Best of Houston®

Best Of 2009

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Mexican Restaurant
Tampico Seafood & Cocina Mexicana
Photo by Jeff Balke

There are a lot of Mexican restaurants in Texas, but there aren't a lot of ostionerías, or Mexican oyster bars, outside of Houston. And since seafood is what makes the food in Houston great, we figured it was about time to recognize our favorite ostionería, Tampico on Airline. Named after the seaside city on the Gulf Coast, this oyster bar and grill has brought the best of Mexico's seafood traditions to the North side. You never have to wonder what kind of fish you are eating here — you buy a whole fish from the bed of ice and pay for it by the pound. The cocteles are schooners full of shrimp, octopus and raw oysters mixed up with lime juice, onions, tomatoes, avocado pieces and cilantro in a ketchup-based cocktail sauce. To eat them Mexican style, add hot pepper sauce, then scoop some seafood onto a saltine cracker. Great with a michelada.

2115 Airline, Houston, 77009
MAP
713-862-8425
Best Pho
Pho One

The name of the restaurant is a wordplay on owner Kim Oanh Vu's middle name. Vu comes from a famous pho family. Her father, Y Van Vu, opened one of the most famous noodle shops in Saigon in the 1960s — it was called Pho Tau Bay. In 1975, the year that Saigon fell, Y Van Vu and his six kids moved to the U.S. The family opened a noodle shop in Gretna outside of New Orleans which they proudly named Pho Tau Bay. The business took off and the Vu family opened more Pho Tau Bays, and then Katrina hit. All of the restaurants were closed, and the family evacuated. Kim Oanh Vu and her husband decided to stay in Houston and open a noodle shop here, but the name Pho Tau Bay was already taken in Houston. Pho One hasn't achieved the kind of fame that Pho Tau Bay had in Saigon or New Orleans. But the pho is made according to grandfather Vu's exacting recipe, and the beef broth is especially good. Try the beef soup (pho), the vermicelli salads and the flat noodles.

11148 Westheimer Rd., Houston, 77042
MAP
713-917-0351
Best Atmosphere
Carter & Cooley

The appeal of longtime Heights sandwich shop Carter & Cooley isn't only in its Bentwood chairs and pressed-tin ceiling, or in the highly polished wood floors and antique scales used to weigh fresh deli meat – it's in the entire neighborhood. The little shop that was once a drugstore has been as lovingly restored as the rest of 19th Street, an effort that has re-created a bustling main street in the city's oldest "suburb." For the last 20 years, owner Neil Sackheim has tended to the building — which was erected in 1921 — as if it were his own child, and it shows in the positive energy and sense of history one feels when noshing on a honey ham and brie or corned beef sandwich.

375 W. 19th St., Houston, 77008
MAP
713-864-3354
Best Beer Selection
Petrol Station Coffeehouse

Don't let the name fool you: The Petrol Station serves much more than just coffee. And although you can get a fine cuppa here, the beer selection is what makes the Petrol Station special. You won't find Bud Light, but you will find a limited yet remarkable selection of cask ales and locally brewed beers. And they know their stuff, too: On a recent visit, the knowledgeable bartender responded to a request for a "fiercely hoppy beer" with a freshly drawn pint of fragrant and snappy Avery cask-conditioned India Pale Ale. Despite the presence of far too many little ones underfoot at times (after all, this is a neighborhood watering hole), the Petrol Station is a hidden gem of a place where you can relax, grab a bite to eat and be dazzled by a new beer each time you go.

985 Wakefield, Houston, 77018
MAP
713-957-2875
Best Bloody Mary
Cadillac Bar

It's hard to beat the Bloody Marys at the Cadillac Bar on Shepherd — that's because you make them yourself. The Bloody Mary bar is set up during the Cadillac's elaborate Sunday Brunch buffet. The bartender pours some vodka over the rocks and hands you the glass; then you walk over to the most ornate do-it-yourself Bloody Mary bar you've ever seen. Choose from several varieties of tomato juice cocktail. There's some celery stalks, sure, but there's also pickled okra, baby corn, olives, cocktail onions and more. There's pickled peppers, fresh peppers, bottled pepper sauces, Worcestershire, celery salt, lemon and limes too. In fact, the only important ingredient missing from the line-up is horseradish. Horseradish isn't Tex-Mex, the bartender says. If you think horseradish is critical to a perfect Bloody Mary, you better bring your own.

1802 Shepherd, Houston, 77007
MAP
713-862-2020
Best BLT Sandwich
Dacapo's Pastry Cafe
Photo by Jeff Balke

A pastry cafe with the best BLT? Really? Yes, really. The folks at Dacapo's may specialize in sweets, but they certainly kick butt when it comes to savory sandwiches. Piled high on toasted whole wheat bread is the perfect slathering of mayo, lettuce, thick-cut sliced tomatoes and bacon so perfectly cooked — crispy yet full of fat and salty flavor — you'll want to rush into the kitchen to get a peek at just how they do it. Add a pickle and a cup of homemade potato salad, and it's easy to understand why lunchtime at Dacapo's resembles the running of the bulls. Best to order ahead.

1141 E. 11th St., Houston, 77009
MAP
713-869-9141
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Best Mexican Restaurant: Tampico Seafood & Cocina Mexicana

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