AOL PICK from our Editors
According to a 2010 Zagat survey, people in Houston eat out more than anywhere in the U.S., and for good reason: it has an impressive, international culinary scene with over 8,000 restaurants representing the best Houston restaurants with cuisines from 35 nationalities (here we focus on the ten best Houston restaurants). Yet meals average well below the national average; In fact Zagat also rated Houston as having the best dining value of anywhere in the country. Look no further to find the best Houston restaurants with virtually any cuisine in this multicultural city: Churrascos for South American grille, fresh seafood and wild game at the Rainbow Lodge, and Sushi Raku for a novel twist on Japanese. You can even get food from the Middle Earth…at the Hobbit Café.
Neighborhood: River Oaks Price: Expensive
You haven’t lived until you have taken a bite of the churrasco—the restaurant’s signature dish—a charcoal-grilled center-cut tenderloin marinated in Latin American flavors. With such a mouthwatering treat on the menu, it's no wonder that Churrasco's is one of the top Houston restaurants. But first, every diner whets their appetite on crunchy plantain chips with two sauces: chimichurri and mireya (the plantains are better with cilantro, but you’ll have to ask for it). Every meal also comes with an unlimited supply of their scrumptious grilled, marinated veggies. The restaurant features an autumnal color scheme, with Fernando Botero paintings on the walls, and hand-made lamps hanging from the ceiling. Churrascos is the brainchild of Nicaraguan restaurateur Michael J. Cordúa (a Texas A&M alum), who also runs the upscale Américas and Artista, plus the casual kid-friendly Amazón Grill. Dress is business casual.
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Neighborhood: The Heights Price: Expensive
The upscale Rainbow Lodge restaurant, open since 1977, served local Gulf Coast seafood and wild game before being a “locavore” was hip. They moved from their original locale near Bayou Bend off Memorial in 2006 to a historic 100-year old log cabin, which provides the perfect backdrop for the restaurant’s characteristic taxidermy, hunting and fishing collectibles. Despite the name, the restaurant does not have any accommodation, but the business casual establishment sits on an acre overlooking White Oak Bayou. Have a cold one at the Tied-Fly Bar, with a view of the rock-lined, terraced bayou, and when Houston weather is less than 90 degrees and 90% humidity, dining on the outside patio is lovely. On Sundays, the Lodge offers 99-cent mimosas and champagne for their weekly brunch making it one of the best Houston restaurants for a lazy afternoon.
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Neighborhood: Downtown Price: Expensive
With burgundy walls adorned with 1930s pinup images—including some mild nudity—the fine dining establishment known as the Strip House has an ambiance like no other, and, in our opinion, is one of the best places in Houston for a thick, tender steak. Centrally located in downtown, it’s popular with executives, but great for date nights. It’s not exclusive to Houston. The first opened in NYC and they have since expanded to a handful of other major U.S. cities. Interestingly, executive chef John Schenk’s wife is a vegetarian so he makes sure there is food for her to eat at the restaurant. We suggest the French Onion soup, made with miso rather than beef broth.
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Neighborhood: Montrose Price: Moderate
This brand new restaurant set in a refurbished 1930s-era French Tudor home has an incredible tree-shaded garden patio. The brainchild of Brothers Jorge and Isaac Alvarez, Ocean’s serves a twist on modern Mexican with a coastal focus. Start with the house specialty—Oriental Ceviche (raw fish “cooked” by the acidity in lemon juice)—and then order either the Tostado, a four ounce lobster tail with chipotle sauce on a corn tortilla, or Taco Maximiliano—shrimp with house red sauce, mozzarella, avocado, shaved parmesan.
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Neighborhood: River Oaks Price: Moderate
If you’re vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free or prefer organic, local or non-factory farmed meat, Ruggles Green is the place to go—Houston’s first green certified restaurant (though more have opened since). The Green Restaurant Association has strict standards, including building materials, water use, waste disposal, and of course, food. Despite the primo certification, Ruggles Green has an open, café-like feel and you order food at the counter. Tuesdays they have specials on gluten-free pastries and pizzas. The place comes from good stock: Ruggles Grill on Westheimer is a bit more upscale, and has the best, most opulent medley of vegetables you have ever tasted. You simply must eat them. Bonus: The Grill just became green-certified.
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Neighborhood: Midtown Price: Moderate
This modern, sultry Japanese restaurant calls to mind a sleek Manhattan restaurant. The name means “happy” and that’s exactly what you’ll be here once you take a bite of Sushi Raku's Smokey Muscovy Duck—elegantly presented on black stoneware plates. Serving up fish specials flown in fresh from Tokyo’s famed Tsujki market—the only Houston restaurant to do so—they never know just what will arrive. They serve cooked fare as well as super-fresh raw sushi at this top Houston restaurant. Try the Maiko Rolls and imbibe a couple of fruit-infused sakes. It’s worth stopping in just to see the 60,000 pounds of thick, red rope adorning the ceiling, walls, and draping between seating areas.
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Neighborhood: Montrose Price: Budget
This hip little café in the artsy Montrose district is popular with locals. Brasil Coffeehouse is simple and clean, with wood floors and small metal tables, plus a large covered outdoor patio in back. You can order at the coffee bar, or have a waiter bring your food to you. Despite the service often being notoriously slow, the food is tasty and the lattes fresh and served in giant Friends-like mugs making Brasil one of the best places to eat in Houston. They have daily specials, vegetarian options, free Wi-Fi, and wine, plus they stay open late into the night. Someone needs to make them a website, but Brasil probably prefers to stay “undiscovered.” Come here if you have time to kill and want a more laid-back, European style café experience (if you’re in a rush, you not only won’t enjoy the experience, but you’ll be frustrated with the service, which tends to be slow).
Neighborhood: Museum District Price: Budget
Chef Robert Del Grande opened Café Express in the 1980s, and now you can find 10 locations in Houston (and a few in Dallas). While exploring the museum district and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, drop in for a delicious and quick meal. It’s a fitting locale, indeed -the fresh food tastes like a work of art. Café Express serves the most flavorful burger in Texas—thick, juicy, and mouth-watering. You can top it with free stuff from their Oasis table—sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, olives, capers, freshly grated parmesan cheese, oils, vinegars, hot sauces and more. Try the vegetable tart with a side mixed green salad, topped with the condiments from the Oasis. They serve their glasses of wine with 33% more than most restaurants making it one of the top Houston restaurants if you enjoy plenty of wine with your personalized meal.
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Neighborhood: Montrose Price: Budget
If you’re a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books, or the movies, stop by the quaint Hobbit Café, which has been around since 1972 and showcases original Hobbit paraphernalia and damn good food. You can have breakfast, second breakfast, Elevenses, tea break… and if these terms don’t ring a bell, you aren’t as big of a Hobbit fan as some! The large outdoor patio is as big as the inside, and you can dine under the gnarled branches of a massive live oak. Try the avocado omelet or gingerbread pancakes for breakfast or the fish tacos for lunch or dinner. The burgers, on the other hand, can be a bit dry. The “Merry Drinks” menu include a scrumptious assortment of fresh fruit and honey smoothies.
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Neighborhood: Rice Village Price: Budget
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A Spanish restaurant with a lovely ambiance, Mi Luna serves over 80 different hot and cold tapas—almost too many choices—and most are under $10. Portions are small and cost of each is low, so sample several. Tapas range from salads to octopus. We recommend the Berenjenas a la Plancha con ajo—an amazing eggplant dish, the Codornices con Higos—quail with figs, and B’Stilla—a Moroccon chicken pie wrapped in Phyllo dough. In 2007, the Houston Press voted their grilled calamares a la plancha the city’s best calamari and we’re pretty sure that nomination still holds true today. They bring them out as they’re ready rather than all at once. Don’t forget to order one of their deliciously fruity sangrias when you're dining at the Mi Luna, one of the best Houston restaurants.
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