Best Of :: Food & Drink
Express Grocery and Deli Don't look for red-checkered tablecloths or "Mom's Home Cooking" signs at the Express Grocery and Deli -- the family feeling runs far deeper than that at this delightful quick-order grill and convenience store in a corner of the Houston House apartments. Mike Baba set up shop here nearly two decades ago, weathering the then-desolate downtown area with the same genuine good cheer he dispenses to the expanding base of eclectic and ever-loyal customers. His longtime cook Margaret -- as well as his cousins, son and daughter, who work there too -- serve up respectable meals with good vibes and home-style charm.
Byzantio Cafe Ilias Giannakopoulos gutted his house on West Gray to make room for the European flourishes omnipresent in this hip new cafe, where he and partner Dora Manolopoulos keep the Greek tradition of hospitality alive day after day. Inside you'll find a smorgasbord of Hellenic delights: stuffed grape leaves, fresh olives, sliced meats and feta, feta, feta. But it ain't the food that makes Byzantio the best new cafe; it's the atmosphere, where wood meets stone meets some random Greek guy yelling about something. Welcome to Europe in the middle of the Montrose. The place changes faces once the sun goes down; the music starts pumping, and maybe, just maybe, the patrons start dancing on the bar. Hey, it's a Greek thing.
Cafe Brasil The perfect microcosm of Montrose, Cafe Brasil does it all. It has great ambience, a lively, diverse crowd and surprisingly good food. The scones, baked on-site every morning, are miracles of flaky, buttery deliciousness. It's one of the few places in town where you can order an inexpensive, top-notch salad, and the beer flows as freely as the coffee. Housed in an old brick storefront with vintage windows, Brasil hosts wooden tables brimming with professors, chat groups and mysterious, bearded bohemians. The lime-green walls, leafy patio and chic blue tile-work of the bar give the place a classy, vaguely Latin American feel. On certain nights, Brasil even screens classic and foreign films. But don't let the cosmopolitan trappings fool you: One taste of the eggs and crawfish étouffée, and you'll agree this popular hangout is a Bayou City classic.
Da Marco You'll get the best pizza and pasta dishes in the city at this intimate and unassuming little Montrose restaurant. And you'll also find cutting-edge fare such as tuna tartare salad and an appetizer of cold lamb's-tongue slices served with the Tuscan mustard-brined fruits known as mostarda. Some of the unusual varieties of fish, such as the branzino (Italian sea bass) are jet-flown in from Italy. Chef Marco Wiles strives to offer Houstonians the same kind of new Italian cuisine that Food Network boy wonder Mario Batali serves at Babbo, one of New York's favorite restaurants. The wine list is just as innovative as the food, with lots of crisp Proseccos and unusual Piedmont reds. Daily specials take advantage of local seasonal ingredients, such as the fresh fig compote with gelato. And the service is exceptionally well informed, attentive and cordial -- unless you ask for spaghetti and meatballs.
Becks Prime If you really want your burger your way -- say, mooing on the inside, black on the outside -- this is your place. Huge juicy beef patties -- made with a half-pound of mesquite-grilled, ground chuck -- as well as fresh toppings make this one of the best burgers in town. Thick fries and forget-the-diet milk shakes complete the experience. Pricey, yes, and don't expect to drive through too quickly. The folks at Becks Prime may think they're a fast-food place, but the meals are mouthwatering, and that takes a little time. Feel like being healthy? The grilled chicken sandwiches are great. And where else can you grab a steak or swordfish sandwich without getting out of your car?
Captain Benny's Half Shell Oyster Bar This small tugboat-shaped eatery, nestled almost out of sight off South Main, is a happy docking place for a diverse array of diners with a lust for crustaceans and other fare from la mer. Folks know that if it's fried or on the half-shell, it's fresh. And just a glance at the clientele proves there's a seafood fan in all of us: A diverse group of patrons converges here. You'll find folks in Sunday-go-to-meetin' duds, business suits, punk dos and tattoos, all united by their love for Captain Benny's seafood. And the management recently added broiled entrées to the lineup, so health-minded customers have been showing up in their gym clothes, too.