Best Of :: Food & Drink
In the same strip center as a Conoco gas station, on a block full of car repair shops and import stores, Casablanca hides behind a narrow wall of shiny windows, reflecting southwest Houston's grunge. But step inside, and the bleak atmosphere gives way to cheerful walls of tangerine and lime. This is probably Houston's best-kept Mediterranean secret -- a redoubt of conviviality where well-dressed Moroccans quaff shot glasses of mint tea, speak French around tile-inlaid tables and watch Arab-language television. But, just as important, Casablanca serves as a bastion of cooking good enough to make an Atlas grandma weep. Everything is fresh -- so fresh, in fact, that by late evening the cook often scratches half the dishes off the menu. Try the lamb tagine with saffron sauce ($6.99), in which a rich broth infuses a perfectly roasted lamb shank and an apron of potatoes, peas, black olives and caramelized onions. Other dishes faithfully incorporate traditional green olives, pickled lemon halves, manioc and yams. The moist couscous, infused with meat stock, butter and cumin, is excellent. Try it with a marinated meat or the delightful merguez, the best Moroccan sausage you'll find in the city.
You walk through the door, and no one seems particularly glad you came. You stare at all the amazing choices on the menu while they wait and sigh. You ask for pepper steak, and they give you meatballs. You ask for macaroni, and they say, "Yams it is!" But because they're the undisputed champ, and because any item you end up with from the This Is It! menu is going to be the best soul food in Houston, hands down, we'll grant them a little arrogance. Just be sure to pile on the gravy.
Whether you're fulla bull or not, if you want to feel fulla beef, no place satisfies like Hickory Hollow. Offering three sizes of the national steak of Texas, the Hollow has a plate suited for every appetite. The Plowman's Meal is described as "jest right fer lunch," but it's so large that almost any man will be forced to unbutton the top of his jeans. The Hired Hand's Meal claims to be "big enuf fer a Texan." Sure -- a fat Texan. The Rancher's Meal boasts of being "bigger'n a saddle blanket." And it dang near is. And at $10.95 for the enormous mass of battered, cubed steak with "river bottom gravy," plus a trip to the salad bar and mashed 'taters or fries, you can afford a real blanket to keep you warm while yer hospitalized from the heart attack it'll give ya. All sizes of delicious fried beef pass quality control: No need for a knife to cut the golden-brown meat; the ratio of beef-to-batter is perfect; and the color of the meat (light brown with a hint of pink) demonstrates that the Lone Star delicacy is cooked precisely.
More than just a Tex-Mex joint, Felix's is a historic local landmark, serving up enchiladas and margaritas to Houstonians for nearly sixty years. And when Felix Jr. announced that the place would be closing its doors and shutting down for good, there was an overwhelming response from people all over the city who couldn't bear to live without this Montrose staple. And then what happened? Nothing. Like Ozzy Osbourne and every furniture store this side of the Rio Grande, Felix's pulled a miraculous recovery and decided against retirement.
The Hershey's chocolate milk shake at Becks Prime is the epitome of what a milk shake should be: thick, extra-creamy and ice cold. It's so thick that you can't possibly drink it through a straw -- that's why they provide a spoon with every order. The creaminess and unbelievable mouth feel come from the high-butterfat soft-serve ice cream Becks uses as the base. About three quarters of the way through filling the cup with ice cream, the soda jerks squirt in a heavy dose of Hershey's chocolate syrup, give it a good whirl on the mixer and then fill the cup with even more ice cream, until it runs over the top. Another whirl at the mixer, and it's ready for you to take your first mouthful and experience what ice cold liquid chocolate tastes like. The servers are used to patrons standing in front of them moaning in ecstasy. It happens all the time.
Houston's Spanish-speaking community includes a great many people from El Salvador. If you need verification, just look for a pickup ftbol game at Hermann Park or hit a pupuseria, the Salvadoran answer to the taqueria. El Pupusdromo is easily the most successful Salvadoran chain in town, and with good reason: The pupusas, thick corn tortillas stuffed with refried beans, chicharrones (pork cracklings), cheese or any combination thereof, are made fresh and delicious. And at $1.50 each, all you need do is spoon on some cortido (spicy pickled cabbage and carrots) and you're in highly affordable heaven. The many and varied dishes offer an authentic taste of this Central American culture. Salcipon (diced beef stew with onions and mint), camarones a la criolla (shrimp with sauted onions and peppers), sopa de mondongo (beef foot and tripe soup) and tropical breakfasts with pltanos refritos y crema (fried plantains and a type of crme frache) will transport you far south of the border.