Houston is proud of its food diversity. We have over 140 sushi, 450 Chinese, 170 Vietnamese, and 840 Mexican restaurants. In America, only New York and parts of California are more diverse.
But a lot of good cuisines are missing. There are types of food that every city with 5.6 million people should have. And we don't.
1. Portuguese. I love Portuguese food -- especially seafood stews. When I lived in Boston, there were countless Portuguese restaurants within 3 miles of my apartment. Houston only has Oporto, a Portuguese bar with a limited tapas menu.
2. German. After the Spanish, many of early European settlers to Texas were Germans. German place names are everywhere west of Houston. Yet our only German restaurants are Rudi Lechner's and Old Heidelberg. That's it. (It's a shame that Alfredo's sausage house on Montrose closed).
3. Ethiopian. I only know of two good Ethiopian restaurant in Houston - Addisaba and Blue Nile. Yet many smaller American cities, like Boston and D.C., have dozens.
4. Delis. Yes, Houston has over 100 places that claim to be delis. But good delis? New York-quality delis? Hardly. Instead the market is dominated by bland chains that hardly deserve to be called delis. Years ago, Houston had a fantastic Jewish Deli -- Alfred's. Today, we don't have any quite as good. The only ones that excite me at all are Khan's, Nielsen's, Kenny & Ziggy's and Specs. For a city our size, we should have more.
5. Moroccan. We have one Moroccan restaurant -- Saffron. It is quite good. But one Moroccan restaurant isn't enough for 5.6 million people.
6. New Mexican-Mexican. Mexican food in New Mexico is different. It uses ingredients like green chiles and blue corn. It is famous for dishes like posole and a unique kind of chile relleno. It can be extremely spicy. And it is quite different from Tex Mex. We have Chuy's and Canyon Cafe -- restaurants with a slight New Mexican influence. But we have little authentic New Mexican food.
7. Russian. In the past, Houston had some good Russian restaurants. Currently, I know of none.
8. Eastern European. We have three very good restaurants representing three Eastern European cuisines: Polonia (Poland), Charivari (Romanian), and Cafe Pita (Bosnia). But that is about it. Where in Houston can you get a Hungarian bean soup, Croatian mushroom-stuffed tomatoes, or Bulgarian red pepper stew?
9. Rural Texas food. There are fascinating rural foods in Texas that Houstonians just seem embarassed to serve. Central Texas from Schulenberg to Fredricksburg has a unique mix of German, Czech, and rural American food. And East Texas has a distinctive brand of Southern American cooking. These local cuisines get little respect in Houston are barely represented in our restaurants.
10. Molecular gastronomy. Most major cities have at least one restaurant that features avant garde cooking, i.e., WD-50 (New York), Alinea (Chicago), Minibar (D.C.), and Bazaar (Los Angeles). We had laidback manor for less than a year. But currently we don't have anything close to MG or any other branch of the avant garde.
UPDATE: Come to think of it, what Houston really needs is conveyor belt sushi so we can do this.