Maba Pan-Asian Diner is a recent addition to Midtown’s food scene, serving Asian fusion in a cool and trendy setting. As a counter service restaurant, Maba offers a wide variety of dishes at affordable prices, without the hassle of splitting the bill with your group. However, the ambience and interior decor make it feel decidedly more upscale.
My group of four decided to split an appetizer and order our own entrees. We began with the pho fries, which were described as fries mixed in ground pho spices and topped with onions, cilantro, Sriracha and hoisin sauce. The fries were well seasoned, but we felt that the taste was more reminiscent of barbecue than pho. That said, they were very tasty and only cost $5 for a large portion.
I ordered the wontons, while my friends ordered the pan-seared fish, grilled chicken summer vermicelli and portobello salad (a vegan option). Looks were deceiving — the entrees were beautifully plated but ranged a standard $9-14 in price.
The wontons were filled with both ground pork and Chinese sausage and topped with microgreens, red onions, cherry tomatoes and fried scallions. On the side were Thai chilies and underneath the wontons was Vietnamese fish sauce. The fried scallions were a key component of the dish, enhancing the flavor of the wonton filling without being overpowering. Unfortunately, the sauce didn’t have the tang I was expecting and was a bit oily, making it the weakest element. After trying one of the Thai chilies, I would not recommend it to those that don’t like spicy food — the seeds were definitely hot. Luckily though, the chilies are served on the side.
The pan-seared fish was the biggest entree, a whole boneless tilapia with the head still on seasoned with lemongrass and served with a bowl of rice and garlic ong choi, also known as water spinach. There are other fish options that do not include the head, such as the steamed tilapia and ginger miso salmon, but keeping the fish head typically results in more flavor.
As Houston continues to heat up, the grilled chicken summer vermicelli and portobello salad are refreshing options. The white vermicelli was mixed with Asian herbs and served chilled, topped by warm skewers of grilled chicken thigh meat, making for a nicely balanced dish. The portobello salad was another hot-and-cold blend of pan-seared portobello mushroom, spring mix, herbs and onions dressed with a vegan-friendly Vietnamese vinaigrette. One criticism of the salad was that it was a bit salty, which was probably the vinaigrette.
Another great feature of Maba Pan-Asian Diner is it’s location— the restaurant is easily accessible by both car and Metro. There’s a parking lot in Maba’s strip mall with spots specifically reserved for its customers, no easy feat for a restaurant in Midtown. If you don’t have a car, take the Metro to the end of Midtown. From there, Maba is only a five- to 10-minute walk.
Overall, Maba Pan-Asian Diner is a great combination of cool aesthetics, interesting flavors and value for high-quality food. I can guarantee there is something for everyone, regardless of their dietary restrictions, protein preferences or budgets.