HANKERING FOR HONEY-ROASTED PIGEON? How about Vietnamese fajitas? With offerings ranging from the frighteningly authentic to the infinitely accessible, Kim Son has paced the Vietnamese food explosion in Houston. Owned and managed by war refugees Tri M. La and family, Kim Son has grown from a hole in a graffitied wall, opened in a dicey downtown hood in 1982, to a $7 million empire consisting of four full-service restaurants and five take-away outlets scattered throughout the city.
Besides savvy business acumen, the secret to Kim Son’s success is an exhaustive, affordable menu that provides delicacies for all levels of culinary curiosity. The 13-page list is so big, in fact, that it provides a table of contents to help diners maneuver their way through its 250+ items. Chapters include Traditional Vietnamese Breakfasts, Hot Pots, and Mama La’s Down Home Cooking—origin of the honeyed pigeon, which, incidentally, comes replete with head and tastes like a turkey leg. In an ambitious effort to offer something for everybody, the Las have tweaked many recipes toward American tastes while keeping others true to the Vietnamese palate. But fear not, Kim Son’s staff is careful to point out which is which. When asked about the catfish in claypot, for example, our waiter dissuaded us by explaining that most Americans lament the classic Vietnamese dish’s unadulterated levels of fat and salt. In fact, he confessed, despite its popularity in his homeland, he doesn’t like it much either.
A traditional item that draws few complaints is the exquisite Vietnamese crepe—a mound of mung bean sprouts, onions, chicken breast, and shrimp folded inside a crispy, rice-flour shell and accompanied by lettuce and cilantro. As is customary with many Vietnamese dishes, the crepe is cut into pieces that are then rolled with the fresh herb inside a lettuce leaf and dipped in the standard fish sauce-based condiment nuoc mam (if you think that eating with chopsticks is a challenge, wait until you try mastering this Vietnamese practice). Fortunately, the result is as delicious as it is untidy. Demanding slightly less manual dexterity are the delectable Vietnamese fajitas, an American favorite consisting of thin slices of char-broiled beef sirloin seasoned with sweetened soy sauce, lemon grass, and red wine, and served with fixings of mint, cilantro, vegetables, pineapple, and a side of rice-paper “tortillas.” Also outstanding is the staff-recommended char-grilled honey-braised chicken, a sticky-sweet combination of fowl, rice vermicelli, and fresh vegetables. And speaking of vegetables, vegetarians will find a wide selection of tempting fare to choose from, including the tangy string beans with chopped water chestnuts and the sublime lemon grass tofu.
Relocated in 1987 to its present address at 2001 Jefferson St., Kim Son’s flagship restaurant stands as an awesome symbol of success. The $2 million behemoth’s 22,000 square feet are peppered with an eclectic collection of art, from simple black-and-white paintings to ornate vases and figurines to glass-covered traditional garb and musical instruments. The rest of the building is filled continually with a slew of patrons, whether they’re downstairs in the noisy general dining area or upstairs in the private banquet hall—a cavernous space with room enough to hold a crowd of any proportion. Question is, with the Las planning to open franchises in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, does Texas have enough room to hold Kim Son?
2001 Jefferson, Houston
(713) 222-2461 [email protected]
Sun-Thu, 11am-11pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-12am
12750 Southwest Freeway, Stafford
(281) 242-3500 [email protected]
Mon-Thu 11:00am-10:00pm; Fri-Sat 11:00am-11:00pm; Sun 10:00am-10:00pm
10603 Bellaire Blvd, Houston
281.598.1777 [email protected]com
Mon-Thu 11:00am-10:30pm; Fri 11:00am-11:00pm; Sat-Sun 10:00am-10:30pm
Visit Kim Son online to learn the story of Kim Son, read the most current menus, and see the Kim Son banquet rooms.
Recipe for Kim Son’s Char-Grilled Honey-Braised Chicken