1722 California St., Houston, TX 77006
346.226.3253 | www.ramen-tatsuya.comRamen feels like it’s been around forever, but is only recently enjoying a cultural moment thanks to a global appetite for food trends. This Japanese soul food has been around since the early 20th century in Japan, and for decades in cities like San Francisco and New York. But only as of the last five to seven years has the rest of the world begun to understand this dish beyond the microwavable noodle packets we all enjoyed so much in college.
Co-owners and chefs, Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto, opened the first Ramen Tatsu-Ya in Austin in 2012, as perhaps the first ramen brick-and-mortar in Texas. After opening a second location in ATX, the duo decided it was time to bring their talents to H-Town. I met with Tatsu’s brother, Shion Aikawa, at the recently opened Montrose location to discuss the history and regionality of ramen, and the recipes that his team has collaborated on to create the Tatsu-Ya menu.
Ramen Tatsu-Ya strives to maintain regional authenticity in all of their bowls. Their commitment to quality is unsurpassed, not even willing to prepare to-go orders so as to not compromise the integrity of their noodles. I tasted both a Tonkotsu variation cooked with pork broth, savory and deeply flavorful, as well as a Shoyu chicken broth ramen called the Ol’ Skool. For those with a sensitive stomach, the Ol’ Skool is a lighter broth, still richly flavored and filling. The knockout punch however, is the house special, Tsukemen. This dish is served in two parts, one bowl of dry cooked noodles with a slab of brisket on top, and one bowl of condensed pork broth meant to dip your noodles into. The aromatic sauce has an extremely complex flavor profile, and the brisket is slow-cooked and dripping with fat. Did I mention this isn’t an ideal meal for dieters?
HELEN IN THE HEIGHTS
1111 Studewood St., Suite B, Houston, TX 77008
832.582.7146 | www.helengreek.comNews flash, Houston is diverse. I know, right, who knew? There are neighborhoods where people will speak their native language to you, fully expecting you to speak it back. The best ethnic restaurants have little, if any, English on the menus. Still, every now and then the city still finds a way to surprise me with an authentic cuisine experience that comes seemingly out of nowhere. Helen in the Heights is a Greek restaurant, and they mean it.
Greek food is extremely popular in the US. Everyone loves Gyros, right? In fact, like Mexican and Italian, Greek has joined the ranks of cuisines so highly Americanized that it has joined the greater melting pot of what we consider “American-ish” food. As a result, much
like Mexican and Italian, finding an authentic Greek restaurant is a rare treat. Helen is that rare Greek find in Houston. My wife and I had the pleasure of tasting some of Helen’s newest menu items, starting with the amazingly simple, equally impressive, marinated feta. Marinated in olive oil, served with sliced pepperoncini and basil, the creamy feta is eaten on small slices of pita. Give me that and a bottle of wine any day. Next, we tried the fried squash blossoms, stuffed with manouri cheese, served over a tangy yogurt sauce and drizzled with local honey. Like a majority of Greek dishes, the squash blossoms are somehow savory and filling while at once light and airy. An important quality when dealing with multiple courses.
Our favorite, of course, was the Avgolemono soup. This traditional chicken broth soup is true Mediterranean comfort food. Mom’s chicken soup gets a zesty Greek twist. A lemon egg sauce, made by whipping lemon juice and egg whites into a custard, is introduced to chicken, broth, Greek greens and winter squash for a medley of flavors that taste like what I imagine a hot fire on a cold Athens night feels like.
9755 Katy Freeway, Houston, TX 77024
713.467.9336 | www.ciros.comThe original Ciro’s opened off of Campbell Road, a mile and a half east of its current home, in 1986. For over 30 years, this family-operated Italian kitchen has been a neighborhood icon. The current (and third) location, off of Bunker Hill Road, sits just two car lengths south of its previous self. Ciro’s now rests in the shadow of the, soon to open, Hotel ZaZa Memorial City. The hotel promises to deliver a steady stream of new clientele to an already well established Houston hangout.
The opening of owner Ciro Lampasas’ third iteration of his selfnamed ristorante, came days before Hurricane Harvey shut down every eatery in Houston. Ciro and his staff, however, managed to stay open all week, serving pizzas to brave customers hours before the worst of the storm. Days later they reopened, one of the first Houston restaurants to do so. They managed to serve a limited menu to customers, many of whom were living out of suitcases and hotel rooms.
The Ciro’s menu is a mixed bag of family classics, old favorites and new additions. One of those new additions is the meatball sliders, a modern take on the classic meatball sub. The sliders are a standout, made with hand-rolled meatballs resting on a bed of finely chopped artichokes, Kalamata olives and mozzarella. As an entrée, I recommend the “BB.” Like so many of Ciro’s dishes, the BB is named after the family member that either created or inspired it. In this case, cousin BB. This is a simple Sicilian seafood dish: sautéed shrimp, calamari, tomatoes and olives, tossed in olive oil and finished with basil and pepper. To paraphrase Ciro himself, this is the kind of late night Sicilian meal you have in your kitchen with a glass of white wine after a long day. What’s not to love?