Best Of :: Food & Drink
It was bound to happen. Ciao Bello, the younger sibling of River Oaks staple Tony's, just needed some time to rise to its full potential. This year, it's turning out the kind of food that people talk about, return for, tweet about and remember. Under Executive Chef Bobby Matos, a simple burrata salad of grilled peaches and arugula is amazing. Braised beef cheeks are so tender that you need nothing but a fork to enjoy the richly flavored meat. The pastas, made from the same "00" flour and imported Italian water as those at big brother Tony's, are just a joy to taste and sample, from the house special pappardelle bolognese and the buttery rich mezzi rigatoni amatriaciana to the sinfully creamy and delectable plush pillows of summer corn pansoti. Impressively large and impossibly thin pizzas never disappoint, either, and the wine list, curated by beverage director Scott Sulma, is approachable and extremely drinkable. And then there are the desserts, like the incredible house-made carrot cake or the light-as-a-feather buttermilk panna cotta topped with blackberry and sage conserva. Just about everything at Ciao Bello is a delight, including the sparkler-topped ice cream cake that will arrive miraculously at the table whenever it's someone's birthday.
No neighborhood Vietnamese spot is complete without some amazing banh mi...and Cafe TH has just that. The cozy cafe's trademark sandwiches are just as vibrant as Houston's favorite front-house man, chef and owner Minh Nguyen. While the crusty, freshly baked baguettes that Nguyen sources are almost reason enough to try a sandwich, it's the perfectly executed fillings, both traditional and non, that truly take his banh mi to the next level. Come in for the classic xiu mai, with luscious pork meatballs and French butter, or the "Heart Throb," made with double pork, double chicken, two eggs and bacon. Or if you're of the more daring variety, try the Zombie Banh Mi, made with, well, everything.
Piola is one of those spots that are fun and hip yet comfortable. You can come here with your family or friends or by yourself when you're in a hurry. Primarily a pizza joint, this is not your run-of-the-mill fast-food pizza but true Neopolitan-style thin-crust pizza made from recipes handed down by masters in Italy. The classic margherita, with nothing more than fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, is always superb. Pizzas like the Capricciosa, with ham, sautéed mushrooms and artichokes, are subtle but fantastic as well. Many pizzas are named after cities: Firenze (Florence) comes with porcini mushrooms and sausage; Napoli comes with anchovies and olives; Brooklyn with chicken breast and gorgonzola; and Houston with jalapeños, fresh avocado and diced tomatoes. The happy hour is one of the best in town, with discounted pizzas and drinks, and free finger foods are passed out at the bar. But the great thing about Piola, the reason it's such a great neighborhood spot, is that it encourages community. Language students gather monthly to practice Italian. Gnocchi day is celebrated on the 29th of every month. The pizzas are also light enough that you can eat them regularly without the guilt — perfect for takeout on your way home from work.
If you're going to start your Saturday with a doughnut, Revival Market's fried delights are the way to go. The grocer's upscale creations include flavors like Meyer Lemon & Sour Cream-Filled, Valhrona Chocolate & Malted Milk, and Apple Pecan. The doughnuts are a perfect marriage of delicateness and decadence. The only problem is that Revival bakes them only on occasional Saturdays. But that just makes them taste all the sweeter.
El Rey is not your typical fast-food joint. Sure, the food comes out fast, but what we have here is a full-fledged Mexican-Cuban restaurant. Where else can you pick up a succulent, golden-skinned rotisserie chicken and a three-taco meal, complete with Mexican rice and pork-laced charro beans, at a drive-through window? Not to mention, they do breakfast. Drive-through Cuban coffee, anyone?
Every time you visit Niko Niko's, you quickly realize you're not the only one who had the same idea. This Greek restaurant is always packed with loyal customers trying to satisfy their gyro and falafel cravings. There's nothing fancy about this family-owned place, and there doesn't need to be. Whatever you order, whether it's the lamb shank, the Greek salad, or a chopped lamb and beef gyro sandwich, you know you'll get the same quality and flavor each time.