Uncommonly Keen

The 10 best restaurants in the Upper Kirby district.

3. Pondicheri

Another slice of Indian fusion heaven can be found just down the street, where chef/owner Anita Jaisinghani has been wowing West Ave visitors at Pondicheri since it opened last year. Pondicheri is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner, offering casual counter service during the day and upscale table service by night. It even offers classic Indian takeaway, albeit with Jaisinghani's modern, Gulf Coast twist on traditional Indian food. This clever restaurant takes all comers while still creating some of the most breathtakingly interesting and soulful Indian food anywhere, such as Texas shrimp chaat with corn and avocado, paneer-stuffed chicken legs or oatmeal chocolate-chile cookies.

2. Haven / Cove

A late-night X-tudo burger at Copacabana.
Troy Fields
A late-night X-tudo burger at Copacabana.
Witchcraft Tavern brings another craft beer place to the Heights.
Katharine Shilcutt
Witchcraft Tavern brings another craft beer place to the Heights.

The recent addition of new raw bar Cove has made the Houston food scene sit up and take notice of Haven once again, not that anyone had really forgotten about chef Randy Evans's farm-to-table temple or the reliable Southern classics with a twist that he turns out daily. With new restaurant-within-a-restaurant Cove offering up inventive, all-raw dishes from across the world under sous chef Jean-Philippe Gaston, Haven's traditional vibe is turned on its ear in the most refreshing of ways. Grab a small dish or two (and a cocktail) at Cove, then grab another entrée and dessert at Haven to enjoy the best of both worlds without even having to hit two restaurants.

1. Kata Robata

It says a lot about the changing palates of Houston diners that a highly modern sushi restaurant with a strong undertone of French fusion was our choice as Best New Restaurant in 2010. But the food at Kata Robata (and the casual atmosphere that belies some of the menu prices) was truly the biggest draw of any place that opened that year, and it continues to draw crowds today. Omakase platters and daily specials such as amberjack sashimi with foie gras prepared by the talented Manabu Horiuchi, formerly of Kubo's, are both playful and breathtaking at the same time — as well as quite a bargain. The desserts under pastry chef Chris Leung are equally intriguing, with a lighter and more intelligent touch than is normally found in any pastry program — let alone at a sushi restaurant.

Local Spotlight

7 Formerly Jinxed Houston Restaurant Locations.
By Joshua Justice

Late in 2009, Eating...Our Words took a look at the then-top "jinxed locations" in Houston. The compiled addresses had such a long and storied history of failure that they made the Astros look like the Yankees.

Looking back at the list today, there may be hope for hometown baseball. Of the eight restaurants listed — two of which happened to be ­carryovers from another list of cursed locations from 2008 — six are still in business. That's a damn fine batting average. Here is a look back at some of the survivors from that list and a few more that have "broken the curse."

6401 Woodway

Today: Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen

Previously: Grotto, Mi Cocina, PK's Blue Water Grill

No one would make the mistake of saying Sylvia's has had an easy run of things lately. Owner Sylvia Casares was critically injured when she was allegedly shot by her then-boyfriend Michael Warren back in March. Despite this incredible setback, Casares's family and employees pulled together and managed the two Sylvia's locations in her stead. Today, Casares has recovered and returned to the kitchen, and Sylvia's Mexican Kitchen soldiers on.

4315 Montrose

Today: Brasserie Max and Julie

Previously: Aries, Pic, Russo's, Café Anthony, 43 Brasserie

Formerly inhabited by not one but two different concepts from the arguable king of curse, Scott Tycer, 4315 Montrose has housed some exceptional talent in the past, including Monica Pope. The second restaurant from owners of Café Rabelais in Rice Village, Brasserie Max and Julie is going on its sixth year in business.

1915 Westheimer

Today: Firkin & Phoenix

Previously: Ciro's Italian Grill and Bar, Ohio Grange Cafe, Sabine, Chef G.'s, Epoch Fusion Café

Setting aside my beer nerd qualms about a place with "firkin" in the name that serves very little in the way of craft beer (much less cask beer), there is something to be said for a place that is basically an also-ran Bennigan's surviving at the outer edges of Montrose for going on six years. Clearly it has found a customer base in a spot that — by last count — held at least five restaurants prior. That's certainly a respectable achievement.

2411 S. Shepherd

Today: Torchy's Tacos

Previously: Greatfull Taco, Sabetta, Café Zol, Crostini

Previously home to Greatfull Taco (which, oddly enough, was opened as a sort of homage when a planned Torchy's franchise fell through), this space — now a Torchy's proper — finally has a tenant that people will brave the poor parking and ingress to visit. Though I'm pretty middle of the road on Torchy's and their unforgivably bad tortillas, it's good to have what seems like a solid, stable resident as opposed to the revolving door of previous restaurants. Given some of the beautiful dining rooms that came before, who knew Torchy's stark "institution chic" would be the winner? And while 12 months is probably too early to declare the curse broken, the long lines at Torchy's are a safe bet it's here to stay.

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