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Where to Eat on Christmas Day

Your stress-free dining guide to the holidays.

Season's Eating

The presents are unwrapped, the place is destroyed and the pine needles from the Christmas tree have formed a fine carpet throughout the house. The last thing you want to do is dirty up a bunch of dishes cooking after all that. So why not let one of the many Houston restaurants open on Christmas Day take care of that for you, so you can relax and enjoy your family?

Quattro, Four Seasons Houston Hotel

Amazon Grill's fries come with its burger as well as its empanadas and tacos.
Katharine Shilcutt
Amazon Grill's fries come with its burger as well as its empanadas and tacos.
Duck fat: Screw "cellar door," those are the two most beautiful words in the English language.
Gary R. Wise
Duck fat: Screw "cellar door," those are the two most beautiful words in the English language.
Scott Sulma, right, and Grant Gordon will be helping to open Vallone's.
Courtesy of Tony's
Scott Sulma, right, and Grant Gordon will be helping to open Vallone's.

1300 Lamar, 713-276-4700

From 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Quattro offers a special Christmas Day brunch where you fill your plates directly off the line from the chefs. For Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Quattro offers a dinner featuring an antipasti buffet, roasted venison loin with a grilled lobster tail and an array of pastries that'll feed the whole family. Quattro will be open for regular lunch service on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Carmelo's

14795 Memorial, 281-531-0696

Visit Carmelo's on Christmas Eve for lunch or dinner and Christmas Day for lunch from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Enjoy their regular menu, with a few special holiday items like prime rib, baked ham and roast turkey.

Hubbell & Hudson Market and Bistro

24 Waterway, Suite 125, 281-203-5641

Hubbell & Hudson opens both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for everyone to wine and dine or shop for their holiday meal. Visit the bistro for a delicious dinner filled with menu items cooked with all the ingredients from the market next door. If you'd rather cook a Christmas meal at home, visit the market before 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve and 6 p.m. on Christmas Day.

Turquoise Grill

3701 Kirby, 713-526-3800

The Turquoise Grill opens its doors on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with delicious Mediterranean cuisine including stuffed grape leaves, Moroccan chicken with jasmine rice, grilled lamb chops, and a baklava or cheesecake for dessert.

Kiran's Restaurant and Bar

4100 Westheimer R, 713-960-8472

Kiran's offers a Christmas Day brunch buffet from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. filled with the 12 Dishes of Christmas featuring a tandoori leg of lamb, handmade tamales, and a gingerbread trifle with poached pears and spiced cream. The menu starts with a cranberry martini or pomegranate champagne cocktail.

The Cafe at Hilton Americas-Houston

1600 Lamar, 713-577-8000

Family coming in town to stay? Set them up at the Hilton Americas downtown, where you can all enjoy a Christmas Day brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. complete with a huge breakfast buffet, carving station with a roasted prime rib, and a selection of savory entrées including pan-seared salmon and Cornish game hen. The cost is $34.95 for adults, $29.95 for seniors, $14.95 for children ages seven to 12 and free for children six years old and under.

Bistro Alex

800 Sorella Court, 713-827-3545

On the 25th, Bistro Alex inside Hotel Sorella will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., featuring a three-course holiday menu in addition to their full menu items.

Line & Lariat at the Hotel ICON

220 Main, 713-224-4266

The Line & Lariat inside Hotel ICON will be offering a Christmas Day buffet from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Christmas Day. Enjoy items such as beef and pork tamales, oven-roasted turkey, applewood-smoked ham, cornbread and sausage dressing with giblet gravy, candied yams, roasted cranberry-ancho chile relish, and Mexican chicken mole with rice and corn tortillas. Save room for pumpkin and pecan pies, fruitcakes and a Yule log. The cost is $42.50 per adult and $15 for children. Kids five years and under eat for free.

RA Sushi

3908 Westheimer, 713-621.5800

799 Town & Country Blvd., 713-331-2792

RA Sushi will be offering all-day happy-hour pricing on December 25 from 6 p.m. to midnight. The happy-hour menu features more than 35 appetizers, sushi specials and drink selections ranging from $2.25 to $7.25. Try RA favorites like the Viva Las Vegas Roll and Tootsy Maki or a specialty cocktail such as the Emperor's Cucumberita or Strawberry Saketini.

Royal Sonesta

2222 West Loop South, 713-627-7600

The Restaurant inside the Royal Sonesta Hotel will feature a special four-course prix-fixe menu ($70) on Christmas Day in addition to its regular à la carte menu items. The restaurant will even keep its normal hours that day: 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m.

Monarch at the Hotel ZaZa

5701 Main, 713-526-1991

Enjoy your Christmas Day at Monarch Bistro in Hotel ZaZa from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., where executive chef Jonathan Jones has revamped the menu and put his own touches on every detail — including the four-course holiday menu that's available for $55 a person. Call 713-527-1800 for reservations and more details.

024 Grille

945 Gessner, 281-501-4350

In addition to its regular menu, 024 Grille at the Westin Memorial City will also offer a prime rib on Christmas Day.
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Beverages

HOT DR PEPPER WITH LEMON
The ultimate Texas cold-weather drink.

Katharine Shilcutt

When I was in college, Dr Pepper ruled our campus (and so did Drayton McLane, but that's a story for another day). No, seriously. It became the official soft drink of Baylor back in 1997. And along with it came Dr Pepper Hour, formerly Coke Hour.

Baylor University isn't just renowned for being the largest Baptist university in the world (along with all the questionable behaviors and eccentricities that accompany that title). It's also known for its weekly Dr Pepper Hour, when the president of the university (hey, that's Ken Starr now! Wonder how he's holding up...) enjoys Dr Pepper floats with students for an hour or two at the Student Union Building.

I first tasted this beverage at a winter Dr Pepper Hour and fell in love.

Hot Dr Pepper is exactly what it sounds like: heated-up Dr Pepper, served in a mug. You can garnish with a lemon slice, which I strongly recommend. The plummy taste of the soda takes on a mead-like quality when heated, and the beverage tastes oddly alcoholic, like a hot toddy sans the hooch. Of course, this might be one of the many reasons the drink is so popular at alcohol-free Baylor University.

Another reason, of course, is that it gets as cold as a witch's tit on the Central Texas plains during winter, and hot Dr Pepper is easier to make in a dorm room than even coffee or hot chocolate. Especially when you haven't ventured out to the Walmart in a week and you're living out of the vending machine in the basement...

According to Dr Pepper's official Web site, hot Dr Pepper has been around much longer than Dr Pepper Hour:

Hot Dr Pepper was developed many years ago as a refreshing winter drink. Heat Dr Pepper in a saucepan to 180 degrees, place a thin slice of lemon in the bottom of a coffee mug or insulated cup, and pour the heated Dr Pepper over the lemon.

But this wasn't good enough. I wanted more information on how this winter treat originally came about, so I called the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco and spoke with Mary Beth Tate, collections manager for the museum.

"Dr Pepper is the only major soft drink that's had a successful hot campaign," she told me.

"They first came out with it in the early 1960s. The mascot for it was a little devil, and there's a that story goes along with it: A route salesman suggested it because it was so cold while delivering Dr Pepper in the winter months. Like a lot of legends, we don't really know if it's true."

Anecdotal evidence confirms that it was mostly a Dr Pepper invention, although it seems to have been around as a classic Texas treat since at least the 1950s, being served at events such as Little League games in the winter months.

And the many vintage ads for hot Dr Pepper seem to indicate that the Dr Pepper company itself invented the beverage as a cold-weather application for its soda, which I imagine most consumers weren't terribly interested in during the winter. During this time, the advertising slogan for Dr Pepper was "I like it! It's different!" And the hot-Dr Pepper campaign fit into this nicely, according to Tate: "The slogan was 'It's devilishly different.'" An edgy ad campaign from a Texas company back then, to be sure.

Advertisements and commercials for the drink reached their peak in the mid-1960s, and it seems as though hot Dr Pepper has been on a bit of a downhill slide since then, as most people I've mentioned it to have never heard of it.

Tate, who admitted that she was perhaps too close to the issue to say whether or not it had slid in popularity over the years, said that it was certainly still popular in Waco. "I'm so used to it being around," she said. "We serve it during the winter at our soda fountain, and it's still a holiday favorite in predominantly Southern families."

So let's revive an old classic this winter. Heat up some Dr Pepper on the stove, pour it in a mug over a lemon slice and enjoy. And since I'm not at Baylor anymore, I can tell you this: It also tastes great with a shot of bourbon.
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Top 10

SALT & STARCH
Houston's top 10 french fries.

Katharine Shilcutt

Guys. Hey, listen. We need to talk. It's about the annual Best of Houston® issue.

I think you know what you did. But the problem, you see, is that you keep doing the same thing almost every single year. Something has to change.

Y'all keep voting for McDonald's as "Best French Fries." Every. Single. Year.

It's honestly baffling. You have really good taste otherwise. And although I'll be the first to admit that I'm a sucker for McDonald's iced coffee (it's cheap and tasty!), the fries are simply nothing to write home about and haven't been great in a very, very, very long time.

So take a little while and think about it. You've got a whole year or so until the next Best of Houston® issue comes out. Sample some of the terrific selection of french fries we've rounded up for you below. Hey, I hear that even the sweet potato fries at Burger King are pretty damn good.

Just please stop with the freaking McDonald's fries.

10. Amazon Grill

I hadn't been to Amazon Grill in years until it was suggested to me by former EOW contributor John Kiely as his favorite place for fries. Lo and behold, the old restaurant on Kirby — which I hadn't visited since its remodel, which has bolder and more elegant colors along with some quirky decor touches reminiscent of big sister Américas — does indeed turn out a fine fry. The twiggy shoestring fries are even better when dipped into one of the three sauces found in abundance on Amazon Grill's plantain bar: creamy cilantro, garlicky chimichurri or a hopped-up ketchup.

9. Barnaby's

When it comes to waffle fries, Barnaby's can't be beat. Although the Waffle Fries with Blue Cheese Fondue normally comes assembled in a massive pile like a plate of nachos, I always order it "deconstructed." It's not that I'm fussy; it's that I like to make sure that every waffle fry has the perfect amount of blue cheese dipping sauce, blue cheese crumbles, crispy bacon bites and green onions. (Okay, maybe I'm a little fussy.)

8. Sammy's Wild Game Grill

Although the wild game burgers and hot dogs are often the star of the show here (along with the elk tacos — my God, the elk tacos), don't discount the fries. They come in two iterations here: one topped with python chili — yes, as in the snake — and one called simply "Wild Fries." Those are tossed with a fried egg, the yolk coating the fries, before being topped with cheese, bacon and chives. If you're like me, you'll make them extra wild with a healthy portion of Sammy's house-made ghost pepper sauce — and maybe even pick up a few bottles to take home.

7. MKT Bar

The thinny-thin french fries at MKT Bar arrive in a bowl large enough for a table of four to split, so beware. Unlike regular salted fries, MKT Bar's fries are seasoned with za'atar, the sumac-based Middle Eastern spice blend that features prominently in many of the popular downtown bar's dishes. You can even purchase some za'atar of your own next door at Phoenicia, the attached grocery store.

6. Harry's

Harry's feta-topped fries are quickly becoming a thing of legend for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they're just as popular an order at breakfast as they are at lunch. That's right: The fries are so good that Harry's patrons aren't even willing to wait until lunchtime to order them. It's not just the feta and parsley on top that makes the fries, though — it's Harry's sweet, creamy housemade honey mustard, which is essential for dipping the salty fries into.

5. Ibiza / The Tasting Room (tie)

The truffle-Parmesan fry is almost a genre unto itself now, but not every place that tries out this method gets it right. The two places in town to guarantee the best experience are Ibiza — one of the first places in town to offer this twist — and The Tasting Room, where I'm currently a fan of getting a cone of these fragrant fries with the calamari banh mi that comes with buttery fried squid inside a Slow Dough bun.

4. Bernie's Burger Bus / Flip 'n Patties (tie)

It's all about two things at these two food trucks, which offer the best fries found in a moving vehicle in Houston: hand-cut fries and condiments. In the case of Bernie's, the fries have found their perfect match in the truck's homemade ketchup (which was so sought after that it's now bottled separately by the Bus and sold at Revival Market). And at Filipino street food truck Flip 'n Patties, the irresistible fries are topped with a sweet mayonnaise, cilantro and two kinds of sesame seeds.

3. Jeannine's Bistro / Cafe Brussels (tie)

Of the Belgian joints in town, I actually prefer the mussels at Jeannine's Bistro as well as the homemade mayonnaise, although the frites themselves at Cafe Brussels are better — but only slightly, hence the tie. Still, the twice-fried frites at Jeannine's are nothing to scoff at and are especially delicious at lunch — that's when a nice portion of moules-frites is only $12. Catherine Duwez made amazing frites at The Broken Spoke, and now she's doing the same thing at her brand-new restaurant: Cafe Brussels. And — as with Café Rabelais and Jeannine's Bistro — the tangy housemade mayonnaise is an absolute must.

2. The Burger Guys

Two words: duck fat. The Burger Guys uses this unctuous oil to fry their Belgian-style fries twice, so the fries are piping-hot and crispy when they come out in their little paper-lined metal box. Like the fries at Little Bigs, they're even better when dipped into one of The Burger Guys' equally tremendous milkshakes. And now that the Guys are downtown, you have double the chance to try them out.

1. Hubcap Grill

Though known primarily for its innovative burgers (like the Sticky Monkey with peanut butter, bacon and grilled bananas), Hubcap Grill offers fries that can steal the show from the patties — which is why they were awarded Best Fries in this year's Best of Houston® issue. The Hell Fries, thin strips of deep-fried potato topped with jalapeños, cayenne and chile powders, and a Siracha mayonnaise, are (irony noted) heaven for those who want some serious spice with their starch. Pair them with a milder burger or eat them on their own; either way, you'll need a fork and some milk.
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Restaurant News

OPENINGS & CLOSINGS
The proof is in the...rooftop.

Katharine Shilcutt

I've long said that Houston doesn't have enough cool rooftop spaces, especially close to downtown. That's finally changing with the opening of two fun new spots... The first opened several weeks ago at the Houston Pavilions: the reincarnation of Scott Gertner's ­Skybar on Montrose, which is now — appropriately enough — called Scott Gertner's at the Houston Pavilions. But be warned, guys (and gals): Scott Gertner's doesn't allow any "Polo boots, Timberlands...ripped or soiled clothing...hats or caps of any kind." I have no idea what Polo boots are, but I feel compelled to buy some now purely for the sake of rebellion.

The second spot is Proof Bar + Patio, which recently opened in the space above Reef. In addition to the "custom cocktails" that Proof is shaking up (fresh juices included), you can also order appetizers from Reef downstairs. And when Reef closes at night, reports CultureMap, "Food trucks will drive up the ramp and onto the patio to serve after-hours customers." Both spots should be ideal places to take in the fireworks on December 31 and ring in the New Year.

Meanwhile, two new meat meccas will be opening soon: an upscale steakhouse and a casual burger joint.

That steakhouse comes from none other than Tony Vallone, whose talented team from Tony's is hard at work bringing Vallone's to the new development across the street from Memorial City Mall, Gateway Memorial City on Gessner.

"A partnership among executive chef Grant Gordon of Tony's, general manager Scott Sulma of Tony's and Ciao Bello, and others is opening Vallone's," read a press release. "The new Houston restaurant, scheduled to open Fall 2013, will have a 'technique-driven approach to steak, fish, chops, and housemade pastas.' Tony Vallone is consulting on the venture in collaboration with his two young 'dynamos,' as he likes to call them."

Watch out, Taste of Texas. You may have an attractive block of Cheddar on your salad bar, but Tony Vallone is busting out the big guns...

And just down the street, CityCentre is getting a new tenant of its own: Grub Burger Bar, a College Station import that's opening early next year. Grub bakes its buns fresh each hour and grinds its own burgers — a blend of brisket and chuck — each morning. Vegetarian and/or gluten-free? Don't worry; Grub is also known for its chickpea-and-eggplant burger as well as its GF buns from Taylor Made Gluten Free Bakery in Taylor, Texas.

After being sold to father-and-son team Michael and Chris Shine back in July, the newly revamped Frank's Chop House is ready for action. Now called Frank's Americana Revival & White Star Bar, the restaurant "embraces classic dishes from regions across the country, while lending an eye toward the cuisines of the future," according to its Web site. If you're looking for former owners Frank Crapitto or Frank Butera, they can still be found at Crapitto's and Mancuso's Italian Table respectively.

Finally, the Eatsie Boys Cafe had its soft opening last Thursday, December 13. The cafe's initial hours are 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and they're serving a full menu of breakfast and lunch. Check out Eating...Our Words for a full First Look at the place and its amazing matzoh ball pho. You heard right. Matzoh. Ball. Pho.

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