Here, Eat This

A beginner's guide to Nigerian cuisine.

5. Cafe TH

This revamped banh mi shop in EaDo is home to Houston's best front-of-house man, who also happens to be the owner and chef: Minh Nguyen. All you need to do to become a regular at Cafe TH is come for one meal; Nguyen will remember you ever after and greet you with a beaming smile every time thereafter. The man remembers to ask about your mother, your job, your car, your workout progress — anything that's important to you is important to him. He also has a habit of allowing customers to create dishes, then naming those dishes after their creators (see: Hala's Fried Chicken, Ironman Jay or Abby's Uncommon Combo).

4. Mandola's Deli

Grilled tilapia in pepper sauce at Finger Licking Bukateria.
Troy Fields
Grilled tilapia in pepper sauce at Finger Licking Bukateria.
Fufu, like this example at Suya Hut, is usually served in plastic wrap that keeps the dough moist and keeps the balls of fufu from sticking to each other.
Troy Fields
Fufu, like this example at Suya Hut, is usually served in plastic wrap that keeps the dough moist and keeps the balls of fufu from sticking to each other.

The 38-year-old Mandola's Deli is a more personal choice than any other on this list. Gregarious owner Frank Mandola reminds me so much of my grandfather in his heyday that I often go to the deli for dinner simply to listen to Frank greet every customer by name in his wonderfully thick Texas accent, tell a silly joke or two, and catch up with them as he works the cash register at this wholly family business. Wife Debbie mans the restaurant when Frank and son Joseph aren't on hand (as with a recent father-and-son trip to Italy for Joseph's 30th birthday, which Frank proudly boasted about one night to anyone who'd listen), and Frank's sister plates the deli's signature Wop Salad and spaghetti with meatballs. Keeping it in the family — and treating their customers like family, too — is par for the course with the Mandolas, whose cousins run many of Houston's most familiar and beloved restaurants.

3. Triniti

"Do you notice how you can't even make eye contact with the waiters without them coming over to check on you?" I once asked my dining companion during a review dinner at Triniti. "That's amazing." And yet the service never comes across as obsequious, stuffy or patronizing — a triumph in and of itself. You always feel welcome at Ryan Hildebrand's ambitious tribute to modern American cuisine, regardless of whether you're wearing shorts or the entire contents of the Versace store at the Galleria (I've seen both here). Hildebrand stocks his place with the best managers, bartenders and servers assembled from the best, most pedigreed restaurants across the city — and it shows in every service.

2. Laurenzo's

This Washington Avenue steakhouse is better known by now for a waiter who refused to serve a table after he heard them caustically remark on a fellow diner's child with Down syndrome: "Special-needs kids should be kept in special places." Although that waiter's moral code is admirable, I hope that it's not the only thing Laurenzo's is remembered for. Because all the service here is excellent. The clubhouse-y restaurant is a visual throwback to joints like the Houston's of yore, complete with the smart, friendly, expeditious service that typified those semi-upscale spots. In short, it's the service you'd ideally expect to accompany a really good prime rib and a bottle of wine. And if there were any questions about how seriously the Laurenzo family takes its service, check out the placard on each table that allows you to text the manager directly.

1. Uchi

The massive multisensory menu at Uchi can be intimidating — even to hard-core food lovers. Machi cure with yucca crisp and garlic brittle? Walu walu with yuzupon and myoga? It could all be a bit much if it weren't for Uchi's impeccable service, which is what netted it a Best of Houston® award for Best Service in 2012. With a waitstaff that knows the menu inside-out and blindfolded, you can allow your server to be your friendly sherpa while you navigate Houston's Mount Everest of restaurants. They'll even custom-design a dinner for you, allowing you to relax and enjoy the food. Not only is your server ready, willing and able to do all this — you'll come out of your dinner there with a wealth of knowledge and new experiences that far surpass the monetary value of just a plain old meal of sushi.

Restaurant News

Openings and Closings
Manly cupcakes can't cut it.

Katharine Shilcutt

How many Malaysian restaurants does it take to feed Houston? If you guessed two, you're correct. Proving that Houstonians like their Malaysian food in one single flavor — Banana Leaf flavor — newcomer Asam Laksa Malaysian closed last week in Chinatown. The closure could also have had something to do with the fact that Asam Laksa positioned itself directly in between the two virtually identical Banana Leafs that face each other on Bellaire Boulevard, but we'll never know for certain.

In other disappointing news, B4-U-Eat reports that Ranch Bakery has closed less than a year after opening. May 4 would have been Ranch Bakery's first birthday, which could have been celebrated with one of its signature "manly" baked goods made by an owner who was "fed up with girly cupcakes." With the Cypress bakery's closure, men will once again have to resort to demeaning their digestive systems with deplorably feminine cakes.

Elsewhere in manly news, patio bar The Dogwood is now open in Midtown. It's co-owned by brothers Brad and Chad Womack — you'll recognize Brad as a former "star" of "reality" TV show The Bachelor — and partner Jason Carrier, who assures Eater Houston that the bar will enforce a dubious-sounding "no douchebags" policy. One person's hipster is another person's street urchin; one person's douchebag is another person's dudebro.

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MadMac topcommenter

Jollof rice takes some effort to cook but it is worth it. Warning:  ADDICTIVE. Thanks, Ms. S this is fun.