And the Eat Goes On

Okay….my list continues with a pretty significant update since my last one….if you no longer want to receive it…scream at me…I’m fearless that way….the new stuff is in blue. Hope everyone is well and enjoying the week.

Feast – amazing. Amazing. Cannot get over this amazing. British food done up “fancy”. Changes the menu daily. Shockingly good. Sticky toffee pudding isn’t just a must, it’s an act against God if you don’t get it. The chef use to be a Cameron Café chef, but fear not, it’s cozy, upscale and homey! That said, he’s always happy to say hello to Cameron folk, so make yourself known!

Ninfa’s on Navigation – a Houston “original” the Ninfas family is considered the Godfather of Mexican food here. It’s changed hands in mgmt a few times, but for me at least, it’s still a huge winner. One suggestion, this neighborhood isn’t super fabulous, better for day time lunch trek. The chicken baked in the banana leaf is to die for as are the fajitas. They make their own tortillas in house and you can watch while you wait.

Backstreet Café – good for any solid special occasion, they never fail and EVERYTHING on the menu is amazing. Fabulous back patio for dining al fresco. Wine list is extensive and the sommelier is well known. This is the same team who brought you the fantastic brunch at Hugo’s. This earns my most recommended restaurant award – it’s consistent for everything being perfectly spot on.

Café Brasil – great cheapy place for good food both health friendly and not so much. This is part of the area that you can go walking and shopping and thrifting about afterward. Definitely suggest their wonderful selection of beers as well! I believe they have wifi!  The little book shop next door is a treat as is the antique stores dotted around – the prices may be high at first, but make sure to haggle with shop owners!

Empire Café–  this is my go to solid best place on earth for coffee (and coffee with liquor!) drinks and the cake. Oh. Cake. The Italian cream is to die for as is the white on white coconut or the chocolate peanut butter. They serve lunch, a good brunch and dinner – “pretty basic” – eggs, bacons, omelettes, French toast and then a few pasta/salad/sandwiches. Not “crazy over the top” but for a solid go to in order to hang, this is it. Down side – no wifi. L

Benjy’s – décor and food are fantastic. The one near Rice village is my personal favorite of the two. That said, nothing you can order here is wrong. We’ve gone the menu from Asian influence to Mediterranean/greek to American. All of it is done well and some of the combos they have are surprising, and always deliver if you take the dare. They have a sweet tea cocktail using sweet tea vodka that’s to die for – the Deep Eddy cooler. Make it a must have.

Zelko’s Bistro – this is a friend from high school who has made a stellar, award winning (national even) name for herself in the Heights. The food is fresh, she goes for organic, local ingredients. It’s traditional – you’ll find the southern favorite Chicken and Waffles for brunch. The Reuben sandwich and Spaghetti Bolognese are both stellar. Wine list is short but decently priced.  They have a small patio out back if the weather is nice. The little vintage shop next door is owned by swing dancing friends of mine….

Mandola’s Deli – this one didn’t make my Italian list simply because it’s a bit of a dive. My family being from Pittsburgh it reminds me where the guys go watch the game and kick back with a few. It’s not a sports bar, but the game is on and Momma, who’s ever it is, is DEFINITELY cooking in the back. The spaghetti sauce is secret, and it should stay that way, because it’s honestly a treasure. The cakes are homemade like mom used to make, not overly decadent but still nicely sweet. They have lasagna that rocks this world – I can cook, and I still don’t know how they can jam that many layers into something like that – it’s dense and perfect. Their catering business is huge, I don’t think I saw so many folks walk out with huge trays!

The Chocolate Bar – yes. All of it. Devoted to the king of desserts. About 15 pies to choose from daily. 4 or 5 signature mile high cakes and ten TRILLION chocolate covered sweets to choose from. Rice Village’s has a traditional candy shop within theirs, but let’s be honest – you want the chocolate covered Oreo. (you do…..really.) They are also home to homemade milkshakes and decent coffee. Situated in Rice Village, makes for nice wandering around to walk off the heavenly bites!

Oiishi Sushi – please don’t judge. It’s got wood paneling and fake aquarium bits in the sushi cooler window, I was concerned a bit at first that it’s not the sleek setting that most sushi bars have. But this is the real deal “secret” of sushi in Houston. It’s packed at happy hour, it’s the freshest and best I’ve had and the clientele is fun people watching too.  They are definitely partial to the local scene, naming several rolls after regular customers, they’ll generally make up any roll you want, just ask!

Kenneally’s Pub – the food is good, somewhat cheap and the inside is a dive. Patio is great for hanging outside and it’s near many of these other restaurants to grab a bite before or after if you want to continue the meal…Irish Nachos. Yes. We had a friend who took over the outside patio with a private party once, it’s great place to meet up at after a long day!

The Velvet Melvin – dive bar with fantastic pizza. They put beer in their homemade crusts, highly recommended for a group on Monday trivia night. Quite a fun time!

Bistro Provence – near the office and well thought out. Another high school friend’s family own’s this one. French food done correctly.  They do five course special themed meals which are a hit. Better for a lunch date that you want to make special! Their menu varies daily to what’s available, but I’ve never had a bad dish. The bisques are legendary and they excel at duck. The bread is addictive here – the place was originally a pizza joint when first opened, but they’ve made more than due with the fixture of the pizza oven.….wow.

Lola – breakfast all day, great food as a café. Easy to sit in, read the paper, have coffee and enjoy those around you. Situated in a good place in the Heights, good shopping and wandering all around. It reminds me nearly of a place that Clark Kent may jump into to become Superman – super clean, glass and chrome with a hint of retro. The clientele is all sorts and the food is fantastic.

Onion Creek Café  – the must haves are the loaded queso dip, the burgers are smashing and the frozen mimosas for brunch in summer are to die for. I know it says that you can get fruit next to the sandwich, forget that, seriously, and opt for the potato salad. It’s a bacony green onion baked potato-y fantasy. Farmer’s market held in the driveway on weekends. They are partnered with the Cedar Creek Café and the Dry Creek Café – I am a fan of all three.

The Glass Wall – another good special occasion place. Home of the homemade potato chip crusted chicken fried steak. That said, it’s far from “not upscale” or Southern. It’s definitely American food, but more where the chef’s soul chooses to find itself. The lamb chops are gorgeous, the menu changes seasonally and the wine list, while a little on the high end, doesn’t disappoint with their recommendations by staff. The desserts are a must here, they start off sounding basic, but are anything but.

Reef – a downtown favorite. If you watched Top Chef Masters, this guy made it to the final three. He’s a huge fixture here in Houston and he’s done no wrong by me when it comes to seafood. I’ve had the couscous and scallops with apricot and spices and then the ahi tuna filet. The private wine room in back is a vinophile’s dream….the dishes and pairings are spectacular. His desserts miss the mark only a slight bit, a little too much concept that didn’t quite work on the plate. That said, don’t let it deter you. Added bonus: Arcadia bar and fun zone are behind the place, great for after dinner!

Brother’s Pizza – pizza the size of your head. Totally. Thin style, perfect crusted pizza. Even if nary a topping hits this masterpiece, it’s all the better. It’s real mozzarella, nothing less than perfectly authentic here. This Italian family has been a staple of mine since I was a kid. They were originally situated in the mall that my mother shopped in when I was a child – this was my salvation after her 900th attempt to get me into a frilly dress (I was a tomboy)….decades (OY! DECADES EVEN!) later, it’s moved to Hwy 6 and I-10 (across from Watson’s Pub AND open late) and it’s still just as worth it. They have multiple locations now, but I will say, the one at this one looks to be the same folks I remember.

T’afia – Chef Monica Pope is a Houston pillar for food. Using local ingredients available she creates a daily menu. She teaches classes and her parking lot and seating area is home to a great Saturday morning farmer’s market. The food is flawless, she made PLAIN WHITE RICE taste good. (how do you do that?) , I am still discussing the chorizo stuffed dates.  Portions are plenty and there’s plenty of ways to mix and match according to your party – small plates, large plates, starters, etc….I’ve yet to hear a complaint about this one.

Max’s Wine Dive – curried goat was spectacular, but the max and cheese (amazing) and then the egg sandwich and the southern fried chicken are also favorites here. Off the trendy Washington ave, this is a little high end for what it is in their wine prices, but the food makes up for it. Gets loud with the “see and be seen” crowd during happy hours Thurs-Sat, but otherwise always promises a good meal – consistent food quality, bit inconsistent service.

Mark’s – inside of an old church. Another special occasion place. They are usually packed and definitely hold you to a reservation, make sure to make one. The seafood dishes are spectacular, the waitstaff is attentive but “knows their place” to not bother you and the architecture is fantastic food for thought during the meal.

India’s –  my personal go to for curry in Houston. The trek is worth it. Buffet style lunch, great service, nice environment…plenty of things to share plates of!

Niko Niko’s  – the quintessential greek place in Houston. Counter service, booths inside and outdoor patio for good days. Parking, while plentiful, can be an issue because of the popularity. They have a line usually, but it moves fast. Find 2 friends and start with the “Greek Combo”…it’s the best of the best on the menu and will get you flavor of everything they do

Aladdin’s Mediterranean – it’s a café style place with a ton of options. Note to self: prepare to share, portions are huge, everything is generally self service, food is great, value priced and plenty of variety.

Phil & Derek’s – I just brunched here last weekend. I’m a true convert of the “southern brunch”. It’s open buffet and at $24 including the bottomless mimosa it’s a steal. Great old house converted, beautiful, service to die for and food that’s stick to your ribs but top notch. Great staff and owner on site to chat with.

Café Pita + – ok, ok, this is a dive, but near the office! Like next to a liquor store with burglar bars dive. It’s also Houston’s “only” Bosnian restaurant. Clean, well appointed after you get inside. When I went there on a dinner out with friends, it was commented it was the best meal we’d had yet. It’s cheap, it’s fantastic for a hangover. Get the cevap sandwich – it’s….GORGEOUS.

Kenny & Ziggy’s – situated in the Galleria, this is as true a NY style Jewish Deli as you’re going to get within Texas’ walls. The sandwiches are the size of Mini Coopers (seriously) and the portions are huge. I have proven I can indulge, and still usually split a plate here no problem. That said, it’s hard to choose what to split, the menu is HUGE. They have a fair mix of traditional deli – pastrami, etc…but also some Eastern European fare (the cabbage rolls are like my grandmothers)…and the desserts. NY Cheesecake, need I say more. (Actually I do, the Boston Cream Pie is fantastic)

Piola – another authentic Italian one. This is a franchise, but the only one in Houston. This is a fantastic place for the all you can eat gnocchi night held on the 29th of the month (COME prepared to eat…no nibbling.) and the day to day is all fantastic – I rave about the salmon rosate penne pasta. The pizzas are great. It’s in midtown, so parking is hairy, but worth it.

The Breakfast Klub – if you want to truly experience what Soul Food means and an amazing success story, please make time to go here. The BK is home to catfish and grits, chicken and waffles and the finest greasy breakfast in Houston. You can go traditional breakfast here, but I have to admit, going authentic truly has it’s place. Have a hangover from the place down below ? here’s your landing pad. The line will be around the block if you get there around 9, so drag yourself out of bed and go. Huge coffee cups, fast line, even faster service despite the HUGE number of clientele they support. They want you to eat, well, happy and good. If there is a line, rest assured it moves fast and the entertainment value of the ladies who watch the front door is good enough to make you forget you waited….there’s a reason it’s my biggest paragraph here!

The Mucky Duck – a fantastic concert venue and hole in the wall that’s been done right. Great shepherd’s pie and chicken pot pies, good homemade desserts. Nothing is over the top here, but the idea that I can eat and catch a show is reason enough to become a fan. I’ve seen a few good bands roll through here. Sometimes it’s standing room only so watch that you get tickets and get there on time.

Canopy – a great little spot for brunch. Not overly pricey, but not “underly” either. Pretty for a date with the girlies. The space is open and airy and definitely a nice wake up on a morning that you need energy. You can find a good amount of well thought out twists on comfort food here.  The migas were fantastic, but seeing the plates of other diners, I don’t think this place can do any wrong.

Shade – another one situated in the Heights, and from the same owners as Canopy. This space is a little more trendy and darker. The place is pretty busy for lunch, but they seem to have a steady stream of open tables. They definitely are a great sandwich, salad place that hits their market of being in the Heights properly – it’s not just putting a turkey sandwich on your plate – they have great ground lamb meatballs with feta or the bacon lettuce and fried green tomato sandwich make this a memorable, more-than-just-lunch, spot.

Dharma Café – Brunch is the name of the game for this place. Has a nice cozy feel and situated in the near Upper Kirby area, the drive is totally worth it. When you hand me a breakfast plate that starts with lamb and the moistest squash casserole (that doesn’t require cheese to still be good) as well as peppers bacon and eggs any way I want ‘em, then I’ll generally be sitting at the table. The $17 dollar brunch includes a mimosa of your choice, I totally say choose the out-of-the-box thinking cranberry. Small spoonfuls here, the buffet does no wrong and…yes…blueberry scones, that aren’t doorstops!

III Forks – plunked right downtown in the Houston Pavillions, III Forks is a standard steakhouse with way above standard service and food. Between a staff of five waiters to serve all of the dishes as they arrive at the table (to completely eliminate that awkward dish passing and dribbling moments during dinners) to the idea that side dishes here are still mainstage, highlights of the meal, fare, is an understatement to say this place has outdone other steak houses in Houston. A very much recommended spend and the atmosphere can stretch from a business dinner to a special place before a theatre show.

Tiny Boxwoods – if there are ladies who lunch, they lunch here. Light salads and sandwiches grace a minimalistic and well edited café. Plentiful outdoor seating in an upscale casual environment makes me think “Bridal or Baby Shower” coming here soon. That said, it’s placed in a wonderful spot just east of the Galleria area, which means if you’re running errands in this part of town, this is a must stop in for their homemade lemonade. Counter service and abundant staff make it easy to get in and out of.

Brasserie 19 – FISH TAKES ON NEW MEANING. Hands down the best fish…heck, if not the best FOOD, in Houston. It was a little crowded and loud, but as soon as you start eating, it seems to all melt away by the mesmerizing, “How can something this simple be so good ?!” feeling. When one of the fellow diners said “I don’t like octopus”….no really, try it…”well…yes, yes, I love octopus” it just was life changing. I want to cook this neo-French twisted with a bit of American fare. The winelist, presented on the forward thinking IPad 2, is extensive, well thought out and your server, attentive and friendly, can guide you on the menu. We already had our second meal choices planned for our next trip….before we’d even paid our first bill.

Ibiza – Start with sangria and end with their peanut butter chocolate pie. Whatever you choose in the middle is going to be fantastic. Trust me on this one… I’ve had lamb, fish and even the taboo (at least to me) chicken here. All of them come out with an amazing flair for mixing complex flavors. When you have a birthday – forget the simple cake, how about a puff of cotton candy and sparklers…made me feel like a kid again! The service is wonderfully attentive and they keep you in mind when you’re a return customer. I enjoy the not too quiet, but still easy to talk privately atmosphere and the outdoor seating is great for good weather days.

Branchwater Tavern – it’s simple classic meals with nice twists on classic fare. The bone marrow starter is, as one friend later put it, “Beef Butter for the soul”….I had the venison, which given the lean meat, still came out moist and against my, and every 8 year old’s wishes, with brussel sprouts. Except, they were with sweet potatoes, and grilled and with a wonderful spice mixture that made me immediately forget those horrid evenings at my Aunt’s house being obligated to eat these (AND SMILE!) and that memory has been replaced. As if that weren’t enough, desserts are inventive and filling. I highly suggest the apple tart – just like mom used to make – if your mom happened to be Julia Child.

Majorca Tapas Bar – near The Front Porch and the “who’s who of young Houston” bars. This little gem is a fantastic “light meal before dancing” place. Although it says tapas the bend is definitely more Mediterranean than Spanish. The empanaditas were absolute perfection. I still am stunned by the lightness of the crust and the delicate meat filling. The olives and escargot carry such a wonderful garlicky spiciness – that said, dine with friends, there will be no romantic breath afterward! I pressed on and got the crab croquettes and they were divine, but truly not needed – as the few small dishes were filling on their own!

Down House – okay, okay, so this is a bit of a confusing place when you walk in and the overwhelming noise doesn’t help, but this small boutique wine bar – coffeehouse – restaurant deserves props. It’s very Prohibition era meets Swing dance in it’s hipster feel if that is anachronous enough. The coffee was amazing and the food looked so good that we decided we’d have to go for dinner! The butternut risotto was fabulous despite being served with a very odd Piave salad – read: thorny underdressed bitter greens. The scallops and pea mash were suberb. I took my mom there for a brunch before shoe shopping (you need to fortify before that sort of exercise!) and the taco’s were gorgeous with the fried local eggs. My pork hash was nice but a bit watery with broth.

Picnic – Want a to go box without the feel that it was “Sitting on the school bus all day long”? Try here! I’ve not had egg salad in years and there’s was a pure nostalgic heaven! Paired with kettle chips and a cookie, I felt like a kid again. Bread here is to die for, but do be prepared, it’s a bit confusing when you get to the counter and not everything is scratch made. That said, everything they have is top quality and if you’re looking for a romantic picnic treat without all the work, this is a place who will pack it up and send your happy way!

Hearsay – Lamb chops are given the royal treatment here. If you’re not willing to go whole hog…er….lamb, I highly recommend thinking about the Kobe beef hot dog. The place is small and service is quick and attentive. It’s right near Market Square park which means it’s a great downtown location when you’re hitting the theatre district or shopping. I will say this, most of the tables are along a banquette – which means you may be just a foot or two (at most) from another patron as everyone sits shoulder to shoulder facing their dining guests. It could be a bit off putting if you get seated next to a large crowd. That said, it’s a repeat again – the plate was plentiful and the desserts were pretty amazing!

Liberty Kitchen – Anywhere you can take me that has oysters on the half shell and macaroni and cheese on the menu is an immediate win. We happened upon this place when we were at Lights in the Heights and our dinner plans fizzled. We walked over here and the little tables for two actually sat us side by side and gave us a great view of the dining room and kitchen. Being an avid people watcher, this was a hit. The manager on duty was making sure everyone was well attended to and the food was amazing. Macaroni and cheese like this is hard to come by and usually has a flaw – somewhere! I couldn’t find one. The oysters were huge and quickly served. No question about it, this is a repeat!

Spaghetti Western – One night we went for takeout before a movie in the park. I was dying for meatloaf and this place’s to-go boxes delivered exactly what I wanted and more.  Meatloaf so far from your traditional grey square of hate that a lot of cafeterias churn out. Mashed potatoes with a hit of parmesan and garlic and as a pleasant surprise, a side of sautéed garlic. The meal was so homey, I forgot I was eating out of a Styrofoam box. Their garlic bread on the side wasn’t necessary, there was enough food in there to split with someone. That said, I didn’t share…it was too good!

Up – positioned on the third story of a building overlooking the Highland Village, say hello to my new brunch spot! The deconstructed eggs benedict is amazing when sidled along their potato and onion hash – where I detected a slight and so perfectly delicate hint of balsamic. When Mimosas are included with a meal, I’m a happy camper and a special brunch for less than $20 a  person is always appreciated. I’ve had their shrimp bisque and their pumpkin soup to start and must say both are good, but the bisque eeks out. To complete the three-course all-inclusive, a tiny portion of three desserts is served and ….well…if I could only make the lemon tart bigger! Recently, we went to “Chicken Night at Up” –  I started the night off at their bar, a beautiful place to look out from their third floor windows – you can already feel luxe even before dinner begins. I got to talking to their bartender who later made us up some custom drinks. The creation he made for me was called The Aviator – a lovely lavender floral cocktail – absolutely amazing. Sitting down to dinner, snuggling into a booth is amazing for a date, and yet, for a night like this, you may want to eschew the chicken and waffles that were on special. We chose to split a plate after watching a humungous serving go by. It’s four pieces of perfectly crisp chicken, mixed pieces, served with four quarters of fat Belgian waffle that’s been infused with an amazing, not too hot, but perfectly balanced jalapeno flavor. Served with their pepper jelly and honey butter, we should have stopped there. Perhaps we should have “rethunk” starting off the night with their crispy brussel sprouts, and then putting a side order of lobster mac (talk about perfect and amazing) to that. All the dishes were amazing, I wish I had elastic pants on!

Americas River Oaks – It looks like you’re sitting in a wonderfully macabre version of Alice in Wonderland. A bit dark, goth with a hint of whimsy. Felt lighting fixtures and lotus shaped booths (are they booths? Is it art? I don’t know) dot the  expansive dining room and that’s just sitting down. The food begins a flavor explosion in the layers that it is. The fish was tender, well spiced and the portions not overly huge. I highly suggest starting off with one of their mixed drinks, the blueberry mojito was a hit! (and a hit to my system, watch it and SIP!)

Capones – this was one of my first blues dancing places ever. So I have an instant nostalgia for it. The music, when they have the bands in, is loud, but it’s soulful and good! Positioned near the Galleria, it’s a great little stop in for lunch or dinner. They have a bar area, patio and seated dining area. They usually have the pizza oven fired up with the most wonderful and unique thin crust pizzas flying out. I’m a traditionalist and the tomato basil is a must have, but their other creations and non-pizza items are just as good. They tend towards the light side of calories if that’s in your liking and this place is easy to share meals with, have a few beers and catch the game. They are also home to many smaller industry mixers, so keep a watch out if you’re a networker. If you haven’t already tried it, I suggest you go for “The Essential”, good enough for a light meal for two for lunch, this version of a mezze platter has a nice twist on traditional. Watch the spicy pineapples, that’s not Tabasco, that’s habanero! And the cheese and pickled onions are flavorful without being heavy. I’m usually a straight-for-the-pizza kind of girl, but the garlicky salty bread wedges are a great change!

Crappitos – if you’re Italian, this IS your mama’s cookin. And if you like Lady and the Tramp, this IS that place to share a noodle and a kiss! It’s the quintessential little Italian restaurant – nice, a little aged, cozy and family like with an easy elegance and not too stuffy attitude. Good old fashioned “dressed up waiter with towel over arm” service who’s attentive and jovial – makes you feel like you’re at your neighborhood place and still special. They’ve got a great balance of “date night” and “I could take my mom here”…but the food – even better. Having been to Italy (I’m still enamored to say that, fine, laugh at me.) – the Bolognese here is outstanding. They have a full traditional menu – chicken piccata, spaghetti, cannelloni, lasagna, alfredo, the works…everything is fresh, simple, plain even. Good flavors and they know what they are doing and do it well. Midrange prices but for the area, it’s value!

El Meson – Snuggled in quietly at the corner of Rice Village’s shopping area, El Meson is quite a spicy dish to behold. Call ahead early and order the paella and you’re in for a lovely treat for two. A great third or fourth date place, and I’m always wary of sharing dishes on the first go, this place offers a quiet atmosphere to hear each other talk without having to scream. It’s not extremely upscale inside, but it’s nice and cozy and done up enough to be more than ho-hum.

Fornos – nestled behind the infamous Energy Corridor haunt, Sherlocks, sits this quaint Italian restaurant that is home to the best fettucine alfredo in Houston. And it’s not on the menu. WHAT?! Yes. Order it off menu. Of course, that means, spend all week in the gym, pray to Jesus for good metabolism, and then drive yourself over there for a plate of delicate cream and al dente noodles that require little more than a sprinkling of pepper and a glass of the slightly effervescent prosecco.

Guglianis – the lovely little gem in Rice Village has the menu mostly in Italian. The spaghetti and meatballs are wonderfully tomato-y and spicy. Their wine list is enviable and affordable as well as the location being central to all of the “what’s going on” in Houston on a Thursday or Friday night. The wait staff is slightly overattentive, I don’t need checked on constantly, but everything is served as if it’s the best meal you’ve ever had. Is it the best Italian? No, but the entire first date atmosphere makes this place feel special even if the food isn’t over the tip-tip-top. That said,skip dessert, The Chocolate Bar is across the street!

Stella Sola – If a Texas mama and Italian daddy had a baby, they’d call it Stella. (My parents teased me about that..Stella Hadella. Man. No way.)  Walking in just makes you feel special, the large round booths are perfect for first dates when you need to gauge the space, but still have the ability to scoot in if the timing is right! The food here is stellar without being complicated and stuff. The pork shoulder, said to feed 2 (more like 4!), is tender, and the brussel sprouts melt away all the feelings you had about them when you were 6. Start off with a wonderful apertif from the bar and conclude the night on a decadent dessert. Quiet enough for intimate converation, wait staff who are social but know how to not bother.

Black Walnut Cafe – Katy – super easy, casual and well appointed. Bonus points for the ability to drink peach sprite or a raspberry diet coke! The desserts here all look amazing, but the hummingbird cake was sweet and tropical without killing my day. The southwest eggrolls and my fish tacos were quick without feeling like fast food. This is a family spot, if you’re not into kids, they are here running about and sometimes the noise is present. That said, the feeling of a nice restaurant with the capability to get in and out without an overwhelming amount of effort  is appreciated!

Taste of Texas – a Texas, and Houston, standard for steaks. Not only can you charm a guy with getting to pick out his own custom cut of meat from the case, this landmark has been on many “must have” lists. The food is to die for, but realize, to this native at least, it’s a “tourist spot”. Lots of people, relatively packed and with time their feeling of special was worn down by the need to get people in and out. The once very posh salad bar is still very nice, but has alot of non-salad items, and some of them you can tell have been sitting for a bit. The steaks are still stellar and the mile high chocolate cake for dessert still ranks as one of my favorite (despite not being a chocoalte fan) and the service is top notch – they do want to move you in and out and I’ve been a few times where the courses run into each other to shorten your time at a table.

Kirans – high end Indian food with such a beautiful experience and presentation you’ll forget that this is “gussied up street food”  and enjoy the evening. Starting with absolutely one of the top places for the best service in town. it feels like you have your own waiter to listen to your every whim. The starters are fabulous and the spicing so delicate on each dish – no, that doesn’t mean not spicy, that means so many levels of flavor that evoke the idea that so much thought is put into each dish. It’s not a recipe at this point, it’s art. The rice is even mastered in such a way that I’m still unsure how to get plain rice to be this good! The naan is a perfectly light and chewy bread that when used like a utensil accompanies the spicy and comforting curries. Do not miss out on the rice pudding, it’s one of my favorites in the city.

Straits – I wouldn’t recommend this place for the atmosphere. While you do walk in and the posh and dark setting gets you thinking you’ve found the city’s latest hot spot, you’ll soon be overwhelmed by the noise created from the very popular bar that accompanies the dining area. I don’t mean loud, I mean overtaking. I don’t know if there was music, I don’t know what my guest said, I barely heard the waitress a few times. The food is good and portions while small are filling. It’s a mixed fusion menu that shows that this chef can flex culinary muscle, I just wish I could have enjoyed the meal a bit more.

Hubbell & Hudson -I found one of the few white wines I like at Hubbell & Hudson. Conundrum is a wonderful white blend that is the private secret of a family who just “gets” it. Aside from the changing menu and the more than wonderful boutique grocery store attached, Hubbell and Hudson give their diners a taste of things they can buy next door – without once making it feel like a restaurant with an infomercial bend. Despite being home to some of the best take out foods around, the restaurant is known for a rotating menu and perfect plating. The food looks like art and tastes even more special. The waiters are attentive without being overbearing and the prices, while high, are worth it.

ERA Pizza – this lovely little hot spot is located next to Market Square Park. Think little pizzas with big attitude.  Walking in the place was scarily empty and the staff was scant and without much care that we were there. That said, this can sometimes be a good thing – and on this particular occaison, it was. Small pizzas with big flavor and a quiet evneing with a glass of wine. Afterward hit Market Square Park for their events they usually hold on the weekend. A great place for a group if they stay unpopular, it means you’ll rule the roost!

Las Alamedas – this used to be a huge champagne brunch situated on the far end of I-10. Now it’s nestled a new home in Katy and the food is still good, but the atmosphere just isn’t as fantastic. I highly reccommend their enchiladas, I’ve had several types there and the ones I’ve had have always been “the special”…that said, the ones I had with a spinach filling were just that – FILLING. Their rice and beans leave one a little longing for something more authentic. I do suggest the margaritas and the live entertainment is definitely enjoyable!

Brennans – a Houston staple for as long as I can remember. This house that sits directly off of I-10 feels anything but like it’s where it is. As soon as you get inside the warm dining room and look out into their garden, you feel as if you’ve found yourself at a very posh family’s dining room. Some of the recipes go back decades and the waiters make you feel at home. The steaks are delightful and they are what they are known for. Traditional and ample sized sides make the family style meal even more complete – the most perfect creamed spinach is amongst the choices.

Brenners on the Bayou – prepare yourself for elegance.  Elegance in a side dish of macaroni and cheese? Absolutely. Combine that with some of the best cooked steaks, a gorgeously decorated atmosphere and a fantastic selection of wines and you’re set. My parents, who are not your regular foodie types, still speak of this place as their favorite for a good anniversary dinner. They hold events on the patio from time to time and their bar out on their patio is a hot spot for the who’s who of Houston’s high end movers and shakers.

Blue Nile – ok, ok, prepare yourself for a scary neighborhood. So much so I had to make sure the doors were locked and when the sun set, I wouldn’t necessarily say I felt comfortable. BUT….the doors open and you’re swept into a new place. Definitely not a first date place as the entire meal is eaten with hands off of a communal plate with you and your dining guests. The vegetable and meat curries and dishes are absolutely stunning, taking you to a new place if you’re tired of EVERYTHING else out there. There’s spice, there’s tang, there’s comfort food, there’s warmth. The service is nice, family like even and while the place isn’t posh, it’s definitely warm and inviting.

Bistro Le Cep – if I had a French grandmother, I’m relatively certain that she’d cook like they do at Bistro Le Cep. It’s a cozy little place when you walk in, but their food anything but the globs of homestyle we’re used to as Texans. Everything has the subtle taste of perfection that delicate French food has become known for. I’ve had the liver and onions there and the foie gras appetizer all proved to be the buttery perfection that I expected it to be. Not overoly spiced, the simple preparations allow the food to shine and top quality is to be expected – because it’s the same belief of the folks who run this wonderful hidden gem.

 Michaelangelo’s is older, a Houston steadfast, but has been known to be a bit loud from time to time – so hearing wise, could be questionable – the food is traditional and consistently good.  They have several rooms, so if you decide here, then I’d ask their very helpful staff to seat you away from the main room into one of the smaller rooms (it’s a converted house).

Tony Mandola’s Gulf Coast Kitchen has a new location and while it’s not “strictly Italian” has a bit of mix for variety. Mary still tends the bar, you can still get the Calamari Alla Mama off menu if you are dying for it. Eat on, this place is stellar no matter the occasion – business lunch, date night, family dinner and special occasion, there is a great feeling just walking in, and I continue to say that it’s a solid go-to when you just don’t have the energy for finding a new place – because every time you walk in…it’s still fresh and new. Brunch takes on an ethereal meaning when you’re met with a creamed spinach, oyster and Roquefort laden bowl of heaven who’s consistency sits between bisque and fondue. As if the riches weren’t rich enough, it’s completed by the soft shell crab eggs benedict who’s slice-of-heaven fried green tomato packs the perfect acidity to cut the copious cream. Mimosas are perfect and it’s ok, Bill Cosby said chocolate cake is breakfast – indulge!

 Poscol They are a casual more laid back place – sparsely appointed, but I wouldn’t consider it a dive, the food is absolutely authentic and stellar (both  by my Italian friends and the family who runs the place!)   The salumi and cheese platters scream a wonderful date night or girls night out. The family speaks Italian to each other and the dishes are so far from the generic Italian fare that you get at so many other restaurants that it transports me to Italy. They are there for the food, the simplistic creations that make tomatoes taste like tomatoes, not like some overdone sauce that some pompous chef is trying to make a name for himself about.

Haven – great little place tucked away in the Greenway Plaza area. The salads are divine especially when eaten with their rolls that are ever so perfectly crusted with sea salt before serving. I had the curried roasted vegetables that made for a perfect light dinner. Their fish is also nice – the grouper was the special that night – firm and flavorful without reeking of the sea. Great beet puree and kale chips to make for an unexpected but not overly audacious twist on a regular seafood meal. The pound cake dessert was appropriately portioned to share between dieters and the fruit puree was perfectly fresh and delightful! They’ve gotten even better. Whatever you do, don’t miss the shrimp corn dogs with spicy remoulade. The Akaushi steak and veggies was stunning, but what took the cake (or bowl) from me was the cream – free cream of butternut squash soup – despite it being summer, the squash was bright and slightly spicy with all the richness that whole cream should have brought. I’d mention though, the bread pudding, while great, wasn’t the chunks of bread that we’re used to seeing towered up, but rather a cooked pudding perhaps using bread crumbs? Very smooth, but well executed!

The Capitol @ St. Germain – this downtown spot became hot the second it invited swing dancing as a regular habit. Otherwise, I may have never known this vintage inspired classy dining room existed. Reminds me of a place that flappers used to hang updated 2012 style. The salads are full leaf, so cutting them down is a bit of a mess despite their beautiful presentation. The lobster bisque was slightly heavy on spice, slightly light on cream – but still filling without being overbearing. Service was nice (and knows how to dance too!) and the live music is loud (in case you hate that sort of thing) but for those participating – it was the best in town!

Convivio – nestled just south of the Heights near Washington sits the lovely tapas place that hits all the style points for minimalism. Nothing overly spiced or overly appointed, Convivio is warm and spacious and comfortable. Sit back and order a dish or two at a time and share with your guests. The vegetables in the saffron cream sauce were gorgeous and the octopus was blackened with a great spicy potato. While the crab cakes were a little less desirable, the potatoes “bravas” in their spicy ketchup sauce were a lovely elevated version of fries and ketchup!

Ruggles Green – CityCentre location – the hummus is heaven here and the wine list isn’t extensive but serves. The turkey meatball Panini really fed my want for homestyle food without going calorically overboard. The famous butternut squash casserole should definitely be substituted over the traditional fries.  Please don’t miss the homemade pickles in the self serve area, they make the sandwich sing! Because of it’s location and selection, it tends to be packed, so arrive early during peak times in order to secure a table.  The fish tacos are a good choice as well – light and filling – but watch it, they are messy!

Le Mistral – perfectly French with it’s perfectly accommodating staff that has an ever so slight air about themselves – exactly what you’d expect from your French restaurant. The zucchini amuse bouche started off the evening and a wonderful risotto really helped bring it all together. I had the lobster tail and spinach risotto, the likes of which would make most Italians envious. The asparagus on the side was perfectly fork tender.  I had the appetizer risotto, other dining guests had the osso bucco that was perfectly cooked and served. Everyone couldn’t stop raving.

Dantons – nestled in a lovely little area near 59, this spot was a beautiful place for a wonderful crab cake. We spent New Years Eve dinner here before we went dancing and it was quiet enough to listen to each other talk, despite it being a big night – there were a good gathering of folks there – but it was nice to know that I could enjoy a nice dinner out without having to fight for air space! J The fish was tender, and the sides were traditional and well done. This would be a great place for my dad – nothing overly unexpected, good portions and excellent service – he’d have nothing to complain about!

Flora & Muse – tucked away in Houston’s citycentre, this decadent little find reminds me of a slightly girlier version of Empire Cafe without the cake. (Sorry, points loss for no cake, points gained for shorter drive!) I had the smart start breakfast and even though the calories weren’t full on, this breakfast still made me feel happy on a sunny summer brunch! My guest had the salmon benedict, which even though it made me feel guilty just looking at it, looked and tasted absolutely divine.

Latin Bites – nested near the original 2nd Baptist church, this fantastic find gave me a new food – beef heart. Called “anticuchos” this spicy, tender delicacy started of a divine meal. We shared a few plates and  between the perfect mojito and through to the tender butternut risotto, I was a happy camper from start to finish! I highly recommend not sitting on the banquette against the wall (despite the excellent kitchen view)….it’s directly in the AC’s path, and will leave you slightly chilly!

BRC – start with oysters and then ask them to replace fries with the mac and cheese next to your fish and you’ve died and gone to southern caloric heaven. BRC caters to the beer lovers. The oysters were an amazingly perfectly fried heaven and their ability to make homey food taste fancy and fantastic and filling is stellar. I want to go back with 11 friends and try their whole roast suckling pig, watch this space!

El Gran Malo – just go and say “I want all 6 tacos” ….oh, and bring a hungry friend. Of the 6 we ranked the ground beef and chicken tinga last – both good, but if you had to put something last, those were it. The snapper and pork carnitas made the middle ground up while the camarones (shrimp) and the pork belly topped the taco tower. Corn tortillas make these things street worthy and their jalapeno ranch and roasted salsas start the meal off properly. Their “not quite food truck” , “not quite restaurant” and “not quite bar” atmosphere make for a casual setting. A definite repeat.

La Griglia – when Italian strikes, hit here. For some of the elusive properly done gnocchi outside of Italy, I’d return here in a heartbeat. But finish it up with a heavenly merengue and white mousse layered “cake” of heaven, you have won my heart for life. I want that dessert at my wedding, and I’m not a sweet tooth. The meal is authentic, not your canned sauce here and the antipasti looked like something I want to return and get “one of each”, situated near the River Oaks theatre, it’s a perfect spot to stop, eat, and catch a flick.

Yard House – lovely little place in city centre. Their appetizer of spicy tuna roll is fantastically different, without turning you off the avocado and spicy tuna “cake” is a diet lovers dream – unique and tasty without the calories! I highly suggest the pizzas and salads as well. A great stop for happy hour with friends – always buzzing!

Tasting Room – City Centre location – a perfect cozy spot for friends to share a bottle. The mozzarella and Italian sausage are made in house with a wonderfully crispy crust – so you might as well call pizza and an Italian wine to your table. Having dined their a few times now, the osso buco and risotto were gorgeous and the green salad with a lovely bit of feta and balsamic really make an easy meal. Good choices all around – by the glass or bottle and for all price ranges. Good place for a social scene, or silent sports watching – it’s not overbearingly loud as it’s positioned at the end of City Centre, and the staff are very attentive.

Sorrel – settled into where Ziggy’s used to be Sorrel has already made a place in my heart….er…stomach. The power had gone out that day and the staff made up for the slow timing of the ovens turning back on with a perfectly paired cheese and meat plate. When we were back up and running (Quickly I may add!) the fish and scallop dishes we chose were perfect. Seasoning was absolutely spot on. The portion sizes were perfect allowing for a shared starter and shared dessert. Mango cheesecake with avocado ice cream is not to be missed, it’s not a dare…it’s a must!

The Bird & the Bear – a lovely birthday celebration made perfect. Garlic broth looks unpretentious and is everything complex and perfect about a menu item that looks simple. Followed by a perfect salad of three wedges of different salads as well as a perfectly done scallop dish. For dessert the pear tart is a must have and the chocolate banana ganache perfection. Mondays and Sundays are half price wine night, this Ouisie’s Table extension is perfect for a fancy night out or a nice Sunday dinner.

Prego – looking for a lovely little Italian spot in Rice Village ? Welcome to Prego. The gnocchi are fabulous, the salad dressing is perfect and the wine selection still has affordable and classy. It’s intimate enough for a date, casual enough for a post-Rice Village shopping trip and the menu is broad enough for simple to complex tastebuds

Crossroads @ The House of Blues – I’m still dreaming of how good the plain grilled chicken sandwich was. Yes. Plain grilled chicken. To be honest, I was looking for the standard fare that most of these “attached to an entertainment zone” place had. That said, the meal was really good, I asked for the seasonal veggies on the side instead of fries and the snow pea pods that arrived were spot on. Service is attentive and since I skipped the fries, the banana bread pudding….was beyond beauty.

Sam’s Burger – The burgers are beefy, greasy, run down your arms fantastic with a fantastically eggy bun. This is not your work clothes wearin’ sort of joint. The key lime pie wows and the sweet potato fries are hot! And crispy and straight from the fryer. This great little strip center find is a perfect place to meet post work for a good chew and chat.

Merche! – A surprise in North Houston. Don’t let the outside deter you, despite it looking attached to a hospital, it is it’s own business. The tapas restaurant excelled at fried asparagus in crab meat and their peppers with gorgonzola and piquillo sauce wowed. Bread pudding was heavenly if not divine with just the right amount of vanilla ice cream and sweetness to cut the heat. The wasabi potato egg roll shouldn’t be missed – it may not sound Spanish, but it’s a crowd pleaser! The inside is elegant, if not fancy and the service while a bit slow is attentive when you catch their eye.

Cafe TH – stuck in a bit of a ramshackle strip mall, this little gem really delivered the Vietnamese fix when I was feeling fluish before a Dynamo game. (I know, I should have been resting, I can’t help it!) The pho tai – rice noodles with beef flank) were spot on and the banh mi sandwich was amazing. We started off with the chargrilled rice paper spring rolls which are freshly made to order. The meal came in under $30 and is spitting distance from the new stadium. It lacks a little in service and overall atmosphere, but keeps it casual and easy before the game!

DiBella’s Italian – Galveston, TX – this little gem was whispered in my ear at an oil and gas conference back in February. It took me a few months to get there but the wait was well worth it. Immediately made friends with Charlie the owner who bumped a late reservation to give us a booth. The food is homestyle and awesome – don’t look for haute cuisine here, look for the items your grandmother made. The house cabernet blend is a marvel for near 20 bucks a bottle and the Italian Creme cake is a secret weapon. My spaghetti and meatballs were spot on and the creme covered ravioli my guest had was filling and a great example of what the kitchen turns out. Come hungry, leave family!

The Vietnam Restaurant – The clean modern space with a hint of vintage in the The Heights. The spring rolls came out quickly, and despite sticking together as if made too far ahead, the peanut sauce makes up pure heaven. The beef noodle soup was amazing and the lemongrass chicken stir fry of my guest was heavenly. The service is quick to please and suggest items, perhaps next time I’ll let them bring out whatever they want!

Georgia’s Market – Downtown Location – I was always a fan of Georgia’s farmers market in central Houston.  Now they’ve gone swanky and gotten a bistro cafe full of my favorites and a swing dance in their wine cellar to boot. They have a soup and salad bar for health nuts like me filled with their fresh tabouleh, chicken salad and the best pico de gallo outside of a traditional Mexican restaurant. I can get filled up on few calories for under $10. Their lentil and mushroom soup was lovely as was the veggie stew that I had. Their pasta bar boasted many fillings and toppings and I’ll have to try that for a treat. Afterward wander around their grocery section to fill your lunchbox for the next day! Also a great place to make a picnic before heading to Discovery green!

Mary’z – take a rough day and some rain and turn it around at this quaint, casual but just enough upscale for an after work meet up positioned right near the Galleria and you’ve got yourself a change of heart. The grape leaves with their perfectly acidic rice and veggie mixture start you off on a culinary journey. The fried kibbe and assorted fried pies only make the meal more homey and up the exotic flavor. Share a mixed grill (we should have invited one or two more friends) with their perfectly creamy hummus, and you’ve got a memorable Lebanese feast. Something to note – the meats are somewhat dry, which is the nature of this cuisine, so don’t expect grease running down your forearms, take folks you like to share food with and give this great place a spin on something other than your usual Greek gyro.

Maggianos– any time I can find a place that has a cannelloni so drenched in cheese that I actually forget that pasta is present is a place I want to be. While their appetizers are the normal go-to’s of American cuisine – fried calamari, eggplant and the like, the dishes that were served to our large group really made up for any generic feeling. The lemony chicken piccata and the well executed tomato penne were all but “the usual” and really made for an enjoyable meal. I’m used to, and love, my regular plate of spaghetti, but this definitely was simple dishes done well. Follow that up with their perfect tiramisu or cold but nicely sweet profiteroles and I’m “pro fit to be rolled” home…

Concepcion – start me off with a fuschia cocktail and it’s going to be a great evening. Their Flojrito, a lovely rum and fruit mixed libation made the evening start off on the right foot. Grabbing a spot on their spacious patio was wonderful. As my guests and I dined on several tapas plates – we were all in agreement that the “Pollo y dumplings” made for a memorable dish. Tender lightly fried chicken with a beautifully dense but not leaden sweet potato dumpling was perfect. Second to that was the gorgeous nopalito (cactus) and seared scallops.  Their pork croquetas were a great “post drinking” dish but fell apart a little too much for me, and unfortunately the octopus (my personal choice) came out tasting as if it was still swimming in the sea. That said, a dessert of sweet potato doughnuts with a pumpkin ice cream and peanut butter powder were amazingly good and shouldn’t be missed!

Mockingbird Bistro – walking into this classy restaurant leaves one to only believe immediately that a special night is ahead. Once you settle in, and our little balcony spot overlooking the rest of the diners was picture perfect for a romantic movie only really gets me going when you start looking through their fantastic list of classic cocktails. Once I had mine in hand, and a few bites of their spicy herbed bread, I noticed the quirky mix of their decor – wooden dragon-like creatures hanging from the ceiling, the French advertisements and the class white table cloth/wood/ornate metal setting really get you thinking that some fantastic owner has a place to put all of their favorite finds. But the best finds are on the table – the calamari comes with both classic remoulade but forego that for the sweet chili glaze. Moving onto the creamy pea risotto that was topped by the three most perfectly cooked scallops I’ve had lately.  Dessert? Yes. The lava cake, decidedly way more lava than cake, served alongside a perfect mango sorbet makes the evening wonderfully worth it.

Dessert Gallery – one little inspiring email made myself and friends head to this wonderful little spot for cake instead of meat and potatoes for dinner. As I tore into my favorite type of cake into the world – I realized the world of buttercream that I loved. The French vanilla cake from Dessert Gallery ranks as one of my favorite cakes ever. A creamy yellow tinged cake enrobed in what is assuredly 90% butter with a touch of sugar made heaven by the forkful. Their abundant and appropriately named gallery of sweets ranges from cookies to bars to brownies and of course, towering layers of sweetness. Drop in for a whole cake or pie, or indulge yourself in a slice or cake pop.

Underbelly – Open up one of the most beuaitfully pinot noir’s I have had to date (2009 Masut) and have a wonderfully amazing bite of their staunch sourdough bread with the jalapeno blueberry butter and an evening with friends is perfect here. My Korean goat and dumplings was fiery and unusual. The satay skewers glisten with a perfect glaze and the wahoo fish (that came out of the water at noon that day for our 6PM dinner) were all delectable. The vinegar pie with toffee afterwards really made me feel like I’d been satisfied. A note here, the menu seems to be one large list – the portions vary quite a lot, so it’s best to ask before receiving. I was overly pleased with the tapas size of my meal, but could definitely not see a man eating the dish to full satisfaction. That said, I’d repeat, the staff is cordial and knows their food and more importantly, have a passion for what they do!

Mantra –Nestled in Sugar Land so far to not be seen, this little gem of an exotic romantic dinner waiting to happen is worth the drive. The staff are attentive and out of the way and the dishes…heavenly. We had a lovely evening of vegetarian fare (they do serve meat) and started with their fresh cucumber salad that we ate in between bites of their indulgent Navrathan Korma (vegetables in creamy curry sauce) and Mushroom Matar (mushrooms in a tomato sauce with a medium spice kick) and all of that aside their perfectly tender rice and peas. The naan bread to swipe everything up that your fork missed is perfectly chewy without being like forgotten pizza crust (as I found it elsewhere!) Find this place, make it a go to after you’ve enjoyed the day!

J. Alexanders – While I always knew this place as the “oil and gas guy’s go to lunch spot”, I recently went there for dinner before a night of my first karaoke singing experience. We split the smoked salmon appetizer, which has this wonderful dill cream and thinnest crostini that despite wanting to share, I really wanted all to myself. Followed by their Asian tinged tuna salad – the ahi is seared absolutely perfectly and accompanied with their thai cilantro dressing including a perfectly heated wasabi on the side of a simple bed of greens, I can’t complain (and neither can my diet)….the salads were along side their special vegetable of the night – a lovely roasted cauliflower and brussel sprout mix. To keep it perfectly “healthy”, we ended the evening with a carrot cake – house made and arrives so warm that you picture your own mom pulling it out of the oven. Served in a old fashioned square piece with a glaze that runs thick to be glaze, thin to be frosting, the cream cheese mixture does everything for a sweet ending.

Ritters Frozen Custard – I don’t know why I’ve not put this on the blog before. Maybe it’s because I want to keep it all to myself. But yesterday when I was face down in a single scoop of birthday cake, I realized….I should share this. (The place, not my custard!)…I hate to admit it, but I’m not the world’s “biggest fan” of ice cream. But Ritter’ It’s frozen custard people. And I don’t care what is printed on the side of their cups about “legendary ice cream”…it’s not ice cream. It’s custard – which has eggs and cream and ….I’d like to believe….droplets of heaven. Anyway, it’s like pudding, frozen to music. Your spoon slides in and forget whatever soft serve grittiness that you get from franchise places, this is SMOOTH. Like satin. And it melts in your mouth, but with this perfection that you won’t forget. Make the trek to Katy, they have three flavors a day plus vanilla and chocolate….and a slew of other confections – sundaes, cakes, etc…it’s summery perfection.

Santa Fe Flats – The drive up to Spring proved to be worth it when I found decent green sauce AND diet Mexican on the menu. WHAT? I know. Despite my obvious love of food and eating out, I am a gym rat. My name is Lesley Ann, and I’m a worker-outer. They have a simple grilled chicken with a side of black beans and steamed veggies. While the veggies were normal fare for those of us who eschew the rice, I will tell you, a good dose of their green salsa on tops lights your mouth on fire and makes the meal. The chicken was well cooked with pico de gallo and a healthy dose of spices. Made for a perfect evening of phenomenal live music on the patio with our friend Mike Patton, of the Buck Yeager Band.

This is It Soul Food – it’s not fancy, it’s far from white table clothes…but it’s a smothered pork chop the likes of which you’ll never have again. Sure, the macaroni and cheese is homemade, and perhaps the finest cheeses didn’t touch the pan, but you can taste the love. The green bean’s salty-bacon-y perfection seep all over the plate creating a broth for the black eyed peas that are tender but not mushy. Oh, back to that pork chop…cuts with a fork, smothered with onions and peppers and black peppery gravy like goodness, it’s big portions, family food that is sure to please.

Pollo Campero – If Taco Bell met Chipotle met fresh foods, this could be the creation. Take the taco plate – not overly large on portion, but huge on flavor, the pork as well as the shrimp taco are sure to please. Great for lunch – has that fast food atmosphere without the playground, sticky hands and seats. It’s almost as if Starbucks just went upscale spicy! The service is superb for such a casual setting, everything requested is immediate – including your meal!

Roots Bistro – this wonderfully appointed restaurant was a little confusing to be honest. Classy insides, small locally sourced menu, but with pizza and a casual feel to the plates. The kale and avocado salad was stunning to start and the scalloped squash was bigger than just a side dish/starter. The pizza was perfect – thin crust with chewy “pizza bone” edges and underneath hides a flavorful tomato sauce with organic mushrooms topping a perfection of cheese.  Highly recommend for a date night, can’t wait to see what the ever revolving menu turns out.

Kata Robata – While the food is beautiful, and the place is chic, I have to admit, this place isn’t a return visit for me. The portions on some of the dishes are proportionately scary versus their price and while the flavors are complex, they lack a certain unique-ness that would rocket this place to stardom. The service wasn’t the best, either inundated by order and after request for order (you order like you would tapas…as you go.) and in the end, I forgot half the things we ate because of the choas and noise around me. That said, the vichyssoise was silky and mussels atop it perfect, and the red fish was cooked perfectly, I just wish I had more than a bite or two of it.

Sweet Paris Creperie – when it comes to simple meals done well in a cute environment, Sweet Paris takes the “crepe” for a nice stop while shopping in Rice Village. My nordic crepe – filled with salty salmon, dill and creme fraiche accompanied by a green salad simply dressed made for a light meal before dancing – I stayed light on my feet and perfectly happy the rest of the evening!

Local – while the place is industrial and mod without being cliche, the menu has promise of unique salads, different sandwiches and perhaps adventure that most sandwich places I’ve been lacked. That said, Local kind of fell flat for me. The Banh Mi was good, but not a traditional banh mi that I grew up with – it lacked that fish sauce mysterious feeling that you get when eating the semi-exotic sandwich. The kale salad fell a little flat for me, was it too acidic? or too spiced? unsure, but it left me a little confused. Perhaps with a little more working out, this place has promise.

Yum Yum Cha – it’s a bit of dive, hole in the wall place nestled in the usually posh Rice Village, this gem has dim sum. Leaving our choices for lunch up to the waitress, my coworker and I were so happy with the layout of treasures she bestowed upon us. Pork buns, chinese cabbage in oyster sauce, shrimp and pork siu mai, to name a few. Full of flavor, doesn’t drain your wallet and sure to please.

Amazon Grill – what do you mean chip and salsa buffet? With plantains? Sign me up immediately. Skinny fish tacos, now I’m in heaven. Having gone here with four coworkers made the trip worth it, aned the counter service meant no confused billing splits at the end of the meal. God rice and beans, despite generic feeling and the fish tacos were well seasoned and I didn’t miss the fatty toppings. Good place, quick service- a simple success.

Star Pizza – a pizza buffet beckoned us at a casual Friday office lunch. Garlic and green pepper topped pizza with garlic arsenal ready to kill your breath permanently. It’s your standard salad and slices pizza buffet fare, but good crust, great toppings, real cheese and homemade ranch — I felt like I was in college again.

J Blacks – As if my pizza kick wasn’t satisfied enough, this sports pub come fine dining place turned out a chicken and ranch pizza with grilled brussel sprouts made us happy. Thin, 12″ pizzas are filling without leaving you bloated if you split one. The sprouts were grilled without being over dressed or over done. Service is a bit slow, but they’re busy, and we were in a big group, so understandable. Definitely want to go back to try the other pies plus their sliders.

El Real Tex Mex – it’s “real” tex mex, and it is! The bacon wrapped shrimp are to die for – not overly cheesed, spiced – but letting the bacon come through and amplify a phenomenally juicy shrimp. Accompany a meal with their homemade guacamole – it’s still chunky, no overly salted, and perfect tomatoes hiding inside. Their salsa, served warm (my favorite), doesn’t burn, but the sweetness enhances whatever you find on your plate. I highly suggest, of all things, the refried beans — even if you’re not a fan….they are less “smooshed” and fresher tasting. A definite repeat.

Paulie’s – When someone finally gets what “al dente” is, it’s pure heaven when they also understand that bolognese is a perfect harmony of cream and tomato with meat and light spices to not kill the delicate symphony they’ve created. Paulies does this when you sit down to their rigatoni bolognese with perfectly olive oil dressed grilled bread. The half order is enough to fill you, and the perfection of the dish makes me think Italy in a place I didn’t expect to find it. The potato salad is simple, not mayo based, but parsley and lemony perfection along side their robust pork tenderloin sandwich. I’m returning weekly, I have to.

Jasper’s  – Jasper’s is a lovely traditional steak house nestled up in The Woodlands. I attended before an amazing Jason Mraz concert and started off the night with their blue cheese potato chips. Now I can never go back to the snack aisle again after this spoiling. Not overly done, but crispy and perfect to hold the ever so slightly melty bits of blue cheese.  Follow that by a perfectly rare filet that has the best hint of smoke and the creamiest potatoes next to it, and despite being very versed in table manners, I kinda wanted to scrape the plate. J

 Christies – it’s Houston’s oldest restaurant. So like the “World’s Largest Ball of Twine” or the “Home of the ##th President” on a road trip, you just gotta go. Okay, so the décor is mid 1980s, and the updates are few and far between, the menu is relatively the same since the mid 1950s (I know that because it’s on the wall near the restrooms)…that said, it’s nostalgia, and going into a place like this, you need to accept that restaurant proprietors feed their regulars. That’s what this group does.  The specialty here, I had heard was the Tarama dip – a greek speciality, the appetizer is a mix between mayo and cream cheese ever so lightly flavored by fish eggs. Served with bread crisps, it’s not an extremely inventive dish that knocks your socks off, but the nostalgia that my grandmother may have had this, replaces the want for haute cuisine.

 Guadalajara Hacienda – your basic Mexican haunt. Relatively typical when it comes to “prettier than brown and yellow blobs on a plate, less gorgeous than the fusion cuisine with plantains shaped into tendrils of heaven”…sometimes you just need to have a greasy spoon place that gets it right, has tables open and has a decent happy hour. This place will get that done. The dishes are all relatively good, my favorite is the enchiladas verde, sometimes the spinach ones if I’m trying to offset  their amazing queso or guacamole.  The tres leches cake is a hidden gem – don’t miss.

HK Dim Sum – a lovely casual places in the Chinatown area, I visited this location on a Chinatown crawl with girlfriends.  My wonderfully skilled at dim sum friend ordered for us, and the lovely things that arrived at the table where a culinary delight. Now I’m sure she’ll blog this behind me and when she does I’ll post here, but that said…the rice noodles fried with onion are stunning, a close second is the pork roll and the shrimp and pork shu mai.  Everything is quick (and value priced) and the lovely egg custard cup desserts were a lovely semi sweet ending to the first leg of the dim sum journey!

Fu Fu Café – nestled in the Chinatown area of Houston, FuFu is a modern spot with all the tastes of traditional Chinese. The space is small but well equipped and the smells coming in as you hit the table are perfect for getting ready for a journey. My table mates and I had pork dumplings – a lovely skin encasing a gorgeous broth and tender pork.  Then, my new favorite vegetable, snow pea greens, hit the table. Garlicky and tender, this is my new spinach! And then finally, the high point of the day – a peking duck and it’s accompanying soup – both fragrant and browned, with the onion and cucumber nestled beautifully in it’s steamed bread pocket. Heaven. Absolutely beautiful.

Cedar Creek – if ever a patio existed that had the best games with phenomenal bar basics and a good chance you’re going to make new friends, it’s here at Cedar Creek. I suggest you sit back, order a beer and find your lay of the land. Patio square footage overshines the inside tables, and when it’s nice out, it’s the best casual place to be in this lovely Heights area spot with a pretty fair amount of parking (football season teems with people…watch it!) I highly recommend the Frickles (fried pickles) and the burgers are stunningly large, inventive without losing that “dad made them in the backyard” flavor.

Central Market – the mecca of the foodie in search of that ever illusive ingredient.  Central Market can not only feed you on free samples alone but is also host to a café (both to go and eat in) with amazing dishes.  What I do suggest is either, preparing yourself to spend a bundle on a ton of stuff or carry a list…otherwise, you’re going to be overwhelmed. It’s more grocery store than café, and the aisles are packed. To take it all in a day would be near impossible, not only are the offerings changing, but the uses I find for new things I discover never end…it’s an amazing place. Try it.

Smashburger – with franchises everywhere, my store near work has the best service with a sincere smile ever! Perfectly grilled burgers with the right amount of grease making it not run down your arm, but wish it did feelings. The mushroom swiss burger along side their extra crispy sweet potato smash fries made the perfect lunch on National Cheeseburger day. It’s a counter service stop in, order with a big group and they’ll come find you. The name of the place is tribute to the idea that at the end of cooking, all things are smashed together, just as it should be. The result is a perfectly cooked buttery burger with a nice bun catching all the drippings of the patty. Gorgeous, and for fast food, it’s tops.

Harvest – The inside makes you think you just walked into a stunning steak house, and you did. This churrascuria turned organic grill is a comfy spot to get your (less calories, still filling) eat on. Equipped with a gorgeous salad buffet, our party of ladies (including one raw vegan) had a nice meal that didn’t leave me overstuffed. The grilled chicken breast sandwich had a hearty guacamole and while turkey bacon is never my first choice, I didn’t have the guilt later.

Uchi – While Top Chef may have had Paul Qui grinning, the hospitality at Uchi left me a bit cold. The dishes are mesmerizing in their own right, duck served in a mason jar with rosemary smoke still wafting. The yellow fin tuna dotted by searing peppers and a perfect orange. The chicken, my God chicken at a sushi place??!!, yes. It was tender and each bit perfection. The ending on brie (despite being forced by the server to take this dish last…yes…forced despite ordering it differently)…was perfectly creamy. However, when it’s top dollar, at a top restaurant – let’s serve it with hospitality, not pretention.

Kasra – I don’t know which was better – the lovely near hole in the wall, almost fine dining establishment settled just inside the loop (read: not far enough to get me home past bedtime) or the wonderful smells that consumed me the second I walk in. The Khorake Karafs, a dish of perfectly fork tender lamb shank with an “almost hash” or celery (don’t judge!), onion, lemon, mint and parsley with basmati rice accompanied by a naan-like taftoon round of bread is a must repeat. The freshness of the dish said greek, the ending spice note scream somewhat curry – either way a phenomenal change up from my usual Mediterranean loves…and I’m now a repeat customer for sure.

Teala’s – a lovely little fancy yet homey Mexican restaurant nestled into the Montrose area really left me happy to find a place that isn’t overdone on sombreros and still mixes a little unexpected into their menu. Thai style Mole…you are my new religion. The birthday party I attended there was wonderfully attended to without rushing, the patio spot perfect to watch people pass by. The salsa was slightly, if anything, too thin, but otherwise the taste plentiful…just like the rest of the dishes!

Tiny Boxwoods – Steak and potato brunch pizza? Holy goodness sign me up. A wonderfully, if not quirky, modernly hip for the mid-century-slash-Ralph-Lauren-Catalog crowd, Tiny Boxwoods is a perfect place for a limited menu of perfect choices. The French picnic of whipped goat cheese (our crowd pleaser) sits elegantly aside their burger and pomme frites. Nothing here on the menu says “ladlies who lunch”, but the atmosphere and presentation scream it. I love the versatility – Sunday brunch with  mom, Business dinner with clients and lunch with a first date – all sure to please.

Istanbul Turkish Grill  – Nestled in Rice Village, the place that boasts as Houston’s only Turkish restaurant is turning out warm food fare. While the menu doesn’t vary a ton, the flavors are wonderful. I had the gyro meat served on a wonderful bed of buttery crunchy bread cubes with a great tomato/yogurt sauce. The grape leaves have a bit more bite than I’m used to, but are far from the soggy jarred/canned mess that I can get at the grocery store. The service is extremely attentive, perhaps a little too much so, but I’d rather that than to be ignored.

Sushi Wabi – A lovely little place near Greenway Plaza. Quick service and great food insure a nice business casual lunch place. Start with the wasabi shumai and hot tea to wake you up and make you breathe in a wonderful wintry day. They have a great selection of rolls and everything is amazingly fresh and not over dressed. I had their wonderfully spicy New Orleans roll followed by their simpler avocado roll, definitely a return visit in the future.

Confucius Seafood – Seriously, what a find. 2 lobsters, hacked into large pieces still in the shell and prepared one of four ways. Celery sauce, Ginger garlic sauce, XO (spicy!) sauce or black pepper. We had the black pepper version, it’s not sauced so it’s not a “slimy” version of this special, though I’m told all of them are great. Accompanied with their super large bowl of egg drop soup to share and simple white rice, this a hidden treat in Bellaire’s Chinese district..

Crisp – We started off a nice date night with the suggested appetizer of arancini – three beautifully portioned lightly crumbed orbs of fantastic started off a great evening. The risotto balls had a molten center of mozzarella and were accompanied by a wonderfully orange spicy sauce that set the pace for the evening. We split a pizza and salad. The Heights House salad was big enough for two, a peppery but not argula lettuce with a fantastically citrusy not biting dressing that wasn’t overbearing. This girl hates a salad that ruins the taste of a pizza! (Think glass of OJ after brushing your teeth!)  We enjoyed the  Toscano Pizza, a lovely combination of blue cheese, carmel onions, mushrooms, salami on a chewy traditional style salted crust. A must return with friends, the patio area looked spacious and inviting, we’ll be back!

Costa Brava – what a lovely little gem! Recently reviewed by the infamous Alison Cook, the bookings here have skyrocketed! Starting from their perfect olive tapenade through to a smart cheese plate to round out a meal, Costa Brava does very traditional food with a slight latin spin. My 8 oz filet (which really must have rung in around 10-12 oz.) with Roquefort cream sang perfectly with it’s crispy, salty splcy Lyonnaise potatoes. The onion strings were a wonderful addition. The glazed pork chop was also gorgeous, not overly sweet glaze but enough so that you keep wanting to come back for another bite. However, the real winner here was the Foie Gras served on a pain perdu. To unfoodie-ize this, think “meat butter on French toast”…savory sweet melting perfection, not even a sense of the mealy iron taste you sometimes gather from liver. It’s near unbelievably perfect in it’s preparation…make it a must!

Philippe – What an awesomely modern and chic place for turning 34.  As you ascend the steps to the second floor that’s done a bit French, a bit industrial, you overlook some of the Galleria area’s skyline and it’s city-fied, yet cozy. Start with an interesting Crab + Avocado starter and the evening and it’s gifts will soon abound – the simple pico, mayo-based crab salad is accompanied by a bubbly foam and crisp crostata – done well, and good for conversation fodder.  My indulgent Burgundy beef cheeks were so soft that nary a butter knife was even seen on my plate, of course, the flavor – taken up a level adding top grade bacon and pearl onion with just a hint of that wonderful rich red wine.  Being that I eat one dish at a time, the macaroni and cheese was touched with a beautiful truffle oil, not overly dripping with cheese, but baked to perfection with the browned crispy cheddar topper. He had the seared scallops with an Andouille sausage kick, tempered to winter flavors with pumpkin puree and roasted root vegetables – heaven. What’s a birthday without cake? The  Shiner Bock Spice Cake with caramelized honey ice cream. The poached pears were perfect and who would have thought that house made raisins were something to write home about? (they are!) If you’re a chocolate lover, then the Campfire Napoleon “French S’Mores” is a must try. What a great elegant twist, despite the difficulty of getting a fork started into the beautiful dish.  Overall, top notch, great service and beautiful food and setting, perfect.

Wild Cajun –  While it’s known as a Viet-Cajun place, I went all Cajun for a great Saturday out. It’s crawfish season after all. This place has quick service in a sports bar, it would have been nice to have a patio, but it was about crawfish and oysters here. The chargrilled oysters are slathered in a pungent garlic relish and chargrilled to perfection. Follow that with a few pounds of crawfish, potatoes, sausage and corn, and you have a meal made in heaven. I was craving it, and the crawfish were great. They do them a little differently than the boil that I’m used to. They are served in a plastic (Perhaps boiling?) bag, and the garlic relish makes a return appearance with the addition of sweet and green onions. They really lent a good flavor, very happy with the outcome. Craving met!

Natachees – We went there for breakfast. It was a little early for everyone, and while our orders were good, I had the breakfast sammich, they weren’t perfect. Instead of the order of bacon, sausage was brought…but quickly fixed. The toasted sourdough was wonderful, held in all my sandwich contents. Not that they weren’t plentiful, but I hate a sandwich that implodes as you eat it. The sharp cheddar was nice, well balanced with the sweet avocado and the eggs were cooked to perfection. Accompanied with some of their hashbrowns, I was full, without being overstuffed.

Hawthorn – could a spot be more chic and romantic that fed an experimental feeling foodie to the brim while also keeping such an amazing vibe about the room that made her feel so loved and luxurious? Yes. At Hawthorn. Open your mind and let the new food ideas float in. Start with a French 75 cocktail and the baby octopus. Served in an almost paella like spicy broth with perfectly charred bread, this soup-appetizer-starter…let’s just call it heaven. What an amazing beginning. Then follow up with the even more adventurous veal sweetbreads – lightly breaded and fried, with a perfectly balanced polenta and mushrooms. If that couldn’t be enough, find absolute perfection in the rosemary panna cotta – which I still can’t get out of my mind….can we go again?

Orleans Cajun Kitchen – pretty casual dining in Katy, TX. While I thought it was interesting upon walking in that we had a “oyster bar” this close to home. Being a huge oyster fan, my heart skipped a beat. So when we got  up to the counter to order, we said one dozen oysters. No kind. No type. Just “that”…then we ordered the crawfish etoufee and I was dying for an oyster po’ boy and a hurricane. We were handed our buzzer and receipt and told to go to the bar for our drink and oysters. My heart sank a little when the waitress pulled our oysters – preshucked – out of a fridge and then drained off the melted ice. That said, these oysters weren’t bad! They were large and flavorful…just not a “snob” place if you need that sort of thing. (I didn’t, I was happy.) The po’ boy came with standard issue French fries and it was good. I wanted some serious egg bread but good plump oysters with some tartar sauce made my stomach happy. The etoufee was spicy and nice, without being overwhelmingly hot. Overall, a good cheap meal in Katy for families.

Kahn’s Deli –  Hands down the best Reuben in town! Seriously, I don’t know what sort of Russian sauce comes out fuschia, and who switches up swiss to cheddar, but the combination of flavors here truly packs a punch. Mix that with mild sauerkraut and some soft rye bread and it’s amazing! Plus, what I love, is that there are small and large sizes, so you aren’t inundated with a small Honda sized sandwich to expand your innards to new frontiers. Not to mention a pretty banging potato salad – I’m going to guess a sour cream and mayo based sauce dresses up potatoes and baked potato-like fixins. We also tried the Hoot Owl, which is more of a traditional mixed deli meat sandwich and when accompanied by famous Dirty’s kettle chips, makes for a pretty delicious lunch!

The M & M Restaurant & Bar – We had quite the laugh when walking up to the restaurant to find that it was packed with a private party ending at the exact time of our reservation. M&M made good on their promise, offering us a complimentary drink and they quickly got a table together while the rest of our party arrived. Despite the bar not knowing some of our drinks, French 75 & Kir Royale…and then the waitress asking if a “cape cod” was a drink, I think the place has promise as far as fine dining on Galveston goes. We started off with Fried Green Tomatoes and their Avocado Pancakes. Both starters were very good. Continuing on to main dishes, I had the Tuna with Jalapeno Cream and it was delightful. They do serve this with the standard “mashed potatoes” and “vegetable medley” and as a side dish lover, that’s a bit disappointing, however the fish was cooked perfectly and the sauce wasn’t overwhelmingly hot.

Etoile Et Bar – what a wonderful find. Not only does it have an amazingly chic and very French atmosphere, but the service and food are fantastic. Didi was our waiter for the evening, tantalized by his knowledge of the menu, his ability to suggest things and his humor, it made the celebratory dinner an elevated experience. The traditional escargot was a beautiful opening to the meal, making it a hard to follow course. That said, the lobster bisque paired wonderfully for a 2nd course, and then my mussels. Oh, my mussels. I can’t even imagine a more French, more simplistically perfect and yet, I’d never have done this on my own dish. Called “Les moules Saint Jean de Luz.  It’s a garlicky chorizo broth that makes mussels into heaven. A definite repeat in the future.

Tilas – A rather horrid experience.  I won’t be back even. Sitting within spitting distance of my favorite Backstreet Café, I was hoping this Mother’s Day would bring us this treat. Mom asked for Mexican and I thought this “always looked packed” locale would have the special-ness of a celebratory lunch, with the drippy cheese of our local haunt. It was neither. The food is sub-par – tortilla chips bordered on stale, the enchiladas that we each had were only so-so. Our waiter was mostly missing, and when I had to use my cell phone to get a matire d’ to identify who our waiter was in the first place, after a 40 minute wait for just drink orders (after watching more populous tables get drinks and food orders in) I think I was about ready to go. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

McCormick & Schmicks – What a lovely place for a business dinner. Quiet environment, good – but not overly attentive – waitstaff, and the food is classic seafood house – not overly creative – but en pointe. I had the chopped salad and seared sea scallops.  The chopped salad was “ok”, a little limp with too much dressing draped on it and stirred in. It really killed whatever delicate greens were there for me to enjoy. However, any salad issues were cleared up by the arrival of my main. The scallops were perfectly seared caramel outsides with tender middles. They laid atop a perfect bed of wilted spinach that had an amazing base of a “potato hash pancake”, if you will. I think I saw crab in that pancake, maybe I didn’t. Either way it’s crunch exterior and seasoned soft interior made the meal for me. A redo for business lunches, for sure.

The Grove – The Bar Scene –  When we went to Discovery Green to see the latest exhibit, we found a line that looped around the corner. So, after the last experience at the Grove only a dimly lit glimmer in our memory, we headed in to see what we could see. We packed in at the very crowded bar. I asked for a French 75 and he asked for “Whatever was in that jug with the pineapples over there”…a very stiff pineapple vodka libation and a quick wait for “What’s a French 75?” later, and we had cocktails. Then we flagged them down (very busy Saturday!) for some truffle fries and fried pickles. Both very good – the potatoes are shoestring style, with a great garlic aioli and sprinkled with parmesan. The pickles are spear-style rather than traditional rounds – and while not the exact salty heaven that thinner slices provides, were still a perfect snack. We finished off with a piece of chocolate cake – it was obviously fridge livin’ for awhile, but a nice generic dessert for lunch time.

Mia Bella Trattoria – We ate here before a show at the House of Blues in Houston. Started off with their Croquettas di Risotto which where risotto cakes with mozzarella, rice, black olives and basil. The cilantro pesto on top was heaven , but I also noticed some capers in mine – something that I love, but aren’t always loved by others. We had two different mains, my Gnocchi al Merguez was amazing, something completely unexpected and yet, very traditional Italian. Light gnocchi with spicy merguez sausage, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms, which had been sautéed to form a lovely broth and topped with a dollop of fresh ricotta. The other main, the Maiale con Cannelloni was a perfect pork tenderloin with a sweet raisin specked wine sauce was amazing. The cannelloni aren’t traditional pasta, but crepe-like and the pecan crunch with the sweet potato filling was to die for.  A definitely return meal and a great and well priced date night.

Theo’s – I was feeling like I kept giving business to Niko Niko’s based solely on their reputation, and needed to step out. We started with the Taramosalata  which is a Greek caviar dip that’s cream cheese/sour cream based and very subtle but addicted. I tried their Greek Sampler Platter, which is a combination plate of dolmades, spanakopita, tiropita, keftedakia, and shaved gyro meat served with Greek style green beans, mixed vegetables, lemon potatoes, and rice pilaf. While the rice pilaf and green beans actually floored me, I will definitely say I like NIko’s lemon potatoes better. The gyro meat was okay, dryish but not overly so. The dolmades were amazing, in a lemony sauce and very meat filled as opposed to a lot of rice. The keftedakia were unlike anything I’d had, Niko’s does do these or doesn’t do them this well, as these were the highlight of the plate. While we were there, we saw two regular burgers go by, and let’s just say, the Greeks may corner the market on the chili burger – it looked like a must-try. Overall, less crowded, nice seating, and pretty good food.

Thai Cottage – I stopped in the other day for lunch and had their yellow curry with chicken.  It was “okay” at best. I asked for mild, and the milky sauce was nice, but didn’t hold up like other places I’ve been, it was near watery and didn’t really create that wonderful sauce for the rice that I “ache” for when I’m looking for a Thai food fix.  The lunch specials are served with salad and a crispy spring roll, both were pretty generic, but the peanut dressing was definitely a stand out. It’s not a bad place, it’s just not a memorable one either.

Goro & Gun – What a charming little place. Right down from our regular Blues Dance spot, this small but trendy and cozy café (can that all be?) is nestled into downtown. Studded with hipster servers serving up vintage and new fangled cocktails, I admittedly came for the soup – and stayed for the libations. Everything was pretty darn amazing. We had the hustle sprouts – flash fried brussel sprouts – which were amazing with plumped raisins and rice wine vinegar. For dinner, I had an amazing bowl of lobster ramen – tasting perfectly ocean-y and warm the al dente noodles coupled with rock shrimp and that sweet lobster really hit home. Afterward, the Vietnamese coffee ice cream is a must. They just started their robata (grill) menu small plates and the beef was spectacular.

Annam – lunch on an old school divided cafeteria tray? Uh, yes! You come to Annam in the Energy Corridor, and the place is packed. You choose from about a dozen lunch items, one of their side dishes (the palak paneer/spinach and farmers cheese is amazing!) and on your table comes a tray of food that may feed two or three people. Rice, a tandoori chicken leg, vermicelli sweet pudding, cilantro chutney and your side and main arrive. I had the lamb palak and my goodness was the lamb fresh and perfectly cooked. This is usually my benchmark dish…lamb can easily go wrong and this one was a winner. A must go back for their Sunday buffet.

Bistro 829 – Fine dining in Katy continues to pop up. Bistro 829 is a part of a mini-city center off the beaten path in Katy. Serving mostly American food with a bit of international here and there, the place is well decorated but a little dark  The crostini with sundried tomato mousse is lovely to nibble while choosing dishes. The duck tamales to start make up for any short comings in ambience, The wedge salad’s dressing was lovely, and the portion isn’t the full “too much” wedge that some places serve. The snapper Roquefort was lovely, accompanied by healthy portions of grilled veggies, spinach and a nice risotto. Lots of food though, and hard to finish.  One low point, the cannoli – they were more sour tart than a sweet finish.

Sale – Sucre – What a wonderful little spot for dinner in the Heights. Not overly fancy, but fancy enough, this French bistro has a lot of wonderful dishes going for it. True to French style, everything was lovely and rich and laden with butter. But not so much to make someone ill. I started with the escargot starter. Traditionally served in shell, this twist was something I’d not seen before. The escargot are unshelled and served over a piece of bread inside a tiny dutch oven the size of a ramekin. The green salad dressed simply with a perfectly tart balsamic dressing was amazing. The buttery meat along with the soft bread just made heaven. Next I had the tomato bisque which really hit home. Not overly creamy and teeming with tomato flavor, this was favorite. Sometimes soups can get more heavy cream than they should and this was far from that mistake. For my entrée, I chose the Moules Marinieres. The very light garlic and white wine sauce bathed the mussels which were cooked perfectly. They were paired with crispy pommes frites (French fries) and were heavenly. Finally, to finish, a shared nutella crepe – the sweetness took me back to Italy where a similar dish was had for breakfast – a repeat dish in the future for sure.

Adair Kitchen – What a wonderful new spot that I want to call my neighborhood restaurant. Despite living 30-45 minutes from “the neighborhood”. Situated on San Felipe near the galleria, Adair is a bright spot that is a great date night place. Airy and with a healthy menu, I slipped into a coma when I had a sip of an amazingly light lemony French 75 paired with a fantastically unique Lemon Artichoke Soup.  Had I known that portions were so large, I would have suggested splitting the slightly less healthy burger and fries – but instead, I ordered the chicken, kale and sweet potato risotto – perfectly cooked comfort food – I was in love – and taking half home for the next day was a nice “revisit!” The service is quick and we were out and onto the soccer game on time, a must return and try again.

Maine-ly Sandwiches for dinner. The lobster rolls and bisque were heavy, but heavenly, and I already want to go again for a full roll – gluttonous me. The place is plain, with walk up counter service, and I’m not too keen on the lack of fountain drinks, but that said, the freshness and simplicity of their offering is wonderful. Their rolls are soft but buttery toasted warm, and the lobster salad is simple – you taste lobster, a little bit of creamy buttery-ness and that’s it. No fancy overdone madness. The lobster bisque is the same, even with “dock worker” style packets of oyster crackers…sinfully and simple.

Coppa – stunningly gorgeous Italian food that feels like it came from Italy. To start, their fritto misto is light and airy – a great combination of deep fried (usually not my thing) basil, lemon, shrimp and calamari with a great surprise of fennel. Then I had their sausage and white bean soup – a simply perfect chicken broth and veggie combination that leaves you wanting more and wondering how something that “transparent” (sorry, punny) can make you that happy. Finally, we had the spaghetti lola and spaghetti carbonara (which is what they are known for)…both dishes came in PERFECT “I don’t need carbs” sizes and the authenticity and lack of “gourmet twists” was….so flipping refreshing. If I could learn how to do this, I wouldn’t need trips to Italy!


3 Responses to And the Eat Goes On

  1. Pingback: And the Eat Goes on…a blog posting that never stops | Living Aloud Allowed

  2. Pingback: And the Eat Goes On…Updated | Living Aloud Allowed

  3. Pingback: Fun for Friday: Houston’s best 10 Course Meal | Living Aloud Allowed

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s