The Seattle Times called it ‘‘compulsively eatable” and “a sour, spicy, velvety wonder.”
Let’s just say the offerings at B2J Suancai Fish (Chinese sauerkraut fish) taste just as good in Houston as in Seattle.
With cooler weather here, it’s the perfect time to try B2J’s hot (in temperature and spice level) fish soup. Don’t like fish? They also offer beef. And, if you are not wanting soup, they also offer a selection of appetizers and desserts.
First opened as Buerjia Chinese Sauerkraut Fish in Seattle, the company expanded to other parts of Washington and eventually Oregon and Texas, with Houston’s Bellaire Food Street its newest location opened late last year.
Their specialty is, as mentioned, the Chinese suancai (sauerkraut) fish, which arrive at the restaurant alive. The resulting boiled filets become part of the spicy-and-sour soup that the owners tasted and fell in love with on a trip to Guangzhou, China.
Choose between tilapia, which starts at $28.99 for a bowl that the menu says serves one to two people, and $69.99 for bigmouth bass. The price may seem steep but the servings are absolutely massive. Our smallest portion tilapia soup was shared — and enjoyed — by three adults.
The fish, as advertised, was fresh and light. We expected the soup to have a, well, “fishy” taste, but the array of vegetables included and sides we added, like lotus root and bean curd as well as rice noodles, played a symphony in our mouths with some spicy notes tempered by the flaky, mild fish and noodles.
The beef soup was equally flavorful and, as we got take-out, we would guess it tastes even better eaten in the restaurant straight out of the kitchen.
The hot and sour soup’s unique flavor lies in the suancai, a traditional Chinese pickled Chinese cabbage or mustard green. It tastes amazing with the fish but also balances out the fat of the beef in the beef soup.
While the star of the show is the fish soup, fried milk custard is also a popular item, as are the Chinese doughnuts, which we likened to unsweetened churros. From our “no thank you” family member who doesn’t eat much fish or soup, the chicken wings got a thumbs up.
According to the restaurant’s website, their fish tastes good because it is sourced live and the fish is “healthy and happy.” It is flown in from The Dutchboy Farm in Idaho.
In this time of COVID-19, the restaurant is taking precautions but, if you prefer to order to-go, the containers for the soup will make you feel like you’re carrying home something truly special. Tucked neatly in carry-out boxes with handles, the massive bowls made it home in our car traveling along the Bellaire Boulevard without a drop spilled, hot and tasty.
The restaurant itself is beautiful, with statement light fixtures and modern seating. We can’t wait to meet a group there for a cozy dinner. Here’s hoping the cooler weather hangs around for a while. If not, the light and healthy fish soup will also taste great on a typical hot and humid Houston day.
Bellaire Food Street
9393 Bellaire Blvd. Suite B
Houston, TX 77036
— by Dorothy Puch Lillig