Pass the Vegenaise

Houston's top 10 vegan restaurants.

Three restaurants/coffeehouses opened very quietly recently, but that didn't stop Eater Houston from getting a first look at two of them: Nosh Bistro, at Kirby and Highway 59, which is being billed as a pan-Asian cafe with both East Asian and South Asian influences. Nosh has a community table and a cocktail program, two aspects which have apparently become essentials when opening any new restaurant. Etoile Cuisine et Bar, meanwhile, opened in Uptown Park last week and is serving small dishes such as mussels and escargots as well as well-priced entrées like wild boar linguine and lemon sole meunière.

And after much anticipation, CultureMap reports that Montrose coffeehouse Southside Espresso from coffee roaster Sean Marshall is finally open. "Marshall tells CultureMap that Southside will be open from 7 a.m. to midnight beginning on Saturday," writes Whitney Radley, "and that he's expecting to receive a license to begin selling wine within the next few weeks."

Over at Haven, sous chef Jean-Philippe Gaston has opened his own in-house raw bar that's housed inside Haven but serves an entirely different menu. Cove was built out of Haven's bar area, with lovely glass walls separating it from the rest of the restaurant. And although it will still serve Haven's classic cocktails, the greatly expanded bar will now also do double duty as Gaston's spot from which to experiment with raw preparations (of both fish and meat) from across the world.

Fresh, fast vegan fare at our No. 2 pick.
Troy Fields
Fresh, fast vegan fare at our No. 2 pick.
The Union Kitchen will soon be stacking its pancakes in the Heights too.
Katharine Shilcutt
The Union Kitchen will soon be stacking its pancakes in the Heights too.

The hidden Italian compound off West Dallas that houses Nino's, Vincent's and Grappino's has a new addition to la famiglia: La Gelateria, which — as its name would imply — is a gelato bar. Located in the landscaped courtyard between Nino's and Vincent's, La Gelateria offers a variety of gelato flavors to eat on the go or at one of the tables on the well-manicured patio. It will be open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 5 until 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Finally, a reader has alerted us to a new pho restaurant she likes in the Champions Forest area off FM 1960. The family-owned Ba Mien Bistro at 5102 FM 1960 West has "a very modern, chic look to it," according to our tipster. Katharine Shilcutt

Top 10

In the Neighborhood
Top 10 restaurants in the East End.

The East End is undergoing some necessary growing pains right now as a new generation of Houstonians rediscover the neighborhoods right next door to downtown. Construction of a METRO light rail to connect the East End with the main line has had Harrisburg torn up for some time, but is nearly complete. The much-anticipated Dynamo stadium in EaDo has already hosted one successful season and the Dynamo are now headed to the 2012 MLS Cup playoffs. And these are just two of the things attracting business to the east side of town.

Moon Tower Inn owners Brandon Young and Evan Shannon aren't just planning on reopening Moon Tower itself on Canal Street in the coming months — they're also opening two additional concepts in their East End neighborhood. The Gift Horse Lounge will be a "small neighborhood bar with good drinks and great prices," said Young in August, while The Slice and Foam Co. will sell New York-style pizza by the slice and craft beer. And the Laurenzo family is betting on Navigation by opening a new, $1.75 million El Tiempo alongside longtime Tex-Mex warhorse Ninfa's.

Add to that the recent listing of the old KBR site — a 136-acre parcel of land with stunning skyline views of downtown and a location directly along a scenic portion of Buffalo Bayou — and you'll see the East End is ripe for further redevelopment. Although what will be done with the acreage is still up for debate, one thing is certain: The East End is changing rapidly, and this entire Top 10 list could well be moot this time next year.

So gather ye taquerias while ye may and enjoy the spots that have anchored the East End for years, places like Fiesta Loma Linda, 888 Chinese, Taqueria Alma Latina, Villa Arcos and Merida — and our ten favorite places below.

Disclaimer: The cartographic basis for selecting these restaurants was the official map of the East End, which roughly places its boundaries at Clinton Drive to the north, I-45 to the south, 610 to the east and parts of 59 to the west. That means nothing in EaDo, which will be a separate entry coming in the next few weeks, but plenty in neighborhoods such as Eastwood, Magnolia Park and the Second Ward.

10. Taqueria el Alteño

The atmosphere at Taqueria el Alteño is the main draw, as the food is simply average-to-good. That said, the food is simple, sturdy and inexpensive — so there aren't any real complaints there (and the chilaquiles with crema at breakfast are genuinely outstanding, even if they come with french fries). Tortas are enormous and so are the refreshing licuados, which are served in fishbowl-size glasses. On Sunday mornings, a live emcee croons norteño favorites and makes general commentary on everything from the weather to the sports scores from over the weekend. In a hurry? There's a drive-thru, but you'll miss the friendly service and live music inside.

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