Summer is here, and with it comes the chance to indulge in one of America’s favorite culinary pastimes: grilling. And while you can definitely indulge in traditional American steaks or burgers in Houston, the city’s wonderful diversity means that there are also a plethora of international dining options. For National Grilling Month this July, here are seven spots to sample delicious grilling from around the world.
Legend has it that Mama Ninfa, the matriarch who opened this original location in the 70’s, invented what we now know and love as fajitas. These days, Ninfa’s is still famous for its grilled fajitas and tacos al carbon, but you can also sample items like Grilled Quail, or slow-roasted whole Baby Back Ribs with house-made pasilla pepper sauce grilled. All items are prepared on the recently installed, exhibition-style wood-burning grill over pecan and white oak. Says executive chef Alex Padilla: “It’s bringing back all the original flavors, when people used to use wood for cooking. Camping flavors, like cowboy-style. This is Texas.”
There’s nothing quite like the experience of Brazilian rodizio. An all-you-can-eat meat buffet wherein freshly grilled meats are brought to the table and sliced right before you; it’s a feast for meat lovers and something you must experience at least once. At Chama Gaucha (which means “flame of the gaucho”), the rodizio experience features 11 cuts of meat, including their famous picanha prime sirloin, beef rib, filet migon, lamb and ribeye (shrimp is also part of the menu). The meal is accompanied by an extensive open salad bar and a variety of sides such as black beans, caramelized bananas, and their famous cheese bread, pão de queijo.
Featured on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, Himalaya is a local culinary treasure located in the heart of Houston’s Mahatma Gandi district. Chef/owner Kaiser Lakshari, in addition to serving the best biryani in the city, is known for his flavor-packed, made-from-scratch sauces and items like gluten-free, chickpea flour-dusted boneless fried chicken. On the grill front, try Lakshari’s Steak Tikka —what former Houston Press food critic Robb dubbed as “Pakistani fajitas” —or go bigger with the Special Grill Platter, a shareable feast of Lamb Seekh kabob, Chicken Seekh Kabob, Chicken Boti, Persian Kabob, as well as that killer Steak Tikka.
Now in six cities across the U.S., Roka Akor’s buzzy Houston outpost, which specializes in sushi, steaks and seafood, features a lively open kitchen where you can watch the kitchen staff grilling items directly on the robata—a type of Japanese grill using imported Japanese coals known as bincho-tan. In addition to dishes like the Robata-Grilled Diver Scallops and Robata-Grilled Pork Belly, diners can also choose from a menu of no less than six types of domestic and Japanese certified Wagyu beef. For those who don’t mind splurging, Roka Akor is also one of only two Houston restaurants to offer genuine Kobe Beef from Japan, considered the most prized and expensive beef in the world.
Cuisine: South American
You don’t have to fly all the way to Uruguay to experience the country’s famed beef. At this Citycentre hidden gem in Memorial City, Uruguayan-born owner Gianfranco Percovich offers a wide variety of meats ranging from 100% grass-fed Uruguayan tenderloin and ribeye, to 100% grass fed water buffalo from Corpus Christi, and 40-day dry-aged New York Strip from Niman Ranch. Meats are seasoned simply with salt and pepper, then grilled over a mesquite and pecan wood-fired grill to the desired done-ness. The Parrilla Mixta for Two lets you taste a bit of everything: short ribs, veal sweetbreads, Argentinian chorizo sausage, Morcilla (blood sausage), tenderloin, out-side skirt, pork wrapped in bacon, flank steak and more, served sizzling on a custom-made cast iron tabletop grill.
When only good ‘ole American will do, head to chef Ronnie Killen’s neighborhood restaurant in Memorial for wood-grilled steaks and more. For steaks, take your pick USDA Prime wet-aged, dry-aged or Wagyu beef, including Flintstone-sized off-menu 40-ounce tomahawk long bone-in ribeye. On the menu, Killen and STQ executive chef Teddy Lopez offer a contemporary take on grilling with items like Grilled Octopus with smoked hummus, spicy tomato, cured meyer lemon; or Grilled miso Snapper, oyster mushrooms, brussels sprouts, Kimchi.
Debuting this July 2018, Ayesha Curry and Michael Mina’s new Houston restaurant takes you on a virtual trip around the world — from Vietnam to Jamaica to Lebanon and beyond — with dishes like Lemongrass Pork Chop with stir fried clams, glass noodles, soy and lime; and Bincho tan-Grilled Lobster with Japanese curry spiced yaki-udon. Grilling serves as the basis for many of the items on the menu. Says Curry: “Grilling is the perfect way to experiment and taste different flavors, cuts of meat, and styles of cooking. They all have one thing in common: that delicious taste is reminiscent of an outdoor family gathering!”