijing, so there is a certain symmetry to Bellaire Food Street with the street food of Beijing anchoring one end of the strip and that of one of its neighboring nations the other. And that nation is…
Vietnam, where that nation’s street food is the star of Migo Saigon, whose long and narrow, counter-service-and-tables interior is decorated to resemble a back alley in 1960s Saigon. Vietnamese-Americans enthuse over their hu tieu, a southern Vietnamese soup similar to pho. Unlike pho, with hu tieu, the “dry” ingredients (noodles, proteins, and vegetables and herbs) are served separately from the (pork or chicken) broth. Diners can opt to tump the meat and vegetables into the broth all at once or savor it a spoonful at a time. Other favorite items include chan ga nuong (barbecued chicken feet), and, of course, the signature mi go (egg noodles with sliced pork or chicken, served wet or dry.) Try the golden, green, and purple butterfly tea limeade or the creamy caffeine splendor of a condensed milk Viet coffee.
Shi MiaoDao serves up the culinary pride of Yunnan Province — “Crossing the Bridge” noodles with thin-sliced meat blending with carrots, sprouts, chives and corn — along with an array of rice noodle bowls featuring proteins ranging from lamb to quail eggs. Yunnan borders Vietnam and their cuisines intermingled over the centuries; many of Shi MiaoDao’s satisfied customers have noticed the distinct similarity of their noodle dishes to pho. There is also a heavy representation of authentic “Chinese soul food” on the menu.
The Houston location of Japan’s Pepper Lunch is the first outpost of this teppanyaki chain to open in Texas. For the uninitiated, teppanyaki entrees are served on extremely hot cast-iron griddles so that diners may sizzle their meat, seafood, or vegetables to their liking at the table. Most teppanyaki restaurants are expensive and stuffy, but not this fast-casual version, one with outlets from China to Australia and now, Houston. The classic beef pepper rice is thin-sliced, tender peppered beef served with buttery white rice and corn and goes very well with their garlic sauce. Other must-tries include steak versions, kimchi chicken, Japanese-style curries, and eel pepper rice.
What’s better than a tasty restaurant meal? How about two delicious restaurant meals in one? That’s what you get at Chongqing Chicken Pot. Here’s how that works — you order a “dry pot” entree and hotpot sides, eat as much of it as you want (including all, if you desire), then summon a waiter for broth, add the sides you got with your entree, then presto, the broth deglazes your pot and blends with the spices from round one of your meal and your original entree has been transformed into a hot pot. Chicken, beef rib, frog, garlic pork ribs and vegetable options are available, along with a multitude of hotpot sides, all at varying spice levels and with plenty of optional sauces to experiment with.
The snap of the twice-fried crispy skin giving way to the tender, juicy goodness of the meat sealed inside! Who can resist Korean-style fried chicken? But don’t be fooled by the name, sports bar vibe, or emphasis on spicy chicken wings at Soho Chicken — this is not just a Korean-style wing joint, but a Korean restaurant dishing out everything from bulgogi fries and bibimbap and kimchi pancakes to ddukbokki, jaeyook bokkeum, and late night sushi. Wash it all down with beer or soju and top it all off with hodduk, a red bean pancake topped with ice cream and fruit.
As Starbucks is to coffee, so Chatime is to bubble tea: the Taiwan-based franchise is the largest milk teahouse chain on the planet. Bellaire Food Street’s version has a floral, garden-like decor, all purple and green with flowers painted on the ceiling. The menu ranges from classics like Oolong and Earl Grey and roasted milk teas to mousse drinks with creamy foam on top to fresh milk tea lattes, including watermelon and matcha flavors. Don’t forget to customize your drink — you can calibrate your levels of sugar and ice, and choose from a variety of bonus extra mix-ins such as Oreo cookies, grass jelly, aloe vera, red bean and more.
Sleek, cool, and modern, soft jazz plays in the background at warmly lit Tom N Toms, a South Korea-based franchise that combines tasty coffee drinks and savory pretzels in a variety of flavors, from spicy chicken and ham and cheese to a large pig-in-a-blanket called the Tomntom’s dog. There’s also a tortilla pizza and a variety of sweet treats like cinnamon caramel toast and bingsu, Korean shaved ice dessert creations. Signature beverages include Green tea TomNccinos, persimmon smoothies, and sweet potato espresso.
Everything you need to know is in the name of Popfancy Pops Dessert Bar — they offer popsicles, and those popsicles are fancy, fresh, and hand-crafted. Not a fan of dairy? Not a problem. Right now, Popfancy offers at least ten milk-free options on its ever-changing menu, ranging from the usual suspects — comforting stand-bys like banana berry and strawberry lemonade — to more exotic flavors such as pineapple mojito, passionfruit, and hibiscus raspberry. A similar approach prevails on the dairy side, with familiar flavors like chocolate brownie, birthday cake, and strawberry cheesecake contending for a chance at tickling your taste buds with competitors both Latin (horchata) and Asian (lavender matcha green tea, sweet taro, Thai tea, and Vietnamese coffee).
The name Beard Papa’s puts one vaguely in mind of Santa Claus, and even the interior is bold yellow, it’s always Christmas for those with a sweet tooth at this Japan-based pastry chain. Creampuffs are their specialty, and the concept is simple: pick a shell — plain or any of seven flavors ranging from chocolate and strawberry to green tea and dulce de leche; and then stuff it with any of eight flavors of custard: vanilla, chocolate, green tea, pumpkin, mint chocolate, cookies and cream, or ice cream. Wash it all down with a pumpkin, chocolate, or mocha custard cream drink, and find out why Anthony Bourdain called Beard Papa’s creampuffs “righteous.”
Meet Fresh is a wildly popular Taiwanese dessert and bubble tea chain. Using all-natural ingredients and dedicated to tradition, Meet Fresh’s sweet treats hit the spot without triggering a sugar overload and ensuing crash / hangover. Devotees love how the tea flavor of their drinks is never drowned out by a tidal wave of sweetness. Meet Fresh also offers hard-to-find desserts like herbal jelly with taro balls and milky shaved ice adorned with a staggering multitude of potential toppings ranging from grass jelly to tapioca to ice cream and more. Be prepared — their mountainous creations usually are towering enough to serve two or more.
So there’s Bellaire Food Street’s current lineup.
It’s open until late — nothing there appears to close before ten, making it a fun nocturnal destination. And above all it’s a place of discovery, with ample opportunity for the expansion of both your culinary horizons and our innate love of people-watching. And undecided parties of squabbling and hangry dining companions can either split up or get small plates at several places in succession.
And everybody would be happy with that. That’s the point of Bellaire Food Street.
“Within Asian cultures, food not only defines the distinct cultures, but has long been the social fabric in the communities,” notes a Food Street spokesperson. “Eating becomes an event in which friends, family and strangers socialize in night markets and restaurants in which an abundance of experiences can be had in one location. Bellaire Food Street aims to bring that familiar connection of Asia to Houston, Texas.”
And indeed it does that and more: Bellaire Food Street combines the comforts of home for some and brand-new flavors and experiences for others, and with a hip, modern vibe overhanging it all, Houston is lucky to have it.
Bellaire Food Street
9393 Bellaire Blvd.