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[HOU] Dining in grocery stores


neverfull
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My wonderful Super H-mart experience prompted a luncheon food excursion to 2 other ethnic grocery stores with much lauded food. yes, i had 2 lunches today! they don't call me neverfull for nothin!

My first stop was Asia Market on W. Cavalcade between Airline and N. Main in the Heights. i first read about this place in the Fearless Critic Houston Restaurant Guide. But after seeing the photos that anonymouseater posted on his blog this week and rereading his previous review, i suddenly felt the need to get out there ASAP. (i actually attempted to go last night, but they close at 7 pm)

The website (i was surprised to find one) lists 10 menu items, however the menu i found in-store boasts 6 salads, 4 soups, 5 noodle dishes, 5 rice dishes, 5 curries, 2 vegetable dishes, and 10 specialty items. the menu also says 'let us know if you would like to try something that's not on the menu.'

there were a couple thai women behind the register where you place your order and pay for groceries and a congenial african-american gentleman who took our order. he seemed very helpful and knowledgeable about the menu. we ordered the tom kha soup w/shrimp, pad kee mao noodles w/chicken (thai spicy), and the kang keaw wan w/ pork (green curry). when we tried to order the green curry thai spicy, he looked at us like we were crazy and said it was already really spicy. we took his advice and ordered it "normal" or farang-style ('farang' means the same thing in thai as 'gringo' does in spanish).

it took about 15-20 mins before our food started coming out which gave us ample time to explore the grocery store. there were lots of homemade desserts on a table near the dining area and some interesting savory snacks as well. since we knew we had 2 stops for lunch, we had to show some restraint and pass on them. the dining area was larger than i expected and was on the front side of the store. there were 8 small tables with 2 chairs at each. another long table contained styrofoam plates, eating utensils, and various condiments such as sriracha, pickled chilis, and chili sauces. the kitchen is almost completely open and there was a cute older couple that seemed to be chef and sous chef. ventilation was good b/c there was no noticeable greasy stirfry smell about the place.

the first dish that came out was the pad kee mao. it was delightfully spicy but we still added some srichacha. i could have taken a little more heat, i think the kitchen was being easy on us. this dish was amazing and had a wonderful fresh basil flavor. i also love anything with egg in it. i was literally dancing in my chair.

[this is what the dish would look like with beer goggles on. my camera phone sucks]

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next up was the tom kha w/shrimp that arrived right before we were done with the pad kee mao. i have a photo of the soup innards below too. the baby shrimp, although plentiful, was obviously the cheap frozen stuff. my dining companion even remarked that he preferred a couple big shrimp to a bunch of little ones. i'll get the chicken next time, but the flavor of the soup was wonderful. it had a lot of coconut milk in it and the flavors just exploded in my mouth. i still can't decide if i like vieng thai's version better. VT's is more savory and delicate. AM's is loud and vibrant.

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we closed the delicious meal with the green curry w/pork. again the flavor profiles were amazing. the green tomatillo-esque objects are thai eggplant which comes in all their curry dishes. i've just recently fallen in love with eggplant in the past couple years, used to hate it as a kid, and after seeing anonymouseater's photos of it, it was my number one reason for coming out. the eggplant itself disappointed. it didn't taste like much and the outside of the vegetable was so hard that it was sometimes difficult to chew and swallow. the curry itself was glorious. we substituted sticky rice for white rice.

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our second stop was gerardo's drive-in. i have to admit i was a tad full leaving asia market. the food was so good that i overate, but my lunch companion was game to follow through with our plan. gerardo's was a short drive away on patton on the other side of 45 near irvington. we didn't get there until about 3 pm. their condiments bar was put up but they seemed happy to serve us. the barbacoa looked like it had been sitting out for awhile, but a huge tray of carnitas still boned gave me more hope. here is the menu: (i can't believe the photo came out so clear.)

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mmm, carnitas...

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carnitas and chicharrones...

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then we spied some huge hunks of chicharrones on another tray (why didn't i get a photo?). they looked like thick, huge slabs of deep fried bacon. the older man behind the counter told us to try some when he saw our eyes pop out at the sight of them. he instructed us to heat them up in the microwave in the dining area.

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we split the lunch plate w/ 2 meats and the obligatory rice and beans. we chose barbacoa and carnitas based on robb walsh's review of the place last year. the older man behind the counter was happy to give us both corn and flour tortillas. we also asked for some fresh onion and cilantro and they gave us a boatload of it.

(again, sorry for the poor quality of the photos. the barbacoa looks like collard greens. LOL.)

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they gave us 3 salsas. the green tomatillo one was fantastic!

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all the food was about room temperature except for the warm tortillas. in hindsight, we probably should have nuked everything in the provided microwave. the carnitas did have a good crispy texture which was what i was looking for even if they were cold. my friend and i both decided we would come back again during prime lunch hours. btw, barbacoa is only served on friday, saturday, and sunday and i hear the place is crazy on weekends.

my friend who introduced me to vieng thai called me shortly after i left gerardo's. i was so excited to tell him about asia market and met him for coffee at catalina. we hung out there for awhile and then went back to asia market for dinner.

my phone was dead at this point so he took photos on his phone. i think they will be exponentially better than mine and i'm just waiting for him to download them and send them to me. i will update this post with asia market round 2 later....

i hope others will share some grocery store/convenience store dining experiences in this post. i would love to know about more! other than super h-mart and komart (which i'm totally over), i can think of one other that deserves to be mentioned. the chinese deli in the dynasty supermarket in chinatown on bellaire @ corporate. best roasted duck in houston! maybe i can get over there soon and bring back some photos.

Edited by neverfull (log)

"Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our cooks."

-Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living, 1937

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Great report as usual Jenny. I've never been to Asia Market but obviously I need to go.

Haven't been to Gerardo's in some time. I really appreciate the menu! I'm so befuddled by all the choices when I go and can't make up my mind - maybe I can make up my mind before leaving home.

Just a thought on the cam phone (I don't have one so I don't know the limitations) - maybe don't try to take close-ups? Maybe that's why the shot of the menu came out clear? With my cam, if I don't push a special setting when I am too close, I get not only get blurry pics but also off color, like a pinkish tinge to everything. Maybe just take longer shots and crop them before posting?

Love the pictures anyway.

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Just a thought on the cam phone (I don't have one so I don't know the limitations) - maybe don't try to take close-ups?  Maybe that's why the shot of the menu came out clear?  With my cam, if I don't push a special setting when I am too close, I get not only get blurry pics but also off color, like a pinkish tinge to everything.  Maybe just take longer shots and crop them before posting?

Love the pictures anyway.

yes, closeups are obviously not working on my camera phone. it's really hard to tell how good the photo is until i download it to my computer. i usually take 3-5 photos of each dish, upload them to my computer, then pick the best shots to publish. the menu shot looked totally blurry on the screen of my phone, i was amazed that it came out so clear when i saw it blown up. i can't wait to see the photos from dinner at AM. i think my friend's camera phone is much better than mine. i'm waiting for him to send them to me.

i also have a correction. the green sauce at gerardo's is not a tomatillo. my dining companion just corrected me. it was made out of green chiles, perhaps serranos.

"Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our cooks."

-Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living, 1937

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i have to say that round 2 of asia market was not as impressive. it was funny going back only 4 hours later and the employees were happy to see me again. we ordered the som tum. i had previously read that the som tum was better at vieng thai in the fearless critic houston restaurant guide. i've only had it thai style at VT; the funky laotian style with purple crunchy crabs was even offputting to robb walsh. i had hoped to try the laotian style here w/shrimp paste, but when i asked the thai woman behind the counter which was better she said "thai" w/o even a second thought. well, the fearless critic was right. VT's som tum blew AM's away although i did like the halved cherry tomatoes in this version. i have a feeling that i would have preferred the laotian style here.

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my dining buddy ordered the tom yum soup w/tofu. i'm not a big fan of this kind of soup, it is a little too tart for my taste, but i did enjoy a small bowl. he loves the stuff and i've shared an order with him at VT too. he is the better judge on this subject and based on his decision, again VT's triumphed over AM's. my only critique was that the tofu was overcooked in the soup. i generally enjoy tofu in all its forms (dried, fresh, pressed into bean curd, fried) but i did not enjoy this one.

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next up, pad thai. this is a dish that i generally order at americanized thai places and i enjoy it for the raw bean sprouts. i have never ordered it the many times i've been to VT, but the fearless critic said this version was the best in town. it was served with crushed peanuts, bean sprouts, a lime squeeze, and roasted chili flakes on the side. i forgot to take the photo before we mixed it all up. my expectations may have been too high after the pad mee kao noodle dish earlier, but this was the most disappointing dish yet. it was dull and bland compared to all the thai spice goodness from earlier. what a beautiful photo though, huh? my friend took all these photos. i can't take credit for any of them.

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lastly, i wanted to order a curry. the counter lady told me to get the panang. we ordered it with chicken. it was my second chance with the thai eggplant. again, they were too hard to eat. i found myself longing for the penang with green beans at VT. the curry itself was good however, but not that memorable.

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i know i didn't impress my dinner guest on this visit. i promised him we would come back again and experience the heavenly pad kee mao or try something really authentic like the Koa Nam Tod (fried rice w/ nam sausage) that a friend of mine who spoke thai recommended when we ran into her earlier that day. there's also an intriguing fried quail listed under their specialties that deserves a try.

"Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our cooks."

-Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living, 1937

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I've been to both places & sad to say that I was disappointed in both. I tried Asia Mkt 3-4 times, hoping like heck it would be good, but I was disappointed each time. I always seem to head back to Vieng Thai as it's much better food.

Gerardo's I only tried once. I've gotten better at most La Michoacana's around town (or Laredo's is also quite good).

ps. You can eat in most grocery stores, Kroger's have salad bars, Fiesta's all have lunch counters, all Mex Meat Mkt's (e.g. La Michoacana) have lunch counters, Sandy's has a big lunch spread, etc.

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I'm not sure what your concept is here Jenny - just eating in a grocery store or exotic food in an ethnic grocery store???

Like Kerr says, there are tons of carnicerias around; I think all the Kroger Signature stores and Randall's Flagships will have cafes (and Kroger a Boar's Head Deli).

There's Phoenicia Specialty Foods and the deli at Spec's downtown.

Whole Foods.

As far as convenience stores, which is what Gerardo's was, I think, there's Burt's on Lyons - meat market, convenience store, awesome cajun and soul food ready to eat (but no eating in the store).

Same policy at Guy's Meat Market (also convenience store) on OST - so-so bbq (chicken and sausage is best) and smoked burgers - but no eating in the store.

Pete's Fine Meats on Richmond is a meat market/grill - hamburgers are the most dependable thing to order but other sandwiches are available.

The last remaining Antone's owned by the founding family in the Village for sandwiches and I think some pasta dishes??? Seems like they serve somethings other than sandwiches.

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lol, i'm not sure what my concept is. of course i know there are delis in kroger's, randall's, CM, WF, and spec's. i guess i'm just trying to find the gems that many others don't know about. i would say that good ethnic cuisine is what i'm after.

i would like to get over to burt's on lyons. thanks for reminding me.

I'm not sure what your concept is here Jenny - just eating in a grocery store or exotic food in an ethnic grocery store???

Like Kerr says, there are tons of carnicerias around; I think all the Kroger Signature stores and Randall's Flagships will have cafes (and Kroger a Boar's Head Deli).

There's Phoenicia Specialty Foods and the deli at Spec's downtown.

Whole Foods. 

As far as convenience stores, which is what Gerardo's was, I think, there's Burt's on Lyons - meat market, convenience store, awesome cajun and soul food ready to eat (but no eating in the store).

Same policy at Guy's Meat Market (also convenience store) on OST - so-so bbq (chicken and sausage is best) and smoked burgers - but no eating in the store.

Pete's Fine Meats on Richmond is a meat market/grill - hamburgers are the most dependable thing to order but other sandwiches are available.

The last remaining Antone's owned by the founding family in the Village for sandwiches and I think some pasta dishes???  Seems like they serve somethings other than sandwiches.

"Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our cooks."

-Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living, 1937

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lol, i'm not sure what my concept is.  of course i know there are delis in kroger's, randall's, CM, WF, and spec's.

I was just having a little fun with you. Partly, anyway.

i welcome it anytime :)

"Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our cooks."

-Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living, 1937

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