Best Of :: Food & Drink
There was a time in Houston when the best tables were awarded to the wealthy and prominent and the rest of us had to wait. In those days, great service meant sucking up to socialites and fluffing napkins, not providing information about the menu and the wine list. Da Marco is the upscale Italian restaurant that changed all that. Da Marco was a radical departure from the style of Gulf Coast Italian restaurants that long ruled Houston. Instead of following the familiar formula of opulent decor, overly rich sauces and obsequious waiters, chef Marco Wiles took his inspiration from a new generation of cutting-edge Italian restaurants like Mario Batali's Babbo in Greenwich Village. When rich Houston patrons accustomed to getting their own way demanded that chef Wiles make them ham sandwiches instead of eating the food he worked so hard to create, Wiles told them to "go eat at Tony's."
When it comes to stuff-your-face gluttony, no one does it better than the Asian-inspired all-you-can-eat buffet at V Star. Located in a strip mall just off of I-45, this place almost literally has it all. A fruit bar, salad makings, a soup station and a seafood bar overflowing with oysters on the half shell, shrimp, king crab legs and spicy crawfish get your engine revved. Next, choose from more than a dozen types of sushi before ambling over to the two long buffet carts continuously refilled with more than 30 entrées. Selections range from fried chicken wings and pizza to typical Chinese fare you'd expect to see at a buffet, such as General Tso's chicken, Szechuan beef, egg foo young and lo mein. Oh, and don't forget dessert. While gluttony can quickly turn to sloth, diners will feel light and virtuous having paid only $9.25 for this belly-busting treat.
Sure, the food is good, but at The Grove, it's all about ambience. Patrons walk through the entrance and face a soaring wall of windows that look out onto the oak trees and lawns in Discovery Green Park. The dark wood floors and ceiling add a homey touch to this otherwise sleek and modern-looking restaurant that bleeds almost seamlessly into its tranquil park surroundings. Essentially one large room, the restaurant has an open, airy feel; it's a great place to relax on a Sunday afternoon or be seen amongst the well-heeled formal diners at night. If a full meal is too much, then take the elevator up to the Tree House, a bar and wooden balcony/patio ensconced within the city skyline that offers one of the most relaxing views around.
Friendly, accommodating and spotlessly clean, this top-notch barbecue joint has recently opened in Acres Homes not far from the ashes of the late great William's Smokehouse. Owner Clarence Pierson is a bear of a man who knows his smoked meats. He cooks on an honest-to-God, wood-fueled, Houston-made Klose barbecue pit — not one of those gas-fired stainless steel virtual barbecue pits that burn a little wood every now and then. Pierson's deeply smoked brisket is remarkable, and his pork ribs are tender yet chewy. The Louisiana-style beans are mixed with meat and lots of seasonings so they resemble a cross between baked beans and chili. Desserts include homemade peach cobbler and bread pudding. There's one big family-style table in the middle of the dining room — pull up a chair and make some new friends.
If the downtown sausage-fest or the jock-stock in the village are not your cup of tea, the Stag's Head and their quality-over-quantity beer selection can be a haven for hopheads. Rather than trying to carry as many beers as possible or using gimmicks, they put some thought into the beers they pour, including Belhaven, Full Sail Pale Ale and Fuller's ESB. With plenty of beer specials and good food, they even make a decent cocktail. Unlike many beer joints around town, the Stag does more than just pull a beer into a pint glass and charge you more for it than a gallon of gas.
Sure, Houston's is part of a national chain, but boy do they know how to mix one hell of a Bloody. Located on Kirby just south of 59, the upscale eatery doesn't hammer its customers with too much pepper and heat, opting for a less spicy and more flavorful approach to one of America's favorite weekend hangover cures. In addition to tomato juice, their recipe includes homemade cocktail sauce, lots of horseradish and just the perfect hint of Worcester. Many mixes unfortunately don't have enough horseradish, but luckily, that's not a problem at Houston's. Here, a straw is almost useless because of the delicious bits floating throughout the Bloody Mary that for only $7.50 will leave you feeling like you just had the perfect meal.
Owners Laurence and Chris Paul of Café Rabelais fame have managed to create an authentic brasserie experience in the heart of Montrose with their Brasserie Max & Julie. With not too much imagination, you'll be transported to Paris in an instant, and not just by the decor. They have Kronenbourg on tap and an excellent selection of French wines that won't break the bank. Now all that's left is to select from the extensive menu of traditional brasserie favorites like soupe à l'oignon, escargots, foie gras or pâté as a starter. For your main course, you can't go wrong with the steak tartare et frites, the boeuf bourguignon or the cassoulet. Finish with a soufflé. All of these classic dishes are prepared perfectly, and you won't find a more charming place than this one.
The farmhouse loaf made by brothers Louis and Robert Wu is a dense loaf of bread, about 15 inches long, in the shape of an elongated football that is dusted with flour, which makes everything it comes into contact with white. And it is so crunchy that taking a bite may cause scratches in your mouth. This loaf is served in many of the finest Italian restaurants in town and is absolutely the best for dipping in olive oil. Served with nothing but butter, it is addictive, whether it's the day it's purchased or the next day and, once it has begun to harden a little, as toast. There's only one thing wrong with this loaf, and that's that it sells out quickly.
It's a good thing this taqueria is a weekend-only breakfast spot. If not, we'd be sinking our teeth into the migas seven days a week. You might have to wait in line to place your order, but once you have, sit back and have some of Goode Company Taqueria's fresh-squeezed orange juice on the relaxing patio or the funky indoor area, and soon enough, your name will be called. Hot plates of gorgeous pecan waffles are light with real homemade flavor. Savory egg dishes are all over the menu; have them with meats mixed in, or go for a succulent side of quail. The coffee's great, but with Taqueria's laid-back vibe, no one will look twice if you insist on getting one of the thick cinnamon chocolate shakes to start your morning right.
The meat used for the barbacoa de Borrego is lamb, and it's lighter in color and slightly sweeter than the traditional beef used in most barbacoa found in the finest taco joints in Houston. It makes for a great taco, whatever the time of day. The lamb is slow-cooked in traditional Mexican spices until it falls apart. In a homemade corn tortilla smeared with refried beans and topped with nothing but chopped onions, cilantro and hot sauce, it is one of the best tacos you'll ever eat — and at $2, one of the cheapest, as well. Pity it's available only on weekends. Readers' Choice: Taco's a Go-Go
Apart from the fabulous food served here every Sunday, it's also the best bargain in Houston with a sumptuous buffet priced at an incredible $12.99 per person. And as if that weren't enough, bottomless mimosas go for $7.99 and bottomless sangria for $8.99. Start out with a warming bowl of sopa de camarones, a cream-based soup that is as chock-full of seafood as it is with veggies. Skip the made-to-order omelets and waffles — unless you just have to have them — and try the shrimp-stuffed jalapeños, the Salvadoran pupusas wrapped in banana leaves, the migas or the corn or spinach enchiladas. End with the chipotle beef or the pan-fried tilapia. But make sure you try the unbelievable desserts, which include a flan, an incredible tres leches and a bread pudding with whisky sauce.
The 105 Grocery & Deli is located in the rural hamlet of Washington, not far from Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park. Inside, there are a lot of cold drink cases and about six tables scattered around the interior. The burgers are made on a griddle behind the cash register. They come wrapped in tissue paper in a paper-lined blue plastic basket full of golden fries. The meat bulges out of the bun. It is unevenly shaped, with a lot of charred crispy areas along the edges. Each patty appears to be around two-thirds of a pound. A round piece of iceberg and two tomato slices are positioned underneath the burger in the "upside down" configuration with a modest sprinkling of chopped onions and a couple of pickle slices. The puffy oversize bun is well toasted and spread with yellow mustard and Miracle Whip. If they switched from salad dressing to real mayo, it would probably be the best burger in Texas.