The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Bistros

Houston's bistros are much more modern -- and far less French.
Houston's bistros are much more modern -- and far less French.
Photo by Sanggi

How do you define a bistro?

If you're going to stick to the traditional Parisian definition, a bistro (or bistrot) is a small, tidy restaurant that serves inexpensive wine and simple dishes in a modest price range. Those dishes are traditionally French "comfort food" recipes like coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon and steak-frites.

In a modern American city, the concept of a bistro goes beyond its Gallic roots but still -- I think -- stays true to form even if it's not serving remotely French food. I consider a bistro in Houston to be a small, unpretentious restaurant -- usually of the neighborhood restaurant variety -- serving hearty, simple food and a selection of alcoholic beverages.

For this reason, I couldn't consider more upscale French restaurants such as L'Olivier, Aura or Philippe -- places which draw audiences from all over the city, as opposed to the restaurant's immediate area. Nor could I consider too-casual spots that don't offer alcohol or a menu beyond a few sandwiches and pastries.

Bistros occupy a necessary middle ground between these two ends of a spectrum as a restaurant that offers a charming atmosphere and a thoughtful food and wine/beer selection with mid-range prices.

The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Bistros
Photo by Troy Fields

10. Zelko Bistro

This cozy converted house on 11th Street couldn't be more at home in the Heights, where most residents walk or bike to this neighborhood favorite. Owners Jamie and Dalia Zelko keep it local -- with both their customers and the food. Produce, meat and fish are sourced locally when possible, while the restaurant even has its own beehives. Yes, the honey is for sale. Zelko also employs a very price-friendly wine list that allows for a bottle to be shared at even the most moderate of dinners.

The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Bistros
Photo by Troy Fields

9. Arturo Boada Cuisine

In a sleepy side street in the Memorial Villages, Arturo Boada Cuisine is alive with the energy of a European bistro. Chef and owner Arturo Boada is a constant presence there, turning out his signature dishes such as a creamy, tangy camarones henesy y hamaca - shrimp over plantains in a sauce - and Italian pizzas with Spanish ingredients on top, like a carnitas pizza topped with asadero cheese and cilantro. The wine list is occasionally pricey but worth it; you'll want to split a bottle just to stay all night in the cozy space.

The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Bistros
Photo by Mai Pham

8. Mockingbird Bistro This Montrose/River Oaks mainstay has the classic bistro menu and look down pat, with a beautiful mahogany bar that nearly spans the length of the restaurant. Mockingbird Bistro is a perfect place to enjoy a big fat steak with french fries and an earthy Rhône red wine or a hamburger and a cold beer, but chef John Sheely has other surprises up his sleeve, like a foie gras "club sandwich" with duck breast.


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