10 Excellent Casual Gems in Garden Oaks/Oak Forest

Garden Oaks and Oak Forest — GOOF as the area is sometimes lovingly referred to — has been changing quite a bit recently when it comes to its options for dining out. The area has long been regarded as the home to some of Houston's most essential restaurants, arguably the best Shipley in town, the Barbecue Inn, Roznovsky's and Doyle's, just to name a few. Newer standbys, including Plonk, Little Bitty Burger Barn, Cottonwood, Shepherd Park Draft House and Pink's, have been serving the neighborhood well for years now.

It's the type of laid-back area of town that's a refreshing break from the Loop, what with its endless valet parking and zoo-like nightlife scenes on the weekends. It is the land of chill.

With the intersection of 34th and Ella also slated to have two new developments erected in the coming year, even more new eateries will be heading to the neighborhood. At least one is known right now — Pop + Pan — a new iteration of the beloved Popcorn and Panini shop that will feature specialty popcorn, paninis, small plates, drinks and more.

This is by no means a complete overview of every cool and casual spot in the area, but these are ten no-fail eateries that the Houston Press can totally stand behind, perfect for a variety of situations, whether you’re in search of a great coffee, breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, a stiff drink, or an outing with the family. If you haven't ventured to Garden Oaks or Oak Forest lately, here are ten great spots that are beckoning.

Petrol Station has covered seating out front and a huge backyard and deck as well.EXPAND
Petrol Station has covered seating out front and a huge backyard and deck as well.
Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp

Petrol Station, 985 Wakefield

A fantastic selection of beer on draft. Giant, juicy burgers. A huge and incredible Reuben. Warm pretzels with creamy cheese dip. Outdoor seating for days. Such are the perks of this low key but often hopping bar inside a former gas station, tucked into a quiet neighborhood. The bar regularly taps kegs of coveted beers along with favorites including California-based Lagunitas, Michigan gem Founders and Texas go-tos Saint Arnold, Southern Star and Brash. But beer novices need not fear, the menu is divided up to accommodate newbies, intermediate and expert-level beer drinkers. Plus, you can always ask the bartenders to guide you in the right direction flavor-wise.

Weekend warriors can also get their fill of the food menu at lunch (the bar opens at 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays), and many will be happy to know there's some great non-beer drink options, including one of the best sparkling lemonades of all time, Fentimans Rose Lemonade. If you're ever had it, you know the magic that resides inside that glass bottle.

White Sangria goes down easy on a hot evening at SassafrasEXPAND
White Sangria goes down easy on a hot evening at Sassafras
Photo by Gwendolyn Knapp

Sassafras, 5022 Pinemont

From its nonchalant locale — in an industrial-style metal shed behind a large metal fence in the mix of many a warehouse on Pinemont — to its charming staff and ambience, Sassafras is a great hidden gem of a bar, and talk about a great steak night.

On Mondays, $20 gets you a plate of incredible flat-iron or rib-eye steak ($15 for chicken), perfectly cooked by resident chef Mickey on a grill out front, along with two sides and a roll. As for the drinks, the house sangria is a neighborhood favorite, with the white variation offering up a sweet and bubbly respite form the heat (with a large splash of bubbly and loads of fresh fruit). 

Don’t forget to take in the bar’s special ode to Oak Forest native and Waltrip High School graduate, dearly departed actor Patrick Swayze, who is commemorated via a fancy plush pillow and a pretty radical painting on the wall — Saint Swayze does in fact watch over this roadhouse, y'all. Ample outdoor seating and a great jukebox also add to the appeal.

MytiBurger is a Houston must-try.
MytiBurger is a Houston must-try.
Photo by Troy Fields

MytiBurger, 2211 West 43rd

Most cities have a beloved burger dive that’s been around seemingly since the dawn of man. MytiBurger is that place, and it should probably be preserved in amber lest anything happen to it. That's how great it is. This is the type of feel-good throwback establishment where the ladies behind the counter call you baby and sweetheart and the customers say yes ma'am, and there's something about eating a burger here that brings 

one closer to the American Dream, if only for a few minutes' time. Patrick Swayze was said to have been a fan anyway.

Sit at a booth, take in the vintage photos on the wall, listen to the soft rock radio over the loudspeakers and soak up the cool a/c while downing a Myti Burger with cheese, the patty of which resides somewhere between classic flat-top diner and pub-burger thickness. Smothered in cheese and topped with mustard, mayonnaise, lettuce, onion, pickles and tomatoes (if you're one of those weirdos who actually like tomatoes on a burger), it's quite the perfect bite. The fries are somewhere between fast food and steak fry on the crispness scale and must be eaten quickly or they risk going soggy. Throw in a deep-fried apple hand pie or a chocolate milkshake and call it a day, cowboy.

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