We Love Food

Our 100 favorite dishes in Houston.

No. 14: Venison carpaccio at Thanh Phuong

3236 E. Broadway, Pearland, 281-412-7868

The venison carpaccio — a spin on the more traditional bo tai chanh, or Vietnamese beef carpaccio — keeps company here along with four other favorites that are can't-miss items at this charming Pearland spot: deep-fried rabbit; a mahogany-colored pho that's rich in cinnamon and anise; chicken wings coated with a glaze of caramelized fish sauce; and a decadent crème brûlée. The venison carpaccio makes excellent use of the soft, ruddy deer meat. Thin, opaque ribbons of deer are marinated in citrus juices and pungent fish sauce, served with strings of red onion and shallot woven throughout and liberally doused with crushed peanuts for a sweet, nutty crunch that plays off the sweet venison.

No. 89: Eggs El Salvador from Brasil
Katharine Shilcutt
No. 89: Eggs El Salvador from Brasil
No. 76: Bacon-avocado burger from Facundo Cafe
Allison McPhail
No. 76: Bacon-avocado burger from Facundo Cafe

No. 13: Mesquite-grilled shrimp po-boy at Goode Co. Seafood

2621 Westpark, 713-523-7154

Partnering the smoky, nutty, almost sweet flavor of mesquite wood with Gulf shrimp is a natural pairing. What elevates this dish is tucking that shrimp into some French bread, making it into a trifecta of Third Coast cuisine: Louisana-style po-boy, Gulf Coast seafood and Hill Country mesquite.

No. 12: Tamarind-glazed salmon at Samba Grille

530 Texas, 713-343-1180

A sticky-sweet tamarind glaze — nudged along with a green mango sauce — has a subtle fruitiness to it that brings out the sweet notes of buttery salmon and nutty notes of the striking black quinoa underneath. It's a simple preparation on the surface, with deep currents of complexity below.

No. 11: Bone marrow service at Stella Sola

1001 Studewood, 713-880-1001

Stella Sola's bone marrow is pure meat butter, scooped daintily from a split-in-twain bone and spread onto freshly baked ciabatta with few other accoutrements needed, save a dusting of sea salt and sweet shallots to cut the fatty flair.

No. 10: Ribs at Gatlin's BBQ

1221 West 19th, 281-804-4555

The luscious char on the outside comes from a low-and-slow smoking technique employed by owner Greg Gatlin, who uses hickory to impart a sweet aroma and taste to his fall-off-the-bone ribs.

No. 9: Shrimp and grits at Brennan's of Houston

3300 Smith, 713-522-9711

Brennan's makes these grits impossibly creamy without losing any of that important texture. Corn kernels on top provide a pleasantly sweet contrast against the salty grits. And on top, sweet in that briny ocean way, are plump Gulf shrimp and shreds of earthy parsnip to ground it all.

No. 8: Barbacoa at Hugo's

1600 Westheimer, 713-524-7744

Tender lamb is braised for hours in a combination of chiles and garlic, then slow-roasted in agave skin for a delicate sweetness. It's served oh-so-simply with fresh corn tortillas, onions and cilantro, the rich man's version of a street taco.

No. 7: Texas shrimp chaat at Pondicheri

2800 Kirby, 713-522-2022

The Texas shrimp chaat effortlessly combines Texan ingredients into a staple Indian snack. Triangles of buttery avocado call to mind guacamoles past, while fat Gulf shrimp is rubbed down with cumin to tie the two cuisines' flavor profiles neatly together, all on a bed of puffy sev.

No. 6: Saigon burger at The Burger Guys

12225 Westheimer, 281-497-4897

The Saigon burger is essentially a burger married with a banh mi, two of Houston's most popular sandwich foods. Like a banh mi, it comes with a smear of pâté, a dash of lime juice and Sriracha sauce and hefty threads of pickled carrots, daikon radish, jalapeños and cilantro. And you can even get a fried egg on top.

No. 5: Tagliarini with black truffles at Da Marco Cucina e Vino

1520 Westheimer, 713-807-8857

As you contemplate the way that the buttery, house-made, always al dente pasta melds together with sweet, musky shavings of black truffles, it's easy to see why this simple harmony of flavors will never get old or passé, truffle oils of the world be damned.

No. 4: Oysters on the half-shell at Casey's

3828 Seawall Blvd., Galveston, 409-762-9625

The oysters at Casey's are always fresh, sweet, plump, buttery and briny — those last three being what makes a Gulf oyster so special, so unique compared to their East or West Coast counterparts. And you can't beat the old restaurant's unencumbered view of the Gulf from Galveston's seawall.

No. 3: Boudin kolaches at Shipley Do-nuts

3932 N. Main, 713-862-4655

Only a handful of Shipley's sell them, but when you find the sweet, yeasty rolls filled with slightly spicy, pork liver-y boudin, that's when you start to have an inkling that Houston is perhaps the greatest city on earth for possessing this effortless combination of Czech and Cajun favorites.

No. 2: Ceviche at Xuco Xicana

2416 Brazos, 713-523-8181

It's Gulf bycatch fish that takes center stage in all of the ceviche preparations here, whether it be a pillow black drum with warm chipotle peppers and garnished with radishes, avocado and corn, or a golden tilefish humming with howlingly hot chile de árbol and slices of pert grapefruit.

No. 1: Cheese enchiladas at Los Dos Amigos

5720 Washington, 713-862-0462

I'm not an adherent of the trendy idea that everything tastes better with a fried egg on top. The truth is that not everything tastes better with a fried egg on top, just like not everything tastes better with bacon. But here at Los Dos Amigos, the cheese enchiladas — which are already tremendous on their own — receive their crown as my favorite dish in Houston by offering two perfectly fried eggs perched on top, their soft white skin begging to be pierced with the tine of a fork, ready to let a torrent of golden yolk flow down the mountain of enchiladas and down into the gooey cheese beneath. Inside the loosely rolled tortillas is cheese that's never greasy and onions that are diced too small to even see. And the mild chile gravy on top contains no meat, just a warm undercurrent of dusky cumin. They're ultra-comforting on their own like this, but the fried eggs add a secondary — and essential, for this list — layer of richness that's matched only by the red vinegar sauce on each table. A few healthy swigs of the tart, bright sauce, and your Tex-Mex breakfast masterpiece is complete.

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Thanks for the 2012 dining guide!