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5. BRC Gastropub
BRC Gastropub is cheeky in more ways than one: Yes, the "BRC" stands for "Big Red Cock" and the menu follows a similar adult playfulness. Don't expect to escape without dropping some bills on the food, but do expect a phenomenal beer (craft and otherwise) selection and some truly fun dishes. The poutine with a confit duck leg is pure decadence, while the skillet-based macaroni and cheese is so good we couldn't help but name it Best Mac & Cheese for two years running. Happy hour is recommended, as the restaurant only gets busier as the night goes on, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. And burger nights on Mondays get you a huge, beautiful BRC burger and fries for only $8.
4. benjy's on Washington
The second location of benjy's is quieter than you'd expect for its Washington Avenue location, without any of the hassle of forced valet or clubby music throbbing in the dining room. Its chic, elegant look is mimicked in the menu, which is full of locally sourced and seasonal food such as free-range chicken with summer succotash, pork rib eye with Texas peaches, or Gulf flounder with white asparagus and English peas. You'll also see Asian-influenced dishes (inspired in part by chef Mike Potowski's half-Japanese heritage) that run the gamut from beef udon to daily sashimi specials. Save room for dessert in the form of benjy's wonderfully geeky beer list and structured cocktails.
3. Branch Water Tavern
This upscale tavern is a great example of a uniquely American restaurant style that features a well-stocked bar and simple meat and seafood dishes that don't have French names. In many ways, the new American tavern is a throwback to early American eateries. The menu under executive chef David Grossman includes oysters on the half shell, crab cakes and smoke-roasted pork chops — items that were just as common on the menus of American taverns of the 18th century — as well as more updated items like house-made charcuterie and barbecued bone marrow. Lunch specials are outstanding, netting you a huge meal of fried chicken or a chicken pot pie plus iced tea for $10.
2. Max's Wine Dive
Max's Wine Dive owes its unusual name to the combination of a terrific Texas "dive" menu with chili dogs, cheese fries and mussels steamed in Lone Star beer, and an innovative wine list. These days, however, Max's is far less divey thanks to chef Michael Pellegrino and his inventive menus. This fall, look for modern dishes to fall in love with, like lemon-poppyseed muffins with uni butter; foie gras and escargot with a gremolata crème fraîche and tawny port-macerated blueberries; duck confit tarte tatin and egg yolk with Cheesy Girl goat cheese; and lengua pot roast with mousseline parsnips and green curry carrots.
1. Coppa Ristorante Italiano
Coppa Ristorante Italiano is the restaurant you turn to when you want to be assured of a great meal and equally great service; it makes things easy that way. The steady kitchen turns out an endless line of Italian classics under chef Brandi Key — meatballs al forno, lasagna, spaghetti carbonara — and an array of more modern dishes that delight in their simplicity, like duck-filled agnolotti with Brussels sprouts or pumpkin ravioli with cranberries. Small plates make for a good entrée size, while large plates are perfect for sharing. Don't miss the burrata, fresh from Puglia, or the signature brick oven-baked sardines. And if you just want a drink, the cheerful bar has an excellent classic cocktail program and nice happy hour prices.
The Most Interesting Man...
Anthony Bourdain on hipsters, food critics, tasting menus, the death of fine dining and a religious experience with Texas barbecue.
The biggest problem with interviewing Anthony Bourdain is not the crackly phone connection between Houston and New York City, nor is it the general trepidation that comes with talking to someone who's notoriously, forcefully honest.
The problem is that Bourdain is so interesting — has traveled so extensively and has such thought-provoking opinions on everything from Gulf oysters and Texas barbecue to the dangers of boredom — that it's far too easy to get off-track. Six tangents into discussing hipsters' impact on fine dining, and your 30-minute interview window is gone.
The celebrity chef, author and television personality is coming to Houston for a one-night-only show with Eric Ripert, the French chef who often plays the angel to Bourdain's devil on television and in real life — the two have been friends for years. Appropriately enough, Bourdain and Ripert's show on November 10 at Jones Hall is called "Good vs. Evil." It's also one of only four Good vs. Evil shows that Bourdain and Ripert will be doing across the United States.
No surprise, as Bourdain is currently one of the busiest men in chow-business. He's working on three television shows at the moment, creating a publishing empire, writing scenes for Treme and embarking on national tours aside from Good vs. Evil. The other leg of his tour, Guts & Glory, will be hitting two more Texas locations. But as soon as he's done here in Houston, Bourdain will — as usual — be flying directly out to his next speaking engagement...in Midwest City, Oklahoma.