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But I'm not one to shun this new, vibrant Memorial either; the resurgence (or continued growth, depending upon your perspective) is something that many once-glorious Houston suburbs never get to experience. Look upon Sharpstown or Gulfgate or Alief, ye mighty, and despair. For all the moaning about the "Decepticon"-esque medical tower at Gessner and I-10 or the closure of Town & Country Mall, the restyled Memorial has been a boon to property values in the area and has brought a bevy of interesting dining options that didn't exist this far west even ten years ago.
Disclaimer: For the purposes of this article, Memorial is defined as north of Buffalo Bayou, west of Loop 610, east of Highway 6, and north of Katy Freeway to Westview. This area includes Spring Valley Village, Piney Point Village, Bunker Hill Village, Hedwig Village, Hilshire Village and Hunters Creek Village.
Honorable Mention: Georgia's Farm to Market, A Moveable Feast and Leibman's Wine & Fine Foods
The reason I list these three places together and haven't given them individual spots on the list is because they're all grocery stores/specialty markets first and foremost. That said, these three spots are three of my go-to favorites for a quick, simple and [occasionally] healthy lunch. If you love deli-style sandwiches, you'll love these three places.
10. The Union Kitchen
The second location of Bellaire-based Union Kitchen is warm and inviting, with a full bar to one side and a tiered dining room to the other. You almost wouldn't recognize the revamped dining room as the former location of Chinese haunt Hunan Emperor. Union Kitchen's bar makes some excellent Bloody Marys during Sunday brunch, which are the perfect companion to a seven-layer stack of its buttery pancakes. Lunch and dinner are more scattered affairs, but the burgers — especially the signature onion ring-topped Angus burger — are reliably good.
9. Brenner's Steak House
German immigrant Lorene Brenner and her husband, Herman, opened the first Brenner's Cafe in 1936. When their original eatery was bulldozed to make way for the Katy Freeway, the Brenners relocated to a little house with a big garden and changed the format. Brenner's Steakhouse has always served USDA Prime beef and accepts no substitutes. The 14-table main dining room is softly illuminated by antique light fixtures and the woodwork features the kind of craftsmanship not often seen anymore. A fireplace dominates one wall, and the opposite one is a floor-to-ceiling window looking out over the enormous garden. Herman Brenner died in 1976, and Lorene Brenner operated the restaurant alone for many years. When she retired, Tilman Fertitta's bought the place and spent more than $1 million to restore Brenner's to its original state. He even brought Lorene Brenner back as a consultant. In a city that routinely razes its landmarks, Brenner's revitalization is nothing short of amazing — and it still offers the same top-quality steaks and service that made it a neighborhood favorite so many years ago.
8. Cafe Rita
This Armenian/Lebanese restaurant is a small, one-of-a-kind place run by an elderly Armenian couple, George and Rita Sarikhanian. Eating here makes you feel like you're a guest in their home — everything is homemade and served with pride — and there are even pictures of grandchildren stuck all over the sides of the deli case, which is stuffed to overflowing with goodies. Rita prepares traditional breakfast foul — the ancient fava bean soup — with lots of lemon and garlic. George and Rita always have something cooking that's not on the menu. "Taste this, we don't make it all the time, you better get some while you can," George will say, stuffing your mouth with something wonderful as you stand in line. How can you say no? Their hummus, mouhammara (red pepper spread) and falafel are excellent, and all of their kabobs — lamb, chicken, kefta — served hot off the grill, are scrumptious. Expect a wait at lunch.
Although it'd be easy to flesh out this entire list with CityCentre restaurants, I kept it to only the two that inspire me the most. The first, Straits, serves modern Singaporean cuisine with Thai and Vietnamese influences in the type of lounge-like atmosphere that was missing in old Memorial. Hip decor, a large outdoor dining area and swift, friendly servers make it an upscale hangout by night and a relaxing lunch spot by day. The San Francisco-based restaurant has adapted well to Houston thanks to chef John Sikhattana, who runs a tight ship and keeps the food hot, fresh and spicy — just as Singaporean dishes should be. Standouts include the whole fried striped bass, a creamy-sour laksa noodle soup, fragrant Hainan chicken and the flaky, addictive roti prata.
6. Bistro Provence
One of Houston's oldest and most authentic French restaurants is owned by French husband-and-wife team Jean-Philippe and Genevieve Guy, both of whom are as inviting as the cozy restaurant itself. As the name would indicate, Bistro Provence serves Provençal cuisine such as wood-oven pizzas, lamb shank Provençale and seafood specialties made by chef Jeremy Griffin as well as French classics like escargot, rillettes, duck liver and an outstanding poussin rôti cooked in that same wood-fired oven. The wine list is all French, as you would expect, and both lunch and dinner always require a wait — come early or late if you don't want to stand around, salivating over the other diners' meals.
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