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10. Yum Yum Cha
Rice Village has the distinction of having the only dim sum restaurant inside the Loop. It's not the best dim sum in the city, but it's still very good, and its standards from the 50-item menu are very reliable stuff: dishes like pork-and-shrimp shiu mai, shrimp dumplings, shrimp rice rolls and warm sesame rolls for dessert. And although dim sum is traditionally a brunch affair, you can even get dim sum at Yum Yum Cha in the evenings.
9. Sweet Paris
This utterly adorable creperie just opened, and with time I feel it may move higher up on the list. For now, it's an ideal spot for a layover between hitting the boutiques along Rice Boulevard — split a simple lemon crepe with a couple of espressos, for example — but also makes a cute dinner destination if you get one of the more filling crepes. Sweet Paris just started serving breakfast, too, opening at 8 a.m.
8. Bistro des Amis
Bistro des Amis looks like the sort of small-town cafe where you stop to get a coffee and a pastry or an ice cream while shopping in a French village — right here in Rice Village. And with good reason: The owners, Odile de Maindreville and her brother, Bernard Cuillier, are from Biarritz, a town in the Basque region of France. Because of this, you'll find more nontraditional dishes like a slightly spicy "beef paprika," their version of goulash, and slices of moist gâteau Basque. Lunch and dinner specials are very reasonable, and the soups, stews and pastries (the last of which are always well-stocked in the pastry case) are made in-house.
This longtime Village favorite from garrulous owner Nash D'Amico and daughter Brina D'Amico Donaldson is a typical red-and-white-checkered-tablecloth place with the air of a traditional trattoria, serving home-style Sicilian food. The lush patio has grown more splendid over the years and is still one of my favorite outdoor eating spots in town, while the homemade black pepper tortellini stuffed with wild mushrooms, walnuts and cheese in a lemon-butter sauce is the stuff of legend. D'Amico's red sauce is another standby, and daily steam-table specials are a steal. Muffulettas and po-boys can also be found on the menu next to a small marketplace of Italian goods where you can pick up all the ingredients for your own Italian meal at home.
6. Local Foods
Local Foods is the epitome of a useful restaurant, the kind of place that's relaxed and easy — and inspires you to have a relaxed, easy meal yourself. The choices are streamlined and simple: a few sandwiches, two soups, a handful of salads and sides, and a few Texas-made beers and wines. So is the chic, updated deli decor with white subway tiles, exposed materials and bold color choices such as electric blue booths. You can take your meal inside, on the shady patio or to go (I love to call ahead for dinner). You can even enjoy a cocktail; like everything else here, they're made with Texas-sourced products, keeping Local Foods true to its name.
5. El Meson
This longtime Village eatery allows you to tour Spain and its colonies via owner Peter Garcia, who's run the family restaurant since his father passed away in 1992. Traditional Spanish tapas and paellas find their place next to Cuban dishes like ropa vieja and picadillo a la criolla. There is even a large Tex-Mex side to the menu, offering fajitas, enchiladas and some of the most beloved margaritas in town, strong with tequila and tangy with lots of lime juice. With its dark wood and booths lining the walls, the spacious restaurant has the feel of a neighborhood taverna. The extensive wine list includes choices from the New World as well as the Old, all of which pair nicely with the equally extensive list of Spanish cheeses.
The second-story location in the Rice Village can be difficult to find, but if you're a sushi lover, it's worth the hunt. Chef Hajime Kubokawa — or Kubo-san, for short — is no longer at the sushi restaurant he helped found with owner Yoichi "Yogi" Ueno, nor is Manabu Horiuchi (who is setting the sushi world on fire at Kata Robata). But it's still one of the best sushi joints in the city, a fact that's more impressive considering its longevity and the talent that it's worked with since opening ten years ago. Some of my most memorable meals have been at Kubo's over the years, from the night I tried my first idiot fish prepared by current chef Kiyoka Ito to the one-off kaiseki dinner I still dream about.
3. Istanbul Grill
Istanbul Grill is an outpost of Turkey nestled between monuments of yuppiedom in Rice Village. Inside the restaurant, the TV glows with scenes from a Turkish broadcast, while outside young Turks happily demolish platters of food or sit quietly sipping Turkish coffee. Swooning is a natural reaction to imam bayld, a luscious dish of roasted and stuffed eggplant. A favorite entrée is iskender kebab, alternating layers of lamb and beef on a skewer, but the Istanbul Grill allows you to sample a wide variety of good kebabs. And on weekends, don't miss the tiny Turkish "ravioli" called mant that are filled with lamb and topped with a tangy yogurt-mint dressing. And remember that if you park behind someone in the miniature parking lot (as is expected here), you'll need to move your car when the staff yells out, "White Jeep!" or "Red Volvo!"
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