Benny Chows Broadens its Appeal With New Chef, More Dishes & Lower Prices

Dishes at Benny Chows

Amid building his restaurant empire, Ben Berg is also taking time to revamp an existing concept — Benny Chows, located in the Heights at 1818 Washington Avenue. He has welcomed new executive chef Junnajet “Jett” Hurapan, who is adding Pan-Asian flare to the menu. If Hurapan’s name sounds familiar it’s because he’s been in the kitchen of some of Houston’s favorite Asian restaurants over the years, including Gigi’s Asian Bistro, Blu, Yi Peng Thai Dining and Songkran Thai Kitchen.

Last year, Berg Hospitality’s announcement of the opening of the “upscale Chinese restaurant” offering “elevated Cantonese eats” was met with accusations of cultural tone-deafness and sticker-shock pricing. However, diners who were not swayed by the criticisms found that the Chinese food, by then-executive chef Shirong Mei, was more than just adequate. It was quite good. Berg had brought in the right expert to execute his initial vision.

Chef Hurapan
Benny Chows welcomes new executive chef, Junnajet “Jett” Hurapan. Courtesy Photo.

With his vision somewhat changed, Berg again believes he’s brought in the right chef to bring it to life. “I’m honored to add Jett to the team,” Berg said. “As New Yorkers, we bond over a shared nostalgia for the food from our childhood. His stellar culinary skills combined with his electric energy makes for bold decisions in the kitchen that are reflected in his dishes.”

Papaya Salad at Benny Chows
Som Tam (Thai papaya salad), one of the new dishes on the menu. Courtesy photo.

The updated menu is still Cantonese-heavy but is invigorated with added dishes such as pad thai (both chicken and shrimp), som tam (Thai papaya salad) and panang curry. In a press release, Hurapan spoke about the changes. “To keep things fresh and exciting, we’ve given the menu a facelift while keeping the cool, unique concept intact. You’ll still find iconic dishes like Beef & Broccoli, but we’ve spiced things up with Thai-, Vietnamese- and Malaysian-inspired creations.”

Houston Food Food Finder was invited to sample some of the new dishes as well as the existing favorites. Berg Hospitality’s establishments are a feast for the eyes, and the Benny Chows space is still one of the most stunning dining rooms in the city. It sets the scene for a fun night out, as does the cocktail list that still features Asian-inspired signature cocktails such as the China Club Nights with Ketel One Vodka, watermelon shrub, mint, Yantai Guniang Baijiu (a Chinese grain spirit) and fresh lime, and Mama’s China Garden with Reyka Vodka, guava and passion fruit tea syrup and Nino Franco ‘Rustico’ Prosecco. Both are priced at $18.

Dumplings at Benny Chows. Courtesy Photo.

While cocktail prices remain the same and comparable to other high end restaurants around town, the revamp does address the aforementioned sticker shock. We noticed a decrease in prices of most of the dishes. The excellent shrimp toast (rolled shrimp paste, deep fried until golden brown and coated in tobiko and sesame seeds) still comes four to an order but is now $15 instead of $23. The dumpling and dim sum dishes which once ranged from $17 to $29 now are from $12 to $18 and include the expertly made crystal shrimp dumplings, siu mai and xiao long bao, which come to the table steaming, silky and savory. Remaining on the appetizer menu is the Smoked Brisket Egg Rolls, stuffed with Truth BBQ smoked brisket and Asian slaw served with Chinese barbecue sauce and mustard sauce. It is a dish that is a perfect nod to Houston’s fusion of flavors.

Peking duck
Peking duck at Benny Chows. Courtesy Photo.

The crispy-skinned Peking ducks glisten as they hang from the window of the private dining area. One of the most significant decreases in price is to the Peking duck a whole duck served with scallions, cucumber, pickled veggies, hoisin, cranberry sauce and steamed pancakes. It is now $85 ($115 prior to the update). While it is still pricier than other versions found in Asiatown and beyond, the quality of the duck, its presentation, the accoutrement and the flavors all make it well worth ordering for the table to share.

Shaking beef
Vietnamese Shaking Beef, a new dish at Benny Chows. Courtesy Photo.

Among the new dishes, the shaking beef (a traditional Vietnamese dish known as bò lúc lắc) was a favorite of the night. Succulent cubes of filet mignon seared with garlic and onion are dressed in a spicy and tangy chili lime sauce served over a bed of baby spinach. Each bite was tender and flavorful, and the chili lime sauce added heat and acid. The Ginger Garlic Salt Crispy Whole Fish is also a must-order a whole red snapper is filleted, presented whole and glazed with a ginger-soy hot oil.

The chicken fried rice was nothing novel but an order of Singapore rice noodles with shrimp, char siu (Chinese barbecued pork), egg, bean sprouts and madras curry was happily devoured, as was a side of snow pea shoots cooked with Shaoxing wine and sprinkled liberally with crispy shallots and toasted garlic. The slightly sweet and mild bitterness of the delicate greens was a great accompaniment to all the dishes.

Five Spice Chocolate Pot at Benny Chows
Five Spice Chocolate Pot, a new dessert at Benny Chows. Courtesy photo.

Dessert also gets an update with mango sticky rice and a rich Five Spice Chocolate Pot with chocolate crème, cocoa mud and crunchy chocolate pebbles. 

Diners that have long followed Hurapan’s culinary career in Houston can also testify to the spiritedness he brings to the kitchen. His energy is infectious and shows in the food he brings to the guests’ table. Hurapan’s touch is evident in every dish. The flavors are robust and vibrant while still striking a nuanced balance of savory, sweet and spicy. With the addition of the Pan-Asian dishes and the more approachable prices, including happy hour offered from Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m., the restaurant is starting its second year on an inspired note.

Benny Chows is open Sunday and Monday from 4 to 9 p.m. and Tuesday through Saturday from 4 to 10 p.m.

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