Best ethnic grocery store in Houston?
Super H Mart is a Korean chain with a number of locations in the U.S. Here, Super H opened in the former location of a Randalls. If you walk inside and don't look too closely, you might think that you are in a state-of-the-art Whole Foods. Super H Mart has that same bright, cheery, contemporary feel. But instead of a cheese counter, Super H has a whole wall devoted to kimchi.
Super H is not as big as Hong Kong Market. It does not have the same quantity of imported dry goods. Instead, Super H excels with its selection of its produce and seafood.
The produce section includes fruits and vegetables that are rarely seen in Houston -- even at Hong Kong market. The quality of the produce looks as good as Central Market or Whole Foods.
The seafood section may have the broadest, and most interesting, selection of seafood in Houston. You can select some fish, such as these, using tongs.
Mostly Korean Food Court
Super H Mart is also significant because it brings Houston its second Korean food court. A few years ago, I discovered the Korean food court at nearby Ko-Mart. Ko-Mart has a number of mom-and-pop food stands that sell cheap, authentic Korean food.
Super H's food court is something different. These stands feel much more like a food court in an American mall -- contemporary, accessible, and corporate owned. But the food is just as interesting. The stands include a French bakery and a sushi/soba shop, which I have not tried. The stands I did try include the following:
1 - Sobahn Express. Korean fast food, including bibimbap rice dishes, soups, and bulgogi (Korean barbecued beef).
I tried the bulgogi bibimbap -- a rice bowl with different piles of vegetables such as carrots and cucumber kimchi, plus a small serving of bulgogi. I liked the quality of the vegetables more than Super H. But the bulgogi was not nearly as flavorful.
I also tried soybean paste stew. This was a fascinating stew with peppers, onions, oysters, and some other unusual small pink seafood. Although the flavor was strange at first, I discovered halfway through the bowl that it tastes a lot like New Orleans gumbo.
2 - China Factory. This Chinese fast food stand has a short menu, but some interesting dishes. I liked the noodles with black soy bean sauce -- a thick, viscous, comforting sauce that does not have a strong flavor.
3 - Toreore is perhaps the most unusual stand. It is part of a Korean fried chicken chain. But this is unlike any chicken I have ever had. Toreore advertises that it is healthy because it uses no trans fats and a batter that is made from "mixed grains powder." I tried a hot, sweet and spicy chicken nugget that was very sweet and so spicy hot that it caused sores to break out inside my mouth. The smell was something like the inside of a Duncan donut store, but the flavor resembled a sweetened habenero pepper. The vendors at the counter warn non-Korean speakers about how hot this particular dish is. It is a warning well heeded.
You can find more Super H photos and comments on the food court in this detailed post by Neverfull over at eGullet.
Super H Mart is drawing a huge Asian-American crowd. But it is going to draw a lot of other people who are less familiar with Asian foods. I found out about Super H Mart last month from my mother-in-law -- a Texas-born lady who never tried sushi until recently. She thinks Super H is pretty cool.