Best Of :: Food & Drink
Pho, or Vietnamese noodle soup, is available at just about every Vietnamese restaurant around town. What separates the good from the bad are the broth and the meats, and at Pho Dien, a tiny strip-mall hole in the wall on Bellaire Boulevard outside of Beltway 8, they are the reasons why discerning Vietnamese diners will line up outside the tiny restaurant on a Saturday afternoon. The broth here is rich and well seasoned, never too salty or too diluted, the essence of bones and spices evident with each slurp from the spoon. The rice noodles are of the fresh variety, with good elasticity to them. But it's the meat that's the star; their tai uop, or marinated carpaccio, is gossamer tender and flavorful. Order the dac biet specialty bowl with the tai uop on the side, which you can dip into the steaming broth to eat with each steaming spoonful of noodles, and you'll see why it's one of the best bowls of pho around town.
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.