With the construction three new Carrabba's family restaurants along Kirby and the continued success of West Ave -- the mixed use shopping/living/dining development on the corner of Kirby and Westheimer -- the Upper Kirby district is a stronger dining out destination today than it has been in years.
The last time that we rounded up the 10 best restaurants in the area was two years ago, and things have certainly changed since then. Gone are seafood favorites Pesce and Yelapa Playa Mexicana -- in their place are the decidedly less interesting Brio Tuscan Grille and Estate nightclub, respectively. On the bright side, however, is the addition of so many new and interesting restaurants in the Upper Kirby district that it's hard to narrow the list down to 10 anymore.
In fact, some of the city's best restaurants -- perennial favorites and Best of Houston® winners among them -- now lie within the Upper Kirby confines, making this recently repaved stretch of road one of the best spots to hit for a night out.
Disclaimer: For the purposes of this post, Upper Kirby is defined as west of Shepherd, east of Buffalo Speedway, north of Bissonnet and south of Westheimer.
While both restaurants are far too new to be included on the list, both have already been garnering great reviews. Our own Joanna O'Leary enjoyed "the fresh eggy bun and wonderful caramelized onions" on her Elevation Burger, while Greg Morago at the Houston Chronicle writes of Nosh that "its thoughtful menu tugs at a communal foodie soul despite what some might interpret as 'fancy' pretensions."
Before you stop reading right here, consider this: Chuy's is consistently packed for a reason. The kitschy decor and equally kitschy Tex-Mex food -- while transported here from Austin -- are fun, enjoyable crowd-pleasers. The margaritas (especially the Texas Tinis) are strong and well-balanced. The happy hour offers a free build-your-own-nacho bar with unlimited visits. In season, the Hatch chile specials are unrivaled. The creamy jalapeño dressing (which we all know is just Ranch dressing with a kick) is a Texas treasure. The Elvis Presley Memorial Combo is the stuff of legend. And Chuy's will gladly top anything -- anything at all -- with a fried egg.
Turquoise Grill began its life serving office building snack bar-type items like breakfast tacos and burgers alongside more traditional fare like Turkish kebabs made by friendly owner Yilmaz "Jim" Dokuyucu. Over time, it grew to be one of the most popular Turkish restaurants in town, and not solely by virtue of being one of only a handful of Turkish places in the city, and gradually did away with most of its American fare. Dokuyucu's dishes like the meat-topped lahmajun and inegol kofte (Turkish meatballs) brought Turquoise Grill such acclaim, in fact, that he opened a second location in Sugar Land not long ago. These days, one of the best ways to spend a low-key evening is grabbing dinner at Turquoise Grill before heading across the street to catch a show (and down a few pints of local beer) at the great McGonigel's Mucky Duck.
8. BB's Cafe
The fourth -- and, so far, the largest at 1,800 square feet inside and 1,400 square feet of patio outside -- location of popular Houston chain BB's Cafe offers the same great Cajun food that made the original Montrose BB's such a hit when it first opened in 2008. It's also the prettiest of the three locations, with a light-and-bright dining room that features just enough Cajun flare to let you know to expect excellent po-boys, gumbo, oysters and two of our favorite dishes in town: Grillades & Grits and the so-called "Cajun poutine," the Tex-Cajun Virgin.
Since these two long-term favorites are tucked right next to each other on the other side of Highway 59 from the rest of the Upper Kirby district -- and since both are owned and operated by the same family that's served Houston barbecue, Tex-Mex and seafood for years -- it seemed fitting to include them together. We're still crazy about Goode Co. Seafood after all these years. But that's not all that the Goode family does well: mesquite-grilling is their specialty, as seen at Goode Co. Taqueria right next door. If you're dining at Goode Co. Seafood, be sure to grab a seat in the "older" part of the restaurant: a converted train car with retro fixtures and photos. And if you're hitting the Taqueria, be sure not to miss breakfast, which it is now serving seven days a week, where quail, venison and catfish mingle with traditional Tex-Mex favorites like migas and huevos motuleños.
Those who mourned the closure of Sabetta and the loss of its talented chef, Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio, will find something in common with those who mocked the former incarnation of this newish restaurant at 3200 Kirby (mawkish, members-only nightclub Dorsia, which was roundly ridiculed from the moment it opened). Hawthorn, which opened this past spring, has been quietly drawing rave reviews with its menu of refined Italian standards mixed with more upscale Texan fare under the expert guidance of chef Palazzo-Giorgio. Witness an appetizer of Texas quail stuffed with farro, toasted pinenuts and dried cranberry, for example, or an entree of housemade agnolotti with braised rabbit. Wrote Alison Cook in her recent review of Hawthorn in the Chronicle: "...if there's any justice, the restaurant won't stay a sleeper for long."
By day, it's a casual and cute place to grab an inexpensive Italian lunch. By night, it's effortlessly and casually romantic, just as you'd want a great date to be. Fairy lights twinkle in the canopy of the sweet little patio; the wine bar is dimly lit and well-stocked with Italian classics; the dining room is low-slung and moddish; and the small plates of elegant (and surprisingly inexpensive) food are meant to be shared, leading to plenty of Lady and the Tramp-style moments along the way as you both go for that last little chard-filled raviolo and lock eyes. But aside from being a charmingly romantic spot, Giacomo's also offers simply exquisite Italian fare from chef/owner Lynette Hawkins, with timeless dishes such as spaghetti alla carbonara and eggplant involtini delighting every time.
A bit of Britain in Houston -- and a bit of India, too -- keeps me coming back to The Queen Vic Pub & Kitchen. Indeed, it's the kind of place where you can get so cozy with a craft beer and a curry with chips, you might never want to leave (especially on a cold, wintry evening). Befitting its name, the pub also has a brilliant beer selection, including hard-to-find classics and limited-batch Houston brews. Better than the beer, though, is chef Shiva Patel's Texas-British-Indian fusion food, from her Oysters Victoria topped with saag paneer to an outstanding pub burger between two English muffins.
Another slice of Indian fusion heaven can be found just down the street, where chef/owner Anita Jaisinghani has been wowing West Ave visitors at Pondicheri since it opened last year. In fact, Pondicheri wowed us so much that we awarded it Best New Restaurant in the 2011 Best of Houston® issue. Pondicheri is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner, offering casual counter service during the day and upscale table service by night. It even offers classic Indian takeaway, albeit with Jaisinghani's modern, Gulf Coast twist on traditional Indian food. This clever restaurant that takes all comers while still creating some of the most breathtakingly interesting and soulful Indian food anywhere, like Texas shrimp chaat with corn and avocado, paneer-stuffed chicken legs or oatmeal chocolate-chile cookies.
2. Haven / Cove
The recent addition of new raw bar Cove has made the Houston food scene sit up and take notice of Haven once again, not that anyone had really forgotten about chef Randy Evan's farm-to-table temple nor the reliable Southern classics with a twist that he turns out daily. With new restaurant-within-a-restaurant Cove offering up inventive, all-raw dishes from across the world under sous chef Jean-Philippe Gaston, Haven's traditional vibe is turned on its ear in the most refreshing of ways. Grab a small dish or two (and a cocktail) at Cove, then grab another entree and dessert at Haven to enjoy the best of both worlds without even having to hit two restaurants.
1. Kata Robata
It says a lot about the changing palates of Houston diners that a highly modern sushi restaurant with a strong undertone of French fusion was our choice as Best New Restaurant in 2010. But the food at Kata Robata (and the casual atmosphere that belies some of the menu prices) was truly the biggest draw of any place that opened that year, and still continues to draw crowds today. Omakase platters and daily specials such as amberjack sashimi with foie gras prepared by the talented Manabu Horiuchi, formerly of Kubo's, are both playful and breathtaking at the same time -- as well as quite a bargain. The desserts under pastry chef Chris Leung are equally intriguing, with a lighter and more intelligent touch than is normally found in any pastry program -- let alone at a sushi restaurant. And that's a recurring theme at Kata Robata: fresh, flavorful, inventive and high-quality food for a lot less than you'd expect to pay, which is why it was awarded Best Sushi in the 2012 Best of Houston® issue and why it remains our favorite restaurant in the area.
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Check out our other Top 10 neighborhood lists:
Top 10 in Montrose Top 10 in the Heights Top 10 in Rice Village Top 10 on Washington Avenue Top 10 in the East End Top 10 in the Galleria Top 10 in Midtown Top 10 in Memorial Top 10 in Greenway Plaza Top 10 in The Woodlands Top 10 in Spring Branch Top 10 in Little India Top 10 in Far Northwest Houston Top 10 in Chinatown