Barbecue Inn
Photo by Robb Walsh
Barbecue Inn is frozen in time. At this place, it's still 1946. Just take a look at the menu, and sample some of its old-fashioned East Texas diner cuisine. Some people come here just for the chunky french fries. Others adore the old-fashioned stainless-steel merry-go-round of sour cream, bacon bits, green onions and cheese that comes with every baked potato. The barbecue is good, but there's a lot of great barbecue in Houston. The chicken-fried steak, slathered in milky cream gravy, has a devoted following. But it's the fried chicken that takes you back. A visiting cooking expert once singled out Barbecue Inn's fried chicken as an outstanding example of the classic Southern style. Dipped in flour with a minimal hint of seasonings and then deep-fried, it's the crispy, crunchy, burn-your-mouth-because-you-can't-wait-another-minute chicken of Southern childhood memories.
Griff's Houston
Everyone is so darn picky. More Worcestershire, not enough Tabasco, blah, blah, blah. When it comes to making the perfect Bloody Mary, chances are you know your own tastes better than anyone else. That's what makes Griff's Sunday Bloody Sundays such a revolution. They pour a top shelf shot of vodka over ice for you just before sending you off to stand in stupefied wonder before the Bloody Mary bar. There it is -- every variety of mix, spice, pepper sauce, celery salt and celery stalk your tiny noodle can handle. At Griff's, you can finally answer that age-old question -- giant green bean or spear of asparagus -- yourself.
Readers' choice: Bennigan's
Hilton Houston Post Oak
This one wins for sheer variety. One of the last all-you-can-eat brunch buffets, it's a feast for the eyes and the belly. With well over 100 feet of offerings, the Hilton Post Oak brunch should satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. A good strategy is to bring the Sunday paper and linger over the bottomless champagne or mimosas. Salmon, stone crabs, jumbo shrimp, omelettes, eggs Benedict, prime rib, filet mignon, duck breast, veal and pork tenderloin are all available. And the dessert station includes cherries jubilee, bananas Foster, chocolate-covered strawberries and bread pudding. Overindulgers, beware.
Readers' choice: Le Peep
The humble Naomi's Tacos excels in the breakfast-taco arena. You can order yours made-to-order in as many combinations as your mind can muster -- and you better believe they've got homemade tortillas. The owners of this modest, five-table taqueria hand-prepare the dishes themselves. If that's not enough to convince you that you're eating your morning meal with the best of 'em, then take a look at the framed photo of the owner shaking hands with Colin Powell.
Readers' choice: Berryhill Baja Grill
Brennan's of Houston
Photo by Troy Fields
Executive chef Randy Evans is putting his signature on Brennan's menu with some ambitious new dishes and a fresh spirit of inventiveness. The Creole food served here is a culinary subgenre that Brennan's calls Texas Creole. Derivative of New Orleans Creole cooking, the food here is the kind you'll find at old-line restaurants in the Crescent City such as Galatoire's. But Brennan's version of Texas Creole is meatier than its New Orleans cousin, and it features such local products as Broken Arrow Ranch venison pastrami and San Angelo lamb chops. There's even some ice cream on the dessert menu made from Galveston honey. A lot of the regulars like brunch here even more than dinner. Gospel music, turtle soup and a table on one of the prettiest patios in the city is a tough combination to beat.
Delicious and inexpensive banh mi (Vietnamese mainstays jam-packed into classic French baguettes) can be found all over our fair city, but Cali brings the art of the cheap eat to new and awe-inspiring levels. A mind-boggling $2 buys you a big ticket to taste country. A foot-long, warmed baguette is stuffed with pickled carrots and onions, slathered in rich, homemade mayo and crammed with copious amounts of cilantro before your choice of protein is added to the mix. Should you have the barbecue pork, the pate, the tofu or the shredded beef? At prices this low, you can have them all. Buy five, and the sixth is free. Top that, Subway!
Readers' choice: Subway
El Rey Taqueria
Jeff Balke
In the battle to rule the drive-thru, the best weapon is smoke. A rich, heavy cloud of it floats across Washington Avenue every afternoon from El Rey, a small Cuban/Mexican restaurant that attracts a fleet of loyal subjects. They come for the chicken, which is skewered and baked for hours to golden perfection. On the side, red and green salsas add a layer of punch to the meat's roasted, marinated flavor. The chicken also fills sandwiches, tacos, burritos and terrific tortilla soup garnished with cheese and avocados. Take it all home along with some Cuban-style fried plantains and a Mexican-style cantaloupe-juice agua fresca. Now that's living like a king.
Hickory Hollow
Stringy, sinewy cuts of second-rate cow bathed in a blanket of pasty flour can come dangerously close to high school cafeteria levels in some joints. Cookie the trail-hand cowboy cook would be downright offended by some of the versions being rustled up. Not so at Hickory Hollow, where they truly know how to keep the wagons happy. Generous, thick portions of fall-apart beef are dredged in just enough flour to get 'er goin', then seasoned to perfection with salt and black pepper. Pour some from-scratch cream gravy over it, pick your side dishes, and wink to the cowboy gods.
Readers' choice: Denny's
Dot Coffee Shop
Dawn McGee
Why are the best greasy spoons always by the airport? Open 24 hours, Dot is off I-45 just down from Hobby. At times, it seems like the entire restaurant and everything in it -- including the hardworking waitstaff -- is covered in a thin layer of grease. Everything comes in hefty portions, and daily specials include fried catfish and pot roast. The marquee advertises shakes, steaks and pancakes. The Houston omelet, which is stuffed with bacon, ham and pork sausage, is delicious. And anything you order is available topped with homemade chili. If Dot were a citywide chain, we'd all need a Lipitor dealer.
This patisserie rocks the chateau. The almond croissants are thick and rich -- a dieter's nightmare. But live a little. Indulge in this buttery, flaky pastry topped with slivered almonds and stuffed to the seams with frangipane, the creamy almond filling. Heaven. Late sleepers might miss out on these because they often sell out. Run, don't walk.

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