Go West, Young Man

The top 10 restaurants in Westchase.

Top 10

Westchase — for its relatively small boundaries — is a poster child for the breadth of ethnic cuisines available in Houston. Far from simply an area saturated with mid-rise office buildings and chain restaurants, it's also a microcosm of the BayouCity.

The neighborhood offers Cajun, Persian, Bosnian, Argentinean, French, Vietnamese, Spanish, Cajun, German, Mexican, British, Japanese, Portuguese, Brazilian and much, much more...if you just know where to look.

The Burger Guys offer mind-boggling burgers.
Troy Fields
The Burger Guys offer mind-boggling burgers.
Sean Beck of Backstreet Cafe and Hugo's.
Paula Murphy
Sean Beck of Backstreet Cafe and Hugo's.

Honorable mentions:

Suzy Wong's for its spicy Sichuan dishes, Churrasco's for its South American pedigree and sheer longevity, Loving Hut for its radical vegan specialties, The Seafood Shoppe for its lip-­burning batches of crawfish, The Bull & Bear for its well-pulled pints and cottage pies, and Rudi Lechner's (although it's slightly outside the boundaries) for its schnitzel and sauerkraut.

10. Bistro Le Cep

This charming French bistro can be a bit long on the long-in-the-tooth crowd — think Luby's at 4 p.m. but upscale — although the food isn't entirely reflective of the crowd. It's charmingly old-school, always fresh and consistently delicious. My favorite dishes here include the pan-roasted calf's liver with apples, bacon and potatoes and the coq au vin that's ideal on a cold day.

9. Marini's Empanada House

You can go all-authentic at Marini's and stick to Argentinean classics like humita and beef "gaucho," complete with hard-boiled eggs and olives tucked inside the flaky dough. Or you can pick from Marini's wide, wild menu of fusion empanadas: Hawaiian, eggplant parmigiana, English or even Texas barbecue. Either way, the empanadas are consistently great.

8. Rioja

One of the city's best Spanish restaurants is outside the Loop — way outside the Loop. But the trip to this oddly located paradise is entirely worth it. While the paella here is very good (not stupendous, but better than you'll get anywhere else in town), the real treat is the tapas menu. On weekdays, Rioja offers a phenomenal lunch deal: three tapas for $13.95. The patatas bravas and the jamón serrano will make you feel as if you're right back on the Costa Blanca.

7. Kasra Persian Grill

There are some who argue that this Persian palace has the best hummus in town — a bold claim to make in a city so filled with excellent Mediterranean restaurants. The only way to be sure is to go and judge it for yourself. And while you're there, familiarize yourself with the intriguing bounty of Persian cuisine like khorake bademjan — slow-cooked lamb shank in a sauce of tomatoes, onions and sour grapes — or kubideh, a meat-lover's dream.

6. Manena's

One of the few Argentinean restaurants in town and arguably one of the most authentic, Manena's serves breakfast, lunch and early dinner to Houston's small Argentinean expat community and those lucky enough to stumble upon the little cafe. We recommend the extraordinary empanadas, which make a filling meal any time of day, or the milanesa sandwich. And don't forget to grab a few delicacies from the well-stocked pastry case before you go: Alfajores are a house specialty here.

5. Rio Ranch

Just because it's attached to a hotel — in this case, the Westchase Hilton — is no reason to think less of Rio Ranch. This restaurant can hold its own and has done so for nearly two decades. A Robert del Grande concept from the beginning, Rio Ranch has been shepherded expertly since 1993 by its longtime chef, San Hemwattikit, who puts together a gorgeous (and well-attended) brunch buffet on the weekends and serves classics like buttermilk-fried chicken and cowboy-cut rib eyes at dinner.

4. Pho One

The 2009 Best of Houston® winner for Best Pho, this unassuming little Vietnamese restaurant (which shares the same red awninged strip center as Bistro Le Cep) is long on both service and great food. The pho here is made from the same recipe as the famous soup at Pho Tau Bay back in Saigon. Why? Because the owners are the grandchildren of famous pho restauranteur Y Van Vu. Not that pho is the restaurant's only selling point — it offers delicious bun and com dia as well.

3. Arpi's Phoenicia Deli

The opening of Arpi's represented the next step for the visionary Tcholakian family, who founded the original Phoenicia Deli on what was then a quiet stretch of Westheimer in 1983. At Arpi's, the Tcholakians will change the way you think about cafeteria lines, with wonderfully fresh and healthy options served in an array of sizes — it's basically a giant mezze platter, with all the vivid flavors and scents that accompany the Middle Eastern cuisine. And on the non-cafeteria side of the restaurant, relax with an espresso and a cup of gelato after your meal.

2. Cafe Pita +

Bosnian cuisine is an interesting confluence of Mediterranean cooking and Central/Eastern European influence. As such, you'll find dishes here that seem oddly familiar, such as the enormous burek that resembles spanakopita on steroids. But the best items are the succulent meat dishes such as the burger-like plejskavice (especially when stuffed with cheese) and the fat little sausages called evapi. After one meal, you'll ponder why it's taken you so long to try Bosnian food. And you'll never look back.

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