Bryan Washington’s guide to food in Houston

Bryan Washington’s debut short story collection Lot is a portrait of his native Houston that reveals the nuances of modern-day struggles in race, socioeconomic status, and sexuality.

I spoke with his at length about the collection for an interview that was published over atThe Millions. However, for this site, I wanted to talk to him about his other big passion: food. We chatted about food in Houston and what everyone should learn how to cook.

If someone came to Houston, where is the first place they would have to stop for dinner?

The first place I would take someone if they dropped here would be Cali’s Sandwich. It’s a Vietnamese restaurant that is a local and the family has owned it for a very long time. I’m there often, to say the least. So by default I would probably take someone where.

Do you eat a lot of Vietnamese food?

I think that living in Houston is a gift because it is so influence the Vietnamese community, the Filipino community, and the Chinese community. When I eat out, a third of it is some sort of Asian cuisine; a third of it is Mexican cuisine because we are really lucky to live in a city that is so inspired by the Mexican and Mexican-American population that lives here; and the last third would probably just be everything else.

We don’t have a super extensive of Nigerian or Jamaican restaurants, but the ones we have are very good. We do have a big collection of Indian restaurants and the options in the city are pretty phenomenal.

I guess I was just picturing a lot of Mexican places because that’s what we have here in Phoenix.

It’s a global food city. There is so much here. I don’t know if we have an exclusive amount of something. We just have a lot of everything. We just have a lot of option. Though Houston has a hell of a lot of taco trucks.

What’s your favorite mealtime?

I could eat breakfast all day. That’s because you have so many options for what you can eat for breakfast. You can get a pota, pho, or con gai. There are a lot of different options. A good breakfast sandwich is always pretty killer.

There’s a Mexican chain my friends love getting breakfast burritos at, but I always end up getting a carne asada burrito no matter the time of the day. I appreciate that they never look at me funny for ordering one at nine in the morning.

The idea of being a regular somewhere and being a part of an internal community has become more important to me in the past few years. Just having them be familiar with you is something that is very cool. I’ve come to appreciate it more and more.

You seem to cook a lot. Is it a meditative thing, does it help with your writing, or do you simply just like food?

I think it’s all three to be quite honest. I grew up cooking and my family cooked a lot. When I was in high school, I had this idea that I would graduate and just work in a bakery here in Houston. That can still happen. The idea of having another craft that I can turn to and constantly learn from and plug into is important to me.

What is the one thing everyone should learn to cook regardless of their skill level?

You should learn how to cook rice. If you can learn to cook rice on a stove top, you can learn a lot. You can learn a lot from cooking rice and frying an egg. Just being conscious of temperature, timing, and measurements and how slight variations from any of those three will dramatically change the end result.

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