Best Of :: Food & Drink
Empanadas. The South American equivalent of American pot pies, the hand-size, crescent-shaped meat-filled pies are considered common street food throughout South America. The secret to a good empanada, whether it's fried or baked, lies not only in the dough used to make the crust but in the filling. At Artista in downtown, the empanadas are a master class in what an empanada should taste like. The fried crust — not too thick and not too thin — is spongy yet flaky, crispy yet soft. When you bite into it, the hot, flavorful mixture of onions and peppers and meat will want to spill over. You can dip your empanada in the accompanying chimichurri sauce or eat it alone. Either way, Artista's are total winners.
No neighborhood Vietnamese spot is complete without some amazing banh mi...and Cafe TH has just that. The cozy cafe's trademark sandwiches are just as vibrant as Houston's favorite front-house man, chef and owner Minh Nguyen. While the crusty, freshly baked baguettes that Nguyen sources are almost reason enough to try a sandwich, it's the perfectly executed fillings, both traditional and non, that truly take his banh mi to the next level. Come in for the classic xiu mai, with luscious pork meatballs and French butter, or the "Heart Throb," made with double pork, double chicken, two eggs and bacon. Or if you're of the more daring variety, try the Zombie Banh Mi, made with, well, everything.
Piola is one of those spots that are fun and hip yet comfortable. You can come here with your family or friends or by yourself when you're in a hurry. Primarily a pizza joint, this is not your run-of-the-mill fast-food pizza but true Neopolitan-style thin-crust pizza made from recipes handed down by masters in Italy. The classic margherita, with nothing more than fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, is always superb. Pizzas like the Capricciosa, with ham, sautéed mushrooms and artichokes, are subtle but fantastic as well. Many pizzas are named after cities: Firenze (Florence) comes with porcini mushrooms and sausage; Napoli comes with anchovies and olives; Brooklyn with chicken breast and gorgonzola; and Houston with jalapeños, fresh avocado and diced tomatoes. The happy hour is one of the best in town, with discounted pizzas and drinks, and free finger foods are passed out at the bar. But the great thing about Piola, the reason it's such a great neighborhood spot, is that it encourages community. Language students gather monthly to practice Italian. Gnocchi day is celebrated on the 29th of every month. The pizzas are also light enough that you can eat them regularly without the guilt — perfect for takeout on your way home from work.
If you're going to start your Saturday with a doughnut, Revival Market's fried delights are the way to go. The grocer's upscale creations include flavors like Meyer Lemon & Sour Cream-Filled, Valhrona Chocolate & Malted Milk, and Apple Pecan. The doughnuts are a perfect marriage of delicateness and decadence. The only problem is that Revival bakes them only on occasional Saturdays. But that just makes them taste all the sweeter.
El Rey is not your typical fast-food joint. Sure, the food comes out fast, but what we have here is a full-fledged Mexican-Cuban restaurant. Where else can you pick up a succulent, golden-skinned rotisserie chicken and a three-taco meal, complete with Mexican rice and pork-laced charro beans, at a drive-through window? Not to mention, they do breakfast. Drive-through Cuban coffee, anyone?
Every time you visit Niko Niko's, you quickly realize you're not the only one who had the same idea. This Greek restaurant is always packed with loyal customers trying to satisfy their gyro and falafel cravings. There's nothing fancy about this family-owned place, and there doesn't need to be. Whatever you order, whether it's the lamb shank, the Greek salad, or a chopped lamb and beef gyro sandwich, you know you'll get the same quality and flavor each time.
One of Houston's newest places, Crisp is nestled in the Shady Acres neighborhood, hidden away enough that you feel as if you've stumbled upon a secret gem. In addition to their extensive beer and wine selection and stone-deck fired pizzas, the menu features the best chickpea burger you've ever tasted. Crispy on the outside with a soft and inviting middle, it hits your mouth with a light spice that's delicate but so delicious. It comes topped with avocado, sprouts, cucumber and their minted-pepperoncini yogurt sauce, and you won't for a moment wish you had ordered something that once mooed.
It's so easy to stop by McDonald's on the way home and pick up fast food. But with a place like Adair Kitchen in the neighborhood, it's just as easy to stop there and get a healthy, fresh meal to go. Brother-and-sister team Nick and Katie Adair, whose family owns both the Skeeters and Los Tios local restaurant chains, wanted to open a restaurant that reflected their personal tastes — American classics that were healthy and wholesome at the same time. The result is a fun, welcoming environment for families to enjoy meals together. It starts with the big pig logo and a breakfast of classics that includes everything from pancakes and chicken and waffles to steel-cut oats and juices from Adair's new juice bar. Lunch offers heart-healthy yet tasty items from the vegetarian black-bean quinoa burger to the goat-cheese turkey burger or grilled whitefish tacos. Dinner, though delicious, keeps things affordable with entrées in the ten- to 12-dollar range without a sacrifice in quality or taste. The pecan-crusted baked chicken, served with Brussels sprouts and risotto, is remarkably tasty, while choices like the fresh fish in a bag or a lean turkey meat loaf make it possible for families to eat delicious dinners that aren't loaded with processed ingredients.
This cute, modern taqueria just north of downtown takes call-in and to-go orders for its breakfast tacos, but that's not the only reason we love La Macro. Owner Saul Obregon is always present with a warm smile, his staff ready to dish out heaps of chorizo (or potato if you're vegetarian) and eggs into hot, fluffy flour tortillas that never get gummy or tough. The house-made green and red salsas don't mess around; they'll wake you up more than any cup of coffee could ever hope to.
This family-run neighborhood restaurant located near the University of Houston has been serving classic Italian fare since 1975. The space itself may be little, but the family? Not so much. You may have heard of the Mandolas — that is, unless you've been living under a rock. Stop by for a meatball po-boy, a traditional red-sauced chicken parmesan, and a chat with father-and-son team Frank and Joseph. Afterwards, you'll feel just like one of the family.
While the storefront is new to the scene, Fat Cat Creamery is no stranger to serving its crave-inducing homemade ice cream all over town. Using fine-quality local ingredients, these cats dream up and scoop out flavors like Maple and Candied Bacon, the eggnog-flavored Railean Rum and Brandy, and the not-so-old-fashioned Cat's Meow Mexican Vanilla. No matter what you get, it'll be ultra-creamy and ultra-delightful.
Good news! You don't have to make it to your car for outstanding late-night grub; Pi Pizza Truck has got you covered. The truck, available for delivery till 3:30 a.m., is slinging some serious pies, from the wild-game-topped Outdoorsman — with venison sausage and port-wine-syrup-coated cherries — to the massive bacon-mac-and-cheese-topped Who's the Mac. Of course, it's not just available for delivery. If you can make your way to the truck itself after a night out, the massive slices just may aid in soaking up that booze. At least it's a start.