Thursday, June 18, 2009


First, let me apologize for going radio silent for a couple months...things got a little crazy for me. But K-Ham is back! Now, onto the important seems like everyone is looking to save a few bucks in the current economic climate, so I thought a post on great, inexpensive BYOB restaurants would be fitting.

1. Collina's Italian Cafe

If you haven't been to Collina's, you should try it this weekend. There are two locations inside the loop (Heights & Greenway Plaza) and one outside the loop. Pizza is my favorite thing to eat at Collina's. The pizzas are thin crust, and you can even get whole wheat crust to make yourself feel better about eating the pizza -- I personally think the whole wheat crust is better than the original. I recommend the Margherita and Greca pizzas, but my favorite is what I call the "Shelbs Special" (my friend's go-to pizza at Collina's): pepperoni, onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms on whole wheat. It is a little slice of heaven! Pair a 12" Shelbs Special with a bottle of Ravenswood Red Zinfandel, and you have yourself a solid meal for two under $30 total (as a side note, instead of hosing you with an expensive corkage fee for each bottle of wine, Collina's charges $1.00 for each wine glass at the table).

Don't count Collina's out for other Italian fare. Its meat lasagna is delicious with tons of cheese and a yummy meat sauce. But Collina's vegetable lasagna is truly decadent. Don't be fooled by its name on the menu ("grilled vegetable lasagna") because the crema rosa sauce is not light but is so freaking good that you won't be able to stop eating it. Collina's also has fresh, tasty salads -- I love the house vinaigrette, and the bread sticks are great dipped in olive oil and red pepper. In short, you won't be disappointed with anything you order.

2. Thai Spice Asian Cuisine

Thai Spice is a consistent, reasonably-priced Thai restaurant with several locations throughout the city. What makes Thai Spice in the Heights so great is that it's BYOB, and the corkage fee is $1.50 per person per night, rather than by the bottle. Hands down, the best dish at Thai Spice is the Crystal Noodles (otherwise known in my circle as "crack noodles"), which are sauteed with egg batter, mushrooms, celery, onions, and tomatoes. Again, with this dish, you start out thinking you'll take half home and then wind up eating the whole thing. The good news is that for two people, you can get an appetizer and the Crystal Noodles and have enough food to fill you up.
Speaking of appetizers, I highly recommend the crispy spring rolls and soft summer rolls. The crispy spring rolls are small enough that the fried shell doesn't overwhelm you, and the soft summer rolls are refreshing in this summer heat. Any of Thai Spice's curry options are great, but the red and green seem to be the favorites among my curry-loving friends. If you are looking for a healthy, tasty option, the Grilled Lemongrass Chicken is great. It has a light fish oil sauce and comes with noodles, but there is enough chicken on your plate that you really don't have to eat the noodles to be full. For dessert, you have to try the Sweet Rice with Fresh Mango -- it is a delicious blend of sticky rice and mango. I know, it sounds weird, but you'll be hooked after one bite. As for what wine to bring, unless you are going heavy on the beef dishes, I'd bring a Gewurztraminer or a Sauvignon Blanc because both pair well with lighter but flavorful dishes. If your group doesn't do white wine, go with a Pinot Noir.

3. Ruggles Cafe Bakery

This casual spot in the Rice Village is Ruggles food at a reasonable price. So you order at the counter, and the presentation isn't quite as fancy as the original Ruggles -- but the quality of the food is still top-notch. My absolute favorite thing to eat at Ruggles is the Buffalo Burger with sweet potato fries or fruit, depending upon how healthy I want to be. The Buffalo Burger is a very lean cut and is topped with low-fat cheese. The Warm Baked Texas Goat Cheese Salad is also quite tasty -- the sundried tomato vinaigrette is light but flavorful. The Roasted Pork Loin Sandwich comes with caramelized onions and mozzarella cheese -- need I say more? The Ruggles Fish Tacos are also good -- but get the herbed aioli on the side because the tacos are drowned in it otherwise. And the Fettuccine with pepper chicken in a sweet garlic cream sauce is fantastic -- but definitely not light. Don't forget to save room for dessert -- I mean, it's a bakery after all. Ruggles even has low fat desserts (tres leches and bread pudding) that actually taste good. Your wine pairing for an evening at Ruggles will really depend on what the group orders, so I'll refer you to my April post about ordering a bottle of wine. But guess what? Ruggles has no corkage fee, so if you bring a bottle of wine from your house, it'll be cheaper for you to drink wine than iced tea!

4. Vietnam Restaurant

Vietnam Restaurant is an undiscovered treasure in the Heights. In my judgment, it serves among the very best Vietnamese cuisine in town (apart, of course, from homemade). Even if you're a calorie counter, you have to try the Imperial Rolls -- crispy rice paper, pork, vermicelli, mushroom & onion all piping hot, folded inside a cold piece of lettuce. It is truly remarkable. The soft-shell crab is also a must-order. While it's lightly battered, it is still not too greasy. The lemongrass grilled entrees -- beef or chicken -- are flavorful but not heavy. I honestly haven't tried too many other things because I keep going back to my favorites. The menu is consistent, and the servers are friendly. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but it is actually very nice on the inside. Give Vietnam Restaurant a try, and you be pleasantly surprised. (Wine pairings -- see Thai Spice entry above...Vietnam's corkage fee is also $1.50 per night per person).


  1. Good stuff. Weclome back.

  2. Everyone needs to try the Shelbs special!