There are a few restaurants that seem to be hiding in plain sight, even though they offer interesting and better-than-expected food that is often a terrific value. Bamboo House on Waugh is one of those. This is adapted from the current edition of Houston Dining on the Cheap.
The charms of Bamboo House belie its exterior in a nearly faceless double-decker strip center across from the towering AIG complex on Waugh. This is one of the better Inner Loop Asian restaurants. And, a good amount of Asia is represented, mostly seamlessly and in complementary and attractively presented fashion. There are popular Chinese, Thai, and Japanese dishes and influences on their focused and very approachable menu, in addition to Vietnamese. Bamboo House will certainly have a dish, or several, that will appeal to the most casual fan of Asian cuisines. Décor is attractive, inviting and soothing. Sturdy dark tables and chairs share the small dining room with banquettes and walls in pleasant earth tones. Service is friendly and generally attentive, a far cry from Chinatown.
There are a number of tempting ways to start here, more so than at other restaurants, it seems: edamame, pork dumplings, spring rolls with shredded vegetables or with shrimp, chicken, rice noodles, the deep-fried Imperial rolls, shrimp tempura, fried dumplings filled with crab and cream cheese, deep-fried rolls with salmon and spinach, and the Philly Roll with the great match of smoked salmon and cream cheese.
It’s good to know that the Vietnamese dishes are probably the least interesting, which is fairly surprising since the owners are Vietnamese. For example, the Imperial Rolls, which elsewhere are thick rolls of crunchy dough bursting with flavor are small and thin here with somewhat a different, though enjoyable taste, maybe due to the taro. For the entrées, the vermicelli dish has very tasty chicken or beef, but does not sport the delicacy that’s found in versions of the dish at the innumerable Vietnamese restaurants around. Conversely, the Chinese-inspired dishes might be the best.
The entrées feature chicken, beef, seafood, vegetables, noodles and rice. There are Chinese egg and rice noodles, Japanese soba and udon, and the thin rice Vietnamese vermicelli. A number of the entrées are usually lighter and more pleasing versions of the familiar Chinese-American staples such as General [Tso’s] Chicken, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Spicy Chicken with Peanuts, fried rice, lo mein, and Orange Beef. This features thin slices of very flavorful orange-tinged beef that is tender, moist, and certainly much higher quality than similar versions elsewhere, which avoids most of the gloppiness that usually affects this dish. The Wok Seared Beef and Leeks dish uses similarly well prepared slices of beef in a lighter presentation with red peppers, leeks and a slightly sweet sauce. For the steak-and-potatoes person in the group, there is a tender, marinated 8-ounce ribeye served with teriyaki sauce.
The handful of fish dishes are quite good; available pan-fried, baked or in a clay pot. The fried rice dishes are very good, including the one that features pieces of ham, shrimp and pineapples. The stir-fried soba noodles with greens and chicken are attractively presented, as are the half-dozen or so other pan-Asian noodle dishes. Lunch is a wise time to visit, as there are about twenty lunch specials, including most of the entrées, most priced under $10.
540 Waugh (between Allen Parkway and W. Dallas) 77019, (713) 522-3442