Over the last couple of years, Houston “bear-tender” Aaron LaTour has been pleading with me to try Al Aseel, a Mediterranean restaurant at Richmond and Dunvale. LaTour promised delicious food, large portions and low prices.
Finally, right before Christmas, the time came. I was driving aimlessly on that cold, gray day. I remembered LaTour’s recommendation and found Al Aseel by name on the GPS. Off I went!
Thank you, Aaron, from the bottom of my heart. Al Aseel is everything you said it would be.
(OK, let me get the creepy part out of the way. It has nothing to do with the restaurant. But my car’s navigation is powered by Google. When I did a web search for Al Aseel for this column, Google knew I’d been there, and when! I’m still alarmed by this.)
Al Aseel’s food is anything but alarming. It’s comforting, starting with the welcoming staff. Everyone seemed happy to see me and went about the room chatting up regulars. I knew I was going to have their famous fried chicken, but what else?
Just then, my server arrived with a hot slice of cloudlike pita bread and garlic and spicy pepper sauces. Both dipping sauces were off-the-chart good, and frankly, I could have stopped right there.
But I decided to check out the Greek Salad as a starter. I love a traditional Greek salad, such as the one at Niko Niko’s, but Al Aseel’s felt more authentic. There’s no dressing, just a dusting of parsley, which I kind of liked on this salad. It brightens the flavors of the feta, olives (not pitted), sweet onions and peppers.
My palate duly cleansed, I was ready to dig in to Al Aseel’s Fried Chicken. This may sound like an odd offering at a Mediterranean place, but it’s their signature dish. It’s long made Top 5 lists among Houston food writers; some have called it the city’s best.
Marinated in yogurt and spices instead of buttermilk, the chicken is fried to order and seasoned with za’atar, garlic and sumac. The breading is so light and adheres so tightly to the skin that the two become one. The flesh remains juicy and succulent.
I gnawed every bone, trying to get as much deliciousness from this chicken as possible. I dipped some in the garlic sauce, and you should, too. It’s a great alternative to the riffs on Grandma’s Southern recipes you find inside the loop. And it was the second-best thing on the plate.
“What?” you ask. Just take a bite of the rice that comes with the chicken. It’s buttery and infused with a light curry flavor. Every grain is cooked perfectly al dente, each effortlessly separating from all the others. This is rice in its highest possible form.
Al Aseel also features a beautiful charcoal grilled Musakhan Chicken. I’m getting that next time, and I’ll be digging into their kabob offerings, as well. There’s a sense of togetherness and warmth at Al Aseel that’s hard to beat!