Food critic Alison Cook reveals her 10 greatest Houston dishes in 2020

As we lurched towards the conclude of the pandemic calendar year, I observed myself humbled by the pretty idea of “best.”

With so a lot of eating places scrambling to endure, what’s the issue of the typical rating attributes?

A “best dishes” listing seems even additional relative than regular in this kind of a context.

My yearly favorites usually count on the boundaries of my very own brain and palate. But in 2020, they also depended on the limited set of dishes I was able to forage for myself as my universe shrank down to a careful bubble.

The perpetual banquet of the skilled food writer ground to a halt. In the peaceful, I observed myself appreciating factors in a different way, pausing to grasp and savor food items, and the professionals who prepare dinner it for us, in a new way.

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Char siu xiu mai banh mi, Yelo

Chef Cuc Lam is back — and how — with her modern Vietnamese sandwich stylings at Yelo, her partnership with Phat Eatery’s Alex Au-Yeung. An early star: soft, peppery pork meatballs (xiu mai) marinated in char siu barbecue pork seasonings, that march down the middle of a light-weight and crusty French baguette loaf, lit up by pickled carrot and papaya, moreover deluxe garlic aioli. You can up the ante with an optional fried egg and some silky property-built Vietnamese pâté. Get this sensational banh mi, very first launched at Yelo’s now-closed pop-up at Blodgett Food items Hall, at Phat Eatery (out there starting Jan. 8) or hold out right up until Yelo opens next doorway afterwards this thirty day period.

Masa-ball soup, Ninfa’s Uptown

Chef Alex Padilla is usually comprehensive of intriguing strategies, even extra so at the sleeker Uptown version of this longtime Mexican common. The clarity and finesse of his “masa-ball” edition of matzoh-ball soup held me in its grip from my initially sip: sensitive rooster broth, downy masa dumpling, even the pure ping of simmered celery crescents. In a 12 months when soup held far more than its common comforts (there are a few on this list!), this 1 stood out with its wit and perception of spot.

Bash Soften, Superior Luck Tomorrow

How did a cheeseburger hold me pondering about it lengthy following I experienced polished off the previous crunchy, Parmesan-gilded crumb? With masterful textures backed up by deep, resonant flavors, courtesy of chef Justin Yu and his maniacal notice to element. The top secret of this sandwich (not “burger,” Yu likes to insist) is the intense pan-sear on its crustless squares of pan de mie loaf, so that the Parmesan coating forms a brittle, golden sheath. Almost everything falls into area beneath: the expansively beefy patty the waterfall of lively Thousand Island-design dressing and the interaction of two-depend-’em-two modes of onion — a caramelized tangle and a layer of shaved pink ones, paper thin. What a journey.

Knife-lower noodle soup (kalguksu). MDK Noodles

Silky, slippery, slithery: The delicate knife-slice wheat noodles that are a housemade specialty at this new Korean noodle home operate the gamut of my most loved s-text. These 2-foot-long toddlers — kalguksu in Korean — slurp mouthward with the finest of simplicity. They are ideal appreciated in a rich, delicate hen broth, along with very small gingered pork dumplings, floor rooster crumbles and slips of wooden ear. This comforting soup is greatest eaten on the location, or as a takeout-welcoming do-it-your self package so that you simmer the noodles at home to exactly the proper texture.

Barbecue platter, Harlem Street BBQ

Chef and pitmaster Ara Malekian’s spectacular smoked-meat platter at his much-southwestern barbecue joint, just about the Richmond line, is one of my last vivid dining reminiscences from right before the lockdown. The photographs of his elemental rose-crimson lamb chop and opulent, suave duckling are wreathed in woodsmoke and the mighty beef ribs, with their crusty char, feel like a distant dream. I made a pledge to fellow BBQ State of Thoughts podcaster Chris Reid, the Houston Chronicle’s barbecue guru, to return right here for a feast with bottles of fantastic purple wine. The intention stands, 1 of a lot of having me by the pandemic.