9630 Clarewood Dr. | Houston, TX 77036 | 713.923.7488
Tue–Sun 11am–3pm, 5–10:30pm, Close Monday.
STEP INTO THE DOUBLE DOORS AT MEIN, MIKE TRAN’S CHINESE RESTAURANT IN CHINATOWN, YOU CAN’T HELP BUT BE IMPRESSED BY THE ARTISTRY THAT WENT INTO THE RESTAURANT’S DESIGN.
The graffiti-like words on the landing before you walk in the door? “That’s the Kowloon King,” says Tran as he describes his design choices for the restaurant. “He was an anonymous street artist that left his mark all over Hong Kong.”
On the main dining room wall, a mural of Zhou Xuan, a Shanghainese actress from the 1930s, lights up the room. Next to the bar, the visage of Eileen Chang, a Chinese writer born in the ’20s, takes pride of place. “I hired an artist from the Chinese retirement home down the street to paint the murals,” he says, adding that it was important for him to work with the community, because he opened the restaurant for them.
“My food is everyday food,” he explains. “It’s Chinese comfort food, food you can eat every day. Noodles. Rice. Small plates that you can share family style.”
Though Mein is probably more enjoyed by a big group or family, I often find myself gripped by strong cravings for his noodles.
I’ll go there by myself for a quick lunch, grabbing a seat at the bar, where I’ll order a Lavazza cappuccino and a bowl of his House Wonton Noodle, a dry noodle lo mein-type dish that has this addictive, umami-laden sauce. The noodles are made in-house, so they have this nice elastic pull and snap that is just oh-so-pleasing. I order these just about every time I visit.
The rest of the time, it’s about experimenting – ordering a few staple dishes and then trying out several others. The house-made, thick-cut Charsiu comes to table charred at the edges, moist and juicy and full of flavor. An absolute must.
The Sichuan Garlic Pork, cold strips of pork swathed in a spicy garlic sauce, offers just the right spice and sesame garlic aroma that gets me every time. My personal favorite is something called the Sansai Egg Tofu, round discs of lightly battered soft tofu served in a mushroom- flavored gravy. The tofu is soft and creamy, like a custard, while the just-crisped-skin gives it a pop of texture, and it comes out perfect each time.
The thick, pan-fried rice noodles, especially the Char Kuey Teow and the Beef Flat Rice Noodle, are always good to share (and any leftovers are wonderful to take home and reheat). I still haven’t made my way through the entire menu, but that’s part of the enjoyment when you visit Mein. So, bring some friends, have everyone pick a dish that sounds good, and go to town – from the Superior Soy Prawns, to the Crispy Duck, the Wonton Soup to the Mee Goreng, XO Fried Rice or even a dessert of crispy Chinese Crullers with pandan custard – it’s all good.