Philly Poutine

A first look at the new Pappa Geno's in Bellaire.

6. The Tasting Room

This is not your typical wine bar food, between small bites like miniature grilled cheese sandwiches on Slow Dough pretzel baguettes with chèvre and sweet tomato jam and entrées like a pizza topped with house-made Broken Arrow Ranch venison sausage, Gruyère, caramelized onions and roasted red peppers. Sunday brunches with a distinctly Southern twist are hugely popular events, as are the occasional crawfish boils thrown on the patio in the summer. And while you normally wouldn't consider a weekday lunch at a wine bar, the menu of gourmet sandwiches and dishes is so alluring that you'll even forget they serve wine.

5. Kenny & Ziggy's

Philly poutine. Patent it, Pappa Geno's.
Katharine Shilcutt
Philly poutine. Patent it, Pappa Geno's.
Arellano is speaking at the University of Houston on November 15.
Arellano is speaking at the University of Houston on November 15.

Homesick New Yorkers make lunch and weekend breakfasts a standing-room-only affair at Kenny & Ziggy's, widely hailed as the best New York deli in the country — despite being located in Houston. Local customers scarf down the fluffy, delicious matzo balls, the legendary three-inch-thick deli sandwiches, the Hungarian-style stuffed cabbage, the Hungarian goulash or big bowls of barley-based kasha varnishkas — total Jewish comfort food. A bowl of delightfully crisp and tangy pickles is delivered to the table as soon as you sit down, and they're almost as much of a draw as the knishes and blintzes. The slices of New York cheesecake are nearly as big as the sandwiches, with a dense exterior that gives way to a fluffy inside. Jovial owner and chef Ziggy Gruber was recently featured in a documentary, Deli Man, as he's "the only third-generation Jewish deli man who is still actively running a restaurant," according to former Houston Press food critic Robb Walsh.

4. RDG Bar + Annie

This contemporary, multi-space restaurant sits in the newly built two-story mall on Post Oak near San Felipe that also houses fancy French restaurant Philippe and retail boutiques such as Hermès. The restaurant is broken up into three main sections: the Grill Room (upstairs), Bar Annie (also upstairs) and Blvd Lounge (downstairs). The Grill Room is the most upscale of the three, serving the same gourmet, French-influenced Southwestern cuisine that first made owner and chef Robert del Grande famous. Bar Annie is a step down from the Grill Room, price-wise, and Blvd Lounge is the most casual of the three, serving bar food and cocktails. Thanks to chef del Grande's celebrity status, this is a destination restaurant. Most diners come in with high expectations, and those expectations are usually met or even exceeded.

3. Ciao Bello

Sitting on the more casual end of the Tony Vallone empire, Ciao Bello plays up Italian classics under California transplant Bobby Matos, who took over as executive chef two years ago. Having worked under farm-to-table pioneers like Trey Foshee back in California, Matos has made Ciao Bello into one of the can't-miss restaurants of the area with dishes such as a rich, buttery Bolognese over handmade pappardelle, corn pansoti with black truffles, Gulf flounder amatriciana and porchetta glazed with saba.

2. Philippe

The eponymous Philippe belongs to one of Houston's most enduringly popular chefs, the French-born Philippe Schmit, who chose the glitzy area for his upscale French-esque brasserie. Schmit is fond of both his French roots and his adopted home in Texas, which shows in the menu: It ranges between the French and the Texan, with frequent layovers around the Mediterranean basin. The two-story restaurant itself is similarly tumultuous, a charmingly jumbled mix of old-world glamour and steely industrial flare. Try Schmit's twists on old favorites like "pigs in a blanket" and drunken foie gras to see the restaurant really shine, or indulge in a Cowboy burger during the extremely affordable weekday lunches. Downstairs, sommelier extraordinaire Vanessa Treviño Boyd has turned the casual lounge space into one of the better wine bars in town, with a staggering 80 selections by the glass.

1. Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

Impress your clients with massive USDA Prime, dry-aged steaks, a plush atmosphere and a special cigar lounge where you can enjoy expensive cognacs and big fat stogies after dinner. There is really very little else in town that can compare when it comes to smooth, old-school charm and elegance than Pappas Bros. Steakhouse. The steakhouse prides itself on a wine list loaded with rare old wines, such as an 1811 Château d'Yquem listed for $30,000, but you can find a decent vintage of Bordeaux or Burgundy for a couple hundred dollars thanks to talented sommelier Steven McDonald (whose top pick for a bargain wine is an $80 bottle of La Pialade Côtes-du-Rhône 2007 by Chateau Rayas). Bring a big appetite and an even bigger expense account — the cheapest steak on the menu is $43. Katharine Shilcutt

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