Monday, December 15, 2008

Houston restaurants to impress the out-of-town guests

Guest blogger Mike Riccetti is author of the Houston Dining on the Cheap and the Zagat Survey for 2008 Texas Restaurants for Houston. I welcome him to the Blog. 

A trip to the Chicago area and a visit with relatives who enjoy dining out spurred this idea that I thought might be useful for Mike’s blog, especially with the advent of the Christmas holidays and people traveling to Houston.

Those relatives enjoyed past trips to Houston, and the hope that they would make it back to Houston within the year made me think of which restaurants I would recommend for their next visit. Regardless of level of connoisseurship, dining out is a great way to show off one of the city’s best attributes. Out-of-towners might just think of Tex-Mex and barbecue here, and requests for these can easily be satisfied, but there is much, much more in what is one of the very best restaurant cities in the country.

Below are listed twenty restaurants of varying price ranges to impress or just successfully entertain out-of-town guests. I believe that these are emblematic of the Houston restaurant scene, either exhibiting some of the popular local flavors and dishes, or places that are just very good.

§ Beavers - Innovative barbecue and other tasty dishes in a friendly, casual setting that also offers a good selection of wines, a great beer list, and an incredible array of spirits and cocktails.
§ Café Red Onion - Central American-tinged Tex-Mex that’s a great deal for the attractive, flavorful fare in three locations around town.
§ Carrabba’s - The Kirby location of the long-popular Houston take on Southern Italian-American cooking is still boisterous and crowded after twenty years for a reason. The Voss address is also still worth visiting though the others are not nearly in the same class; these first two that are still owned by the Carrabba clan.
§ Catalan - Interesting and top-notch New American with Spanish influences with a fantastic wine list (and excellent prices to match) in a fun, loud setting.
§ Churrascos - Moist and delicious steaks, zesty Latin fare and vibrant settings make for enjoyable fine dining at the restaurants that introduced tres leches to Houstonians, and which remain favorites after two decades.
§ Danton’s - Houston-style seafood including what is probably the area’s best seafood gumbo.
§ Dolce Vita - Excellent, casual pan-Italian fare including Italian-style pizzas that are better than the vast majority of pizzas outside of Naples, and a number in Naples, too.
§ El Tiempo - Top-notch Tex-Mex with prices to match, but quality is worth the tariff including the fajitas with filet mignon.
§ Feast - Modern British food (don’t let that phrase discourage you) that’s interesting, hearty and a great value for the quality and size of the entrées, plus the focused, food-friendly wine list also has some excellent values. The cuts might be strange, but the flavors are great, and usually quite relatable.
§ Goode Co. Barbeque - Now in three locations, these prove that very good barbecue can be cooked at more than tiny pits in out-of-the-way neighborhoods; also, there are great sides and some of the best pecan pie around.
§ Goode Co. Seafood - Houston-style seafood prepared several ways including uniquely mesquite-grilled; the Campechana is one of this city’s signature starters.
§ Goode Co. Taqueria - Yes, I do like the Goode Co. restaurants. Come on the weekends for some of the best breakfasts in the universe, Texas-style.
§ Hugo’s - Upscale regional Mexican food that is probably the best Mexican restaurant in town, and a great and fine value Sunday brunch.
§ Indika - Excellent modern Indian food from one of the top restaurants in the city.
§ Lupe Tortilla - These kitschy, sprawling Tex-Mex joints with several area outposts are family friendly and serve delicious fajitas with some of the thinnest and freshest flour tortillas you’ll have at an area restaurant.
§ Ninfa’s on Navigation - Houston’s favorite Tex-Mex that never fails to impress; only at the original Navigation location, of course.
§ Otilia’s - Excellent regional Mexican food that is easily affordable.
§ Reef - Modern Gulf Coast seafood with wide-ranging global influences that was recently named the best seafood restaurant in the country by Bon Appetit magazine.
§ Shade - Also globally influenced, and managing to be a proper version of modern Houston comfort food; a good brunch spot, too.
§ Tony Mandola’s Gulf Coast Kitchen - Houston-style seafood that has pleased for years.

If these are not expensive enough, there is always Da Marco, Mark’s and Tony’s; and if not new enough, you can check out recently opened spots from acclaimed chefs, Scott Tycer and Robert Gadsby, at Textile and Bedford, respectively, both in the Heights. These five might be better choices if your guests are offering to treat.


For what it’s worth, I am the author of three editions of Houston Dining on the Cheap and the current local editor for the Zagat Survey.

See Mike Riccetti's other guest post:
Best sandwiches in Houston
CONTACT: Leave me a Houston or Texas media news tip | COMMENT: Click to leave your thoughts on this post here