Gilhooley's Raw Bar
Robb Walsh
Gilhooley's is Misho Ivic's favorite restaurant. And since Misho is the owner of Misho's Oysters, one of the largest oyster processors in Texas, he personally picks his best bivalves to be sent to the restaurant. In the winter, when the oysters are sweet and plump, the ones at Gilhooley's are always just a little sweeter and just a little plumper. And during the rest of the year, when smart consumers eat their oysters cooked, you can't beat the Oysters Gilhooley, which are dusted with Parmesan and dotted with garlic butter before being smoked in a pecan-wood-fired barbecue pit. They are one of the premier examples of barbecued oysters on the entire Gulf Coast. If you like to wear a black wife-beater T-shirt with a Harley-Davidson logo on the back and a bandanna on your head, you'll feel right at home here. A great many of the patrons arrive on motorcycles. It's not much of a family restaurant, either. In fact, a sign on the front door reads "No children!" And they aren't kidding.
At this cozy little cottage, the chef is also the waiter, and all the food tastes homemade. Chef Neville Monteith grew up in rural East Portland, Jamaica, not far from the Boston Beach jerk shacks and the Port Antonio banana plantations. After training at the famous Trident resort hotel on the island, he cooked at top U.S. luxury hotels like the Beverly Hilton and the Royal Biscayne. Now he is happily serving his "home food" at his own place. The menu offers some of the best Jamaican jerk barbecue and curry goat you will ever sample. Six-dollar lunch specials include both Caribbean dishes and soul food favorites such as oxtails and smothered pork chops. But real Jamaican food aficionados come in for the all-you-can-eat Caribbean buffet served at Sunday brunch and sometimes on Friday and Saturday nights (call for details).
The Amacones don't just look cute -- they're delicious.
Photo by Troy Fields
The Amacones don't just look cute -- they're delicious.
The plantain chips at the Amazon Grill are long -- the entire length of a plantain -- as well as thick, crispy and golden. There are lots of them, and best of all they're free. You can choose from two dipping sauces; one's a chimichurri (parsley, olive oil and garlic), the other a mango, and both of them are wonderful. There's an art to piling them on your plate so that you don't embarrass yourself if they fall off, but of course you can always go back for more.
If there is a little El Salvador in Houston, it's on Bissonnet. Hell, there's a "Little Everywhere" along that endless stretch of road. Several pupusarias coexist in the 6000s or so, but this one ranks the highest with its yummy little Salvadoran street snack, the pupusa. The hole-in-the-strip-mall El Cuscatleco serves pupusas hot and fresh off the griddle, stuffed with a white cheese that oozes when you bite into it. At $1.65 each, they're cheap, and they'll fill you up fast. If you spice them up with the large plastic jug of curtido (a spicy pickled cabbage condiment) on your table, make sure you have something cold to drink. And maybe a breath mint.

Best Neighborhood Spot in the Southwest

Java Cup

One of Houston's more intriguing shopping centers is located near West Bellfort and Chimney Rock, where Westbury Square tries, as it has for 30 years, to stay alive. The center's New Orleans feel -- brick paving, porches, a fountain -- is so strong that Infernal Bridegroom Productions once staged a Tennessee Williams play outdoors there. There's no better place to anchor a stroll around this odd little corner of Houston than the new Java Cup coffeehouse, which offers plenty of iced drinks, pastries from Three Brothers Bakery and all the joe you could want. The place is clean, cheery and sunny, with a friendly staff and outdoor seating for the autumn days. Go, and try to figure out just what the developers were thinking all those years ago.
Jarro Cafe
Batli Joselevitz
Salsa is like beer: Some people timidly nip it, and others suck in the buzz. If salsa to you means getting lit, then thank the devil for Jarro Cafe, the flame-licked answer to the icehouse. Here, you'll get a salsa six-pack. Each of six brightly colored bowls offers a different, painfully delicious temptation. Try the chopped purple onions mixed with Mexican oregano -- "Mayan salsa" -- or the sweet, oily, crushed chile arbol, which tastes almost like a more potent mole. A thick red-chile puree shoots pure fire. Two deep green sauces of tomatillos and cilantro slap the tongue with serranos and jalapenos. But for the most dangerous tortilla chip north of Matamoros, dip into the yellowish habanero sauce: brisk, sharp and 100 proof.
Readers' choice: Chuy's
Vieng Thai
The hot larb salad with lime-juice-drenched ground beef tossed with chopped chiles, scallions, onions, mint and cilantro is electrifying. The drunken noodles -- slick with lime juice, piquant with chiles and aromatic with purple basil -- are spectacular. The milky-looking tom kha gai is a seductively gentle-looking chicken soup that turns devilishly spicy on your palate with blazing chiles and sour lemongrass, lime juice and kaffir-lime accents. This is nothing like the sweet and sticky Americanized Thai food served at most Houston Thai restaurants. This is Thai food the way it tastes in Thailand. But authentic Thai restaurants don't last long in the United States. Almost all of them end up dumbing down the food to please the wimpy mainstream. Do Houston food lovers a favor: If you don't like your Thai food hot and spicy, go somewhere else!
At Hunan Village, you can order veggie substitutes so amazingly similar to the real deal, you'll swear you're being fooled with. Take the sesame "chicken." We defy you to bite into a big chunk of its sweet, dark, chewy mass and deny it's the same stuff Colonel Sanders is serving up the road. The "pork" fried rice will have you picking out pieces of faux pig for a closer look. This stuff could be in the Museum of Modern Science. Lucky for you, it can also be put in your belly.
Larry's Original Mexican Restaurant
You may think you prefer authentic Mexican enchiladas made with imported queso, but that's only because you haven't eaten at Larry's lately. Sure, the American cheese-filled enchiladas here are relics of the 1960s. But the truth is Larry's old-fashioned cheese enchiladas taste better than those earnest enchiladas made with real cheese. Only processed American cheese will melt into those viscous yellow swirls that mix so brilliantly with the dark brown chili gravy. And only processed American cheese keeps its oozy consistency after half an hour of beer-drinking. Keep your congealed authentic Mexican enchiladas sprinkled with salty, waxy queso. Vintage Tex-Mex cheese enchiladas, stuffed with processed American cheese, slathered with cumin-scented chili gravy and topped with generous clumps of grated raw onion rule! And Larry's makes them just like the good old days.
Madras Pavilion Indian Cuisine
Madras Pavilion is popular with Gujaratis, South Indians and other vegetarian denizens of the subcontinent, but never mind the wisdom of Lord Krishna -- the real reason to go is because the food is heavenly. The palak paneer is the most perfectly spiced in the city. Filled with onions and potatoes, many of the 13 varieties of dosai look less like crepes than architectural wonders; they're rolled into crispy tubes that seem to defy gravity. Each comes with a stellar assortment of dipping chutneys, including the unusual coconut- and tomato-based varieties. Madras also excels at creamy curries. The malai kofta and vegetable korma should destroy all stereotypes of vegetarian food as the grub of health nuts. Each bite is deliciously rich, and well worth it.

Best Of Houston®

Best Of