Our Food and Drink Obsessions In Houston For April 2017
Like many publications, we often write about hot new restaurants and bars to give readers up-to-date information on what’s going on in Houston’s food scene. However, when it comes to the dishes, drinks and venues we return to over and over again, more often than not it’s to those that are tried and true.
Our merry band of writers each picked some favorites. Some are new obsessions; others have had a grip on our minds and tastebuds for a long time. Check out our list and you might find some new favorites of your own.
Phaedra Cook, Editor/Publisher
- Cocktails at Tongue-Cut Sparrow, 310 Main: I’ve wanted a bar in Houston like Tongue-Cut Sparrow ever since I first visited Noble Experiment in San Diego. To get into Noble Experiment, patrons have to text a phone number for a reservation (but not more than 48 hours in advance) and pass through a secret wall in the back of another bar to get inside. It’s a similar procedure for Tongue-Cut Sparrow. A seat at the bar is by far my favorite spot, where I can watch bartenders in white shirts and black bowties do their utmost to create a perfect cocktail—often with only two or three ingredients. Quality of each is a factor, but excellent technique and outstanding hospitality factor weigh just as heavily in this environment. Start with a Japanese whisky highball then move on to a silver, gold or royal fizz, or perhaps the Presidente with rum, blanc vermouth and curaçao. For your own intimate cocktail adventure, text 713-321-8242.
- Fried Chicken at Himalaya, 6652 Southwest Freeway: Just call this the Willie Nelson of fried chicken, because it’s always on my mind. Owner Kaiser Lashkari’s Pakistani take on the classic southern dish epitomizes the kind of culinary innovation that Houston has become known for. In his crispy-coated rendition, it is first brined with salt, garam masala and ginger. It’s served on weekdays starting at 2 p.m. Weekday workers will want to head straight there; Himalaya’s Fried Chicken (aka “HFC”) has been known to sell out.
- Lunch at Underbelly, 1100 Westheimer: If you want to know where my husband and I have gone out to lunch the most often on weekdays over the past few years, it’s Underbelly. When people think of Underbelly, the first things that come to mind are big, roasted hunks of meat at dinnertime, as well as old-time desserts like the Vinegar Pie. Those are great, but at lunch, the big draw for me are the dishes that make excellent use of in-season, fresh-off-the-truck vegetables. The Crispy Farmer’s Market Vegetable might be broccoli, Brussels sprouts, okra or something else but whatever it is, when it’s deeply roasted and tossed with caramelized fish sauce, the end result is a little addictive. That’s a mainstay, but the seasonally-driven entrés come and go, so the best bet is to check the daily menu before heading out.
Scott Sandin, Barbecue Columnist & Blogger at Texas Pit Quest
- Pork Spareribs at Pappa Charlies Barbeque, 2012 Rusk: Owner Wesley Jurena’s pork spareribs are a style unique to most Houston-area barbecue joints. Influenced by a winning recipe he developed early in his career on the competition barbecue circuit, meaty St. Louis-cut ribs are finished with slightly sweet glaze and just the right amount of spice. They are truly “meat candy.” They pair perfectly with Pappa Charlies’ savory collard greens that also have a touch of sweetness and spice. I can’t get enough of either of them.
- Pastrami Reuben at Roegels Barbecue, 2223 South Voss: When Daniel Vaughn of Texas Monthly declared 2016 to be the “Year of Pastrami” on social media, barbecue places all over the state jumped on the bandwagon. In Houston, one of the first was Russell Roegels, whose Pastrami Reuben sandwich special every Thursday pulls in the biggest lunchtime crowds of the week. Pit-smoked pastrami brisket is piled high with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and housemade Russian dressing, and served on grilled rye. Make it a “Sandlin Special” with an order of two spareribs on the side.
Smoked Chicken Taco at The Pit Room, 1201 Richmond: For a barbecue restaurant, keeping three housemade taco options on the everyday menu is unique for the Houston area. However, it fits perfectly with The Pit Room’s philosophy of making their dining experience representative of the diversity of Houston. Of the three, the Chicken Taco stands out from the rest. Loaded with smoked pulled chicken verde, roasted poblano peppers, griddled asadero cheese, and topped with the sweetness of charred garlic cloves, it is a transcendent eating experience.
Ellie Sharp, Food Writer & Editor of Zagat Houston
- Chilaquiles at Avalon Diner, 2417 Westheimer: I never had (or had even heard of) chilaquiles before I moved to Texas but fell in love with them at first bite and order them almost everywhere I see them on the menu. After 12 years, I’ve become partial to the ones from Lankford’s in Midtown and Avalon Diner in River Oaks. I enjoy the latter most frequently and it’s the only breakfast dish I’ll order from that location. A pile of corn tortilla strips are smothered with a warm spicy red salsa, Jack cheese and 2 eggs—I recommend over easy—and served with a side of avocado and sour cream. It’s a $6.95 dish that really hits the spot, especially paired with bottomless hot coffee and the best brunch people-watching you can imagine.
- Dwalin Curried Chicken Sandwich at Hobbit Cafe, 2243 Richmond: This golden-hued sandwich is as pretty as it is filling. The full-size is $10.79 but I’ve learned that the $9.49 “slim” variation is more than enough for one sitting and typically allows for a second meal from the leftovers. (I think the real hobbits would approve!). The creamy curry that coats bite-sized chunks of chicken plays wonderfully with fresh whole juicy red grapes and crunchy sliced almonds, in ratios just right to offset each other without being distracting or overpowering. Lettuce, tomato and mayo round out the ingredients. The sandwich comes with choice of sides like chips, black beans or shredded carrots. Admittedly, the overstuffed sandwich is a little tricky to eat without making a mess, but that’s what forks are for, right?
- Milky Way at Empire Cafe, 1732 Westheimer: Generally speaking, I drink my coffee black with few exceptions. This is one of them and has been a must-order of mine for years. It costs $4.95 and starts with a pint glass filled with cold heavy cream (not half and half) into which caramel, hazelnut and chocolate syrups are drizzled and topped with two shots of espresso. You’d think with all those syrups it would be overly sweet but somehow the espresso cuts through the sugar marvelously, and the “blend as you go” approach per the provided spoon manages to offer a sort of customizable experience.
Josh Armendariz, Cocktail & Beer Writer
- Beef Alphabet Soup at Roostar Vietnamese Grill, 1411 Gessner: Ronnie and Linda Nguyen may be known for their award-winning banh mi sandwiches (Houston Press 2015 Best Banh Mi; People’s Choice, Houston’s Banh Mi Cook Off), but their Beef Alphabet Soup is a must-order. The flavors of the homemade beef stock, cilantro, scallions and razor-thin strips of white onion blend together to create a savory yet slightly sweet broth that will have you tilting the bowl to grab the last drop. The Beef Alphabet Soup will also be on the menu at Roostar’s second location in the Galleria when it opens at 5551 Richmond Avenue.
- Cajun Style Crawfish at Cajun Stop, 2130 Jefferson: Houstonians may be head over heels for garlic and citrus-doused Vietnamese-style crawfish, but for my money, it doesn’t get better than the tried-and-true New Orleans style at The Cajun Stop in EaDo. Lisa Benoit is a born and bred Cajun who soaks her mudbugs to impart the amazing spicy flavor throughout the entire body. It helps that she also buys the biggest ‘bugs she can find, so her customers can eat the claws as well. Crawfish are also on the menu at the recently opened Tomball location at 24230 Kuykendahl, Suite 250. Wise readers will reserve a spot at one of the all-you-can-eat events. Watch for details on The Cajun Stop Facebook page.
- Tuesday Whiskey Tastings at Reserve 101, 1201 Caroline: You don’t need to be an expert to enjoy one of the Whiskey Tasting events at Reserve 101. Brand ambassadors and master distillers from around the world join co-owners Mike Raymond and Steve Long to give attendees the story behind the brands of while tasting through multiple expressions. The events are $20 and all proceeds are donated to Rescued Pets Movement. Follow Reserve 101’s Facebook page for information on upcoming tastings. Pro tip: arrive early and order one of Houston’s best old fashioneds during happy hour.
Holly Beretto, Food Writer
- Helen Greek Food and Wine, 2429 Rice: If I visit Helen more often, I will have to start having my mail forwarded. It’s geographically situated between my home and my day job, which makes it an easy target. Evan Turner’s carefully curated, all-Greek wine list, the savory Greens and Cheese Pie and a killer modern take on spanakopita are all reasons this Rice Village spot is high on my list of favorites. On bright, sunny Houston days, when the big windows at the front of this shotgun space are open, you feel like you’re on vacation. Add to it all the seasonal menu (the Greek Village salad will be back soon; get it) and an easy vibe, and you might also find Helen irresistible.
- Lei Low, 6412 North Main: My husband and I are not bar flies, but on most Sunday afternoons you’ll find us here. Russell Theode, his wife Liz and their team of bartenders have created a great tiki bar, serving up rum-laced cocktails in an atmosphere that makes you forget the world outside. Their Mai Tai on tap is an excellent representation of the tiki classic. Lately, I’ve been into the Navy Grog, a striking blend of Hamilton Navy Strength rum blended with honey, lime and grapefruit juices, guava puree, a hint of bitters and nutmeg. It’s enough to make me want to enlist.
- Américas, 2040 West Gray: I love the Thursday all-day happy hour in the bar and on the patio at this River Oaks classic. It’s a go-to for meetings with editors, and the only spot I stop at before a show at Stages. I’m a big fan of the Angel Wings, chicken smartly butchered in a way that makes the bone a perfect “handle” for eating these brown-buttered beauties served with bleu cheese. Also check out the Ahi Tuna Ceviche, accented with a Hawaii-meets-Thailand-meets-Houston combination of coconut, crunchy onions, sassy jalapenos and cilantro. Bonus: the wine and cocktail list boasts excellent choices (Mojito, anyone?) for under seven bucks.
- Bollo Woodfired Pizza, 2202-A West Alabama: My husband and I were latecomers to Bollo Woodfired Pizza, but now that we’ve “found” it, it’s one of our neighborhood favorites. He likes the changing daily selection of $5 frozen cocktails (if the frozen Negroni is available, order it) and I dig the Campari and Soda, a drink that’s refreshing with a just bit of boozy kick. My favorite pizza is the Diavola, with creamy buffalo mozzarella, zesty salami, roasted red peppers and crushed red pepper dusting. Arugula is layered across the top—a great foil to this pie’s bit of heat.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.