Uncommonly Keen

The 10 best restaurants in the Upper Kirby district.

With the construction of three new Carrabba's family restaurants along Kirby and the continued success of West Ave — the mixed-use shopping/living/dining development on the corner of Kirby and Westheimer — the Upper Kirby district is a stronger dining-out destination today than it has been in years.

The last time we rounded up the ten best restaurants in the area was two years ago, and things have certainly changed since then. Gone are seafood favorites Pesce and Yelapa Playa Mexicana. In their place are the decidedly less interesting Brio Tuscan Grille and Estate nightclub, respectively. On the bright side, however, is the addition of so many new and interesting restaurants in the Upper Kirby district that it's hard to narrow the list down to ten anymore.

In fact, some of the city's best restaurants — perennial favorites and Best of Houston® winners among them — now lie within the Upper Kirby confines, making this recently repaved stretch of road one of the best spots to hit for a night out.

Breakfast thali at Pondicheri.
Gary R. Wise
Breakfast thali at Pondicheri.
An oyster-filled po-boy at BB's Cafe.
Katharine Shilcutt
An oyster-filled po-boy at BB's Cafe.

Disclaimer: Upper Kirby is defined as west of Shepherd, east of Buffalo Speedway, north of Bissonnet and south of Westheimer.

10. Chuy's

Chuy's is consistently packed for a reason. The kitschy decor and equally kitschy Tex-Mex food — while transported here from Austin — are fun, enjoyable crowd-pleasers. The margaritas (especially the Texas Tinis) are strong and well-balanced. The happy hour offers a free build-your-own-nacho bar with unlimited visits. In season, the Hatch chile specials are unrivaled. The creamy jalapeño dressing (which we all know is just Ranch dressing with a kick) is a Texas treasure. The Elvis Presley Memorial Combo is the stuff of legend. And Chuy's will gladly top anything — anything at all — with a fried egg.

9. Turquoise Grill

Turquoise Grill began its life serving office-building snack bar-type items like breakfast tacos and burgers alongside more traditional fare like Turkish kebabs made by friendly owner Yilmaz "Jim" Dokuyucu. Over time, it grew to be one of the most popular Turkish restaurants in town, and not solely by virtue of being one of only a handful of Turkish places in the city, and gradually it did away with most of its American fare. These days, one of the best ways to spend a low-key evening is grabbing dinner at Turquoise Grill before heading across the street to catch a show (and down a few pints of local beer) at the great McGonigel's Mucky Duck.

8. BB's Cafe

The fourth — and, so far, the largest at 1,800 square feet inside and 1,400 square feet of patio outside — location of popular Houston chain BB's Cafe offers the same great Cajun food that made the original Montrose BB's such a hit when it first opened in 2008. It's also the prettiest of the three locations, with a light and bright dining room that features just enough Cajun flair to let you know to expect excellent po-boys, gumbo, oysters and two of our favorite dishes in town: Grillades & Grits and the so-called "Cajun poutine," the Tex-Cajun Virgin.

7. Goode Co. Seafood and Goode Co. Taqueria (tie)

We're still crazy about Goode Co. Seafood after all these years. But that's not all that the Goode family does well: Mesquite-grilling is their specialty, as seen at Goode Co. Taqueria right next door. If you're dining at Goode Co. Seafood, be sure to grab a seat in the "older" part of the restaurant: a converted train car with retro fixtures and photos. And if you're hitting the Taqueria, be sure not to miss breakfast, which it is now serving seven days a week, when quail, venison and catfish mingle with traditional Tex-Mex favorites like migas and huevos motuleños.

6. Hawthorn

Hawthorn, which opened this past spring, has been quietly drawing rave reviews with its menu of refined Italian standards mixed with more upscale Texan fare under the expert guidance of chef Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio. Witness an appetizer of Texas quail stuffed with farro, toasted pinenuts and dried cranberry, for example, or an entrée of housemade agnolotti with braised rabbit. Wrote Alison Cook in her recent review of Hawthorn in the Chronicle: "If there's any justice, the restaurant won't stay a sleeper for long."

5. Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

By day, it's a casual and cute place to grab an inexpensive Italian lunch. By night, it's effortlessly and casually romantic, just as you'd want a great date to be. Fairy lights twinkle in the canopy of the sweet little patio; the wine bar is dimly lit and well-stocked with Italian classics; the dining room is low-slung and moddish; and the small plates of elegant (and surprisingly inexpensive) food are meant to be shared. But aside from being a charmingly romantic spot, Giacomo's also offers simply exquisite Italian fare from chef/owner Lynette Hawkins, with timeless dishes such as spaghetti alla carbonara and eggplant involtini delighting every time.

4. The Queen Vic Pub & Kitchen

A bit of Britain in Houston — and a bit of India, too — keeps me coming back to The Queen Vic Pub & Kitchen. Indeed, it's the kind of place where you can get so cozy with a craft beer and a curry with chips, you might never want to leave (especially on a cold, wintry evening). Befitting its name, the pub also has a brilliant beer selection, including hard-to-find classics and limited-batch Houston brews. Better than the beer, though, is chef Shiva Patel's Texas-British-Indian fusion food, from her Oysters Victoria topped with saag paneer to an outstanding pub burger between two English muffins.

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