Best Of :: Food & Drink
In the Dun Huang Plaza off Bellaire Boulevard near Beltway 8, big, flashy neon signs are the rule rather than the exception. In the midst of it all sits Houston's best ramen house, and it's almost as invisible as Platform 9 3/4 from the Harry Potter books. The name in sedate white lettering above the door is not nearly as obvious as the crowds of people waiting for a seat, even on a Tuesday night. Inside, the atmosphere is a bit reminiscent of a gritty nighttime scene in Blade Runner. Benches are crowded with diners clasping their ramen bowls. A touch of smoke fills the air, the result of pork belly, gizzards and chicken skin being grilled to crisp perfection in the kitchen. While the yakitoris, or skewered items, are mindless fun, the ramen broth is a meditation on flavors, whether it be the creamy tonkotsu that takes hours to prepare or the sultry, salty undertow of the garlic and black bean rendition. Tiger Den is too fun and deliberately casual for a printed sake list, but there are always a well-chosen handful of good selections available.
READERS' CHOICE: Ninja Ramen
Classic comfort foods get a refresh at this hot Washington Ave bistro-market hybrid. The energized, urban vibe of the exposed brick and art-filled space makes its way into the menu through things like duck fat camper's hash, buttermilk beignets and fried chicken, and "3 Pig" truffled mac and cheese — that cheesy and gooey skillet loaded with smoked bacon, pancetta and honey-glazed ham just may be the epitome of comfort. But if you're still on edge, Urban Eats's laundry list of poutine-style frites and craveworthy signature sliders (featuring everything from the pot roast- and gravy-loaded Sunday Dinner slider to a Fried Green Tomato BLT) should help.
READERS' CHOICE: the breakfast klub
Life is too short to drink bad Bloody Marys. And if you're going to get your morning boost through tomato juice and vodka, you may as well tack on a crispy and tender fried chicken wing and beer backer, right? The peppery Big Ol' Bloody Mary at this packed-for-good-reason Heights haunt will give you just that. It'll also give you a perfectly tart, seriously spicy house mix and a foolproof cure for your hangover.
READERS' CHOICE: Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette
Though the cash-only spot has been around awhile — in various forms since 1941, to be exact — this isn't some tired cafeteria. The unassuming eatery brings in fresh farmers' market produce daily and has an inhouse butcher. It isn't your school cafeteria, either. Here, "hot lunch" means you're getting scratch-made chicken and dumplings with a side of beautifully charred Brussels sprouts, flaky poached salmon with tomato and feta salad, and bigger-than-your-head chicken-fried steak with gooey mac and cheese. Just save room for the daily baked bread pudding and lemon chess pies. Oh, and don't forget that cash.
This messy burger-slinging truck already had good grades on its report card, but when it turned brick-and-mortar last year, the king of beef earned honor roll status. And with air conditioning, plenty of seating and an expanded menu featuring things like salad, poutine fries and boozy milkshakes, it's the kind of place the entire family can get down with. Recess grilled cheese sandwiches and mini burgers are perfect for the little ones, while those with growing appetites can smash stacked burgers made with daily-ground Black Angus beef, addicting inhouse condiments, and buttery, scratch-made buns. Trust us — this is one time your family won't mind taking the school bus.
This greasy spoon next to Canino's Produce may be old school (you may get called "honey" or "darlin'"), but that just makes it taste all the better. The family-owned and operated diner has been keeping Houstonians happy and full since 1942. With new, self-proclaimed "comfort food" concepts popping up all over the city, it's reassuring to know that you can stop by old faithful to fill up on grade A diner classics. Head here for the huge and cheap breakfast plates, blue plate specials and a cream-gravy-smothered CFS just like your mawmaw made.