As someone who grew up in the heart of Houston’s Asiatown — and who is still deeply embedded in the community today, both as a restaurant owner and activist — Debbie Chen knows a thing or two about where to grab specialty bites in the area.
Chen, an immigration attorney, is the co-owner of hot pot spot Shabu House in Asiatown’s Dun Huang Plaza and also serves as the program director for the Greater Houston chapter of the OCA (formerly known as the Organization of Chinese Americans). As part of the OCA’s advocacy work, Chen says the chapter tries to highlight Asiatown’s diversity and raise its profile as an essential dining destination. You need only drive down the eight-mile stretch on Bellaire Boulevard to see the sheer variety of Asian cuisines available to hungry Houstonians.
Chen herself likes to support small mom-and-pop businesses in the area and says she tends to frequent places where she will order the same thing every time, “because that’s the place that makes it the best.” Here are just a few of her favorites.
“This is a small mom-and-pop shop and probably the least expensive restaurant in the entire Asiatown area. They primarily do lunch specials, and I like their cashew chicken,” says Chen.
During the pandemic, OCA-Greater Houston along with the Chinese Community Center and the Asian Chamber of Commerce partnered together with several different organizations and raised more than $150,000 to purchase meals and PPE to donate to frontline workers. Yantze Restaurant was one of the places that they ordered food from. “They’re one of the few Asiatown restaurants that support community service and nonprofits and one of the few places that does affordable party trays,” says Chen. 6601 West Sam Houston Parkway South
This is also one of the restaurants OCA purchased custom meals from to deliver to frontline workers during the pandemic, says Chen, whose favorite dish is the golden tofu. “It’s the only restaurant in this area that makes it. They take egg tofu and very lightly coat it in salted egg yolk and fry it with a sauce.” 9885 Bellaire Boulevard, Suite 106
“I go here specifically for two dishes: their cauliflower with smoked pork belly and the steamed fish fillet with soft tofu slices,” says Chen. “The smoked pork belly in the cauliflower dish really adds nuance to the flavor. And then for the steamed fish dish, they make their own chili pepper mix that goes on top of it as a sauce. It’s super flavorful.” 9889 Bellaire Boulevard, Suite C307
“They make a lot of unique drinks but what’s really good here is the spicy chicken gizzard snack,” says Chen, adding, “If I’m going to spend money, I want to spend it at a mom-and-pop restaurant where I know their family is depending on that money. I know their employees are most likely going to be immigrants. I know that they’re going to have something that’s unique and that they’re really good at.” 8300 West Sam Houston Parkway South
“They make this sandwich from their own baked bread, which has a slightly sweeter taste to it,” says Chen. “They make two versions: One’s vegetarian and one is made with pork sung, or dried pork floss. They put cucumber slices in it and a really thin slice of ham or egg, and then they cut it into a triangle. It’s a traditional breakfast food that you would be able to get in Taiwan. They also have plum juice that you can just grab and go.” Chen also enjoys the mango and tiramisu cakes and notes that the bakery’s owners also support community work. 9889 Bellaire Boulevard, Suite D246
Read Debbie Chen’s essay about her work with the Asiatown community here.
Vickie An is a Houston-based freelance writer and editor covering food, culture, business, and innovation. Her work has appeared in Time, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and Hearst Specials, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter. Follow Resy, too.
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