Houston >China Gourmet
“The atmosphere was great.”
“The restaurant looked really clean and the food arrived quickly.”
Houston's own Taiwanese Stinky Tofu.
China Gourmet is one of those places you would never find unless someone took you. For one thing, there’s no sign to indicate it exists. In fact, on the awning right in front of the restaurant, the name is “Le Lai” written in bold. It’s not until you come close to the door that you see the name “China Gourmet.” Lucky for me, one of my friends organized a group dinner here, and I found the food to be cheap and pretty darn good, so today I ventured back to reacquaint myself with this odd little place.
The restaurant is clean and the tables are polished. It’s sort of a serve yourself sort of place, typical of something you would find in Asia. The menu on the wall is in Chinese, and after you order from the counter, you get your own bowls and utensils and sit down until someone brings out the food. The first time I was here, my friend had to pay for the dinner up front (cash only), but they didn’t ask me to pay first this time, probably because I didn’t look like I was going to eat and run. I ordered a memorable dish from my last visit, the sweet and sour spare ribs, for $7.00, and a house specialty winter melon tea, made from winter melon and rock candy. The tea is sweet and fragrant, and reminds me a bit of a light brown butter with the rock candy flavor. The sweet and sour pork chops were just as tasty as they were last time, and well portioned.
But the specialty at this restaurant, something I do not have the nose or the taste for, is the stinky tofu. I remember seeing a Food Network show about this delicacy (if it can be called that), on Andrew Zimmerman. A Taiwanese specialty, this restaurant is one of the only places in town that offers it, and as you’re sitting you may smell the not-so-enticing aroma waft by as the servers bring the offending smelling dish to a neighboring table. According to the lady behind the counter, the most popular dish under the “Snack” heading of the menu is #4, the “fried stinky bean curd,” for $3.50, followed by the #5, the “stir fry fried stinky bean curd” for $4.95. They also have a “double spicy stinky bean curd” and “steam stinky bean curd” under the “Entree” heading.
So why is a Taiwanese restaurant called “China Gourmet?” I asked as I was paying my bill. The lady smiled and shook her head, “I don’t know,” she says, gesturing to the Chinese characters on the menu “but the characters clearly say Taiwanese Restaurant.”
What to try if you are brave: stinky tofu
Starters: $1.50-$4.25 Noodles & Rice: $2.50-5.25 Entrees: 5.95-9.95
Cheap and Tasty. This restaurant is located in Dynasty Mall. The prices are very low for fair portions. The three of us only spent about $18 on and we were full. The atmosphere was great. We came on a Saturday afternoon and it was packed with activity. My parents were satisfied with the way their Taiwanese dishes were prepared, even if some were not exactly like what they used to eat in Taiwan. The restaurant looked really clean and the food arrived quickly. We've only eaten here once, but we plan on coming many more times.
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