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The Dan Marino Restaurants

The 13 restaurants that nearly made our 30 essential Texas restaurants list.

6. Relish Fine Foods

If you like Central Market but hate the parking, you'll love Relish Fine Foods — especially since it's located right down the street from the grocery giant. The vibe at Relish is very similar: part grocery store with high-end goods and local products such as Slow Dough bread and Way Back When milk, part ready-made foods you can eat at Relish or on the go. An assortment of gourmet soups, salads and sandwiches are all made with local ingredients and change with the seasons, but not all is light here: Check out the Rice Krispies treats made with brown butter or the salted caramel brownies from Relish's in-house pastry chef.

5. Américas

Brennan's is notable for serving Creole classics in a refined, dignified setting.
Troy Fields
Brennan's is notable for serving Creole classics in a refined, dignified setting.
Our winning salad at McDonald's. (Wouldn't you rather see this picture than the fluffed-up one on McDonald's Web site?)
Photo by Morton Fox
Our winning salad at McDonald's. (Wouldn't you rather see this picture than the fluffed-up one on McDonald's Web site?)

Américas is the restaurant responsible — along with its owners, the Cordúa family — for first introducing Houston to South American cuisine. As with its sister restaurant, Churrascos, the menu has barely changed since Américas' inception on Post Oak Boulevard (which is now closed). The only real difference at the River Oaks buildout is the rather insane interior: a mishmash of Aeon Flux and The Lion King staged on Broadway, as envisioned by Tim Burton's Beetlejuice. (Compare this with the old Post Oak location's aesthetic of "Dr. Seuss on acid," however, and the dining room seems right on track.) Stick with classics like the churrasco steak or the smoky crab claws, and try not to stare — at the enormous booths or the socialites packed into them.

4. Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

We gave Giacomo's a Best of Houston® award for Best Date Night in 2011, and that sentiment still stands. You get a lot of bang for your buck at Lynette Hawkins's cozy, romantic bistro on a quiet stretch of Westheimer thanks to a clever menu that encourages sharing of small, smartly priced plates of Italian classics: eggplant involtini, spaghetti carbonara, swiss chard crepes and more. The wine list is just as affordable as the menu, and there's even a cute wine bar in which to enjoy it.

3. Mockingbird Bistro

Mockingbird Bistro is so sequestered in a little neighborhood south of West Gray, finding your way back can sometimes feel like searching out Brigadoon in the mists. But this is just part of the charm at John Sheely's funky neighborhood cafe, which has been serving what seems like the same rotation of patrons for the last 11 years. Sheely, along with talented sous chef Jose Luis Vela, packs them in at lunch and dinner every day with a solid and well-executed menu of bistro classics: foie gras, onion soup, roasted chicken, steak frites and and an Old World-heavy wine list. While over-the-top burgers like the $32 foie-topped Wagyu burger hold court at night, happy hour is a less expensive time to visit and indulge in $5 bar bites, cocktails, wines and beer.

2. Backstreet Cafe

Backstreet Cafe hasn't changed all that much since we awarded it Best Brunch back in 2004, but that's why we like it. The classic River Oaks restaurant is the oldest of Tracy Vaught and Hugo Ortega's restaurants — tucked into every nook and cranny of a century-old house, including its lush backyard — and has run smoothly for years precisely because of that consistency. The menu doesn't stagnate, but does continue to offer old favorites like gingerbread waffles and perfect eggs Benedict over cheddar-chive biscuits for brunch. The service — including longtime sommelier Sean Beck — has remained consistently excellent, too, guaranteeing that pretty much every meal at Backstreet will be a success.

1. Brasserie 19

A River Oaks playground for Houston's rich and famous, Brasserie 19 nevertheless has the food to match the crowds and the hype, turning out classic French and Belgian staples like steak frites and cassoulet alongside an impressive list of beers, wines and cocktails to match. Executive chef Amanda McGraw has also begun to branch out into more modern daily specials such as a 63-degree over parmesan custard and pickled shrimp with smoked crème fraîche — all of which have been equally well-received. The sleek, marble-topped bar is the place to be if you're young and single, while the restaurant's main floor is a gathering point for socialites and food-lovers alike. The egalitarian patio is the most pleasant spot to dine, however, with far less noise and a pretty view of the brightly lit River Oaks Theatre marquee across West Gray.
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Restaurant News

Openings and Closings
Backstreet is back, plus craft beer-based grub gets wheels.

Katharine Shilcutt

Last week was quiet; this week has some talking to do — starting with news that David Grossman will be closing out at Branch Water Tavern and taking the restaurant's name with him when he does. The restaurant itself will remain open under a new name and new ownership, reports Greg Morago at the Houston Chronicle, and Grossman hopes to reopen Branch Water Tavern in another venue at a later date.

"Grossman said Matt Brice, of Bistro Des Amis in Rice Village, is the new lessee of the Branch Water Tavern space," writes Morago. "It is not known what type of restaurant he will operate there or what it will be named."

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