Best Of :: Food & Drink
The happy hour scene at Benjy's on Washington is always hopping, and with good reason. What draws the crowd is not just the consistently excellent cocktails but the unbelievably priced bar menu, where a myriad of dishes can be had for a mere $5. The menu changes, but standouts have been the Asian dumplings served on a tangy slaw, chicken and pine nut pizza with truffle oil, crispy salmon mini-tacos, and beef arepas. The food is delicious, and though service is a bit harried because it's so busy, your food is always served with a smile. If only all happy hours were this good.
Los Dos Amigos holds court with other old souls Wabash Feed Store, Guadalajara Bakery and Laredo Taqueria as reminders of Washington Avenue's not-so-distant past, and it's held on this long for good reason: The food, especially the enchiladas, seems to get better the longer Los Dos sticks around. And the gooey, surprisingly greaseless cheese enchiladas with a fried egg on top are the best dish here, available on the dinner menu even though most people order them for breakfast. Kicked up with a shot of the vinegar-based red sauce on each table, these enchiladas are truly the breakfast of champions.
The tequila selection alone at Hugo's — more than 40 choices, counting its bottles of mezcal — should indicate that you're in for a serious cocktail at this Mexican favorite. Sommelier Sean Beck dreams up exciting twists on the classic cocktail, like El Sueño Profundo with smoky mezcal, but it's the standard Hugorita for $7.50 that we like best. Created with Sauza Silver, Hiram Walker Triple Sec, simple syrup and fresh lime juice, it's mixed tableside. We also love the Y Porque No margarita for only $5 during its weekday happy hours.
One could argue that the real people-watching goes down in the valet drive that's shared by Philippe and its next door neighbor, RDG + Bar Annie. But the younger set always makes its way up Philippe's grand staircase, and that's where the pretty young thing-watching commences. Celebrities both local and national — think Robert Kardashian and Carolyn Farb — love this little slice of glitz and glamour in Houston, and especially love being seen with its handsome chef, the eponymous Philippe Schmit. But even regular schmoes like us can enjoy Philippe, too; the French-Texan menu is surprisingly affordable, as is its excellent wine list.
Southwestern cuisine stopped being hip in Houston somewhere around Cafe Annie's millionth year in existence, long before its closure last year. So imagine our surprise when TQLA swooped in with Southwestern vet Tommy Birdwell at the helm and made it cool again. (Of course, having 167 different varieties of tequila, many of them on tap, doesn't hurt either.) The updated Southwestern cuisine here incorporates Tex-Mex influences as well as our own Gulf Coast cuisine, and the result is a fresh, lively menu that features excellent dishes such as crawfish corncakes with lime butter and blue corn-fried oysters with chorizo cream.
The best salad in town at a place best known as a palace to pork, a monument to meat? Yes. And that's because Stella Sola treats its vegetables with as much care and love as it does its many proteins. The Dal Giardino salad — which translates to "from the garden" in Italian — epitomizes this attitude toward showcasing fresh, local produce. Seasonal lettuce and other vegetables, like curling tendrils of watercress, mingle with pickled carrots in a Meyer lemon vinaigrette that sings brightly through the greens. Its crowning glory? A farm-fresh poached egg, whose orange yolk mixes with the vinaigrette to create a pitch-perfect dressing.