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Houston tops in eating out

"Restaurant-goers in this sprawling megalopolis have the bull by the horns these days, and they're barbecuing the hell out of it.  Imagine a situation where the economy is robust but the entree prices are often anemic. Where portions are hefty and dining options are vast.  Where the hired help comes cheap but is still hospitable.  That's Houston. The oil boom is back, but this time it's gushing from deep-fryers. 

Texans love their superlatives, and it turns out that Houstonians eat out more often than the residents of any other major U.S. city, according to the Zagat Survey restaurant guides.  Diners here strap on the feed bag in public 4.6 times a week, just ahead of Dallas at 4.4.  But here's the kicker: Zagat's surveys of 40 major markets also show that Houstonians pay the second-lowest average meal tab, $14.86, behind Kansas City, Mo.'s $14.01 (New Yorkers pay the most, $29.28). And the city is among the national leaders in restaurants per capita, with about 8,000 places for a population of 4.3 million."  -  Jerry Shriver, USA TODAY 10/02/98

In Texas, steak houses and barbeque are a given, and the city has a wide selection of each.  Seafood is plentiful due to the proximity of the Gulf of Mexico.  Being an international city, Houston also offers a multitude of Chinese, French, Italian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Mexican, Korean, Cajun and South American restaurants.

Local and Regional Restaurants
Please note: Some restaurant reviews have been edited for space considerations

America's
1800 Post Oak Blvd
(713) 961-1492Mapquest button  
Tropical, earthy cuisine draws on indigenous New World foods in traditional and experimental ways, all in an eye-popping, chimerical setting.

"Besides the jaw-dropping, New Age architecture designed by architect Jordan Mozer and the way-out interior decor, you'll relish America's food.  Famed chef-owner Michael Cordua has created a menu that merges the bold, rich flavors of South America with touches of the Caribbean and Mexico. Although the menu is similar to its sister restaurant, Churrasco's, expect a wider seafood selection and more futuristic plate presentations. Speaking of showy, these rock-paved, cave-like surroundings are straight from your wildest dreams with psychedelic light fixtures and curvy banquettes in dramatic purples and reds. 

Things are pricey at Americas, but lunch selections are more affordable.  Generous salads are bathed in rich, creamy dressing. Try the garlic-laden Caesar de pollo (with fork-tender grilled chicken) or the ensalada de pollo asada (grilled vegetables and achiote chicken breast).  Dinner might start with the signature hearty black bean soup served in a bread boule but the Chilean redwood-smoked salmon filled with roasted corn mousse is more luscious. If going to the max, order the two grilled baby lobster tails with yuca polenta and smoked crab fingers or the beef tenderloin medallions over Chilean bordelaise sauce with crimini and portobello mushrooms. Finish with tres leches cake, notably more flavorful and moist than others around town.  If just stopping by for a bite and to ogle, think tapas. The intriguing downstairs bar area offers fine Chilean wines and traditional South American cocktails. Salut! This is not a dream." --Robin Barr Sussman, MSN/citysearch.com/font>

Antone's Famous Po'Boys & Deli
Click Here for Locations and Phone numbers
In 1962, the late Jalal E. Antone opened the first Antone's store near downtown Houston, Texas. Mr. Antone insisted that his store have an "old world" feel, so he decorated with turn of the century decor and surrounded it with an aura of old world charm. He specialized in ethnic foods and fine wines, but the heart of his business was a 9" fresh bun filled with meats and cheeses for the lowest price per inch anywhere. Originally sold for $.50 each, their popularity grew through the Houston community.  The Antone's family continues to operate a few stores in the Houston area under the Antone's Import Company but are not affiliated with Antone's Famous Po'Boys & Deli.

The po-boy can be traced to the early part of the century and a tiny French Quarter restaurant in New Orleans run by Benny and Clovis Martin. The brothers served copious 15-cent sandwiches on long loaves of French bread with numerous fillings. In 1929, the city's streetcar conductors walked off their jobs in a bitter labor dispute.  Out of sympathy for the workers, the Martins offered the strikers free sandwiches; when a striking union member walked into the restaurant, the story goes, Benny would call to Clovis, "Here comes another poor boy! Since that auspicious beginning, po'boy sandwiches have spread throughout the United States, however, no chain of po'boy shops has ever been developed until Antone's.

Baich's Bar & Grille 
2016 Main Street, Houston 
(713) 650-8830
Mapquest button
"A surprising treasure easily overlooked"--Zagat's
"A great downtown hideaway"--Houston Chronicle
Located across the street from the downtown bus station and adjacent to the Pierce Elevated — where locals tend to dine in dumpsters — Baich's Bar and Grille would appear to be the last place in Houston to find a sumptuous meal and some of the city's best jazz players.  Susan Hill opened Baich's on the ground floor of the 2016 Main high-rise in June 1992, and high-rise tenant Maria Johnson, a pianist herself, suggested Hill add live jazz to the fine dining experience, a suggestion the owner took. Now some of Houston's best jazzers — including saxist Horace-Alexander Young and guitarist Mike Sunjka — plop their gear down in the space behind the bar wall, providing the coolest and most sophisticated background music you'll find in town. Chef Jose Silva offers a cuisine that he calls "new American with a Southwestern flair," which means seafood, steaks and pasta served with a little spice - Tim Carman

Beck's Prime
Continually voted one of the Best in Houston, the restaurant is known for it's top quality, freshly prepared mesquite grilled burgers, chicken, fish and steaks.  Much has been written about their "extra stout" Hershey's® chocolate and fresh strawberry shakes. Four of the seven locations have drive-thrus.  You may enjoy Houston's beautiful weather and great food on one of their decks covered under umbrella tables.

benjy's

2424 Dunstan #125  (beween. Kelvin & Morningside)
(713) 522-7602Mapquest button

5922 Washington Ave
(713)868-1131

Modern American Cuisine.   New York Chic.   Southern Tranquility.  The place is benjy's restaurant and the lounge which opened in December '95.   This beacon for the hip and hungry has an incredible chef, new menu, and has become Houston's oasis for the mod-set.  The menu pulls from different ethnicities and is lighter and more flavorful than most in this Restaurant crazy city.

Birra Poretti's

500 Louisiana St, Houston
(713)224-9494Mapquest button

"A great Italian restaurant and a heck of an Irish bar."  The new and improved version of this stodgy, middle-aged restaurant chain has lightened up the interiors and tightened up the kitchens. The old Birraporetti's served ersatz Italian food for more than 20 years, but its reworked menu is the new Italianate jazz — contemporary riffs on old classics. You might like the wood-grilled salmon, lamb chops with white beans, warm roast beef sandwich or pizzas.  - MSN/citysearch.com

Bistro Provence

13616 Memorial Dr, Houston 
(713) 827-8008Mapquest button

Eyelet covered lamps and blue and yellow dressed tables will keep you cheerful even if you rub elbows with neighbors on both sides.  Provence excels with its saucy chicken, beef stews and many grilled items. They tend to be dry but all is forgiven after adding surely the most authentic bernaise in Houston. Purists may be quick to order the confit de lapin, a simmered red rabbit confit with candied onions and prunes, or even the oddly textured tripe. And even the fearful will be comforted with four different pizzas and several soups. But if you ever want something perfect to eat, but aren't sure what, just order the pate du chef, served with lightly dressed greens and the sprightly house vinaigrette. Spread that fresh pate on the warm Fougasse bread, wash it down with Vouvray (this crisp semi-sweet wine with green apple overtones is one of four whites available by the glass), and you'll forever sing the praises of Provence.  All the wines are French and desserts include natural citrus sorbets, rice pudding with caramel, and a homey baba au rhum, a grainy house sponge cake smothered in rhum syrup with a poached apricot and whipped cream. Aren't the French charming?  --Robin Barr Sussman, MSN/citysearch.com

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Black Labrador Pub
4100 Montrose Boulevard, Houston 
(713) 529-1199Mapquest button

The cozy English-pub setting in a former church is perfect for enjoying a pint of ale, a game of darts, perhaps a bite to eat. The kitchen is not strictly English (burgers and Tex-Mex dishes turn up among the shepherd's pie and bangers and mash), but it's probably much better than its equivalent across the Atlantic. On the patio, a human-size chessboard is designed into the paving and even occasionally used. As the evening winds down, try the Scotch apple pie and a Samuel Smith Taddy porter. On the few frigid afternoons that Houston weather calls for a fireplace, crowd around this one with your beer and a book.

Brennan's of Houston
3300 Smith, Houston
(713) 522-9711Mapquest button
Unarguably one of Houston's most beautiful restaurants.  Brennan's showcases its New Orleans roots with its famous courtyard and French Quarter inspired interiors.  The Creole menu utilizes Texas ingredients with regional items included seasonally. Tableside preparation of flaming Cafe Brulot and Brennan's famous Bananas Foster makes any meal a special occasion.  - Texas Best Restaurants, 1996

For 33 years, this "impressive" Downtown "Texanized" sibling of the renowned Commander's Palace in New Orleans has been ordained Houston's "Creole heaven", with a romantic courtyard and an "elegant" room; Carl Walker serves up  "turtle soup that will cure whatever ails you", "creative fish dishes and divine Bananas Foster", and dinner at his private table in the kitchen is "a classy treat"; all  in all, this is "a superior restaurant in every respect." - Zagat America's Top Restaurants

Brenner's Steak House
10911 Katy Freeway, Houston
(713) 465-2901Mapquest button
Tucked away in a nondescript building alongside the relentlessly congested Katy Freeway, Brenner's exudes a relaxed if well-worn charm that few Houston restaurants will ever match. A west-side institution since 1936 (original address: "Katy Highway, seven miles west of Post Oak Road"), Brenner's has seduced generations of local diners with its top-of-the-line heavy aged beef, attentive service and low-key atmosphere.

This is steak country, and the prime fillets and rib eyes arrive at the table masterfully seared on the outside while retaining a full-flavored tenderness that saturates the taste buds of even the most ambivalent carnivores. Once you descend from the top of the food chain, however, the neighborhood starts to get a little chancy. Appetizers and side dishes are largely unremarkable, and most diners end up opting for a generous helping of German-fried potatoes to accompany their steaks, a surprisingly homey touch to this otherwise upscale dining experience.

Change may be inevitable now that the restaurant has acquired new owners, but for now Brenner's seems remarkably unaffected by the passage of decades. The veteran waitstaff still recites the evening's menu for each table by heart, and the dinner salads remain firmly wedded to the lettuce and tomato tradition. One welcome update to the menu, however, has been the addition of a small number of seafood offerings, which can be ordered with a crab, shrimp and capers topping to provide a respectable, if pricey, alternative to the main attraction.— Paul Jennings, MSN/citysearch.com

Cafe Annie
1728 Post Oak Blvd
(713) 840-1111 
Mapquest button
Sophisticated bistro where lavish attention to detail starts with chef/co-owner Robert del Grande's outstanding and unusual Southwestern menu.

"Innovation floods the menu but Del Grande still believes that less is more. Too many ingredients on the plate can create havoc with the final result. Witness the correct balance of citrus, spiciness, and richness in mussel soup spiked with ancho chile jam, cocoa roasted chicken with BBQ sweet potatoes, and wood-grilled lamb chops with black Oaxacan mole. The City Lunch is a way to enjoy a multi-course meal at a fair price (including some very affordable wines by the glass). Start with Summerfield smoked salmon or black bean terrine with goat cheese and fresh tomato salsa, then move on to rainbow trout with saffron aioli or Texas Hill Country venison sausage with red chile barbecue sauce and white grits. 

 Dinner appetizers sparkle. Favorites include the rare yellow fin tuna with shaved beets and truffle vinaigrette or fresh corn tamales with wood-grilled shrimp and crema fresca. Entrees such as Texas farm-raised redfish with barbacoa pork tamale emphasize the interior of Mexico flavors that Cafe Annie favors. Also expect rarities such as South Texas antelope with dried cherries and Casabel chile sauce, also deftly prepared." --Robin Barr Sussman, MSN/citysearch.com

Canyon Cafe
5000 Westheimer Road, Houston 
(713) 629-5565Mapquest button

Scan the menu at this trendy Dallas import, and you turn up a virtual encyclopedia of Southwestern buzzwords, from cilantro pesto to chipotle mayonnaise to adobo garlic marinade. This is a concept restaurant, more about being and seeing than eating and drinking, yet it seems to please the huge crowds that have waited for tables since the day it opened. Try one of the many taco or quesadilla choices, King Ranch chicken casserole, chicken-fried steak or a grilled steak. The dining room has a Santa Fe lodge look, with exposed pine timbers, Southwestern gewgaws and Fiesta-style dishes, a merging of wit and kitsch. The balcony, with French doors thrown open, is a stunner, overlooking Post Oak Boulevard.

Capital Grille
5365 Westheimer
(713) 623-4600Mapquest button
If you're looking for excess, go to the politically suggestive Capital Grille. With two giant lion sculptures "guarding" the entrance, the United States eagle emblem in the lobby, and the wine lockers displayed with gold name plates, you'd better feel at least protected, if not exclusive. Every decor detail, including the glassed-in meat locker, is masculine to the max and overdone to the infinitum. There are enough extravagantly framed oil paintings on the walls to open a small museum and the dining room banquettes and chairs are either leather or velvet. So quit gawking and order a steak--we recommend the 14-ounce towering filet mignon, a melt-in-your-mouth masterpiece (it's dry-aged). 

Other steak choices range from 14-ounces to 24-ounces: sirloin, porterhouse, or a fancy-pants steak au poivre with Courvoisier cognac cream sauce. Side vegetables are not as impressive but portions are massive--the baked potato is a full pound! Stick to that or the cottage fries. Appetizers are also hit and miss--smoked Norwegian salmon is safe but don't be tempted by the lobster and crab cakes. We must say, though, that the copper-inlaid bar and luxurious lounge is one of the best looking to ever grace Houston. In all its opulent glory, not only is this a see-and-be-seen restaurant, it's a must-see. --Robin Barr Sussman, MSN/citysearch.com

Carrabba's

3115 Kirby Drive, Houston     
(713) 522-3131Mapquest button
1399 S. Voss Road, Houston
(713) 468-0868Mapquest button
The family owned, non-franchise, locations. Simply, some of the best Italian food in Houston.

"Johnny Carrabba's kitchens perpetuate their nuova rustica reputation with well-tended grills and some of the best pastas in town. Don't overlook the surprisingly good pizzas on chewy, slightly charred crusts, either, or the seafood salad, a smartly dressed toss of bitter greens, grilled shrimp and scallops. Comfortable, dependable and expensive enough to make patrons feel indulgent, Carrabba's are unabashed yuppie havens. There's always a crowd. Best seat in the house for eating pizza is at the open kitchen bar next to the oven — nonstop action and great aromas prevail."
Carrabba's Italian Grill
Carrabba's Italian Grill was founded in Houston by Johnny Carrabba and Damian Mandola in December of 1986.  Many of the recipes on our menu are those of Damian's mother Grace and sister Rose. Damian has preserved the Italian authenticity of Carrabba's food by traveling the world in search of unique Italian dishes and by taking numerous trips to his grandparents' native Italy.

In January, 1995, Outback Steakhouse, Inc. acquired the rights to develop Carrabba's nation wide. There are currently 72 Carrabba's Italian Grill locations with another 10 planned to open in 2000.  In addition, the family retained two locations, and they go by just "Carrabba's", dropping the "Italian Grill".

Charlie's Coffee Shop
1100 Westheimer Road, Houston 
(713) 522-3332Mapquest button
You've left the Land of the Low-Fat Latte, kids. What Charlie's provides is a decent burger sided with thick, crispy steak fries, basic diner fare right down to the featured Daily Special, and your old-fashioned bottomless cup of coffee. Extra, but at no additional charge, is the ambience, which looks lifted straight from either Five Easy Pieces or Pink Flamingos, depending upon what time of day (or night) you decide to drop in. Charlie's is always open and the service is friendly.  The sharp new outdoor signage can't change the local flavor, or Charlie's status as an old-school anchor of a chunk of Westheimer that was once — before the Burger Kings and Eckerds moved in — more strip than strip mall. No amount of renovation, no matter how thorough, will extricate he history from Charlie's, one of the neighborhood's longest-lived and livelier haunts. — Laura Lark

Chez Nous French Restaurant 
217 S. Avenue G, Humble 
(281) 446-6717Mapquest button
Gerard and Sandra Brach preside over what feels like a little French country inn in a former Pentecostal church. In the middle of a modest residential neighborhood in Humble, a few blocks off Main Street, it's the kind of place you'd brag to your friends about discovering on a trip through Napa Valley, say, or Vermont. It's a French restaurant of decades past, so full of charm you almost expect the bartender to wear a straw boater. Most of the menu's offerings are sturdy, classic dishes with good sauces, and there's a generous wine list.

Ciro's Cibi Italiani
9755 Katy Freeway, Houston TX 77024
(713) 467-9336Mapquest button
A great little hideaway with a northern Italian menu that includes plenty of heart-healthy selections as well as good seafood. It's always noisy and crowded, but, if need be, you can buy Ciro's various pasta sauces at most grocery stores for preparing similar meals at home.  .

Daily Review Cafe
3412 W. Lamar Street, Houston 
(713) 520-9217Mapquest button
Owner and executive chef Claire Smith has brought a heavenly piece of "God's country" (California) to the Daily Review Cafe. Alumnus of Greens and Oliveto in San Francisco, her creations are comforting but vibrant, emphasizing local freshest-available ingredients on the daily menu.  One of only a handful of talented women chefs in Houston, she's achieved a local following and celebrity-chef status after only five years. Daily Review was named a "Best New Restaurant of 1995" by Esquire magazine and Smith continues to appear on national television and guest chef spots. 

The chicken pot pie, redolent of fennel, carrots, and celery in a rich cream sauce, is not anything like what Mom used to serve. Other signature items include the baked goat cheese salad with grilled apples and spiced pecans; cheesy calzone with roasted chicken, bechamel, and feta; and grilled pork chops with house-made apple sauce and potato gratin. Daily dessert choices, as well as the baked on-site sourdough bread, are exceptional. A quick review: apple caramelized tart, chocolate whiskey pot de creme, or apple-cherry crisp. Brunch is popular but consistency hit and miss. 

Sparse with industrial-chic decor, the surroundings are sleek-casual and well designed (that is, if you don't mind being nudged up to your neighboring table). The low-key garden patio looks onto a lovely lawn and herb garden. In or out, you'll most likely be in the company of food-smart diners who are willing to pay top dollar for top-notch goods. --Robin Barr Sussman, MSN/citysearch.com

Damian's Cucina Italiana
3011 Smith St. (Dowtown Houston) 
(713) 522-0439Mapquest button
There is novelty Italian, then there is Damian's. Perched on the edge of downtown, it's maintained a sophisticated freshness while standing the test of time. It remains resoundingly popular with the business class because of its suitable location, unobtrusive service and authentically robust Italian cuisine. 

An off-the-menu secret: Begin with the perfectly balanced, zesty Caesar salad prepared tableside. Antipasti selections like peppers and anchovies or steamed mussels in white wine sauce are delicate and of a civilized portion size, just as they should be. From simple to sublime, pasta is really the winner here. Choose agnolotti di alba (half moon pasta stuffed with veal in sage butter), mushroom lasagna with tomato cream sauce, or spaghetti with lobster tail and lump crabmeat for over-the-top meals.  Besides veal piccata, grilled pork chop and filet mignon, expect a wide seafood selection including grilled swordfish steak with tomato, capers and black olives and grilled sea bass over creamed spinach. The wine list is a refreshing collection of white and red Italian finds including Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Barolo Riserva, Chianti Riserva, Merlot, and some super Tuscans. Big-name California choices are extensive and well-chosen . 

For a beautiful finale, focus on the tried and true: pudding-like panna cotta with raspberry sauce, tiramisu, chocolate pecan tart, or the signature Infusione de Cioccalato--layers of brownie, chocolate mousse, and whipped cream.--Robin Barr Sussman, MSN/citysearch.com

Dave & Buster's
6010 Richmond Avenue, Houston
(713) 952-2233Mapquest button
From early lunch to late dinner, you have a wide variety of selections. Choose from D&B's Classic BBQ Ribs to their gourmet personal pizzas, pastas and more - whatever you're in the mood for you'll find the menu.  When you wander into the Million Dollar Midway, you'll discover one of the best places on earth to get lost. With everything from the absolute latest in electronic simulators to all your tried and true favorites, this is the place to shed a few inhibitions and rediscover the kid in yourself.  Dave & Buster's has grown from a single restaurant in Dallas to more than 20 in the U.S. and two in England.

eatZi's
1702 Post Oak Blvd @ San Felipe
(713) 629-6003Mapquest button
Houston is home to the second eatZi's, opened in the Summer of 1997.  Created by Phillip Romano, the creator of the Fudruckers chain, the restaurants are modeled after upscale grocery stores like Dean & Deluca and Balducci's in Manhattan. They sell fresh meat and quality produce, along with fancy prepared dishes.  The chain is jointly owned by Mr. Romano and Brinker International®.

At the Houston eatZi's, a customer walks right into the kitchen. The aroma of cooked food and freshly baked bread hits you. Classical music plays loudly. Customers and employees scurry about like it's dinnertime on the Titanic. At 9 p.m. a horn blows and all of the prepared food is sold for half price.  There are no steam tables at eatZi's. Chefs in white paper toques and jackets serve from their skillets and cook most of the hot, to-go entrèes to order. A small eat-in dining area is available at the back of the store.

Fuad's Continental Restaurant
6100 Westheimer Road, Houston
(713) 785-0130Mapquest button
The mystery continues at this Continental-style throwback from the money-slinging, oil boom '70s that specializes in rich hors d'oeuvres and flaming dishes. The secret? Dark and quaint with extremely high standards, Fuad's has no menu but seems to produce whatever your heart desires

From sweetbreads to steak Diane or bananas Foster, it's all available and justly prepared. Consider starting with the crisp Caesar salad, a feisty balanced king, prepared tableside. Move on to the boneless quail; such a convenience not to have to fool with tiny bones. Baked pita chips with zesty homemade salsa are also a suitable munchie to have around. 

Your entree could possibly be a thick slab of grilled salmon with bernaise (or maybe you just prefer a fresh squeeze of lemon, tell them that) with some fat, steamed asparagus spears. A meatier option could be a thin-pounded chicken breast with jalapeno glaze or a filet mignon with mushroom-red wine sauce. Fresh al dente vegetables are served family style--incredibly rich au gratin potatoes, cauliflower, and garlic sauteed spinach. The pampering, professional service and accommodating menu is quite a luxury--a very expensive luxury enjoyed by the select few. --Robin Barr Sussman 

With no menu as a guideline, Fuad's reminds you of that old saying,"If you have to ask how much, you probably can't afford it."

Goode Co. Barbecue

5109 Kirby Drive, Houston     
(713) 522-2530
Mapquest button
8911 Katy Freeway, Hedwig Village
(713) 464-1901
Mapquest button

This urbanized Texana-clad barbecue landmark has remained wildly popular due to Jim Goode's expertly and consistently mesquite-smoked brisket, faultless ribs, sausage, and honey-glazed smoked turkey breast. Sides such as potato salad and coleslaw aren't Hall of Famers, but the soft, homemade jalapeno cheese bread is a star player.

Moist smoked duck and chicken lean toward the oil slick, but the thick, sweet-spicy-smoky barbecue sauce is in a class by itself. Belly up to the always-long cafeteria-style line and snag a cold beer or root beer from the vintage cooler while you graze. You can squeeze into a cramped table indoors, but there's plenty more room to spread out with your posse outside at the covered picnic tables.

With barbecue this accomplished, a second location was inevitable. Wild West residents and businesses are mighty grateful for the Katy Freeway outpost. Thank your lucky stars you live in Texas and celebrate with another piece of rich pecan pie. 
--Robin Barr Sussman


Goode Company Hamburgers & Taqueria
4902 Kirby Drive, Houston
(713) 520-9153Mapquest button
Another Goode idea: Serve two top Texas food groups under one roof.  Hearty, sizzling grilled platters of chicken, beef fajitas, pork chops, quail, and catfish come with mounds of vegetable-packed Mexican rice, astounding guacamole, and creamy refried beans--it's enough to make you forget about the credible hamburgers and first-rate fries. 

Place your order at the busy counter and nestle indoors or snag a table on the funky, neon-lit patio. This home away from home for hunters, families, and quick solo diners also features assorted enchiladas and fine chicken tacos encased in thick homemade tortillas along with buckets full of zingy pico de gallo and smooth salsa on the fixings bar. 

Ranch-style weekend breakfasts including comforting tacos, migas, and huevos rancheros are worth waking up for, and the lemonade and cinnamon shakes are just the tip of the big taco in the sky.

--Robin Barr Sussman 

Goode Company Seafood
2621 Westpark Drive, Houston
(713) 523-7154Mapquest button
Just thinking of Goode's cool, inviting counter in the summer conjures up visions of frosty beer and refreshing ceviche. This bustling seafood emporium will also warm your soul during winter with satisfying ettouffee or buttery seafood gumbo. 

The brilliant menu of Texas Gulf Coast, Mexico, and Louisiana culinary influences appeals to the masses as does the novelty railroad car that houses this wonder of water treats. Expect accomplished frying (oyster po' boys, stuffed crab, shrimp) but equally fine mesquite grilling--the grilled catfish con salsa verde, topped with buttery onions and avocado pico de gallo, is swoon material. The richer yellowfin tuna or salmon filet also swim to the top. These and the fried dinners are generous, served with garlic bread, empanada, seafood rice, red beans, hush puppies, or vegetables (whew!). Besides all that, count on friendly service, nice wines by the glass, and chocolate cream pie to take the edge off any off day.

--Robin Barr Sussman 

Grille 5115
5115 Westheimer 
(713) 963-8067Mapquest button
Bruce Molzan of Ruggles has dropped the heavy French accent at his glamour grill and is now more nouveau American. This chic shopping pit stop for ladies who lunch now offers the original Ruggles fare with a few stylish accessories thrown in. Still, expect to see svelte cigarette smokers puffing away and wine sippers casually resigning the midday away in fashionable banquettes. 

We suggest that you begin with the Hudson Valley foie gras with pineapple-mango salsa. Too rich for your blood? Try the spicy shrimp tostada with queso fresco and guava habanero. Savvy salad choices like the house-smoked salmon with artichokes, caviar, and walnut vinaigrette or the roasted pork loin with pear-pesto Merlot will make you sit up and take notice.  Grilled sandwiches (chicken foccacia club, bleu cheese burger) are available for the less adventurous. The entree list is extended with dazzling choices such as duck breast with honey-glazed barbecue mango sauce or seared snapper with shrimp, avocado, fontina cheese and cilantro, along with the required grilled peppered Angus New York steak. Desserts are just as ravishing as the original Ruggles. You're primed--ready, set, shop. --Robin Barr Sussman, MSN/citysearch.com

Grotto Ristorante

6401 Woodway Drive, Houston     
(713) 782-3663Mapquest button
3920 Westheimer Road, Houston 
(713) 622-3663Mapquest button

Tony Vallone sold this matched pair of noisy, oversize cafes to Landry's, along with La Griglia. They're less dressy than La Griglia, his first attempt at informality, and the food is not as fussed-over, but they're distinguished all the same by Vallone's insistence on first-rate ingredients and polished service. As at La Griglia, a wood-fired pizza oven roars year-round in the center of the dining room, turning out respectable, if not stellar, pies. (The yuppie drinking crowd that packs the waiting area after work certainly seems to like them.) It's hard to go wrong with a bellini, one of the excellent pastas or grilled meats and a wickedly caloric dessert. If calamari steak is available, give it a try — the kitchen knows how to pamper it with olive oil, lemon, herbs and a gentle undercooking.

House of Pies

3112 Kirby Drive, Houston     
(713) 528-3816Mapquest button
6142 Westheimer Road, Houston  
(713) 782-1290Mapquest button
It's three in the morning. You must have pie. There is only one place to go. That the pie isn't really all that great (and that the rest of the short-order food on the menu is decidedly not great at all) is beside the point. People come here because people come here, and that bit of circular logic has remained pretty much unbroken since the place began serving up slices of chocolately Bayou Goo and other such niceties in the 1970s. Initially embraced by the gay community — which earned it the affectionate nickname "House of Guys" — this round-the-clock establishment has become a general mecca for those wanting to nosh and watch the human parade pass by. Part all-night diner and part pastry shop, it has all the decorative appeal of a bowling alley, with a vinyl-and-Formica motif that seems stuck in time. But that very lack of pretension is appealing, particularly given its location between River Oaks and West University, those two pillars of Republican elitism. Delivery truck drivers dine beside society matrons, Gen Xers next to bidness men, curfew-busting high schoolers alongside off-duty cops... all are welcome amid the aroma of cooling pies (and, OK, a little grease). Two other locations, one near Inwood Forest the other in the Galleria area, offer the same menu fare but not the same atmosphere. - Eric Gerber, MSN/citysearch.com

* Historical note:  The Kirby location is also famous for being the birthplace of Houston's Compaq Computers.  The founders of Compaq spent many long nights in a booth at the House of Pies figuring out how to reverse engineer IBM's  BIOS to make the first 100% compatible PC clones.

Houston's Restaurants

5888 Westheimer @ Fountainview     
(713) 975-1947Mapquest button
4848 Kirby Drive,Houston 
(713) 529-2385Mapquest button

Despite the name, this chain is actually based in Atlanta, with more than 40 locations from San Francisco to Manhattan, and Chicago to Miami.  While Houston's is not a local chain, it does have a strong following.  The Kirby and Fountainview stores are quite popular and are usually packed for lunch and dinner.  The menu offers sandwiches, steaks, roast beef and chicken, served in a comfortable atmosphere of exposed brick and wood accents.  Seating options include tables and booths in a variety of sizes. 

Hunan Restaurant
1800 Post Oak Blvd. 
(713) 965-0808 Mapquest button
A River Oaks and Tanglewood crowd (including President George Bush) make this a prime people-watching spot. It's also the city's best choice for Hunan food, served in an elegant dining room by a crisply professional staff under the direction of Gigi Huang. Try the thin-sliced roast spring lamb.  - MSN/citysearch.com

Kim Son Restaurant

2001 Jefferson St., Houston     
(713) 222-2461Mapquest button
12750 Southwest Fwy, Stafford
(281) 242-3500 Mapquest button
10603 Bellaire Blvd., Houston 
(281) 598-1777Mapquest button
 

The roots of Kim Son Restaurant can be traced back to Vietnam. In 1968, the La family opened Kim Son, the largest restaurant in the city of Vinh Long. When the communist took control of the country in 1975, the successful restaurant was forced to close its doors. The family saved as much money as possible and began planning their migration from Vietnam to the United States. They chose to leave together, father, mother, grandmother, six sons and one daughter all ventured out into the South China Sea on June 12, 1979.

Arriving in Houston in 1980, the family quickly went to work to begin their work towards becoming restaurateurs in America. In two years, the  Kim Son would be reincarnated.  In February 1993, the family opened the largest Oriental restaurant in Texas.  The location at 2001 Jefferson (Kim Son I) was built to accommodate 350 persons on the first level, with the upper level banquet facility accommodating 650 persons. In the following years, more locations were opened in response to the demand of Kim Son customers.  Kim Son serves a mixture of Chinese and Vietnamese dishes.

Korea Garden Restaurant 
9501 Long Point Road, Houston 
(713) 468-2800Mapquest button
This is the spot for do-it-yourself Korean-style "barbecue." A gas-fired hibachi grill is built into each table, and the raw ingredients are brought to you according to your specs. The best-known of the eight meat possibilities are bulgoki, which is sliced-lean rib eye steak marinated in a sweetish garlic-and-red-pepper mixture, and bulgalbi, fat-streaked short ribs in the same marinade. With your meat order come a dozen or so little bowls and plates containing a variety of pickled vegetables and condiments. There are strands of radish in a light vinegar dressing, fire-breathing kimchi, fresh broccoli florets, fried tofu, pickled soybean sprouts, spinach with sesame and much more. Use your chopsticks to lay the meat and raw vegetables on the grill; turn after a few seconds. In less than a minute, you're ready to eat. Most diners lay bits of the cooked meat in one of the lettuce leaves provided; add some of the vegetables, a dab of brownish-red, smoky-tasting bean paste and some pickled things; then fold the lettuce into a little burrito-like bundle. Eat it and cook another.

La Colombe d'Or Hotel
3410 Montrose Blvd.
(713) 524-7999Mapquest button
Every inch of La Colombe d'Or invokes an air of royalty, from its plush, southern French decor to the marble bathrooms in each of its five suites and penthouse. Listed among the "World's Smallest Luxury Hotels," this small, European-style mansion, was built in 1923 by W.W. Fondren, founder of Humble Oil. It was bought in 1979 and restored to its present condition, still containing original art and antiques. Peruse the menu from the hotel's main dining room which might include coconut shrimp and mango-glazed grilled duck.   --Darcy De Leon, MSN/citysearch.com

la Madeleine - French Bakery & Café
A Dallas-based chain with 62+ locations, la Madeleine has 13 restaurants in the Houston area, plus a catering service.  Click above more information or here for locations and phone numbers.

Stepping into a la Madeleine French Bakery & Café is like stepping into a storybook French country village. Antique baker's tools adorn the walls. Exposed beams and wood floors give the warm look and feel of a kitchen, library or wine cave. One-of-a-kind brocant and rustic earthenware hearken back to a simpler time and evoke the look and feel of the picturesque French countryside.

La Tour D'Argent
2011 Ella Blvd, Houston
(713) 864-9864Mapquest button
Tucked away near the Brookhollow area, this unrelentingly romantic restaurant will take your breath away with its fairy-tale rusticity and classic French menu. On New Year's Eve, the management hires a snow blower to frost the setting in silvery white. No wonder regulars delight in surprising uninitiated friends with this amazing hunting lodge. The classic French menu changes with the seasons, and while it's not the finest of its kind in town, it's an earnest effort. Among the current slate of offerings is a chilled seafood appetizer (or entree, if you wish) that makes a dramatic presentation. La Tour d'Argent earned many awards and different write ups throughout the World. Few of these awards; Four Mobil Stars 1994, 1995, 1996, the Five Diamond Star Award, Best of the Best Award, The most 200 Romantic Restaurants in the Country and most recent the Top Twenty Restaurants in Houston by the Gourmet Magazine.

Landry's Seafood Restaurants, Inc.
In 1986, Chairman, President and CEO Tilman Fertitta bought an interest in the Landry's Seafood House, opened in 1980, and Willie G's Seafood and Steak House, opened a year later, and in 1988, acquired sole ownership of the company and developed it into a recognized seafood chain with four distinct concepts.At a time when steak houses and Italian estaurants were popular, Fertitta felt the seafood restaurant business was untapped and decided to expand, envisioning his high energy, full-service casual dining seafood concept throughout the United States. No one since Red Lobster had the foresight to operate a national seafood restaurant chain.  Landry's Seafood, Inc. has become the 2nd largest casual seafood restaurant chain in America.  As an innovative marketing approach to make his chain unique, most of the Landry's Seafood House restaurants have neon movie-style marquees, while many are located on waterfront sites.

Cadillac Bar
At the Cadillac Bar, they serve authentic Mexican food in a fun, casual setting.
Joe's Crab Shack
It's so simple, someone should have thought of it sooner. Build a tacky looking shack of a restaurant, give the interior the feel of a Gulf Coast fishing camp and serve all different kinds of crabs - cooked in a myriad of ways. Try the patio so you can chill out and pound on some crabs while you're sipping some cool refreshments, or if you're not digging on the great outdoor experience, you can slide inside, kick-back and just jam on some awesome crab on a newspaper-lined table.
Kemah Boardwalk
The Kemah Boardwalk has quickly evolved from a waterfront dining experience to a weekend destination, just 20 miles from downtown Houston.  At the heart of the Kemah Boardwalk are Landry's  restaurants. In addition to the other names listed here,  Kemah boasts The Aquarium restaurant which serves guests a great view of a 50,000 gallon aquarium brimming with marine life. The Kemah Boardwalk is also home to The Flying Dutchman.  In addition to the food, Kemah boardwalk features rides and amusements, quaint retail shopping and a new Boardwalk Inn hotel.
La Griglia
2002 W. Gray, Houston 
(713) 526-4700Mapquest button
La Griglia means "the grill", and it is no surprise that most of the food here is grilled at one of the two huge grills in a center food preparation area. Fresh fish, creative pastas, fresh vegetables are trademarks of the restaurant, as are also sinfully rich desserts. If you like to eat a big lunch, you can start with the basketful of pizza strips that precedes your order. The business lunch is the best buy--a hearty field green salad, a pasta medley, and dessert (with biscotti beforehand, in case you can't wait for your sweets). Just remember to stay away from the proffered mineral water--those lavish refills aren't free.
Landry's Seafood
All Landry's Seafood Houses feature fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico.  Enjoy gumbo, blackened snapper and shrimp Creole. Grilled or broiled flounder, snapper or shrimp. For a great dining experience on a water setting, visit locations in Kemah and Galveston.

Saltgrass Steak House

8943 Katy Fwy, Houston 
(713) 461-6111Mapquest button
4909 Interstate 45 N, Houston     
(281) 872-4545Mapquest button
20241 Gulf Freeway, Webster
(281) 338-9778Mapquest button
9110 Southwest Fwy, Houston     
(713) 771-1777Mapquest button
520 Meyerland Plaza Mall
(713) 665-2226Mapquest button
The story goes back to the mid 1800s, when millions of Longhorn roamed freely throughout Texas. With the taste of beef becoming a newfound favorite in the North, Texas ranchers prospered as never before. Each winter the Longhorn were driven to the Texas Gulf Coast to graze on the rich coastal saltgrass. And when they headed for market, they followed the legendary Saltgrass Trail, known far and wide for the best beef in the whole Lone Star State.

In 1952, this historic trail ride was revived by four riders to publicize the opening of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Today, the ride has become an annual celebration of that original Texas spirit. The first Saltgrass Steak House still stands along this historic trail. The Saltgrass Steak House recaptures the flavor of the open campfire. Steaks, chicken, and seafood, chargrilled to perfection. Complete with breads, soups and desserts, made fresh daily.
Willie G's Oyster Bar, Seafood & Steakhouse
Since opening in 1980, Willie G's has established itself as a favorite among the local business crowd, area residents and travelers. The wide variety of delicacies at Willie G's offers a multitude of choices for all guests. Whether you are searching for a light lunch of citrus and almond rainbow trout or a spicy blackened snapper ponchartrain as a dinner entree, they just what you are looking for. 

 

Las Alamedas Mexican Restaurant
Cinco Ranch Blvd. @ Grand Parkway
(713)461-1503Mapquest button
This former Memorial-area eatery looks like a grand 19th-century hacienda and the bar is as well known as the menu, but it's still possible to eat quite well here.   Check out the new location this Spring 2010 when Las Alamedas re-opens at La Centerra at Cinco Ranch.

Lynn's Steakhouse
955½ Dairy Ashford
(281) 870-0807Mapquest button
Lynn Foreman, a former legal assistant, opened this romantically rustic steakhouse in 1985, and her superbly understated menu has had a loyal following ever since. Try the New York strip, brushed with salted butter and seared on a 1,600-degree grill to give it a savory crust. Worthy side dishes include fat onion rings, rich spinach casserole and steamy-soft baked potatoes wrapped in gold foil. The award-winning wine list is unusually strong: Cabernet sauvignon is king and usually found in verticals of at least five deep. Oh, yes, the gumbo is excellent, too. .

Mark's Restaurant
1658 Westheimer 
(713) 523-3800Mapquest button
Situated in an old church on lower Westheimer in Houston, Mark Cox, chef and owner of his namesake restaurant, Mark's, has given Houstonians, who have anxiously awaited his debut for years, a thoroughly unique dining experience.

Offering Cox's own brand of American progressive cuisine, Mark's menu encompasses inspirations from many distant lands, indicative of America's true melting pot heritage. You'll find diverse styles of food are not intermingled in one dish, but rather American regional ingredients are fashioned in such a manner as to be reminiscent of a single culture's fare. Whether it's Asian or Italian food you crave, Mark's takes you there and back, with taste sensations which echo the authentic food of that land, coupled with Cox's own unrivaled American touch.

Massa's

1160 Smith St.
(713) 650-0837
Mapquest button
1331 Lamar St.
(713) 655-9100
Mapquest button

Mike and Joe Massa carry on a proud tradition providing Houstonians and visitors alike with the freshest Gulf Seafood in Houston, from their two downtown locations.One restaurant is across from the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Smith St, the other is across from the Four Season's Hotel on Lamar St. 

Both restaurant locations offer comfortable happy hours at the bar, or attentive service in the main dining rooms for lunch, dinner, meetings and parties. Mike and Joe's father and grandfather began buying fresh Gulf Seafood in the 1940's straight from the docks in Galveston, then serving it in their restaurant in Houston. This tradition survived as the restaurant changed locations several times over the years, prior to establishing permanent residence across from the Hyatt Regency and Allen Center office complex. 

The menu consists of favorites such as Gulf Red Snapper, Gulf Fried Shrimp, Swordfish flown in from the waters off the coast of Chile, and Asian Tuna. The shrimp dishes can be prepared a variety of ways, but the Mango Barbecued Shrimp are awesome! In following the Massa heritage, both restaurants serve freshly made-at-the-table Greek Salads to accompany any meal. An extensive award winning wine list of affordable vintages compliments any meal selection. Dessert selections include Crème Brulee, Cheesecake, Sorbet, and several Chocolate creations, among other offerings. Strong coffee or cappuccino served with dessert finishes a perfect dining experience. 

The Mason Jar

9005 Katy Fwy, Houston
(713) 461-9005Mapquest button
20237 Gulf Fwy @ NASA Road 1
(281) 332-1210Mapquest button
5010 Richmond Ave, Houston  
(713) 626-5010
Mapquest button
7637 FM 1960 W, Houston 
(281) 894-7637Mapquest button
12550 Southwest Fwy, Stafford
(281) 494-2550Mapquest button

The original Mason Jar opened in 1973.  Over the years this popular restaurant has expanded and is now the upscale family dining establishment so many of us enjoy.  Specialties of the house include such hearty favorites as Chicken Fried Steak, hand-battered and served with a generous helping of cream gravy plus your choice of any two tasty side items.  Their full slab of Barbeque Baby Back Ribs, will surely satisfy any barbeque craving one may have.  Certified Angus Beef Steaks are cooked to your liking and will quell even the most ardent of appetites.  Another Mason Jar favorite is the Artichoke Spinach Dip, a very tasty dip accompanied by sour cream, picante sauce and tostado chips.

On Sunday, the family can all come in and enjoy a fabulous Sunday Brunch.   Fresh, moist muffins are brought to your table for you to enjoy while deciding on your favorite entree.  Choose from items such as quiche, Eggs Benedict or French Toast To quench your thirst, Mason Jar offers specialty drinks such as the Jarita, a house margarita mixed with fresh grapefruit juice or the Sculptered Martini which is painstakingly chilled for three minutes.  Beer, soft drinks and ice tea are served in   what else but an old-fashioned Mason Jar. 

Michelangelo's Restaurant
307 Westheimer Road, Houston
(713) 524-7836Mapquest button
Despite its reputation for being a prom night dinner destination, the romantically named Michelangelo's has other qualities that account for its loyal following. Amazingly, Houston's first Italian sidewalk cafe has managed to hold on tight after 30 years. The attraction? Maybe its the Montrose funkiness of the big, old house with shady nooks and crannies, worn red carpets, candlelight dining and live piano music.  Consistent kitchen staff, management and ownership also help.

Expect trustworthy pizzas with dandy toppings such as the pizza Gamberonie e Carfiofi with shrimp and artichokes or the Michelangelo Classico with ground veal, anchovies, roasted bell peppers and caramelized nions. Noteworthy salads include a usually impressive crabmeat salad along with interesting but approachable antipasti such as carpaccio with pesto and toasted capellini crab cake with sweet berries. Pastas can be bland and traditional Italian entrees (chicken, veal, fish) are far from cutting-edge, although a recent daily special of grilled mahi mahi with spicy crawfish was handsomely presented, fresh and flavorful. The wine list is above average with Italian and California choices and very affordable wines by the glass.  A 15 percent tip is automatically figured into every bill.Visit Michelangelo's for down-to-earth food and prices without too many surprises (not counting the indoor tree jutting out the roof of the dining room).  - MSN/citysearch.com

Molina's Mexican Restaurant 

5227 Buffalo Speedway, Houston     
(713) 432-1626Mapquest button
7901 Westheimer Road, Houston     
(713) 782-0861Mapquest button
3601 Highway 6 S., Houston
(281) 497-1800Mapquest button

This name has been a Tex-Mex institution since 1941. Founder Raul Molina started in the food business as a dishwasher at James Coney Island before buying his first restaurant on West Gray. Today his mini-chain is known for its green enchiladas, homemade pralines and, at the Westheimer location, frequent George Bush sightings. Crispy chicken tacos — spicy, shredded, full-flavored chicken, topped with lettuce and authentic sauce in fresh taco shells — are among the best in the city. No matter what you order, it will be enhanced by some of the best hot sauce and pickled carrots around. 

Ninfa's/Mama Ninfa's
Click here for Locations
Ninfa's Mexican Restaurant…25 years and still cooking…doesn't sound like much, but a lot can happen in a quarter century.  Ninfa's restaurant has long been a Houston institution, as is Ninfa herself. Entertaining Houstonians from all walks of life, Ninfa's is well established as the hallmark of casual dining with the perfect combination of great food, warm atmosphere and personalized service.  Currently with 18 locations in the Houston area, and more to come, Ninfa's is one of the most successful chains in the city.

Over the years, her restaurant began to prosper. It was her unique regional Mexican recipes that began to attract the crowds. Critics were raving about her new dishes, Flautas de Pollo (deep fried chicken tacos), Chilpanzingas (ham and cheese turnovers) and the unforgettable Sopapillas (fragile, crisp, hand-rolled pastries drizzled with honey). In fact, Ninfa's invented the fajita and their award-winning green sauce still attracts guests from around the world. (Houston Chronicle, January 1990 - Sauce of the Decade)  In 1997, the Serrano's Restaurant Group (David Quintanilla, Adam Gonzales, Jimmy Moreno, and Jorge A. Gutierrez) from Austin and Houstonian Neil Morgan acquired Ninfa's and have continued to improve the already high standards for quality and service. 

NOÉ
4 Riverway (Omni Houston Hotel)
(713) 871-8181Mapquest button
Enjoy a signature fine dining experience.  NOÉ offers inspired Progressive American Cuisine with Japanese aesthetics

Ouisie's Table
3939 San Felipe
(713) 528-2264Mapquest button
With airy, country chic interiors full of artistic touches and charming antique finds, what's not to ike about Ouisie's Table? Named after creator/owner Elouise Cooper Jones, Ouisie's even sounds friendly. This American neo-rustic eatery located in a meticulous River Oaks shopping enclave (shared with sunny Smith & Hawken) has maintained a loyal following since its rebirth from smaller Southampton digs.

Alluring, but what about the food? The enterprising menu reads as stylish comfort food with a southwestern slant. Hearty fare—pecan-crusted chicken stuffed with Brie, or shrimp, bacon and cheese grits—waits in line beside svelte choices likegrilled tuna over mesclun or heart-healthy poached salmon. In lieu of Sunday, Ouisie's offers Saturday brunch with the usual a.m. eye openers—huevos rancheros, eggs benedict and the mandatory omelet.  Shrimp tacos, grilled flank steak and Ouisie's prized crabcakes served with sugar snaps and marinated cucumbers also reign.  Most salads—like the signature Stilton kit with toasted walnuts, pears and Belgian endive—are snazzy, although some salad specials are bland and disappointing.   Sweet endings also run the gamut from frilly fruit-filled tarts with Amy's sorbet to mega-rich bourbon-pecan pie. 

Lucy's Porch, the garden room, is a sought-after perching spot for birthday, bridal and other group celebrations.   Lucky is the diner who pulls up a chair in the delightful herb garden, complete with whimsical bear statues and a trickling fountain—the place to be on a on a crisp fall day. Not as lucky is the patron who picks up the tab. No question, the prices are proud. Some may not be able to fathom a $14 macaroni and cheese dish; others won't even bat an eyelash.—Robin Barr Sussman - MSN/citysearch.com

Pappas Restaurants Inc.

Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen
 - 9 Locations -
Cousin Pappadeaux was an old Cajun relative of H.D. Pappas, a Greek immigrant who traveled to America in 1897 and opened numerous restaurants in Arkansas and Texas. A wise Cajun cook, Cousin Pappadeaux taught H.D. the magic and mystery of Cajun cooking. He was proud to pass on his secrets of success. They were: "Give'em freshness. Give'em plenty to eat and make it spicy.  Give'em plenty to drink and some festive Dixieland music. Leave the rest to your guests."  Today, the second generation of the Pappas restaurant family continues to offer the highest quality food and service in a lively atmosphere. H.D. Pappas' sons and grandsons remember Cousin Pappadeaux's words of wisdom.

Pappas Bar-B-Q
 - 6 Locations -
A mainstay of the Houston barbecue circuit since 1967, this chain (formerly known as the Brisket House) faithfully follows the big portion/big price formula shared by other members of the Pappas restaurant empire. It's a winning strategy with many Houston diners, judging by the line that extends outside the door of the downtown location during the typical lunch hour.

Menu-wise there are the usual suspects: beef, pork, ham, sausage, ribs, turkey and chicken. Mass-produced barbecue to be sure, but some of the damage can be limited by having the gooey sweet sauce served off to one side. Vegetable side dishes show slightly more promise, with spicy rice and yams taking their place alongside the unremarkable ranch-style beans, coleslaw and potato salad.

Just about everyone, however, will be impressed by the baked potatoes that are roughly the same size as a small electric toaster. Fully loaded, these behemoths come with a third of a pound of chopped beef accompanied by generous helpings of shredded cheese, sour cream, barbecue sauce, bacon bits, chives and what appears to be an ice cream scoop of butter. - — Paul Jennings
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
5839 Westheimer Road, Houston
(713) 780-7352Mapquest button
This flagship steakhouse was Houston's forerunner in the glitzy '90s status steak wars. With almost-believable 1920s glossy, brass-rimmed decor, the softly lit ambience is reminiscent of an opulent dining car on the Orient Express. (Complete with a cramped smoky bar, private cigar lounge, and single bar seats with TV viewing). If you manage to secure a table or private booth, rest assured--the old-fashioned phones really do dial out and never fail to break the ice at a quiet table.

High-dollar steaks come in all shapes and sizes (10- to 12-ounce filet mignon, 16- to 22-ounce prime ribeye, 26-ounce porterhouse) served in melted butter--hello cholesterol. Seafood selections are slim including Maine lobster or a broiled filet with jumbo shrimp, lump crabmeat, capers, and tomatoes in white wine sauce. The menu is surprisingly simple for all the hoopla. Totally a la carte, expect fairly typical appetizers (crab cakes being the highlight) and salads including an admirable house salad with crunchy croutons, creamy blue cheese dressing, and crisp bacon. Infallible sides include creamed spinach and devilishly rich au gratin potatoes. Also take note of the bar entrees which are smaller steak portions served with mashed potatoes.  House-made desserts end things impressively. The highly garnished collection has to be rolled out on a cart. After consuming one of these larger-than-life creations, you may have to be rolled out on a cart. Rely on Key lime tart with pistachio graham crust (a personal favorite), chocolate midnight cake, or New York-style cheesecake with sour cream sauce and fresh strawberries. --Robin Barr Sussman
Pappas Seafood House
 - 7 Locations -
Fried calamari, stuffed flounder and all kinds of oysters and shrimp have made this Pappas chain a hit with big appetites. Soft-shell crab is a must-try, when in season. The huge Greek salad for two will feed a family. Finish with the cheesecake.
- MSN/citysearch.com
Pappasito's Cantina
 - 11 Locations -
The more Pappasito's Cantinas there are, the more people seem to love them. All are huge airplane-hangar-size restaurants decorated like bordertown cantinas. Brace yourself for the noise (watch your waitress strain to read your lips), circuslike atmosphere and, during peak times, a long wait for a table. All of which has not discouraged the lemmings (us among them) who have made this chain the most popular in Houston. And who can fault the sizzling platters the size of manhole covers? Fair tabs also make it a good value, and the service is seemingly indefatigable. If strolling mariachis who sing "La Bamba" every five minutes get tiresome, escape to the pleasant patio.- MSN/citysearch.com

 

Prince's Hamburgers

9535-A Katy Freeway 
(713) 722-8822Mapquest button
10455 Briar Forest
(713) 626-9950Mapquest button
3899 SW Freeway, Houston     
(713) 626-9950Mapquest button
11460 Fuqua #100     
(281) 464-6611Mapquest button
930 Main St. (@ McKinney), Houston
(713) 659-5555Mapquest button

Prince's Hamburgers was founded by Doug Prince in March 1934. The restaurants were quite successful during the 1950's and 1960's as Houston's prime cruising destinations.  Saturday nights would be spent driving between the South Main and Bellaire locations.  Car hops dressed in majorette-type uniforms would bring out food to the cars.  Contrary to some Houstonians recollections, Prine's waitresses  were never on roller skates.  Although  no longer a "car hop", the atmosphere inside the restaurant is much the same. Every inch of the restaurant is covered in 1950's and 60's memorabilia, making is feel like a trip down  memory lane. 

Rainbow Lodge
2011 Ella Blvd., Houston 
(713) 861-8666Mapquest button
The Rainbow Lodge is as much about rich sights, sounds, flavors and history as it is about the sport of hunting and fishing. The antiques, mounted trophies and collectibles complete the historic surroundings and are part of an extensive private collection. An emphasis on the quality of food, a great chef and an owner whose eyes are focused on the 90's have made Rainbow Lodge restaurant what it is today - an updated award-winning historic restaurant with a wide variety of choices on its expansive menu.

Featuring contemporary Gulf Coast regional cuisine, the Rainbow Lodge has received national acclaim for both its menu and wine cellar, and has been voted Most Romantic Restaurant four years in a row from the Zagat Houston Restaurant Guide.  In addition to our fine dining, Rainbow Lodge's lushly landscaped grounds, waterfall and gazebo have become a favorite backdrop for garden weddings, receptions and romantic engagements.

Romano's Macaroni Grill

1122 Lake Wdlnds Dr., The Woodlands  
(281) 367-3773Mapquest button
5802 Westheimer Rd., Houston
(713) 789-5515Mapquest button
7607 FM 1960 West., Houston
(281) 955-1388Mapquest button
Another Phillip Romano creation featuring  large open kitchens with trained chefs, strolling opera singers, large portions of authentic Italian specialties, fresh gladiolas, jug wine, string lighting and crayons on the tables. The menu offers signature items like Scallopine di Pollo, Penne Rustica, or Pasta Milano, along  with fresh foccaccia bread and "Italian butter," delicious Caesar salad, and a choice of desserts.  The chain is owned by Brinker International®.

The Ruggles Grill
903 Westheimer
(713) 524-3839Mapquest button
Even with reservations, there's always a wait. It's worth it, though the hipness index has declined. Excellent food in huge quantities is the draw. 

Seoul Garden Restaurant
9446 Long Point, Houston
(713) 935-9696Mapquest button

The Swinging Door
3818 FM 359, Richmond
(281) 342-4758Mapquest button
About a mile west of Pecan Grove Plantation, the Swinging door offers authentic Texas Bar-B-Q in a rural setting.

There are plenty of country and western and Cajun dance halls in the small towns that surround Houston. The Swinging Door goes most of them one better by also offering excellent barbecue and side dishes. (It also enjoyed a burst of movie stardom when parts of the film "Rush," with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jason Patric, were shot there — rocker Gregg Allman played a bad-guy bar owner.) Servings are huge, so don't eat too much if you plan to two-step. Call ahead to confirm the music schedule, but generally you can count on dancing Friday and Saturday evenings, from 8:30 pm to 12:30 am.  - MSN/citysearch.com

Taste of Texas Restaurant
10505 Katy Freeway, Houston
(713) 932-6901Mapquest button
Taste of Texas serves only Certified Angus Beef, the finest steaks and prime rib money can buy. You and your guests can choose your own steak from the butchershop, where butchers will gladly help you pick out the steak that is right for you! A special featured item is Ribeye steak by the ounce, come to the butchershop and have your own juicy ribeye steak cut as thick as you like it!  Jose Vitela, Jr. of Spring, Texas is the current ribeye record holder. He ate 114 ounces (that's 7 pounds!) of rib eye in one seating in January 1998. 

The wine list has over 280 selections including champagnes, cabernets, merlots, chardonnay, and white zinfandels.  The list includes a big bottle section with bottles that are 1.5 liters and up and a a small bottle list, which is wonderful it you and your guest can not decide on the same wine. Also available is a private collection list.

Tony's
3755 Richmond Avenue., Houston  77046
(713) 622-6778Mapquest button
A homage to excess, a private clubhouse for the rich and famous and a damn fine place to indulge in very expensive French-Italian cuisine.  Houston's most prominent restaurant in recent memory, Tony's remains near the top statewide with new Chef Bruce McMillian.

"Top-notch posh but more flamboyant than proper, Tony's is internationally recognized by visiting celebrities, dignitaries and royalty. Proprietor Tony Vallone remodeled his landmark restaurant in 1997 and is enjoying a healthy comeback in his art-filled, rouge-hued glamorous retreat. It's a world where the tabletops glisten with Christophe flatware, Riedel crystal and Versace china.  Renowned executive chef Bruce McMillian procures the finest available ingredients, whether it's exotic wild game, porcini or white truffles fresh from Italy. 

Want to taste a rare vintage wine that's not available by the glass? No problem. The sommelier boasts, "This is Tony's," your wish is their command. The French-Italian continental menu presents a wide range of delicacies but also mainstream choices.  Not surprisingly, this elite menu changes often according to the seasons.  Majestically presented desserts are many. Die-hard souffle fans order this classic at the beginning of the meal in myriad flavors of apricot, chocolate or bananas foster, to name a few.  Tony's is pushed aside by some as an overrated and overpriced "playground for the ultrarich." Sounds like sour grapes. What's wrong with being recognized by the rest of the world?"--Robin Barr Sussman

Truluck's
5350 Westheimer, Houston 
(713) 783-7270Mapquest button
Truluck’s has what most other restaurants want, a popular, attractive crowd, seven days and nights per week. The specialty of the house, monster crab legs flown in fresh daily, bring the crowds back asking for their same favorites again and again. The selection of seafood and steaks makes it nearly impossible to leave Truluck’s hungry, especially after the creative and impressive dessert tray is brought to your table. Look up Truluck’s in Concierge magazine for pictures of the largest and freshest crab legs you have ever seen! .

Vargo's
2401 Fondren Rd., Houston
(713) 782-3888Mapquest button
Since 1965 Vargo's has been a Houston Tradition for Weddings, Proms, Anniversaries and Elegant dining.  Several Presidents have been guests at the restaurant, as well as their wives - The Lyndon Johnson's, Mr. & Mrs. Ronald Reagan, Mr. & Mrs. George Bush and others.

Enjoy dinner with a beautiful view of Lake Vargo filled with white and black  swans, wild ducks and turtles.  Later take a stroll in their breathtaking gardens, accessible through four bridges that lead to two waterfalls fed by natural springs.  There you can also see rabbits and about 50 adult & baby peacocks strut their beautiful feathers.

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