The Galleria has more than 26 million visitors per year. While a significant amount of those people are tourists -- what wouldn't we give to visit a city just to shop there! -- many are Houstonians who gravitate toward the Uptown Park area of town for an afternoon of walking the halls of the enormous mall, people watching and conspicuous consumption.
The bad news is that after all that shopping, you're going to be hungry. And The Galleria itself doesn't exactly offer a wealth of excellent dining options. There's the food court on the ice rink level. The Cheesecake Factory, which we're not even going to discuss in any further detail. And the overpriced restaurants like Gigi's and The Oceanaire, which -- while good -- are so tough on the wallet that they're better left to the tourists who can afford it.
Below are our favorite restaurants in the Galleria area that aren't in the mall itself. Take a few extra minutes to get out of the parking garage and to one of these spots for your post-shopping dining and relaxation; you'll be better off for it.
10. Chacho's, 6006 Westheimer
If you have teenagers in tow, or you're just a fan of quick and easy Tex-Mex, this is the place to go. But just because it's cheap and cheerful doesn't mean it isn't good. The fluffy flour tortillas at the massive, neon-painted, 24-hour Chacho's rival Chiloso's Taco House as some of the best in town, and -- hey -- even Robb Walsh likes it.
9. Bayou City Seafood, 4730 Richmond
This little seafood restaurant often gets overlooked in favor of Ragin Cajun right down the street or more overpriced options closer to the mall. But we love the unassuming exterior, the cozy interior, the wealth of parking spaces and -- most importantly -- the food. Don't let the name fool you: Some of the city's best Cajun food is right at Bayou City Seafood, from the excellent gumbo to the unexpected blueberry bread pudding.
8. Zabak's, 5901 Westheimer
There is a wealth of excellent Middle Eastern options in this part of town (Cafe Lili and Mint among them), and Zabak's is one of our favorites. What puts Zabak's over the top isn't just the food, but the extraordinary customer service. This family-run restaurant always makes you feel right at home, with friendly and helpful staff who are always eager to please. Can't-miss dishes here include the perfectly spiced gyros and the honey-saturated baklava.
7. Pete's Fine Meats, 5509 Richmond
One of the best things about finishing up a delicious and inexpensive lunch at Pete's is skipping over to the butcher counter and picking out a fat, red steak or bundle of fresh jerky to take home with you. Pete's has been butchering meat for half a century, and it shows in the outstanding cuts of meat available to take back to your own grill and in the juicy burgers they cook up at lunch.
6. The Rockwood Room, 5709 Woodway
This restaurant is considerably younger than Pete's (by about 50 years), but has the same aesthetic when it comes to food: good meat in an old-school setting -- even if The Rockwood Room's version of old-school is quite a bit more upscale. Enjoy a Manhattan or a glass of red wine with your ribeye and you'll suddenly feel like you're dining with Don Draper.
5. Tiny Boxwood's, 3614 W. Alabama
For ladies who lunch, there's no better option in town than Tiny Boxwood's, and with good reason. A lush garden view, a constantly changing menu filled with variety and a feeling of exclusivity make Tiny Boxwood's feel as if you're eating at some fabulously wealthy person's summer home. Of course, you'll pay for that feeling quite handsomely, but at least the food (and the ambience) is worth it.
4. Ciao Bello, 5161 San Felipe, Suite 100
Tony Vallone's newest restaurant is a hit due in large part to its phenomenal food. And although it loses points for fairly shabby service (a surprise, frankly, given the restaurant's pedigree), there's always room for that area to improve. Although we seriously doubt that any of the food comes from "Vallone family recipes," it's all excellent, including the handmade pastas. Top choices here are the paglia e fieno bello (with wild mushrooms and rabbit) and the sauteed flounder in a meuniere sauce. Don't miss the desserts, either; it's hard to choose a favorite from the list.
3. French Riviera, 3032 Chimney Rock
Eating at this quaint, quiet little cafe on Chimney Rock feels distinctly like taking a vacation to -- as the name implies -- the French Riviera or the southern coast of Spain. The bakery is run by two Chinese brothers who grew up baking traditional French breads and pastries, and this is evident in the flaky croissants and crusty baguettes they turn out each day. Stop in for an afternoon coffee (they use Segafredo, which we love) and a small sandwich or chocolate croissant. And for a real treat, head to the restrooms: You get to walk the entire bakery floor on your way to the very back of the cafe.
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2. Kiran's, 4100 Westheimer
Along with Indika, Kiran's ties for our favorite Indian restaurant in the city. Chef Kiran Verma sold her original restaurant, Ashiana, in 2004 to focus exclusively on making Kiran's into the powerhouse it is today. Easily one of the more personable and friendly chefs in town, Kiran makes a point of stopping by tables to ensure the food is up to par -- and it very rarely isn't. Our favorites include the more traditional lamb rogan josh and the modern tandoori quail stuffed with figs and pine nuts. Lunch is a great time to try Kiran's, too, with a reasonably priced, three course prix fixe menu.
1. Jerusalem Halal, 3300 Hillcroft
This entry might surprise some people, but only those who have never ventured inside the little grocery store to find the absolute best Middle Eastern food in the city. There are no better shawarmas to be found anywhere else, and the same can be said of the hummus and lamb. What's even better is that Jerusalem Halal's prices are so cheap, you could feed a party of 10 and still have plenty of money left over to browse the shop's aisles and take home some fresh halal meat when you're done.