The Restaurant Reviews of 2015 (So Far), Ranked

Elegance, high-quality ingredients, unfaltering vision and outstanding service helped one restaurant capture the number one spot in our mid-year rankings.
Elegance, high-quality ingredients, unfaltering vision and outstanding service helped one restaurant capture the number one spot in our mid-year rankings.
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

Welcome to the second half of 2015, where “Kitchens” are the new restaurants and a plus sign is the trendy way of saying “and.”

Now that it is June and nearly the midpoint of the year, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back and see where the reviewed restaurants stand as compared to each other. (Reviews by Mai Pham and Nicholas Hall haven't been integrated into this list, but we'll have our annual pow-wow when we do our end-of-year look at the best new restaurants.) Like reviews, the rankings are subjective and based entirely my own experiences.

2015 so far is the Year of the Crowd Pleaser—moderate restaurants that do an overall good job in a wide range of traditional or conservative fare. Many have expanded services, offering espresso drinks and pastries in the morning and cocktails late into the evening.

Single-country cuisine rather than multicultural integration seems in vogue as well, whether it be BCN’s extremely traditional take on Spanish, Radio Milano’s take on Italian or Prohibition’s view of coastal Southern cuisine.

This year has marked the evolution of Washington Avenue from a big, partying bar scene into a big restaurant scene. Four of this year's reviews are from new restaurants in that area: Mascalzone, Big Eyed Fish, Urban Eats and Commonwealth. 

I’ve always thought that restaurants fall on a normalized bell curve. Very few are stellar. Just as few are awful. Most have something good to offer but often need improvement in at least one area, whether it be food, service or environment.

Here are the rankings so far, along with my own photos from the review visits. In some cases, you'll have to forgive the dim restaurant lighting and phone photos. At the time, I never thought I'd have any more use for them other than as reference when writing the reviews.

In one case, an overall good review wasn't enough to keep pace with the leaps and bounds in cuisine and concepts made by modern counterparts. Frattelini’s old-school take on Italian fare was utterly charming and earned a good review, but stubbornly dated style of food shoved them a bit below below more adventurous places like Weights + Measures and Commonwealth, even though their reviews were mixed. 

It is also worth noting that even though Bistro Menil, Big Eyed Fish and Amalfi all ranked and reviewed poorly that I strongly believe all have much to offer if they nailed down the problems noted in the reviews. 

Feel free to add your comments below. Do you agree with these rankings? Disagree? What do you think should be reviewed next? 

We're looking forward to what kind of dining experiences the rest of this year brings. Hopefully, none will involve bad sushi.  

17. Akamaru, 315 Fairview

This is what it looks like when your sushi chef has mentally thrown in the towel.
This is what it looks like when your sushi chef has mentally thrown in the towel.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Without a doubt, Akamaru is the worst restaurant I have been to so far this year. After the review came out, a reader noted that the concept itself has been up for sale for about a month. That might explain why the owner seems to have entirely thrown in the towel. The ribs are good but that's not exactly why one visits a sushi restaurant by someone who apparently had years of experience in California before coming to Houston. It just goes to show—dining with a restaurant critic isn't always a good thing. I think I still owe some people shots of whiskey after this one. 

16. La Bikina, 4223 Research Forest, The Woodlands

The lengua tacos at La Bikina had the ignoble distinction of being the worst I've ever had.
The lengua tacos at La Bikina had the ignoble distinction of being the worst I've ever had.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

A confused identity and mediocre food leaves La Bikina in The Woodlands in the second-to-last spot. It is for families? Is it for party people who want the Scorpion Challenge—a shot of over-distilled tequila with a dead, dry scorpion? Who knows? They didn't during the review visits, but perhaps by now they've settled into the role of a neighborhood restaurant to serve the vast suburban territory they are located in. 

15. Amalfi, 6100 Westheimer Rd #140

This grease-laden Diavola pizza was one of the dishes that landed expensive Amalfi a bad review and a low spot on our list.
This grease-laden Diavola pizza was one of the dishes that landed expensive Amalfi a bad review and a low spot on our list.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Oh, Amalfi. I expected so much from you and you really let me and my guests down. What was up with that smelly foie gras and why is your service so glacial that it took three hours to get through three courses on two separate visits? Why do you have a built-in pizza oven if you're going to serve an oily, tepid-in-the-middle pizza out of it? Why are your cocktails so sweet? There's so much potential here that I just have to think it's sometimes better than this. At least those stellar limoncello shots dampen the pain. 

14. Big Eyed Fish, 908 Henderson

The appetizer platter at Big Eyed Fish was a bright spot in a menu plagued by blandness.
The appetizer platter at Big Eyed Fish was a bright spot in a menu plagued by blandness.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Sweet service pushes Big Eyed Fish higher in the list. A stinky patio and pedestrian Southern food doesn't. We wanted to love Big Eyed Fish and adored the bacon wrapped quail with mushroom bread pudding. We mostly adored the appetizer platter of deviled eggs, slices of Andouille sausage and fried green tomatoes, too, but many other items were just bland. Southern food can and should better and more consistent. 

13. Bistro Menil, 1513 West Alabama

The good food, like the generous charcuterie platter, at Bistro Menil wasn't the problem. Service flaws, tiny tables and uninformed servers were.
The good food, like the generous charcuterie platter, at Bistro Menil wasn't the problem. Service flaws, tiny tables and uninformed servers were.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Bistro Menil has reasonable prices and an absolutely killer charcuterie platter. So, what's not to love? Well, the noise levels and teeny-tiny tables, for starters. Add to that giant plates that don't fit, staff that don't seem to understand the offerings and slow, slow service. 

12. Frattelini Ristorante Italiano, 8905 Louetta

Fratellini's funny old Italian soul earned them a good review, even if the food is dated.
Fratellini's funny old Italian soul earned them a good review, even if the food is dated.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Frattelini earned a good, affectionate review for the utter time warp that diners enter when they walk through the front door. Salad tossed table side? Check. Old classics like beef filet with Cognac sauce? Check. If this were 1970, this restaurant would have ranked much higher in the list. It's trippy, fun and admittedly out-of-date. 

11. Weights + Measures, 2808 Caroline

It was otherwise attractive, but the bottom of this burger patty at Weights + Measures was burned to a crisp. It was one of the factors that led to a middle-of-the-road review, despite a concept that is otherwise ambitious and likable.
It was otherwise attractive, but the bottom of this burger patty at Weights + Measures was burned to a crisp. It was one of the factors that led to a middle-of-the-road review, despite a concept that is otherwise ambitious and likable.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Weights + Measures is doing many things right, like amazing pizza, perfect bread courtesy of the in-house Slow Dough bakery and thoughtful wine and beer lists. We wanted to really love this kitchy homage to the 70s, but uninspiring cocktails, a burned burger, a curiously bland tuna sandwich and equally bland vegetable omelette marred our visits. In all fairness, the scope of service—breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night—is incredibly ambitious. Despite the issues during the review, it's still worth checking out. Hopefully the problems noted are ironed out by now.  

10. Main Kitchen, 806 Main

Execution problems plagued Main Kitchen during our review visits, but there were really great items to talk about, too, like this gorgeous pulled pork pizza.
Execution problems plagued Main Kitchen during our review visits, but there were really great items to talk about, too, like this gorgeous pulled pork pizza.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Chef Erin Smith happened to be on vacation during our review visits in the first week of January and it showed. The kitchen didn't seem to be able to execute dishes nearly as well as we'd previously seen without her. With that said, there is no denying the talent and vision. Smith also gets our nod for "Most Gracious Chef." Smith completely owned the problems noted in the review and used it as a learning tool with her staff. Her future—and Main Kitchen's—is still indeed bright and hopeful. 

9. True Food Kitchen, 1700 Post Oak

Blunders like a wrongheaded "green curry" almost cost True Food Kitchen a good review, but good desserts, pizzas, a smart wine program and aptitude in cooking fish just right helped them pull off a mostly good review in the end.
Blunders like a wrongheaded "green curry" almost cost True Food Kitchen a good review, but good desserts, pizzas, a smart wine program and aptitude in cooking fish just right helped them pull off a mostly good review in the end.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Spare me the nutritional lecture and just give me another one of those butternut squash pizzas! Carping aside, the fish at True Food Kitchen is also quite good and the temperature-controlled wines are another plus. Health-conscious or not, True Food Kitchen is well worth a visit. 

8. Commonwealth, 4601 Washington

In a way, this dish represents the Commonwealth review. There's the very good (fried okra), the okay (tough-crusted, polenta-battered chicken fried steak with very good 44 Farms steak inside) and the ugly (why are those mashed potatoes in a puddle?).
In a way, this dish represents the Commonwealth review. There's the very good (fried okra), the okay (tough-crusted, polenta-battered chicken fried steak with very good 44 Farms steak inside) and the ugly (why are those mashed potatoes in a puddle?).
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Kelly Alsobrook's desserts are a highlight. Similarly, you just about can't order an appetizer that doesn't deserve praise. However, a tough-crusted, cornmeal-coated chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes that managed to be both lumpy and sticky at the same time and a half-dry/half-raw $45 rack of pork didn't help matters one bit. The wine list is in need of a revamp, but the ambitious cocktail program is well worth a look. 

7. Urban Eats, 3414 Washington

Dishes like this nutty, toasty pecan tart helped Urban Eats get a good review earlier this year, despite a dated emphasis on fries-with-stuff-on-them.
Dishes like this nutty, toasty pecan tart helped Urban Eats get a good review earlier this year, despite a dated emphasis on fries-with-stuff-on-them.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Two-story Urban Eats reviewed surprising well despite a somewhat goofy menu that focuses on sliders and fries-with-stuff-on-them. Their 3 Pig Truffled Mac & Cheese is one of the examples in the city of a classic, and one of those sliders—the Fried Green Tomato BLT—is an exercise in balance. The balcony with the outstanding view of downtown Houston from Washington avenue is simply a plus. 

6. Il Mascalzone, 1500 Shepherd

It took until May to find a good risotto and it was at Mascalzone, along with chef Alberto Baffoni's signature veal tonnato and some stellar desserts.
It took until May to find a good risotto and it was at Mascalzone, along with chef Alberto Baffoni's signature veal tonnato and some stellar desserts.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Chef Alberto Baffoni is back—in a chain restaurant? Well, yes, but it's a very small chain with only four locations, two of which are in London. Regardless, Baffoni's signature Vitello (veal) tonnato is back for everyone to enjoy, the risotto is proper, the desserts are elegant and the laid back Italian environment makes it easy for everyone. 

5. Le’ Pam’s House of Creole, 1644 FM 1960 West

Creole-style gumbo chock-full of fresh seafood, melty heaps of oxtail and friendly, exuberant service put Le' Pam's House of Creole among our top reviews of the year.
Creole-style gumbo chock-full of fresh seafood, melty heaps of oxtail and friendly, exuberant service put Le' Pam's House of Creole among our top reviews of the year.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Chef Pamela Graham's bubbly, welcoming personality makes her soulful Creole food taste even better. The Catfish Trio has both some of the best dirty rice and catfish filets in town. Should you have never tried her Sunday dinner of meltingly tender oxtails—served on good china, no less—you probably need to go to confession. 

4. North Italia, 1700 Post Oak, #190

Consistently great food and service put Phoenix, Arizona import North Italia among our top reviews so far in 2015.
Consistently great food and service put Phoenix, Arizona import North Italia among our top reviews so far in 2015.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

It's been a good year for Fox Restaurant Concepts in Houston, who are proving that a chain restaurant can still provide great food and attentive service. Woe be it unto you if you fail to make a reservation. You have probably have a 45 minute wait, but it's worth it to taste the tender pastas and the pizza that come with just the right amount of char on the edges. 

3. Prohibition Supperclub + Bar, 1008 Prairie

The Smoked Fried Chicken at Prohibition Supperclub + Bar, as well as the Foie Gras Breakfast, are easily among some of the top new dishes of 2015.
The Smoked Fried Chicken at Prohibition Supperclub + Bar, as well as the Foie Gras Breakfast, are easily among some of the top new dishes of 2015.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Chefs Ben McPherson and Matt Wommack seem to be having fun producing coastal Southern cuisine and that spirit makes its way into the genteel front dining room. (The back room is set up as a Grecian dinner theater that showcases performances by burlesque troop The Moonlight Dolls on Friday and Saturday nights.) The gumbo varies a bit but it often reaches lofty heights. The Foie Gras Breakfast on a bed of perfect yellow grits is hands-down one of the finest dishes Houston has to offer. 

2. Radio Milano, 800 Sorella Court

Radio Milano hardly made a misstep during our review visits. These delicate butternut-squash filled parcels called fagotelli constituted only one of the many standout dishes.
Radio Milano hardly made a misstep during our review visits. These delicate butternut-squash filled parcels called fagotelli constituted only one of the many standout dishes.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

"Modern" takes on classic cuisine can be suspect but there is nothing but sincerity in chef Jose Hernandez's food. Radio Milano is one of Houston's newest must-visit restaurants. Enjoy the glorious Cremini Mushroom Cappuccino, silky, moist burrata and salmon with a crust so beautiful and perfect that it practically shatters under your fork. 

1. BCN Taste & Tradition, 4210 Roseland

Elegance, simplicity and high-quality ingredients defines BCN Taste & Tradition's Spanish fare, making it one of the best-reviewed restaurants so far of 2015.
Elegance, simplicity and high-quality ingredients defines BCN Taste & Tradition's Spanish fare, making it one of the best-reviewed restaurants so far of 2015.
Photo by Phaedra Cook

Interestingly, an internship at famed, envelope-pushing El Bulli set chef Luis Roger on a path that led him back to the pleasures of traditional Spanish cuisine, where the secret revolves entirely around quality ingredients. Many of those ingredients have to be imported directly from Spain, in fact. BCN is a case of "you get what you pay for" and what you're paying for is jamón ibérico de bellota, real truffles, saffron and other pure luxuries.The menu changes depending on whats available, but the poached salt cod with saffron aioli and beet purée in the shape of a romantic red rose are a few of the items to look for. 

Use Current Location

Related Locations

miles
BCN Taste and Tradition

4210 Roseland St
Houston, TX 77006

832-834-3411

www.bcnhouston.com

miles
Radio Milano

800 Sorella Court
Houston, TX 77024

713-827-3545

www.radio-milano.com

miles
Prohibition Supper Club & Bar
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Le' Pam's House of Creole

1644 FM 1960 W., Suite A
Houston, TX 77090

281-444-1464

miles
Akamaru - CLOSED - Closed

315 Fairview
Houston, Texas

832--742--5503

miles
Amalfi

6100 Westheimer Rd.
Houston, TX 77057

713-532-2201

miles
North Italia

1700 Post Oak Blvd.
Houston, TX 77056

281--605--4030

miles
Il Mascalzone

1500 Shepherd Dr.
Houston, TX 77007

713-862-9700

www.ilmascalzone.com/usa

miles
Urban Eats

3414 Washington Ave.
Houston, TX 77007

832-834-4417

www.feasturbaneats.com

miles
Commonwealth - CLOSED - Closed

4601 Washington, #130
Houston, Texas

281--501--9516

miles
True Food Kitchen

1700 Post Oak Blvd.
Houston, TX 77056

281-605-2505

www.truefoodkitchen.com

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Main Kitchen
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Fratellini Ristorante Italiano
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Bistro Menil

1533 W. Alabama
Houston, TX 77006

713-904-3537

bistromenil.com

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Big Eyed Fish

908 Henderson St.
Houston, TX 77007

www.bigeyedfishhouston.com


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