Category Archives: Houston Restaurant Reviews

No Room For Vegetarians At Zelko Bistro’s Table

no carrots for Zelko

We just got back from dinner at the hot, new Zelko Bistro in the Heights. I’ve been eyeing it for months, waiting and hoping they’d have at least one interesting meatless entree. I’ve gleaned everything I could from Greg Morago and other reviewers, but couldn’t find Zelko’s menu online and got an answering machine every time I called to ask if they had a vegetarian option. We decided to check it out after seeing it listed as vegan friendly on Urbanspoon. Turns out, it is not vegan friendly. It’s not even veggie friendly. The only thing I could order was a dinner salad, so I did.

Because they had no vegetarian entrée, I have to give Zelko Bistro no carrots. A first for Veggie vs. Houston.

I was really, really hoping Zelko was going to be veggie friendly. But after excitedly scanning the menu, I soon realized there was nothing for me. We ordered the only veggie thing on the menu, which was an appetizer. It was spin on brushetta, instead of French bread, it was pita with hummus, red peppers, olives and feta. It was very good, but I agree with this review from the Chronicle’s Greg Morago, it would have been even better on crunchy bread. Greg was sitting a few tables down from us tonight. I never know if he works undercover, so I didn’t want to bring attention to his table by saying hello. He seemed to enjoy his dinner much more than I did.

My entree consisted of a dinner salad with blue cheese, pecans and apples. I ordered it without the bacon and pancetta. I told the waiter I was a vegetarian and asked if the tomato soup was meatless, but I was told it was likely made with chicken stock. I’m sure the chef could have whipped me up a plate of vegetables, and to be fair the waiter did say “she could probably fix you something,” which I had forgotten when I wrote this original post. It didn’t stick out in my mind, but my omnivore reminded me of it when I mentioned a comment I’d recieved.

Zelko is still listed as vegan friendly on Urbanspoon and I still disagree. A vegetarian commenter on the site said she and her friends have been treated well, and fed wonderful meatless sandwiches at Zelko. She implied that maybe if I was friendlier I could have had a veggie meal too. I want to let everyone know I was not rude to our server. However, the restaurant was slammed and no one seemed like they had time to chat and get to know each other.

And the bottom line is this: I would rather see an item on the menu, or at least have the server give me an example of what’s available. Saying the chef might be able to make me something, implied that she might not be able to. I don’t like to feel like a burden or that I’m putting anyone out. And I don’t want to have to throw out my own dinner idea or know someone in order to get a meal. I just want to sit down, scan the menu, relax and enjoy my evening.

And while I’m on the subject, I think whipping something up in the kitchen is different than thinking through an interesting meatless dish and having it on your menu. Again maybe it’s just me, but it seems like it would be easy enough to a offer a mushroom burger since they had a regular burger on the menu, or stuffed mushroom caps with veggies. Am I the only person who thinks croquettes are the best things ever? I’d love to see them on a Houston menu. Or maybe an artichoke po’boy sandwich. Zelko had a polenta dish that could have been served with a tomato reduction and grilled veggies instead of shrimp. But what do I know. I’m just a lowly blogger and not a bigtime chef.

Zelko had one other dinner salad on the menu, but I’m not a huge fan of vinaigrette. My omnivore ordered a hamburger minus the cheese and bacon. He liked it. I liked his French fries.

I still can’t forget the conversation I had with the owner of Stella Sola, which is also in the Heights. He made a huge deal about the fact that Height’s restaurants were crazy not to offer a vegetarian entrée. He strongly believed the market was there. I wholeheartedly agree, but apparently we’re in the minority. Textile, Glass Wall and now Zelko Bistro don’t think they need to court the deeply-loyal veggie crowd. It’s too bad. I was really hoping Zelko, with it’s great location and fair prices, would be our new Friday night favorite.

Bombay Pizza Co. Blends The Best Of Both Worlds

four carrots

You’ve tasted New York and Chicago-style pizza, now you have to try Bombay’s take on the Italian classic. We decided to check out Bombay Pizza Company after reading about it in this Houston Chronicle story. Our mission was to park our car Downtown, see a movie, have a few drinks at Warrens and walk to dinner. My omnivore and I have both been disappointed by just about every downtown dinner we’ve tried, so we were a little skeptical despite the rave reviews. We were thrilled to discover just how good it was and even happier that we finally have a place to eat dinner when we catch a downtown play or movie.

We split a 16-inch pizza, half with Sonu’s Rita, which has tomatoes, basil, paneer, cilantro chutney, Bombay pizza sauce and mozzarella and half Hawaiian Kuntal, which had mozzarella, pineapple, jalapenos and Bombay pizza sauce. Both were delicious!

I love green chile and pineapple pizza, but usually only make it at home. The pineapple on the Hawaiian was sautéed with red pepper and other spices and was amazing and the Rita was loaded with fresh basil and cilantro chutney. The crust was cracker thin and really crispy.

The first bite was hard to eat because the pizza is loaded with toppings and the crust is thin, so the pizza really droops when you pick it up. I found it easiest to fold it in half before picking it up, but even then I still lost a ton of toppings. It’s worth the effort though.

Bombay Pizza Co. is very veggie-friendly. All of the vegetarian items are clearly marked on the menu. There are at total of six vegetarian pizzas, including one with strawberries and balsamic vinegar, which I’m going to try next time.

My omnivore felt like having a beer, which they don’t serve. The restaurant is BYOB, so he went across the street to the store, which I think was called the Everything is $1.19 cents Store and Food Market and bought a can of Heineken that was much more than $1.19, but I digress.

The Bombay Pizza Co. staff was amazing and really excited about their food. The setting was very casual, but the place was packed with a nice mixture of people. Next time you’re downtown, you have to give this place a try. It really is a Houston original.

Wanted: Mexican restaurants with vegetarian beans AND rice

A good friend and fellow vegetarian recommended Maria Selma on Richmond Avenue. We recently tried it. I was disappointed to learn upon ordering that Maria Selma is another in a long line of Houston Mexican restaurants that put chicken stock in their rice.

I used to operate on a strict don’t ask, don’t tell policy when it came to Mexican food. I didn’t ask if there was chicken stock in the rice, or lard in the beans, and I hoped there wasn’t. Unless I could taste it, I happily ate it. I even adhered to this policy during the several years I worked at Taco Bell. I scooped the nameless mound of white “shortening” into the hot water and dehydrated beans and hoped it wasn’t lard. But I can no longer turn the other way. Houston changed that for me.

Until moving here, I hadn’t really encountered bacon in the beans. There may have been lard in the beans, but not full on chunks of bacon and bacon fat. After about the fifth time of biting into bacon beans, I had to start asking questions, because as everyone knows, you can always taste the bacon. At first I only asked about the beans. A few months later I started asking about the rice too. It turns out, that even restaurants like Berry Hill, which markets itself as veggie friendly, puts chicken stock in the rice. So what’s a vegetarian to do? Make burritos, tacos and enchiladas at home I guess.

But I do miss going out for Mexican food. And I still hold onto hope that Chuy’s can’t possibly be the only Houston restaurant that has vegetarian beans AND rice. Right?

I’m finding that restaurants tend to have one or the other. Maria Selma proudly advertised vegetarian beans and had vegetarian options on their menu, but made their rice with chicken stock. And, at least to me, a plate of enchiladas just isn’t the same without beans AND rice. So, I ordered the papas con rajas, which was one of two entrees listed as vegetarian. The dish was o.k., something I could have made myself and nothing to write home about. The corn tortillas, however, were amazing.

So, starting today, I’m going to compile a list of Houston Mexican restaurants that have vegetarian beans AND rice. Chuy’s is on the list. Please tell me that’s not the only one.

UPDATE: a vegan friend suggested Teotihuacan. I have bad news though. I just got off the phone with the manager who said they put bacon in their beans AND chicken stock in the rice. Sorry my friend, you’ve been tainted. That still only leaves Chuy’s on the list. Any one else have a suggestion???

Himalaya serves up the best Pakistani food in Houston

Four carrots

It seems crazy, but I think Himalaya just might be my favorite Houston restaurant. The food is spicy and wonderful. The flavors are deep and sophisticated. The garlic naan is perfect. I’ve been a dozen times, and I’ve never been disappointed.

A few people have been turned off by the casual atmosphere and the server’s zeal for telling diners what to order. And I’ll admit, it is a little unsettling when the waiter acts disappointed when I tell him I’m vegetarian. I think they do this because they are extremely proud of their meat dishes. But they shouldn’t feel bad for us vegetarians, their veggie offerings are amazing. If you go, order the saag paneer, the dal fry and the malai kofta, which are potato dumplings in a creamy, spicy sauce. Then get some plain rice and garlic naan. A lot of people order the biryanis, which are huge plates of rice, usually served with meat. We tried the vegetarian biryani on our last visit. I wasn’t blown away. It was good, but I think I’ll just stick to the plain rice from here on out.

A few tips: they seem to like you to wait to be seated even if tables are open. And allow at least 20 to 30 minutes for the food to come, it isn’t always fast, but it is always good. They don’t have menus, just a white board above the cash register, but you already know what you’re going to order right? I’ll tell you one more time. Saag Paneer. Dal Fry. Malai Kofta. Garlic naan. You won’t be disappointed.

Himalaya:
6652 Southwest Fwy. (59 and Hillcroft)

Not a great picture, but you get the idea. Here's the saag paneer, dal fry and the malai kofta. The rice dish is the biryani, which I'm skipping next time.

Not a great picture, but you get the idea. Here's the saag paneer, dal fry and the malai kofta. The rice dish is the biryani, which I'm skipping next time.

A Veggie Treat Among The Suckling Pig At Stella Sola

The banner out front reads Meat and Drink. Not the most welcoming sign for a vegetarian. But we knew what we were getting into. Allison Cook recently wrote

I’m pretty sure my eyeballs rolled back in my head when I crunched up the fragile, crackly skin on the roast local suckling pig for two.

She was talking about Stella Sola. And so is everyone else. There has been dozens of tweets and articles about the suckling pig, the short ribs and the wild boar.

But there is a hidden treasure lurking on the menu and it’s made for us vegetarians. It’s the brown butter gnocchi, with roasted mushrooms, finger chili and arugula. But before I get to the entrée, let me start at the beginning.

It seems silly to talk about the free bread restaurants put out on the table, but Stella Sola’s bread is special. Actually, the flat bread is good, but the mixture of seasoning you sprinkle into the olive oil is even better. It tastes like garlic and pepper and fennel and I wish they sold it in bulk.

Now we can move onto the appetizers. A few month ago, they offered the most amazing treat, but I’m sad to say it was no longer on the menu during a recent trip. But I’ll talk about it anyway. It was a butternut squash ravioli with pear vinaigrette, toasted pecans and amaretti streusel. And it was delicious. I hate to see it go, but I understand butternut squash season is coming to end and I appreciate that Stella Sola changes it’s menu depending on whats fresh in the market. There is now a beet and goat cheese salad on the menu, which sounds fine, but nothing like the heaven that was the butternut squash ravioli.

So onto the main course. I alway picture gnocchi as round starchy potato dumplings, kind of bland and uninteresting. But at Stella Sola they are long chewy tubes tossed with brown butter, mushrooms and arugula. The star of the dish however, is the finger pepper. The finger pepper adds a spicy kick to the pasta. It heats up your mouth without being overpowering. It’s the type of pepper I’d imagine in Thai cooking and something I’ve never experienced in pasta.

While I enjoy Stella Sola, it does come with a warning. If you are vegetarian I urge you to look at the menu or call before you go to make sure there is still a vegetarian option. The gnocchi has been on the menu since they opened, but you never know. If it’s gone, there may not be anything else to eat. That being said, while there isn’t a lot to choose from, I have to give Stella Sola credit for giving me a dish I’ve never tasted before. If meat-centeric Houston restaurants do have a vegetarian option, it tends to be on the boring side. I rarely see the creative use of grains and vegetables I find in San Francisco or even Miami restaurants. So that’s why Stella Sola gets three carrots. It’s more for creativity than variety.

During our last visit, the manager came to our table and we chatted a bit about the pasta. He said there was talk about adding two more vegetarian dishes to the menu, which is exciting to hear. He said offering a vegetarian option was essential. It’s too bad so many others don’t seem to think so.

I wish other Heights spots like the Glass Wall and Textile followed suit and offered at least one vegetarian main dish. especially Textile since it’s been voted one of the best restaurants in Houston. The Stella Sola manager implied that Height’s chefs would be fools not to offer a veggie option, and I completely agree, but maybe he was just humoring me because he guessed I was a vegetarian.

It would be awesome if Stella Sola added another veggie dish, but here in Houston I’m easy to please and I’d be happy if they just stuck with the gnocchi. I’m thrilled they recognized there is room at the table for a vegetarian dish. And I hope one day they bring that butternut squash ravioli back. It really is the stuff dreams are made of.

Give me an A! Give me an L! Give me a T!

What does that spell? Avocado, Lettuce, Tomato sandwich of course! And Dacapo’s Pastry Cafe in the Heights is the best place to get one. Avocado is my all-time favorite food. I can eat avocado everyday. When they’re in season, I love to cut them open and spoon them right out of their skins and into my mouth. That’s why I was thrilled to find an A.L.T on Dacapos’ menu. They’re a little pricey at $7.50 a pop, but I think they’re worth it.

I’ve had a hard time finding flavorful avocados these past few months. Dacapos doesn’t seem to have that problem. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but the avocados have been ripe and delicious every time.

I think the beauty of this A.L.T is in its simplicity. When I make a sandwich at home, I tend to put a whole avocado on it and lots of purple onion and tomato etc. But there is something to be said for a thin layer of avocado, a thin layer of provolone and a thin layer of tomato and lettuce. Everything in the A.L.T is proportioned. And the bread is delicious. Dacapos is a bakery that serves food, so the bread is made fresh every day. It’s amazing the difference good bread can make.

Dacapos has a few other veggie sandwiches and occasionally a vegetarian special. They have salads too, but I can’t imagine ordering one. The sandwich bread is too good. According to the cashier, they make most of their soups with chicken stock, so don’t expect a cup of soup with your sandwich. And there sides aren’t fabulous. The potato salad has bacon in it and the pea salad is kind of weird. It has chunks of what I think is American cheese. I usually skip them and just go for the chips. While the sides aren’t perfect, the cookies are. I never leave without one. And neither should you.

Blue Fish Takes Pride in Veggie Sushi

There is only one kind of restaurant that really scares me: the seafood restaurant. I find there is really nothing I can eat at them. People go to seafood restaurants because they want to eat seafood. Even the salads have seafood in them. And unlike steakhouses, they rarely have baked potatoes and other sides I can make a dinner out of.

I’ve started lumping Houston’s sushi restaurants into the seafood category. I’ve scanned the menus of many and not found one vegetarian roll or entrée.

But that’s not the case at Blue Fish, which has eight vegetable rolls and several tofu dishes. And they serve brown rice. What more can a girl ask for?

On a recent trip, I ordered a seaweed salad, a yam tempura roll and a no meat roll. My omnivore ordered the fry me to the moon tofu dish from the I don’t eat meat section of the menu. The tempura roll is made with yam, avocado and shisho sprout and the no meat roll comes with cucumber, pickled radish, avocado, squash, egg and tofu. I ordered it without the egg. Everything was delicious, but my favorite was the tempura roll. I’m crazy about yams and loved the texture and flavor of the tempura. The tofu dish was breaded with panko and fried. Not the healthiest option I’m sure, but very yummy. It had a tangy teriyaki sauce and was served with fresh vegetables.

The restaurant was loud, which always makes me feel a little stressed, but we were too busy chowing down to hold much of conversations anyway.

A Taste of Turkey (Not the Bird) at Istanbul Grill

One of my favorite Houston lunch spots is the Istanbul Grill in West University. All of their appetizers are vegetarian and they feature many veggie entrees. I had never tried their red lentil soup until recently when the waiter casually mentioned that it was vegetarian. I love it. I often stop by the Istanbul Grill on Saturday afternoons. I volunteer at a local hospital and am usually famished by noon. I order the vegetarian lahmacun, a plate of hummus and the lentil soup. It is usually too much food, but I can never decide between the hummus and the lahmacun, which is a thin bread covered with chopped tomatoes, parsley, green peppers and garlic. The lahmacun also comes rolled up on a platter with eggplant dip, but I prefer the simple, solitary lahmacun. It is amazing that such simple ingredients can yield such spicy goodness. The Istanbul wait staff is always friendly and their iced tea is strong. I’ve occasionally ordered the vegetable kebab, which has always been fresh and wonderful. Love it!