New Chinatown, Houston
Our state’s Asian population is the second-fastest growing in the country. This is ground zero.
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1. Yes, Lee’s Sandwiches hails from California, but that just means it’s a spot where you can experience Melting Pot America in its myriad glory. Your order is called in Vietnamese and English; it’s a little like being in a train station in seventies Saigon. The baguettes and croissants are made on the premises, as are the Vietnam- ese sandwiches. The grilled pork is, at $2.50, a cheap ticket to heaven. 11210 Bellaire Blvd., Suite 113; 281-933-9988
2. Hong Kong City Mall is Asian Houston’s answer to the Galleria, with pagodalike towers and burbling fountains and very little English spoken. The food court is spectacular—bubble tea, boiled crawfish, Asian sweets—and the kiosks have American-flag purses, an assortment of Buddhas, and hilarious hair clips with logos from Chanel and D&G. Don’t miss Kim’s Fabrics, where you can get a custom-made dress of imported silk for just $300. 11201 Bellaire Blvd., 281-575-7886
3. MTV Karaoke is not for the faint of heart. If Frank Sinatra were a home- sick Vietnamese man, he’d settle into this smoky secret venue, with its glowing fish tank, nine flat-screen TVs, and palm-adorned stage. The songs are all in Vietnamese, and the tone can be mournful but authentic (you won’t find “My Way” on this list). It’s a favorite of the twentysomething set from the old country, and I don’t mean the U.S. 11107 Bellaire Blvd., 832-351-2760
4. Skip the old-line (and gargantuan) Chinese favorites in the area and opt for Tony Thai Restaurant. Small and sunlit, bustling without being hysterical, this eatery has something for everyone—immigrants from Thailand and, well, Houston. Thai classics like chicken coconut soup are made with verve; brave patrons should ask for the steamed fish, which arrives seemingly still swimming in a boiling, basil-spiked broth. 10613 Bellaire Blvd., Suite A101; 281-495-1711
5. TMK Expo sits in a spanking-new shopping center that focuses on wedding services, Asian and otherwise. It provides tableware for couples just starting out or those dead set on becoming Houston’s next star restaurateurs: There are oversized dinner plates glittering with gold, elegant sets of metal- tipped chopsticks, teapots to make Michael Graves swoon. And the prices? You’ll be able to afford service for twelve instead of six. 10613 Bellaire Blvd., Suites A106–108; 281-598-6970
6. It’s hard to go wrong with your bubble tea in this part of Houston—such establishments are a yen a dozen—but newcomer Tea-house is spotless, cheery, and oh-so-twenty-first-century, with lots of chrome and WiFi access. You can go for a plain old green tea, but why, when there’s the chartreuse honeydew tapioca shake? It’s somewhat like slurping tiny balls of sweet, bouncy caviar—if caviar tasted like tapioca. 9198 Bellaire Blvd., Suite D; 713-271-8858
7. There are grocery stores and grocery stores and—in this neighborhood—Asian grocery stores and Asian grocery stores. But the sights and smells at the fish counter at Welcome Food Center conjure a busy Chinese coastal city, minus the pollution. The offerings—flounder, redfish, perch—are clear-eyed and supple, and you can scoop your tilapia out of a tank. Don’t like fish? You’ll find whole roasted pig at the other end of the store. 9180 Bellaire Blvd., 713-270-7789
8. Teenage girl nirvana: anime-inspired purses (ooh! Wallets with waving bunnies!), shimmery slippers, and the hippest sweaters this side of Tokyo, complete with pom-poms and prices hovering around a mere $30. If you are going to be part of the after-hours scene that turns this section of town into an Asian fashion parade in the dead of night, Harajuku Loft should be your first stop. 9104 Bellaire Blvd., Suite A; 713-771-7733