Virtual Food Hall in Houston Is Delivering Comfort & Culinary Diversity
Even before the pandemic, Click Virtual Food Hall, which is helmed by chef and Kata Robata-alum Gabe Medina, was providing Houstonians with a unique service. With the physical distancing, limited social interactions, restaurant closures and then limited occupancy necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Click’s focus on delivery and takeout has now proven to be not only timely, but also extremely useful.
While living in Washington, D.C. in the early 1990s, my wife and I ordered delivery weekly. Satisfying meals of saag paneer and samosas or shrimp with cashews were just a phone call away, and the food was delivered directly by the restaurants. So, when I moved back to Houston in 2003, I was surprised that the delivery options, at least in my neighborhood, were limited to national pizza chains.
Within the last few years, that began to change due to the rise of app-based, third-party delivery services such as DoorDash and Uber Eats. While these offer the valuable service of making deliveries for restaurants, these companies also employ controversial fees. After the cornoavirus-driven restaurant shutdown, followed by reopenings with state-mandated limitations on guest occupancy, owners turned to both third-party and direct delivery to generate much-needed revenue. (One of the few positives: it’s a development that has given Houston diners more delivery options.)
These developments also brought heightened attention to another growing trend in the restaurant industry: ghost kitchens. These are commercial commissaries preparing food for delivery or takeout only. While ghost kitchens are becoming more common, Click Virtual Food Hall was actually ahead of the trend. Click opened, pre-pandemic, in mid 2019 and delivers within a five-mile radius of 4901 Rose, an area that includes the Heights, Montrose, Downtown, Independence Heights, part of the Near Northside, Rice Military and the Washington Corridor.
Luckily, my address falls within Click’s delivery zone. Over the last few months of limited dining-out options, it has become a regular go-to — a safe alternative to cooking every night delivered right to my front door. With nine virtual “restaurants” (and a tenth on the way) operating out of one blue bungalow, there are numerous dishes to suit just about any palate, which is particularly useful for families.
As a food writer, editor and historian, Click has also been particularly useful for me. Food is my way of better understanding the complex city I’ve come to love. Through food, I have explored Houston’s past and present, and formed lasting friendships. So, having limited access to my city’s diverse array of food, found in sprawling strip centers from Alief to Baytown, has been disappointing. Granted, it’s a minor disappointment compared to the tragedies and challenges so many have faced this year — including my stepdad, who ended up in the ICU with COVID-19 after contracting it from an asymptomatic (at the time) family member during a dine-in restaurant meal. That’s one reason I continue to refrain from in-person dining.
Enjoying a meal from Click is one of a handful of experiences that have helped keep me in touch with the city’s culinary richness, and, frankly, given me an occasional break from my own home-cooked meals. Despite my love of cooking, sometimes eating my own food all of the time bores me — and probably my family as well.
To order from Click, you can either use the website on your computer or download the convenient app to your phone. (There’s also a reward program, with points redeemable for free food, but it’s only available by using the app.) The current line up features:
7000 Islands: Medina’s modern takes on Filipino food are a tribute to his heritage that also fills a gap in Houston’s dining scene. I’m still working my way through the many options but if you are looking for a place to start, try the Bicol Express, succulent coconut-braised pork belly (liempo) with spinach and chilies, or the Kare Kare Platter, braised beef shank in a luscious peanut curry with vegetables.
A&J Provisions: This concept offers chef-driven comfort food from clam chowder to chicken-fried ribeye. I recommend the pastas such as the tomato-rich rigatoni bolognese, which, like all the pasta dishes, uses fresh-made pasta from chef Ben McPherson’s BOH Pasta & Pizza, which is located in my other delivery staple, Bravery Chef Hall.
Bowling Club: Though “bowls” have become trendy in the U.S, these have been staples of many cultures for years. In this concept, Medina pays homage to donburi, the Japanese rice bowls he enjoyed during staff meals while working at Tokyo’s world-renowned Narisawa. I’m partial to the tonkatsu, a crispy-yet-tender fried pork cutlet with cabbage, corn and sushi rice.
burger-chan: When I learned that I would be able to have one of my favorite burgers delivered to my door, I was more than excited. I was sad when owners Diane and Willet Feng closed their first location in Greenway Plaza but, understandably, running a burger joint during a pandemic in the food court of a COVID-closed office complex proved difficult. But in true Houston fashion, Click stepped in to offer the Fengs an outlet for what is one of the best burgers in town. I hope their burger and tots will still be available for delivery after their new location in the Galleria-area opens.
Hoshi Poke: These poke bowls combine a mix of fresh seafood and vegetables into seven signature combos, plus a build-your-own option. These are my wife’s go-to when we order and her favorite is the Genki, which features raw salmon and tuna, ikura (salmon roe), avocado and cucumbers.
Macro Bowls: These carefully calculated dishes are geared toward fitness enthusiasts and those with dietary restrictions. There are build-your-own hot and cold options, plus five signature bowls such as Three Nut Vegan Bolognese and the high-protein, low-carb Fighting Chicken, which combines grilled chicken with kimchi, cabbage, snap peas, edamame, green onion, and ssamjang (a thick, spicy Korean sauce).
Mr. Pizza Head: What’s delivery without pizza? This virtual eatery offers a build-your-own choice, plus 12 signature pizzas from the kid-pleasing plain cheese to Korean BBQ, which is topped with sliced ribeye, bulgogi sauce and kimchi.
Sandwich Legend: Since our most recent trip to my wife’s home state of New Jersey, my daughter has craved the classic, Italian-style hoagies from Wawa — think a smaller Buc-ees with better coffee and sandwiches and a similar cult following. This joint’s salami and ham has helped fill that bill. In addition to five other classic cold-cut combos, there are also hot sandwiches such as a meatball sub and a katsu-sando (fried pork cutlet and all the fixings) and build-your-own options.
Tacos Vasquez: This ghost taqueria offers an array of quesadillas and taco options from barbacoa to vegetarian-friendly poblano and shitake.
In addition, according to Click’s ordering platform a collaboration with nearby Ninja Ramen is coming soon. Ramen meal kits and hot ramen will soon be available for delivery.
One too many panko-wasabi-crusted what-nots gave fusion cuisine a bad rap in the early 2000s. However, in Houston where so many cuisines rub shoulders, resulting in unique dishes and experiences, we may need to revitalize the term for businesses such as Medina’s Click, which offers traditional dishes from multiple cuisines, as well as new creations inspired by a synthesis of cultures, techniques and ingredients.
I may not currently feel comfortable cruising down Westheimer or Bellaire and sampling my way through every strip center, but some of that cuisine now cruises over to my front porch.