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Eat the Grasshoppers at Hugo's

Soft chapulines tacos are a yummy surprise.

We're looking forward to the continued flow of ramen shops in 2014. Soon, Midtowners can enjoy the California-based Jinya Ramen Bar, while ninja enthusiasts can enjoy Washington Avenue's Ninja Ramen, a restaurant that, according to Eater Houston, plans on slinging top-notch ramen and offering discounts to people dressed as ninjas.

We have high hopes that these places will pan out and even adapt to our city's unique tastes with a few Houston-centric bowls. Crawfish ramen, anyone?

2. The Boom of Houston BBQ

The Juicy Lucy at Lowbrow is a fat, creamy, dreamy burger.
Kaitlin Steinberg
The Juicy Lucy at Lowbrow is a fat, creamy, dreamy burger.

We're sick and tired of Houston being snubbed on national Best Barbecue lists. In the past, even we have bought into the myth that Houston is not a "barbecue city," but the times they are a-changin'.

We're coming off the sellout of the first-ever Houston Barbecue Festival, the overdue recognition of favorites like Corkscrew BBQ and Gatlin's, and a couple of exciting restaurant openings and pop-ups.

Take Killen's BBQ, for example. Chef Ronnie Killen has vowed to put Houston on the map and, as he told Eater Houston, "overthrow Franklin from being the king of barbecue," with his soon-to-open barbecue joint. If the ultra-successful pop-up that he's been running up until the restaurant's opening is any indication, consider Houston recognized.

But we don't want the barbecue train to stop there. We are all aboard for 2014.

1. Kitchen Collaborations

From chefs and sommeliers to master brewers and food-truck crews, when the city's top culinary masterminds mash their minds, the result is nothing shy of genius.

This year, we saw chefs collaborating all over town. At pho pop-up Blacksmith by Night, Pho Binh By Night dished out specialties like pho ga kho, while Blacksmith baristas served up Vietnamese iced coffee and jasmine milk tea. During James Coney Island's (a.k.a JCI Grill) Show Dog series, we were treated to hot dogs created by the city's top chefs — like chef Monica Pope's Date with a Dog, a chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped kobe beef dog topped with date jam.

Even out-of-towners have joined the fun. At Underbelly's Food & Wine Best New Chef Collaboration Dinner, chefs Michael Hudman and Andy Ticer teamed up with chef Chris Shepherd to create an unforgettable meal, including a course dedicated to the late Feast, a dish of cassoulet beans, spicy sausage and boudin-stuffed duck necks.

Most recently, we proudly supported local chefs as they rallied to raise funds for My Dee Dee's Pie Shoppe, which burned down in late November.

And those are just a few of the collaborations this year has brought. In our opinion, this is one trend that should never end.

Other trends we are looking forward to? ­Vegetables as the star of the show; family-style menus; and the emphasis on sourcing locally, whether it be produce and poultry or artisan chocolate and craft brews.

Here's to 2014, Houston! We can't wait to see what's next.
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100 Favorite Dishes

Number 55
Juicy Lucy Burger at Lowbrow.

Kaitlin Steinberg

This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.

If you haven't been to Lowbrow, the new bar opened by Free Press Houston's Omar Afra, you need to get there. It opened softly back in October, and after some consulting from the Eatsie Boys' Matt Marcus, Rachel Merk stepped in to run the kitchen. Merk was previously at Liberty Kitchen before working in Denver and New Orleans and ultimately returning to Houston. Now she's hoping to make her mark with her own kitchen at Lowbrow.

I generally go to Lowbrow for a cocktail and end up staying long enough to get a major hankering for some of the hand-cut fries served with sambal mayo, but if you're in the mood for a meal, few things are better than the Juicy Lucy burger, filled with fontina and jalapeños.

I love me a fat little stuffed burger.

To make the Juicy Lucy, the chefs start with Longhorn beef, which is totally delicious on its own. I ordered a rare burger once (I've since come to the conclusion that they're best medium-rare), and the raw beef rivaled any tartare in town. But for the sake of getting that great burger char, order it a little more cooked than I did.

After a few minutes on the grill, the patty is topped with fried shallots and pickled shallots — two versions of the same vegetable that taste noticeably different. The fried shallots are crispy and almost sweet and a more expected burger topping than the pickled shallots, which are reminiscent of pickled onions and give the burger a vinegary bite.

Also adding to the slightly spicy flavor profile is the fresh arugula sprinkled on top of the meat. There's enough greenery on the burger that you can fool yourself into thinking it's healthy. Or at least that there are some redeeming qualities to the meal beyond just an awesome taste.

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