12 Days of Favorite Houston Food & Drink Experiences in 2020, Part 11: Stores & Products

Tiger Saté close-up

Welcome to the 11th part of a series where we showcase the noteworthy food and drink experiences of a very weird year. In the spirit of the holidays, it’s also a very special collaboration between the food writers of the Houston Press and Houston Food Finder, the online publication founded by former Houston Press restaurant critic and food editor Phaedra Cook. This 11th edition showcases some of our writers’ favorite stores and products. Part 12 will highlight some of our writers’ favorite restaurant experiences. In case you missed it, here’s Part 10: Innovations. See the list at the end of this article for other installments of the series.

Favorite Grocery Store

Phoenicia Specialty Foods downtown location. Photo by Hunter Jones.
Phoenicia Specialty Foods, 1001 Austin Street and 12141 Westheimer: This locally owned and operated grocery store has served Houston for more than 30 years. Both the downtown and original West Houston locations offer a diverse selection of pantry staples, fresh produce, deli and bakery items, plus unique gifts perfect for cooks, many of which are sourced from around the globe. Shop in store or select curbside and delivery. Those latter two services have been particularly welcome options this year. — Ellie Sharp, managing editor, Houston Food Finder

Favorite Local Hand Sanitizer

Gulf Coast Distillers, 5610 Clinton: In the early days of the pandemic, folks in Houston (and across the country) started buying hand sanitizer as if it was the last smoked brisket in Texas. Soon, there was a nationwide shortage, as well as a price-gouging black market. To fill the gap, area distilleries swerved to produce and supply this important commodity. As Houston’s largest distillery, Gulf Coast Distillers was able to stock countless units of its C4U hand sanitizer at breweries, grocers and liquor stores, making it one of the most prominent local brands almost overnight. — Ryan Kasey Baker, contributing writer, Houston Food Finder

Favorite New Locally Made Products

Tatemó handmade blue corn tortillas made from Tuxpeño Azul heirloom corn imported from Chiapas, Mexico. Photo by Emmanuel Chavez.

Houston has long had a plethora of locally made food treats, from the tortillas that “Mama” Ninfa made at her first business, Rio Grande Tortilla Co., to the goat feta produced by Blue Heron Farm. Despite the pandemic (and sometimes because of it) 2020 has had several new Houston-based products rise to prominence. Here are a few of our favorites.

Feges BBQ Smoked Beef Tallow: Instead of throwing away the fat from the meat they prepare, owners Erin Smith and Patrick Feges render it in a smoker. Cooking with this smokey goodness turns fried potatoes, sautéed onions and cheeseburgers into drool-worthy delicacies. You can purchase it at Urban Harvest’s Saturday Farmers Market  or you can order it for delivery or pickup at their Greenway Plaza location.

Pantry By Nature Tiger Saté: When An Dao, a medical researcher, found herself with extra time on her hands due to COVID-19 shutdowns in March, she used that time to start Pantry By Nature. Inspired to her grandmother’s cooking, Dao blends jalepeños, garlic, lemongrass and a few other all-natural ingredients into her zippy take on saté, a Vietnamese chili sauce that she sells in mild, medium and hot. This versatile product will spice up a bowl of phở or a pan of homemade pasta puttanesca. You can purchase it online or at select retail locations.

Tatemó Heirloom Corn Tortillas: Every week, Emmanuel Chavez and Megan Maul nixtamalize different varieties of heirloom corn imported from Mexico. Then, they grind the nixtamalized maize into masa, which they form into thin, fragrant tortillas. Available at the Urban Harvest’s Saturday Farmers Market, at various pop-ups and during select hours at their shop, these redolent disks have quickly become a staple in my kitchen.  — David Leftwich, associate editor, Houston Food Finder

Favorite Restaurant Pivots to Grocery Store Sales

Underbelly Hospitality’s heat-and-eat Korean Braised Beef Dumplings available at select H-E-B locations. Photo by Julie Sofer.

In a true expression of magnanimity, grocery store chains H-E-B and Kroger opened the refrigerator cases and invited some of Houston’s top restaurants to sell heat-and-eat meals. This gesture provided a desperately needed new source of revenue to help sustain these businesses through the pandemic-induced shutdown and beyond. Soon, H-E-B shoppers were able to toss into their carts or order via curbside pickup Underbelly Hospitality’s famous Korean Braised Beef Dumplings, turtle soup from Brennan’s of Houston, lasagna from Coltivare and Dr Pepper Short Ribs with Cheese Grits from Cherry Block Craft Butcher + Kitchen. Kroger stores filled cases with meals-to-go from Peli Peli, Kim Son, Burns BBQ and Frenchy’s Chicken. Really, these should be available year-round. It both supports local restaurants and provides diners with easy and delicious weeknight dinners. — Phaedra Cook, editor and publisher, Houston Food Finder


The Other Favorite Houston Food & Drink Experiences of 2020

Part 1: Bars

Part 2: Treats & Trends

Part 3: Wine

Part 4: Beer

Part 5: Chefs

Part 6: Coffee

Part 7: Delivery & To-Go

Part 8: Cocktails & Spirits

Part 9: Industry Helpers

Part 10: Innovations

Part 12: Restaurants

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