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You rise, they shine: Bacon, eggs, and more

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Sarah Lieberman, J.C. Ricks

TEAM EFFORT Following the success of Dandelion Café, Sarah Lieberman and husband J.C. Ricks are opening a second location later this year. (Photo: Becca Wright)

February is the month of love. If you’re looking for a date idea with your beloved – or, for that matter, your besties or family – how about a breakfast to impress?

These days, there is no shortage of breakfast places, starting with national chains, including La Madeleine, the Toasted Yolk, Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, Flying Biscuit Café, Another Broken Egg, Le Peep, and First Watch. But Houston, with its global dining scene, boasts a bevy of local morning eateries to start the day.

With so many egg-centric options, deciding which to highlight was a challenge. In the past couple of years or so, breakfast is suddenly everywhere in Houston, from Tout Suite (2001 Commerce St.) and London Café (2310 Highway 6) to new kids on the block EaDough Pastries & Provisions (3204 Polk St.) and Cucharita (315 Fairview St.), the brand-new baby sister of Montrose mainstay Cuchara. Adair Kitchen recently opened a second location at Buffalo Speedway and Westpark Drive, and there are now multiple Dish Society and Common Bond locations as well. Then there are veterans such as The Breakfast Klub (3711 Travis St.), Kenny & Ziggy's New York Delicatessen (1743 Post Oak Blvd.), and NY Deli (9720 Hillcroft). Adventurous diners also can try Vietnamese, Chinese, Ethiopian, or Lebanese breakfasts. So, how do you choose?

Below, we offer a small sampling – just the tip of the iceberg – of distinctive, local destinations for morning fare. Not sure how bacon and eggs can spark romance? Just ask 33-year-old chef J.C. Ricks and wife Sarah Lieberman, who met and fell in love at Sarah’s Dandelion Café, a breakfast go-to for Bellaire residents. Now the duo are the proud parents of two adorable girls.

French toast sticks

Dandelion Café’s signature focaccia French toast sticks with homemade blueberry compote, lemon curd, candied lemon peel and whipped cream. (Photo: Marlen Mendoza)

About six years ago, Sarah opened Dandelion Café (5405 Bellaire Blvd.) as a coffee shop with a limited selection of croissants, muffins, and bagels. But her Bellaire regulars kept asking for more substantial bites. She and chef J.C. Ricks decided to cautiously expand the menu to include breakfast tacos and focaccia French toast sticks topped with blueberry compote, lemon curd, candied lemon peel, and whipped cream. Both were hits, and today, the cheery eatery – festooned with bright, oversized colorful paper flowers – draws a crowd with a full breakfast-and-lunch menu that includes brioche French toasts, pancakes, build-your-own omelets, chicken chilaquiles, and oven-fresh golden biscuits with made-from-scratch pork sausage gravy.

Breakfast establishments that approach cooking the way chef-driven restaurants do are few and far between in Houston. But with his fine-dining background – from the River Oaks Country Club to the defunct UB Preserv – chef J.C. couldn’t imagine not grinding his meat for his breakfast country pork sausage and chorizo.

The fruit compote and salsa? Homemade. He curdles whole milk to make buttermilk for the spot-on fluffy pancakes. And he breaks down a whole turkey for the sage-kissed Creole turkey sausage, using the skin for added flavor.

Since launching breakfast, Dandelion has experienced a surge in business, attracting 600 to 800 diners on weekends. As a result, J.C. and Sarah are planning to open a second location with a bigger kitchen later this year.

Texas-sized pancakes

The Buffalo Grille's hearty Texas breakfasts, including its signature cinnamon coffee and Texas-sized pancakes topped with fresh strawberries and blueberries. (Photo: Steven A. Perez)

Since 1984, the Sunday crowds have packed into the Buffalo Grille (4080 Bissonnet and 1301 S. Voss Rd., plus a new location in Galveston at 13 Evia Main), known for its signature cinnamon coffee, migas, huevos rancheros, and homemade pancakes. The best part? Its flapjacks come with hot syrup. Operated by a seventh-generation Texas family, this neighborhood fave is noted for its Texas-sized portions.

Cielito Café (1915 Dunlavy St.), in a blue-and-white Montrose bungalow, entices guests with its charming millennial-inspired décor and Mexico City breakfasts. But if you’re on the hunt for a diamond in the rough, head to Tamales Don Pepe (3816 Link Valley Dr.), a hidden jewel of foodies in the know. First-timers usually are surprised by the stellar budget-friendly Mexican breakfasts at this below-the-radar, nondescript taqueria. But then the lightbulb switches on when they learn that it is helmed by restaurant veterans Rene and Yolanda Hidalgo, who introduced many Houstonians to Mexico City cuisine in 2002 – long before it became mainstream. The couple traded in their Mexico City showcase inside the loop for a low-budget, off-the-beaten-path space. But they made no compromises when it came to their food. They still make everything from scratch, using quality ingredients, from blue corn sope topped with fried eggs, to huevos rancheros.

Vibrant (1931 Fairview St.) didn’t miss a beat, even though it shuttered for a year to remodel. The revamped Scandinavian-inspired space and menu appeared better than ever when it reopened in mid-November. Chef Patti Delgado approaches wellness foods and drinks with even more vigor, emphasizing functional and anti-inflammatory benefits with superfood and plant-based ingredients such as fresh, in-house almond flour and sweet potato cassava tortillas for tacos. You won’t find refined sugars, soy, peanuts, or dairy here: She makes her own pecan-cashew milk for coffee drinks. Meats and eggs are pasture-raised. Pastries are made daily and are vegan. Morning options include salmon lox toast, sweet potato hash with fried eggs, and sorghum waffles topped with coconut yogurt probiotic cream, blueberries, and elderberry-rosehip syrup.

avocado toast

Bebidas’ avocado toast with radishes and sprout. (Photo: Adair Concepts)

Vibrant has one of the most inviting outdoor spaces, particularly when everything is blooming. Bebidas (2606 Edloe St.) boasts equally verdant surroundings and several sprawling ancient oak trees that provide shade and intimacy. All-day salad and sandwich options bolster the breakfast menu of tacos, smoothies, and juices.

Further north in Greater Heights, there are myriad breakfast spots, including Onion Creek (3106 White Oak Dr.), Lola (1102 Yale St.), and the venerable Teotihuacan Mexican Café (1511 Airline Dr.). But we must give a nod to Kraftsmen Baking (611 W 22nd St.) and its founding chef Scott Tycer.

Why? The success of Kraftsmen Baking and its sunlight-filled café helped set the stage for the chef-driven restaurant boom to come in the next decade in the Heights area. In 2008, Scott relocated his then-six-year-old wholesale bread operation to the historic Oriental Textile Mill, with its majestic ivory clock tower. Two years later, he opened a café and bakery in the same complex. And Kraftsmen’s rustic farmhouse setting appeals to diners near and far seeking artisan baked goods and traditional breakfasts, egg tacos, and quiches.

almond custard pastry

Kraftsmen Baking’s almond custard pastry with fresh raspberries.

On the west side of town, business folks are sipping Katz’s coffee and forking into quiches and omelets at White Elm Brasserie (14079 Memorial Dr.). Looks like the power breakfast is starting to come back, says owner Christopher “Chico” Ramirez, who recently rebooted the fast-casual café into a full-service restaurant.

Meanwhile, at We’re-Dough (6437 Westheimer Rd.), families speaking Arabic, Egyptian, Lebanese, and Turkish convene around brass-accented tables covered with pitas, olives, and eggs cooked in traditional clay skillets. The bustling hotspot opens early and specializes in mainly Lebanese breakfast dishes, but it isn’t the only one.

Low-key, homey Abdallah’s Lebanese Restaurant and Bakery (3939 Hillcroft) stands head and shoulder above competitors with its superb fragrant Middle East flatbreads – still warm from the oven – paired with either flavorful shakshouka eggs scrambled with spices and fresh tomatoes, or foul moudamas, a traditional breakfast stew made with fava beans, olive oil, herbs, and spices. But the must-try is the outstanding msabaha, served with fresh mint, tomatoes, onions, and pickles. Lush and rich with peppery olive oil, this warmed, smashed chickpea dish is like hummus, but more robust. It’s also decisively chunky.

traditional Lebanese breakfast

Abdallah’s traditional Lebanese breakfast with hot mint tea, scrambled shakshouka eggs with tomatoes, chickpea msabaha, oven-fresh pita bread, and fresh herbs and olives. 

One of the best things about Houston is its international food scene, which improves annually with more options. Take Pondicheri (2800 Kirby), whose hand-crafted Indian morning thalis are in a league of their own. You also can fill up on South Indian breakfast staples at Flying Idlis (9411 Richmond Ave. and 720 Rusk), which specializes in savory steamed idli rice cakes and crispy dosa crepes made with fermented rice and lentil batter.

For an Ethiopian breakfast, visit Bahel (6509 Chimney Rock Rd.). Down the street, French Riviera Bakery Café (3100 Chimney Rock) long has been well-known for serving traditional French breakfasts, quiches, and brioches.

You also can slurp beef or chicken pho in the morning, as is the tradition back in Vietnam, at such early birds as Pho Dien (11830 Bellaire Blvd.), Pho Binh Trailer (10928 Beamer Rd.), and Pho Saigon (2808 Milam St.).

Bao Shi Yi, with multiple locations, specializes in steamed dumplings and vegetable- or meat-filled buns, which are breakfast standards in China and Taiwan. Simultaneously, TJ Food Truck (6348 Corporate Dr.) is known for its crispy wonton-stuffed Tianjin-style egg crepes and soy milk – the ultimate Chinese street food breakfast.

Speaking of on-the-go breakfasts, nothing says “I love you” better than breakfast in bed. There are plenty of to-go places, such as the hard-to-beat egg tacos wrapped in tender flour tortillas from Bellaire’s Cedar St. Café (215 5th St.), authentic, superlative French croissants from Magnol French Baking (1500 N. Post Oak Rd.), and glazed doughnuts and boudin kolaches from the 30-year-old institution Queen Donut (1806 W. 18th St.).

Editor’s note: Buzz dining columnist Dai Huynh is a James Beard food-journalism award winner and longtime Houston-based restaurant writer.

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