Showing posts tagged houstonrestaurants123
Please Take Me Out Back! — Backstreet Cafe (Houston, TX)
I can’t believe I’ve never heard of Backstreet Cafe until Jarrod took me for lunch on my last visit to Houston. The food, the service, the wine list, the patio…it’s all divine.
Above on the right, you’ll see the amazing halibut piled on top of veggies (half portion I split with Trey) I devoured two nights ago. Amongst a table of friends, we all sampled each other’s entrees and were impressed with every bite. From the duck confit to the pecan roasted chicken to the fillet, and don’t forget the vegan autumn soup (my lunch pictured on the left), holy moly make my mouth water. Every bite was divine.
Top it off with a glass of port and make a resi for your next visit. This is one place you won’t want to miss in Houston.
Other Houston Musts:
- Goode Company BBQ
- Carrabba’s (Italian)
- Flemming’s (Steak)
- Barry’s Pizza
- Da Marco’s (Italian)
- Tony Mandola’s (Seafood)
There are so many more actually, those are just the favorites off the top of my head.
Bon Appetit. Eat up!
If You Build It, Patrons Will Come — Ciao Bello (Houston, TX)
There are no points for second best when your last name is Vallone. So when the Vallones say they are opening the doors to a rustic Italian pizzeria, locals expect a home run on the first at bat.
Strike one comes in the atmosphere and aesthetic. I wouldn’t expect them to renovate the space once occupied by Jimmy Wilson’s, but they did not prepare for the extra patrons and the noise they would bring. The high ceilings amplify conversations to the point where no one can’t hear the waiter yelling the specials. You might not notice people are speaking so loudly if the lights were a bit lower. Jeff maintained the Tony’s tradition of keeping the lights up, but at Ciao Bello the lack of décor demands you lower the lights.
As for the food, it fell just short of greatness. We ordered an array of dishes — the famous artichoke, a classic margarita pizza, a new seared tuna dish, chicken, and a few others to get a full sampling. None of it was up to snuff. The flavor of the pizza was divine, but the crust that looked thin and crunchy we found to be greasy and limp. We asked the waiter to recommend wine, but he was so unfamiliar with list, he didn’t even recognize the one we chose.
Oh yes, bread and water would be lovely after we finish the meal.
(Ok, now I’m picking a fight.)
Despite all of these errors, I’m not counting Ciao Bello out yet. Due to the Vallone’s standard of service and familiar faces I recognized from Tony’s (that’s you Scott!) working the crowd and guiding the service, I believe Jeff will have the place running like clockwork soon and make his father proud.
This morning’s breakfast at La Madeleine was a complete disappointment. If you recall a couple of weeks ago, Mom and I sought out the reliable French fare after the let-down at Lola’s. On that visit, La Mad delivered a decent meal.
Today was another story. Look at that! Do those over-cooked eggs loaded with onions look appetizing to you? I’ll answer on your behalf, “oh hell no.”
So, I’m asking for your help. We know where the best brunch spots are in town, but mom and I are looking for a low-key and casual spot (that isn’t a greasy spoon) in the Heights or River Oaks area.
Last night I asked trendy couple Kirstin and Matt to fill me in on their favorite new restaurants in town. Here’s where you’ll find them dining:
- Cafe Rabelais - French in the village
- Antica - rustic Italian
- Tila’s - authentic Mexican
- Tinto’s - authentic Spanish tapas
Others have been recommending:
- Kata Robata - Sushi
- So Vino - trendy wine bar/bistro
- Seppia - Wine bar
- Americas - the new one
- Textile - French
- T’afia - named one of Open Table’s Top 50 in the US
- RDG - for the scene not the cuisine
What are your new (as in the last five years) favorites?
The Ultimate Guide To The New Houston - CultureMap.com
I might be a native of Houston, but when I visit home these days, I’m competely lost!
This city has gone through a cultural transformation since I officially lived here almost a decade ago. There are so many new restaurants, bars, and events popping up in neighborhoods I never new existed, it’s hard for me to keep up!
For Houstonians who could also use a little help navigating, famed local journalists Shelby Hodge and Clifford Pugh launched CultureMap (today!) to show you around town. Literally, you search stories via a map so you can see where the action went down.
Check in with them for reviews, style, and all the gossip about town.
The Hotel Zaza - Houston and Dallas
Last week I attended two events for Catwalk for the Cure, both held at the Hotel Zaza in Houston. It was so refreshing to be back there again! Then, while enjoying a plate of their famous grilled quail, it dawned on me that while I had referenced my experiences there this summer, I had never told you why I enjoyed it so much.
Let’s put aside the fact I now know the staff personally at both locations of the Zaza, but instead focus on how and why that came to be.
What seems like forever ago, my friend Jen took me to the hard hat event when the Houston location was under construction, but I wouldn’t set foot into the finished product until years after it’s opening.
After hearing the rave reviews, I referred a friend visiting Houston to the hotel and went to meet him for a drink one night. When I pulled up to the valet I felt like they were rolling out the welcome mat just for me. Entering the lobby I was instantly in love with the modern, eclectic decor, and when I found my friend had not yet arrived at Monarch, the manager bought me a drink and chatted with me until he arrived. I’m pleased to call Alex (the manager) a friend now as well.
Sure you could say he was just making small talk with a pretty girl, but I’ve since heard the same account from several other people. Alex wouldn’t be the only friendly member of their staff. With a simple hello, I befriended many others and now keep up with them on Facebook!
So obviously I was instantly enamored, so I wanted to know more about the space, the people, and everything they had to offer. Here’s what I found:
GREAT THINGS COME IN SMALL PACKAGES
Both hotels have a more intimate feeling than your average Ritz or Four Seasons. Honestly, I have no idea if there are less rooms, but it feels like a smaller, more personable space than the aforementioned chains. So not only is the price point better, but so is the ambiance.
In terms of the hotel itself, Zaza Houston (built on the skeleton of the historic Warwick hotel) is a bigger location but maintains the boutique feel of the original in Dallas. The rooms boast a modern but comfortable decor with cozy beds and Molton Brown toiletries . From my experience, it seems the rooms in Dallas a little bigger and more plush. My favorite feature are the “Seven Wonders of the World” suites that are decorated in different themes like Rock Star, China, Space age, etc. And don’t even get me started on the rooftop “Black Label” suite with the amazing views you can enjoy from the gigantic bathtub on the balcony (God only knows what has gone on in there).
If you’re into the celeb scene, the Zaza is a good spot for sightings. Many times I stopped by stars like Kid Rock and Young Jeezy were residing in the suites.
FINE DINING I CAN AFFORD
Downstairs in the restaurants - Monarch in Houston and Dragonfly in Dallas - you’ll find a menu with a little taste of every cuisine. Both the Houston chef Aaron Neeley and Grant Morgan in Dallas update their menu seasonally. In fact, the dinner I attended last Thursday was a sampling of their new fall menu. People loved the steak, but we all agreed the scallops were some of the best we’ve ever tasted. Consistent favorites of mine are the grilled quail, deconstructed ahi roll, and their fish specials.
As with most restaurants right now, they usually offer a special promotion. Right now if you mention “Fall 09” you will get 15% off your meal. Mondays they have half off all bottles of wine, and Wednesdays the whole menu is discounted fifty percent. So you can see it was an easy sell to get me to come on multiple occasions. Rumor has it they are also starting “reverse happy hour.” Another winner in my book!
As for the dessert (I mention this because my request has fallen on deaf ears), don’t be deceived by the sound of the red velvet cupcakes. Even if you’re an amateur when it comes to sweets, you’ll be highly disappointed by the bite-sized blandness. I’m pretty sure the cupcakes are my only real complaint about the hotel actually…..
BE SWEET TO YOURSELF
But I’ll tell you something you can indulge in without guilt - the spa! I didn’t get a chance to go to the one in Dallas during my stay, but if the Houston one is any indication, I can recommend them both without hesitation. First of all, they have these pedicure chairs that tilt you backwards so you’re laying comfortably while the esthetician is meticulously primping your feet. Then if you decide to get actual treatments, they have a fully equipped locker room and a delightfully dark lounge with beds for you to await your service. The facial was acceptable and left my skin glowing, but the massage from Emin (who is often referred to as “AMEN”) is ridiculous. After an hour rub down I asked him how he was able to control the hot rocks over the contours of my back. His response, “what rocks?” What felt like warm stones were actually his strong, oh-so-smooth hands. Holy moly y’all. Holy moly.
I actually started spending time at the hotel because of the pool. Due to their summertime Urban Oasis, I enjoyed the peaceful patio during the week, and then throwing back a few Coronas with a fun crowd on the weekends. Ok, so the weekends would get a little rough in Houston, but Dallas was the trendy place to be seen. I wasn’t really into the whole wearing heels in my bikini, but my gladiators worked as well. Either way, at both hot spots, the people watching was unprecedented. (Because of the recession, most hotels were opening up their pool area to locals to drive business, Zaza was no different.)
YOUR LUXE HOME
After college, Andy and I frequented the Beverly Hills Hotel so it became like our “home away from home.” Unfortunately I was never able to find a place I wanted to hang my hat in NYC. The Zaza welcomed me with open arms and it’s always nice to return for a visit. And I know they will do the same for you.
(**In total, Hotel Zaza generously comped a 4 night stay in Dallas as well as 3 spa treatments.)
La Vista - Houston, Tx
I bet you’ve forgotten about this classic Italian (used to be only BYOB) in the shopping center on Fountainview (near San Felipe). I did. So last week Mom and I walked down from her store Encore to rediscover their rustic Italian dishes that suited our tummies and our wallets.
I’ve never had a dish I didn’t like, and I’m sticking to that story. Super casual, great for group dinners, and like I said, always delicious.
Favorite Spots Around Town - Lunch in Houston
- Tiny Boxwoods (Pictured Above)
If the ladies who lunch aren’t headed to the country club, you’ll find them at Tiny Boxwoods amongst a crowd of twenty-somethings looking lovely. An oh so cute cafe hidden off W Alabama, Tiny Boxwoods offers a quaint escape from the hustle of Houston. It shares a garden with nursery next door so you feel like you’re enjoying your fresh salad on someone’s patio. Their menu changes daily, but locals come back for their quiche at brunch, beet burger, and the melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chip cookie that sells out every day without fail. Seating can be tough, but service is quick and friendly if you sit at the espresso bar. You can go in shorts and t-shirt, but just know that it’s one of THE places to be seen in Houston.
Also hidden from sight is the Daily Review off Dunlavy and Lamar. Their patio is nice, but in this heat, you’ll want to sit inside the chic diner to enjoy their fresh offerings. Their menu is healthy and not overly expensive. I’d suggest a little makeup to walk in, but it’s not necessary.
- Ruggles Grille 5115 at Saks Fifth Avenue
Don’t be decieved by the white linen tablecloths or oversized chairs. You can sit down in the cool ac and enjoy a lovely meal in any attire at every price point. I blogged about their jumbo lump crab salad a couple weeks ago which had the pretty price of $22, but it was by far the most expensive thing on the menu. I’ve heard rumors their bread pudding is delish, but I’ve never had the pleasure of trying it myself.
- Neiman Marcus Cafe
This has been my go-to Galleria lunch spot for years! They start you off with a cup of chicken broth (I’m not sure why, but I love it) followed by their famous monkey bread rolls and strawberry butter. That is enough to make me happy. But you can’t miss out on their soup and sandwich combo. My favorite being the chicken tortilla and chicken salad combo. Of course you know you want one of their infamous chocolate chip cookies before you return to shopping.
A super casual diner with extra large portions of comfort food. My favorite Chinese chicken salad is big enough to feed three ravenous women. The pesto chicken salad sandwhich is noteworthy as well. There are three locations around Houston now, so you can easily pop in for a bite with friends.
Ziggy’s offers healthy dishes you wouldn’t know are healthy. In other words, there is something for everyone here. There isn’t much of an atmosphere to speak of, but it’s a great alternative to Cafe Express.
This chain of French cafeterias will never dissappoint you. You can order sandwiches and pasta from the menu, but I’m so in love with their fat free ceasar salad, soups, potato gallettes, and quiches they offer right off the line, I never even look at the menu. I don’t have to tell you it’s super casual, but it is a tad bit expensive for a cafeteria.
Smoothie Island is the only place I know in Houston to get a real green juice or a fresh fruit smoothie. They also offer great grilled veggie plates and pita sandwhiches. The majority of people you’ll find there are under the age of 16, but it’s a great for a quick healthy bite.
Since he had Mexican last night, I took him to BBQ for lunch at Goode Company. His conclusion, “Is your first beef brisket, your best beef bristet? That is delicious.”
benjy’s and Beyond - Where The Cool Kids Hang Out in Houston
I don’t have to tell you Houstonians benjy’s on Washington is a hot spot. But you might be interested to know it’s still living up to the hype.
The bar is bustling with Houston’s trendy crowd. Trendy in Houston doesn’t have as much to do with age and style as in other cities. Here trendy means people “in the know” looking to have a fun night out. Socialites let their guard down, parents sip martinis with people half their age, and everyone is laughing. In H town, everyone knows everyone else (and EVERYTHING about their past), so the people watching can get interesting.
The food is equally trendy and fun; a welcome change from Houston’s classic offerings. With a variety of apps and entress, you’re sure to find more than one thing to get your mouth watering from the list of unique dishes, even the cripsy chicken has a tasty twist.
I can’t say so much for the original Benji’s off of Kirby. It hasn’t changed, the scene has just moved North.
If benjy’s is booked, drive down the street and try:
Soma Sushi - The decor and atmosphere want so desperately to look like it belongs in NYC. Luckily, the food (creation of Robert Gatsby) would be good enough to hold it’s own in the big apple.
Catalan - Tapas for when you’re feeling adventurous, as in sweetbreads is on the menu.
Max’s Wine Dive - Looks like a dive, but the wine selection and fare are anything but dumpy.
El Tiempo - classic Tex Mex with meat market bar where singles of all ages hang out.
Porch Swing - On Heights Blvd. It’s the casual, cool outdoor pub. Roll up in a t shirt and shorts to grab a beer with friends. The fare is fair at best, so I would grab something beforehand. My favorite part: the dart board!
Cedar Creek - another outdoor pub that really looks like they took it from Texas hill country, creek and all. I haven’t tried the food, but apparently it’s decent.
Eight - THE club of the moment. Bring your white man’s over-bite, the music is a remix of hip-hop’s top 40.
Hungry’s — Houston (Rice Village)
Feeling like Barnaby’s but don’t want to wait for 45 minutes? Find a more extensive menu at Hungry’s in Rice Village you can enjoy on a larger patio for a great price.
Could you ask for anything more?? YES! Most of their dishes come with a wedge salad with the most divine, creamy feta cheese dressing. But not too much. Thankfully they don’t sacrifice deliciousness for nutrition. Instead, they’ve found a happy medium.
Here’s how you would explain the benefits of Hungry’s to a guy:
- Big patio with no wait
- Tasty but healthy dishes
- Yes, they have cheese
- Big menu
- When all else fails, they have a great burger and fries
ALL TIME FAVORITE LIST - HOUSTON ::
Middle of the Road
- Carrabba’s - Italian
- La Griglia - Italian
- Houston’s - American
- El Tiempo - Mexican
- benjy’s - American trendy
- La Madeline - French Cafeteria
- Barnanby’s - American
- Antone’s - Sandwiches
- Goode Company - Best BBQ
- James Coney Island - Hot Dogs
- Central Market - Deli style
- French House - Cafe
- Palazzo’s Tratoria - Pizza
- Taco Milagro - Mexican
- Beck’s Prime - Burger
- Spanish Village - Mexican
- Encore Designer Resale Store
- The Guild Shop — Resale jewelry, dishes, clothes
- Neiman Marcus Last Call @ Katy Mills
LIVING IN HOUSTON
Mani/Pedi: Perfect Ten
Hair Stylist: Raphael, by appointment only.
Park: Memorial Park
Grocery Store: Central Market or Whole Foods
I’m sure I missed something. This was off the top of my head. Please email me what I left out. Thanks!