Devouring Houston: Exploring Houston One Bite at a time

Houston has so many incredible food establishments...from sumptuously designed restaurants to fun storefronts selling gourmet cookies. From Mexican Food Carts to the Best BBQ in the World. And...I want to expore it one bite at a time.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Araya Artisan Chocolate

Hello Heaven.  A store just for chocolate treasures.  Handmade from Venezuelan Chocolate without preservatives, additives, or artificial flavors.  The ganache is made from honey, not sugar.

Here we go with the sampling.  I tried 6 total: 2 truffles (Trufas) and 4 chocolates (from the Chocolate Collections).

Clockwise from left: Peanut Butter & Berries, Pink Salt, Hazelnut Praline, and Key Lime

First up:  the Bourbon Trufa:. Did not disappoint!  This is a serious Truffle.  Rolled in unsweetened cacoa, the rich, chewy, dense dark ganache on the inside was paired perfectly with a hint of bourbon.  Not overpowering.  This was amazing.

Second: Champagne Rose Trufa:  whereas the Bourbon truffle was serious, this trufa is light and happy.  Light milk chocolate mousse on the inside.  The truffle is dusted with pink sugar.  Subtle hint of Champagne Rose just to give the chocolate flavor.  A little crunch from the sugar dusting.  Excellent.

Now up the Chocolates:

I started with the Key Lime.  Definitely Key Lime flavor.  The Key Lime overpowered the chocolate, in my opinion.  While it did remind me of a mini-Key Lime pie, the fresh lime juice and zest was just too much for me.  I was looking for more of a chocolate pop.  Beautiful to look at, though, with the hand painted green swirls.

Next up:  Peanut Butter & Berries.  While I am normally a Peanut Butter/Chocolate Purist (don't taint their relationship), I actually really enjoyed the black berries "pate de fruit" on top of the ganache.  The berries were a subtle marriage with the peanut butter and chocolate that really, really worked.  The chocolate was gorgeous with hand painted yellow, red, pink, and orange stripes.

Third Chocolate: Pink Salt.  Strong dark ganache with a touch of pink salt from the Himalayan Mountains.  I was expecting to love this chocolate as I am a salt-aholic.  However, this combination did not work for me. 

Finally, the Hazelnut Praline.  Very creamy hazelnut praline blended with milk chocolate ganache.  Not dense.  Easy to pop a lot of these little guys.

My Take Away:
My favorite surprised me with the Peanut Butter and Berries.  My least favorite was the Pink Salt.  I also really, really, really, really enjoyed the Bourbon Truffle.  This little chocolate ball is for serious Chocolate Lovers!

Araya Artisan Chocolate
River Oaks
2013 West Gray
Houston, Texas 77019

Cyclone Anaya's - City Centre

I loved the vibe I felt when walking in the new City Centre location of Cyclone Anaya's.  The interior design is a funky Tex-Mex feel.  Exposed brick, cement floors.  Bright, light windows.  Funky nooks, crannies, and details.  It's a fun place!

Inside Cyclone Anaya's at City Centre

We went for Sunday Brunch, which was a fun time to sample as we ordered breakfast and regular menu items.   The pancakes ($6) came with 2 strips of Applewood  smoked bacon and a bowl of fresh fruit.  The flapjacks were super delish.  Thick, dense, but still tender.  I could really sink my teeth into them.  The bacon had excellent flavor, as well.... and the perfect crispness.

Pancakes with Applewood Smoked Bacon

The Breakfast Americana came with two eggs, Applewood smoked bacon (yum!), beans, rice, roasted potatoes, and the bowl of fruit ($8).  The potatoes were roasted with rosemary.  Tender.  Not greasy. 

Breakfast Americana

Passing up breakfast, I tried the Tortilla Soup ( Cup = $6; Bowl = $9....and the bowl is huge).  The soup was packed full of savory broth, tortilla chips, shredded chicken, lots and lots of melted jack cheese, and fresh avocado slices on top.  Very satisfying soup.  An easy entree.  Great flavor.

Cup of Tortilla Soup

Finally, we tried the Quesadillas (1/2 order = $9; full order = $13).  The quesadillas (beef or chicken) come with guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo and lots of yum.  Thick, soft tortillas (with the perfect crispness on the outside as you would expect on a quesadilla).  Stuffed full of cheese and meat.  Very delicious.  Very gratifying.

Beef Quesadillas

I loved the new location of Cyclone Anaya's.  The atmosphere was fun and hip.  The prices were great for the big portions.  The staff was friendly.  I will go back -- and sit on the patio which looked perfect for a Margarita drinking afternoon. 

Cyclone Anaya's
City Centre
(I-10 at Beltway 8)
3 other Houston locations and 3 in Dallas

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I love me some Escalante's.  Consistent.  Delicious.  I love the Queso Blanco -- luscious, creamy, heavenly melted cheese.  Throw in some ground meat, pico de gallo, and poblano peppers.  And, Yum!  Crunchy chips.  Crisp, not greasy.  Their Queso (cup = $6.50) partnered with a cold, smooth margarita is such a great formula for yumminess!  Their Margaritas are THE Best!  Fresh ingredients.  Excellent Tequila.  Great craftsmanship.

Chile Con Queso Blanco

One of my favorite items on the Escalante's Menu is their Tortilla Soup (cup = $5, bowl = $7).  Fresh. Light. Packed full of big chunks of carrots, squash, celery, chicken.  Fresh avocados on top.  Light broth.  Melty-cheesy Jack cheese.  Mmmmmm  Mmmmmm!  It's an especially nice alternative to heavy TexMex....or right after one devours the entire bowl of Queso (you think I'd do that?).

Tortilla Soup

One other menu item that I think is worth noting is their Flan ($6).  While ordinarily, I'm not a huge flan fan (much preferring something wrapped, dipped, and stuffed with chocolate), their flan is a creamy and dense custard with a delectable caramel syrup.  This dish is an extremely satisfying way to end a meal.


I love all of the Escalante's locations.  They all hold true to the great service, fresh ingredients, and savory margaritas.  However, my favorite location is the one in Highland Village.  The eatery is light and bright, the energy level is high, and the interior design is Modern Mexican.  I'm happy being there!

5 Locations in Houston

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hollister Grill

Hollister Grill is a good place to go for comfort food and a friendly server.  The eatery is simple in design and the service is great.  The sandwiches and starters are what you need to feel contended and cozy.

We started with the Artichoke & Spinach Dip, served with homemade tortilla chips ($5.95).  BIG YUM Factor.  It was really white queso with artichoke and spinach.  Thin strips of Parmesan cheese criss-crossed the top.  Creamy.  Gooey.  Crunchy fresh chips.  Delicious. 

Spinach & Artichoke Dip

Our table tried the Hollister Signature Burger ($7.95 + .75 for cheese).  It was a satisfying burger complete with an excellent chargrilled flavor.  The cheese was succulent with melted goodness.  The bun was soft.  The veggies were fresh.  The french fries, while not homemade, were still very tasty with good seasoning.

Hollister Signature Burger

Next up, the Deluxe Club ($9.50).  About what you would expect in a Club a good club sandwich.  The bread was thick and soft, yet lightly toasted.  Fresh ingredients.  The potato chips were homemade. Light and crispy.  No seasoning, though, so my mouth was left waiting for the pop or pizazz that never materialized. 

Deluxe Club Sandwich

The below BLT Sandwich ($6.50) dittos the tasting notes of the Club.

BLT Sandwich

Finally, the grand finale of a Sweet Temptation.  We opted for a slice of Chocolate Cake.  Moist.  Light.  Subtle sweet flavor.  Drizzled with a chocolate espresso sauce and cream.  It satisfied our chocolate craving without leaving us feeling yucky from an overly rich cake. 

Chocolate Cake

Grill is a quaint, little neighborhood restaurant.  Small parking lot and just a handful of tables.  The service was excellent.  It is what you'd expect from a special little place.

Hollister Grill
1741 Hollister Street
Houston, Texas 77055
(off Longpoint between Campbell and Bingle)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rustika Cafe & Bakery

Rustika has been on my "To Try" List for weeks now.  I pass by the bakery all of the time while driving down 59.  Have you seen it, too?  They were also nominated for Best Bakery as part of the Houston Culinary Awards.  So, today was the day I gave the place a whirl.

Atmosphere: Should I say Quaint?  Homey?  The decor was fair to middling.  I'm a big clean freak...and it was passable.  Anyway.... let's focus on the food.....

I went for lunch with a great friend.  We actually ordered the same thing (so much for trying each other's dishes!).  We opted for the Rustika Combo #3 - Cup of soup or house salad and half a sandwich ($7.95).  We opted for the Tortilla Soup....made with beef broth.  When was the last time you had Tortilla Soup with Beef Broth?  I always see Chicken Tortilla Soup.  I think that is what I prefer.  While the flavor of the soup was savory and well seasoned, the texture of the ground beef left me discontented.  I didn't really eat or enjoy it.  The beef was ground too fine, maybe?  I don't know....  Big portion though!

"Cup" of Tortilla Soup

Moving on... to the sandwich.  Yum.  The sandwich was lightly grilled, but yet the thick slice of wheat bread was still very soft.  I could really dig my teeth into it!  Delicious.  The turkey was thinly sliced.  Swiss cheese was supposed to be included, but they must have forgotten ours.  That was  fine-  with the tomatoes and baby greens, the turkey sandwich was a fresh and tasty bite full. 

Half Turkey Sandwich

Enough of the non-sweet items...where Rustika really rocks is in the bakery department.  We tried the Cinnamon Sugar Cookie.  Huge.  A subtle sweetness.  It would be excellent with a cup of coffee.  Tender and thick, but not dry.  Although not hard like a biscotti, the low sweet factor reminded us of biscotti. 

Cinnamon Sugar Cookie

The Cinnamon Roll was moist, dense, soft.  Good cinnamon flavor.  No nuts or raisins.  So, if you are cinnamon roll purist, this one's for you.  The cinnamon roll was iced with cream cheese frosting.  While it was still tasty, I prefer the traditional sugar icing. This breakfast pastry would be great addition for a Holiday Breakfast -- like Christmas Morning!

Cinnamon Roll

Just for you, I saved the best for last.....The Black and White Alfajor.  Not familiar with this particular cookie?  I wasn't either.  But, Hello Yumminess!  I am familiar now!  An Alfajor is an Arabic confection usually found in Mexico and South America.   Dulce de Leche (Caramel) sandwiched between two cookies (or cakes).  Mine was rolled in chopped pecans and iced with half chocolate, half white icing.  Alfajors can also be sprinkled with powdered sugar or coconut.  Many variations are out there.  But, the one I devoured today was just Delish!  Another one, please.

Black & White Alfajor

Rustika Cafe & Bakery
3237 Southwest Freeway
Houston, Texas 77027

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Burger Guys

Burger Guys is a new burger joint in West Houston.  The decor is simple, but the food is not.  This isn't your same old burger joint.  So many varieties and different takes on the American Hamburger.  Gourmet.  Creative.

The Chalkboard Menu

Take the "Shipley" Burger ($8): Cheddar, Provolone, Onion Bacon Jam, served on a Shipley's Glazed Donut.  The premise, of course, is the salty with the sweet.  I liked the idea, but my Shipley's donut didn't seem all that fresh, but maybe that is what happens when you put a big old beef patty on it.  The cheeses were Divine (and from Houston Dairymaids).  The Onion Bacon Jam was amazing!!  I loved it -- that alone with the cheddar and provolone was all I needed.  The hamburger patty was dry, yet greasy, and not that much flavor.  Bland.  As far as a donut for a bun, I think I would have enjoyed the burger more with a traditional bun.  But, I'm a purist. 

The Shipley Burger

One of my dining partners had the Lancaster ($8): Sauteed mushrooms, onion, bacon, Swiss, and dijonaise.  His review was pretty unenthusiastic saying the bun and patty were both bland. 

The Lancaster Burger

The fries ("Brussels" - Belgian Fries served with your choice of 2 sauces) and the onion rings ("Omaha" - Buttermilk Tabasco onion strings) (both $3 each) were pretty darn cute served in mini fry baskets with faux newspaper.  They were both fairly good.  Not the best ever, but definitely not the worst.  I sampled the house ketchup (too sweet) and the 3 Herb Ranch (very good).

Belgian Fries and Onion Strings

BIG Highlights:
- Their fountains sodas are made with Real Imperial Sugar.  Ahhhhh!  Outstanding!
- Their hotdogs are huge, beefy, and delicious.  The hotdog buns were soft and scrumptious.
-The Salted Caramel Milkshake ($3 for a half -- which was huge!) was Heavenly!  I. Couldn't. Stop.    Drinking. It.  I may go back JUST for this Salted Caramel Milkshake.  Really.  It was THAT good.

For the 3 highlighted items, the trip is worth going back.  For a burger, though, I will probably go somewhere else for a juicy, seasoned burger.  Unless, of course, the burger comes with the milkshake. 

Burger Guys
12225 Westheimer (near Dairy Ashford)
Houston, Texas 77077
(fyi: closed Sundays)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Piola - Houston

Piola is the new pizza kid on the block.  Located in Midtown, it is a modern, bright, vibrant Italian pizza spot with Brazilian flare.  Piola means "Meeting Place" in an ancient Italian dialect.  While Piola was born in Treviso, Italy, the restaurant chain is now franchised world wide.  The Italian Founder married a Brazilian woman.  After moving to Brazil and opening a Piola there, the Brazilian influences also followed.  This translates into a pizza parlour with a wide selection of Caipirihnas.

They also serve wine and beer (but don't look for Lone Star or Shiner Bock here).  The influence of the eatery is very European meets South American.  Piola is not your standard American Pizza Parlour.  But, to me, that is a good thing.  I appreciated the funky hipness that you won't find at Fuzzy's or Candelari's.  The service was excellent.  Everyone was extremely nice, and my server was very knowledgeable and friendly.

I ordered the Diavola (Peperoni) Pizza.  The lunch version is $9.50, the regular version is $10.95.  My lunch pizza came with a side salad.  The salad was fine.  Fresh and cold, but nothing crazy-unusual good.

The pizza was not bad, but a little disappointing.  Although the crust was thin and cooked in a brick oven (usually recipes for a fantabulous pizza pie),  this one fell short.  The amount of cheese was extraordinary, leaving the thin crust limp and soggy.  The crust around the edge was crispy, chewy, and delightful.  But, the cheese completely overpowered the pizza.  And, it was super greasy (maybe due to the cheese - crust ratio being so disproportionate). 

The owners are working hard to make their pizza eatery a success.  And for that, and the excellent service, I hope they succeed.  But, I don't think their fortune will be on the pizza alone.  If you are in the Midtown area, stopping in Piola may be worth it.   But, I don't feel the pizza merited a drive in from other areas of Houston.

3201 Louisiana at Elgin
Houston, Texas 77006

Monday, November 8, 2010


So, I went the NASCAR track this weekend, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, where the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series were running.  The experience alone of being in the pits and the garages was pretty amazing in itself.  Then, I had the great fortune of meeting both Mario Batali and Guy Fieri, who are both NASCAR Fans. 

What is a day, especially a day at a sporting event, without food?  So, we set off to find all the food amongst the cars, pit crews, and extremely dedicated fans.   Below is Elaine, cooking lunch for the #77 Car - Sprint Cup Series.  Because, well, the crews, drivers, and owners have to eat, too!  Her grill is right in front of their hauler.  Its super crazy around there...and super thrilling. 

We ate lunch in the TRD (Toyota Racing Development) Suite.  The food is about what you would expect as the official catered food at the track.  A grilled chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, and some really yummy broccoli cheese casserole.  And, token, cookies and brownies. 

I wanted to try some of the vendor food at the track....chicken fingers and cheese fries sounded authentic and totally appropriate for a Texas NASCAR experience.  However, the eats totally left me disappointed.  $8 for this?  Where is the cheese?  The fries were just awful.  I didn't even know a bad french fry existed...until I tried these.  Oh well. 

We grabbed some dinner at the on track restaurant, aptly named Hot Rod's Bar and Grill.  And...actually...the food was pretty tasty.  Buffet.  All American Food.  Hotdogs.  Burgers.  Nachos.  Coleslaw. Turkey and Stuffing.  The BEST chopped beef EVER (I put it on my dog).

But...the BEST of the Racetrack food is found within the infield.  First, you must know that the people camping on the infield track have a culture all of their own.  It is a riot.  It is fun.  It is crazy.  And, the grilling,smoking,and stewing that is happening over the weekend is second to none.  Here are some samples:

He was cooking chitlins.

His brisket was smoking for 8 hours.

Red beans and Rice.

This is real engine converted to a grill. 

Just needed to share this picture.

If you have the chance to go,  you shouldn't miss it!  Grab your RV, your smoker, your brisket, and hit the road.  You won't regret it...just don't get the chicken fingers and fries from the same place I did.                                    

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

City Hall Farmers Market

The City Hall Farmers Market is only about a month old, but already looks like a well established, well oiled machine.  The weather today was pretty crummy, but that didn't stop vendors and customers from participating.   It was, however, thanks to the rain, a great day for me to visit as I found front row parking!  A fun, vibrant band was playing on the steps of City Hall.

Many of our great local vendors were present from cheese to soups to produce to breads.  However, I was really hoping for some French Macarons, but sadly, none were there. 

I was super excited to see Slow Dough Bread Company there!  I bought a loaf of their Sourdough Bread ($5).  Oh.  My.  Gosh.  Delicious!  Super crusty on the outside.  Super soft on the inside.   An authentic Chicago Style bread with amazing sour flavor.  I, literally, could have eaten this whole loaf in one sitting.  I had to remove the guilty party from my presence.

For lunch, I tried two tamales from the Gourmet Tamale Bar -- Spinach & Corn and Black Bean Chipotle ($5 = 1 tamale or $8 for 2 tamales).  They were okay.  I needed some queso to add some moisture.  They were pretty dry, but did have nice flavor.  The Black Bean Chipotle offered an excellent kick that lingered on my palate.  They also offered Lemonade ($3 for a small cup).  It was terrible, awful stuff.  Not only was it watered down, but the flavor was just off kilter somewhat. Blah.

I ended with a sweet treat from Angela's Oven.  They had a great selection of baked goods.  I was torn between the Pain au Chocolate and the Cinnamon Roll, but went with the recommended Pain au Chocolate.  It was sweet and savory.  Soft and buttery.  Lots of semi-sweet chocolate on the inside.  It wasn't warm, of course, but still delish.  I'd like to taste their cinnamon rolls and scones now!

City Hall Farmers Market
Houston City Hall
Wednesdays - beginning at 10:00 AM