Gao’s Kabob is like experiencing some of the street food found in China’s big cities.
The first thing that hits a visitor to the Bellaire Boulevard restaurant is olfactory bliss, with the aromas of grilled meats (chicken, beef and lamb), seafood (fish, prawns, squid, oysters and more), tofu varieties and an assortment of veggies. The dining room is a whirl of activity as a team of servers arrives at tables holding the long ends of delicacy-laden skewers that they place straight onto diners’ plates.
It’s exactly how street vendors in China hand patrons such foods on busy, urban streets — but at your table in a warm, wood-paneled dining room in the Southwest Management District. My mouth was watering even before I sat down, and I could not help glancing at servings on other folks’ tables as I made my way to mine.
A lovely family next to me – father, mother, young son and daughter – graciously replied to my polite inquiry of “What’s that?” as I pointed to skewers they were enjoying.
“It is the lamb,” the dad said. “Zhēn hào chī! (So delicious!)”
We quickly found the entrée on the menu, a skewer called “Big Lamb with Fat.” It was our first order, and when it arrived moments later — coated with a generous amount of cumin seasoning – our palates were authentically tingling.
We also ordered rounds of chicken, beef, squid (squid feet in Chinese), crawfish, prawns, various fungi and tofu varieties. The delicacy known as “stinky tofu” was authentic.
In a twist of luck, our server told us, the Dallas-based owner was in town. A few minutes later, Eason Gao walked in and, over a beer, told us his abbreviated life story.
The tall, lanky former pro soccer player ended his sporting career due to a leg injury and turned to working with food. He moved to Europe and trained as a chef in an Italian restaurant.
“But I wanted more than that,” he said, so the married father of two decided to risk a comfortable life there to travel to the U.S. He opened his first Gao’s Kabob in Dallas, where he had friends. After that, he expanded with locations in Chicago and New York. Gao’s Kabob of Houston is his latest, just a few doors down from its sister restaurant, Gao’s Crab. Diners at each restaurant can order from both menus.
Succeeding in the restaurant business is hiring good people, especially choosing quality managers and rewarding them when restaurants do well, he said. And he keeps tabs on his restaurants via video feeds to his cell phone.
This might keep him awake in the late hours considering that his Houston restaurant is open to 1 a.m. seven days a week.
Gao is thinking of opening yet another restaurant on the West Coast.
“Not bad for an athlete who only completed middle school,” he joked.
9886 Bellaire Boulevard
Open every night 4 p.m. – 1 a.m.