Best of Houston®
Our 2013 Best of Houston® winners have been announced, but in many cases, picking the best item in any category was no easy task. In order to show off all the culinary greatness Houston has to offer, we'll be rounding up the "rest of the best" in some of our favorite categories during the next several months. Bon appétit!
Unless you eat 15 raised, glazed doughnuts, all of them fresh and hot, one right after the other, it might be difficult to judge who in town has the best doughnut. Yes, some places make doughnuts that are clearly superior to others, but, you know, fried rings of dough are pretty awesome, generally speaking.
So instead of a roundup naming the single best doughnut from a number of places, we've compiled a list of the best spots in town to get your fix — regardless of whether you're a raised/glazed fan, an old-fashioned connoisseur or a lover of the jelly-filled variety. We guarantee these are all ideal places to satisfy your cravings. However you spell it — donut, doughnut or do-nut — these are some sweet and tasty treats.
Note: Even though they're often sold at doughnut shops, kolaches, croissants, apple fritters and the like will not be addressed in this post. Doughnuts only! (That other stuff will come later.)
10. River Oaks Donuts, 3601 Westheimer
Billionaires Mindy and Jeff Hildebrand opened a little doughnut place in River Oaks back in July, and they have been mocked from time to time for opening a semi-ritzy shop for a food not usually considered gourmet (unless you're Dominique Ansel), but there's definitely no need to mock their wares, because they're some of the best in town. The Hildebrands worked with store director Scott Niemeyer for months to develop the recipes, and the results are not only delicious, but pretty, too. Raised, glazed doughnuts are iced in every color of the rainbow and dotted with contrasting sprinkles for a treat almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.
9. Fresh & Best Donuts, 5214 Bellaire
Part of the beauty of Fresh & Best Donuts is the awesome deals the shop offers as an incentive to load up on fried goodies. If you buy a dozen doughnuts, you get six free. If you buy six doughnuts, you get a dozen doughnut holes free. If you're really nice, the servers will probably throw in some extra holes as well, because they're eager to clear out the cases by the end of service each day. I recently called them to ask about their opening hours, and they said they were technically closed but would be willing to stay open for me because the cases weren't yet empty. What service! The basic glazed doughnuts here are light and airy but still substantial, and they strike the perfect balance between bready and overly sweet. Fresh & Best also sells a giant doughnut about the size of your head for $4. Now that's a meal.
8. Pena's Donut Heaven, 11601 Shadow Creek Parkway
To my knowledge, Pena's was the first place in Houston to re-create the famous (infamous?) doughnut-croissant hybrid known as the cronut that took the country by storm after it was invented in New York City. I have never had the pleasure of eating a cronut in New York, but Pena's take, which they called a "dosant," was pretty damn good. No need to go there for cronuts, though, because the doughnuts themselves are amazing. Arrive early to get your hands on some of Ray Peña's uniquely flavored wares. If you make it in before mid-morning, you'll likely find maple bacon doughnuts, s'mores doughnuts (topped with crushed graham crackers), peanut butter Reese's Pieces doughnuts and even doughnuts topped with cereal (the ultimate breakfast treat).
7. Provisions, 807 Taft
I know Provisions is in no way a doughnut shop, but hear me out. From time to time the chefs, Terrence Gallivan and Seth Siegel-Gardner, add doughnuts to the dessert menu, and they're always out-of-this-world good. Recently, the restaurant has been offering carrot-cake doughnuts that are much like normal filled ones, but instead of being pumped full of sugary-sweet strawberry jelly, they have a creamy carrot cake batter that's almost like a custard. The doughnut itself is on the less sweet side, which I appreciate. Less common is Provisions's pumpkin doughnut, which I had the opportunity to try recently at the restaurant's first birthday celebration. I haven't been able to get it out of my mind since. A light, flaky doughnut filled with pumpkin pie? I'll take them all, please.
6. B&B Donuts, 515 Westheimer
Three words: Blueberry cake doughnut. I'm generally not a huge fan of blueberry cake doughnuts because they always seem to be too sweet, but the perfect little glazed rings at B&B have converted me. They're a wonderful hybrid of blueberry bagel and glazed doughnut that hits all the right notes: cakey, sweet, dense and tart. B&B's chocolate old-fashioneds are also some of the best in town, and they, too, are dense without being greasy and sweet without being cloying. As at Peña's, arrive early for the best variety, and pick up a Vietnamese sandwich for lunch while you're there.
5. Best Donuts, 5869 South Braeswood
It seems overly optimistic to open a restaurant that immediately claims to be the best, but if your product really is one of the best in town, as is the case at Best Donuts, why not? Many people give mad props to Best Donuts for the kolaches, but the doughnuts are also, well, some of the best around. The prices here are very reasonable (though doughnuts are always fairly inexpensive), and the fried rings of dough are never greasy, nor do they leave a nasty film in your mouth, as some fried and glazed doughnuts do. The sweet offerings here are big and fluffy, but everything else about the place is simple and no-frills. Just as a neighborhood doughnut shop should be.
4. Shipley Do-Nuts, multiple locations
There are now more than 250 Shipley Do-Nuts locations across the U.S., but it all started right here in Houston in 1936. Shipley not only gets points for longevity and sheer number of stores, but also for making some of the consistently best doughnuts around these parts. Ask any Houstonian which doughnuts are his or her favorite, and Shipley is bound to be somewhere on the list. My personal favorites are the simple yeast varieties with chocolate icing. No sprinkles or fillings, just classic, delicious doughnuts (though the coconut doughnut is also a thing of beauty). There is debate among Houstonians (though I can't imagine why) as to which "chain" donuts are the best: Shipley, Dunkin' or Krispy Kreme. Clearly our hometown hero wins that battle for great price, friendly service, and warm, tall and fluffy products available straight from the fryer if you ask nicely. Oh, and everyone knows the best Shipley's is the one on Ella. That's not even up for debate.
3. Donut Licious, 1535 Spring Cypress Road
Donut Licious not only gets the award for most beautiful doughnuts — seriously, their holiday creations are amazing — but also for the best old-fashioneds in town. Oh, and for the most delicious red velvet doughnuts. And the most delightful little stuffed doughnut holes. And the tray of doughnut "sushi" that really looks like sushi. Okay, clearly I can't pick just one favorite here. The regular yeast varieties achieve a perfect rise, so they're tall, doughy and surprisingly substantial for being so light, and the cake doughnuts are dense and smooth and not at all dry or crumbly. And if you've ever wanted to see your name written out in doughnuts, you've found the place. It would also be amazing to spell out "Would you marry me?" in these colorful things. Just saying. There's no way any person could turn that down!
2. Christy's Donuts, 1103 West Gray
What is there left to say about Christy's that hasn't already been said? The dingy mom-and-pop shop has been around for years, and though it stays open late during the week for a doughnut shop (7 p.m.), there always seems to be a line at least as long as the counter. You can get a dozen for less than $6, plus the courteous staff always throws in some extra doughnut holes. Both items are fried until they puff up and turn a blissful golden brown. The cake doughnuts are rich and moist, particularly the devil's food, which I recently purchased (along with 11 other donuts) to bring to work but ended up eating in the car on the way to the office. I could not help myself, because that devil was so good. If you live or work in the area and are running late to work or know you're in trouble, I suggest you swing by Christy's and pick up a dozen or two. Nobody can yell at you with a mouth full of such goodness.
1. Revival Market, 550 Heights
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, Valrhona 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. I recommend you call in advance to find out if doughnuts are available. No, scratch that. I don't recommend you do it. I implore you to do so. Perhaps if enough people call and request the delectable gourmet doughnuts, they'll become a regular offering. Imagine your favorite plain, glazed donut, perfect texture and chew, then top that with any number of interesting flavor combinations. If you haven't had these perfect things, you are seriously missing out. Okay, now that you're so intrigued, go call Revival (713-880-8463) and demand doughnuts! Do it now!
Top 5 French Bakeries in Houston
Enjoy éclairs, baguettes and croissants at each of these bakeries.
One of my fondest memories of traveling to Paris was buying a baguette that was nearly as tall as I was. My mother and I gathered slices of prosciutto, pont-l'Évêque cheese, apples, strawberries and grapes from a farmers' market to make a picnic lunch behind the Eiffel Tower — all we needed was some bread. As soon as we walked inside the bakery, we were hit with the smell of freshly baked bread. The baguette was warm and soft on the inside yet crispy and crunchy on the outside. It was absolutely perfect. And it was nearly five feet long.
When made properly, French pastries, breads, sweets and cookies can make everything seem right. For that brief moment when you bite into a buttery, flaky croissant or pain au chocolat, you are in heaven.
In an ideal world, I would travel to Paris any time I wanted a macaron, éclair or warm hunk of baguette spread with butter, but alas, that is impossible. Thankfully, Houston is home to some outstanding French bakeries. So, without further ado, here are the top five French bakeries in our fair city.
5. Bite Macarons
Bite Macarons opened just a few months ago, but is already making quite an impression on Houstonians looking for a beautiful, sweet and delicate macaron. The store features a wide variety of flavors, including the classic pistachio, rose and lemon, as well as more exotic ones such as blood orange, Earl Grey and salted caramel. Executive Pastry Chef Sandia Horng creates perfect macarons — the crust on each meringue is crispy on the outside, soft and sticky on the inside; each filling, no matter which flavor, is creamy, smooth and decadent. Horng is also introducing other types of pastries, including classic French tarts. The simple, fresh fruit tart has a sweet and delicate crust with a vanilla bean custard filling and is topped with fresh seasonal berries. The honeycomb pecan tart is the ideal fix for your sweet-tooth cravings; it's filled with crunchy pecan pieces. While Bite Macarons currently offers only two classic patisseries, it nails each of them. We can't wait to taste the new additions to the menu.
4. French Gourmet Bakery
This adorable French bakery on Westheimer stands out to those driving through River Oaks. The light-orange building with bright-blue window coverings is home to some of the best croissants, palmiers and quiches in the city. Upon entering the bakery, you will instantly smell fresh pastry dough baking in the back and salivate over the marvelous display of croissants, cookies, éclairs and tarts. Stay for lunch and enjoy a sandwich made with one of the bakery's croissants, baguettes or country French bread, or grab a pastry and cup of coffee to go for your morning commute. The bakery also makes French and American cakes suitable for any birthday or holiday celebration.
3. French Riviera Bakery and Café
French classics such as cream puffs and éclairs stand out at this tiny Uptown bakery. Sit outside with a café au lait, espresso or cappuccino, accompanied by an almond croissant, for a breakfast or an afternoon treat ; each croissant (no matter which flavor) is flaky on the outside, buttery and soft on the inside (and if you close your eyes while you take a bite, you might even feel as though you are in Paris). It's a little piece of France in Houston.
2. Croissant Brioche French Bakery
Croissant Brioche is your one-stop shop if you want to sit and relax with a cappuccino and Danish for breakfast, fill up with a quiche Lorraine for lunch, or indulge your sweet tooth with an éclair, almond pear tart or slice of tiramisu. But before you sink your teeth into one of the delightful pastries and breads, order an almond croissant — you won't regret it. There's a reason this French bakery earned the title of Best Croissants in Houston this year. While the plain croissant is perfectly executed, the almond croissant is simply out of this world. Along with the buttery and flaky layers, this sweet rendition is filled with a delectable almond paste, which surprises your taste buds...in a good way. One bite of this pastry and its sweet, smooth and creamy almond paste and salty, gooey butter, and you'll sink back in your chair and sigh. It's that good.
1. The Woodlands Gourmet Bakery & Café
Tucked in the back of The Woodlands near FM 2978 is where you'll find The Woodlands Gourmet Bakery & Café. It's a small, quaint, family-owned business (there are only eight tables) serving a variety of classic Parisian baked goods — everything from palmiers and baguettes to fruit tarts and éclairs. Ask the owner and chef, Ifel Costa, what to order, and he will suggest the pear tart — fresh slices of pear baked in a firm, buttery crust with sliced almonds and a gorgeous gelatin glaze. The lemon tart is a good option as well. Costa balances the sweetness with the tartness from the lemons in this smooth lemon curd filling; it's refreshing, sweet and even better the next day. Pair any dessert with a latte or Americano for a classic French snack.
Cheap & Good Eats
Top 5 budget lunch spots in the East End.
We've been rounding up our favorite budget lunch spots in different neighborhoods around town. So far, we've covered Montrose, River Oaks, Midtown, Upper Kirby, EaDo and Rice Village.
With head honcho Ninfa's on Navigation, its newly aquired neighbor El Tiempo and plenty of hole-in-the-wall joints, the East End has its fair share of great lunch spots. Today we're bringing you our favorites.
Here's our list of the best cheap (under $10) lunch spots that this area has to offer:
Note: For the purposes of this post, the East End is based off of the official map, which roughly places its boundaries at Clinton Drive to the north, I-45 to the south, 610 to the east and parts of 59 to the west. This does not include EaDo, but does include plenty of other neighborhoods, such as Eastwood, Magnolia Park and the Second Ward.
Honorable Mention: Moon Tower Inn, for its intricately topped, punch-packing wild game dogs (the later opening hours — 2 p.m. on Monday through Thursday — is the only reason it did not make the final list) and Bohemeo's, for its laid-back atmosphere and cheap Baja-style shrimp and fish tacos.
5. Mandola's Deli
This family-run neighborhood restaurant and deli, nestled on the corner of Leeland and Cullen, has been serving classic Italian fare since 1975. Come in for Italian-style po-boys — like the ham-, salami- and cheese-packed Deluxe ($4.59 for a small, $5.39 for a large), or the Italian Beef ($7.39), stuffed with gravy-drenched roast beef and melted mozzarella cheese. Be sure to try their traditional Italian red sauce in the form of spaghetti and meatballs ($6.99), spinach lasagna ($7.99) or a chicken parmesan sandwich ($8.99). After the home-style meal and a chat with the friendly Mandolas, you're sure to feel like family.
4. Champ Burger
Another family-run neighborhood favorite, this old-timey burger joint has been serving up some of the city's greatest burgers since 1963. And the prices are old-timey, too. Get a greasy Champ burger with cheese for just $3.89, or up the ante with the "original Texas Size Steak Sandwich" — stuffed with chicken-fried steak — for just $4.39. Overflowing baskets of steak or chicken fingers with fries, salad, Texas toast and thick gravy can be had for $5.49 and $7.49, respectively, and a good ol' chili cheese dog is just $2.69. Be sure to grab an umbrella-covered table while you wait for your order, and remember, Champ Burger is open on weekdays only.
3. Oak Leaf Smokehouse
Oak Leaf Smokehouse opened just last year, but it is already making a name for itself in the Houston barbecue scene. Post oak-smoked ribs are sweet, buttery and just $9.95 with a choice of two sides. Order them or a juicy and woodsy half chicken (same price) alongside thick-cut, freshly-fried potato chips, cranberry-studded broccoli slaw, or a golden-crusted, ultra-creamy corn pudding. Sandwich baskets, including house chips and a drink, are just $7.95 for a small (four ounces of meat on a four-inch bun) and $9.40 for a large (six ounces of meat on a six-inch bun). And if you can't decide which meat to choose, just get the brisket-pulled pork-and-queso-smothered BBQ Monster Sandwich ($8.95).
2. Kanomwan Thai
Another long-running East End gem, this restaurant has been serving home-style Thai since 1984. The restaurant offers smaller portions of most of its entrées for just under $10 during lunch hours (Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.). Come here for one of the best green curries in town, or try a classic Pad Thai, loaded with shrimp, sprouts and ground peanuts. Adjust the spice level as you please, but be warned — when you ask for extra-spicy, extra-spicy you will receive.
1. Villa Arcos Taquitos/Taqueria Monterrey Chiquito
We love all-day breakfast...and we love it even more when it comes in taco form. In addition to authentic chicharrones and barbacoa, Villa Arcos has been whipping up some of the city's best breakfast tacos all day long for more than 30 years. Come in Tuesday through Saturday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., or Sunday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. For just a few dollars, try the "Super" taco, a greasy classic made with eggs, chorizo, potatoes, beans and cheese. It may take awhile, since even the tortillas are made to order, but we think it's well worth the wait.
Trompo is the name of the game at Taqueria Monterrey. Though the tacos de trompo are not cooked in the authentic fashion because of health regulations, this taqueria's thin wisps of griddled, brightly colored pork remain just as juicy and tender. It's stuffed into golden and crisp corn tortillas, and you won't be disappointed with the substitute — especially since a plate of five tacos remains just $5.50 to this day.
Openimgs and Closings
House of Pies shutters temporarily, Good Dog preps for brick-and-mortar & a look at 2014.
There weren't any permanent-closure announcements last week, but two restaurants are now temporarily closed — one because of a fire, and the other because of a brick-and-mortar expansion.
The roof of the House of Pies on Kirby caught on fire late last Wednesday night, forcing the pie shop to temporarily close its doors. Kaitlin Steinberg reports that the electrical blaze broke out around 10:45 p.m. in the restaurant's ceiling. Khaled Khalaf, whose family owns the restaurant, told Steinberg there were approximately 70 customers in the building at the time; no injuries were reported. "We'll reopen as soon as possible," Khalaf said. "Most of the damage is on the outside. It's an easy fix. It's just the roof." According to manager Greg Smith, House of Pies will be open by Thanksgiving.
Good Dog Houston announced on Facebook that the food truck would be temporarily closed for the next couple of weeks as the owners prepare to open a brick-and-mortar location in the Heights. The permanent store will be at 903 Studewood. Eater reports that Good Dog will also serve non-hot dog items, such as the duck dish the owners, Amalia Pferd and Daniel Cabellero, brought to a Lucky Dog event. The store will also serve local craft beer and locally produced wine.
Aaron Webster closed Tasti-D-Lite in Highland Village a few months ago so he could open a completely new restaurant concept, Drexel House. Eater reported that Webster's restaurant was scheduled to open by the end of this past week. Drexel House is located on Westheimer in River Oaks and will serve modern takes on pizza, soup, salad and sandwiches, as well as fancier small plates such as rib eye, scallops and lamb. Eater reports that the restaurant was designed by Julia McGarr, who also designed Brasserie 19, Coppa Ristorante Italiano and Coppa Osteria. Drexel House's menu will be written on a chalkboard wall, and there will seating on the patio and at the bar.
Although Flora & Muse in CityCentre closed two weeks ago, the shopping area welcomes two new restaurants, Capital Grille and Seasons 52.
Eater reports Capital Grille will open on November 14, and the Houston Chronicle announced that Seasons 52 will open on Thanksgiving Day, November 28. CityCentre is the second Houston location for both of these restaurants.
B4-U-Eat's weekly newsletter notes that Sam's Bar & Grill opened on November 4 at 6357 Westheimer. The Web site still says "Coming Soon"; however, we do know that it's a sports bar, so we expect the classic offerings of hamburgers, fries and beer.
After months of anticipation, Trenza has finally opened its doors on West Avenue to the public. Last week, chef and owner Susie Jimenez held a red carpet grand opening, but now the Latin-Indian fusion restaurant is ready to serve Houston. Jimenez's menu reflects the name of her restaurant — which means "braid" in Spanish — as she blends Latin cuisine with Indian cuisine. Menu items include curried dusted tostada with chorizo black beans, cabbage slaw and crumbled feta cheese; turmeric potato crunchy tacos with apple cilantro slaw; and sizzling saffron shrimp with garlic, ginger, lemon zest and crostini.
Grace's will be the newest restaurant from Johnny Carrabba, but it won't serve any Italian dishes. Carabba tells CultureMap's Marcy De Luna that he has already done that, so instead the restaurant will offer comfort food dishes such as chili with cornbread, rib eye sandwiches and braised short ribs. Carabba plans to open Grace's on Kirby in December.
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Several restaurants announced plans for openings in 2014, including Bonefish Grill. Construction began on Thursday, November 7, in The Woodlands; this will be the restaurant's 200th location in the country. According to a press release, it will open in the spring of 2014.
Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ will open in January of next year at 510 Gray. B4-U-Eat's weekly newsletter says it will be similar to U R Cooks — for anyone who remembers this restaurant from the 1980s — a place at which you grilled your own steak. The only difference is that Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ will have more options, including seafood and vegetables.
Eater reports that construction on Vinoteca Poscol's new location further east on Westheimer will be complete in February of next year. The restaurant and wine bar will have the same menu, according to Eater.
Jonathan's The Rub is also moving to a new location next year, and it's going to be a much larger space. CultureMap reports the new building will be just a few blocks down the road from the current location, and will seat 150 inside, 50 on the patio and 20 at the bar. Chef and owner Jonathan Levine tells CultureMap that he believes the restaurant has outgrown its current location in the Memorial area and that he wants to have enough seating for reservations. Expect the new doors to open on August 1.