Best Of :: Food & Drink
The Viet-Cajun crawfish craze is as strong as ever in Houston, with many of the popular joints competing each year to get on the top lists. At the top of the pack this year? Cajun Kitchen. Not only is the quality top-notch (bigger, consistently good-size crawfish), but beyond the Cajun boil are Vietnamese flavors that coat the crawfish. Cajun Kitchen's "Kitchen Special," a wok-sautéed blend of butter, garlic, oranges and other spices, is supremely addictive. Its Thai Basil is still one of the most innovative flavors out there, and the Garlic Butter — the core of Viet-Cajun crawfish — comes heaped with mounds of garlic on top. Eating Cajun Kitchen's crawfish is a delight, from the sweetness of the tail to the flavor that you can slurp off the shell. So great is Cajun Kitchen's crawfish, in fact, that the restaurant was chosen by chef Paul Qui as the place to spotlight in Anthony Bourdain's critically acclaimed PBS Series The Mind of a Chef.
READERS' CHOICE: Ragin' Cajun
Classic comfort foods get a refresh at this hot Washington Ave bistro-market hybrid. The energized, urban vibe of the exposed brick and art-filled space makes its way into the menu through things like duck fat camper's hash, buttermilk beignets and fried chicken, and "3 Pig" truffled mac and cheese — that cheesy and gooey skillet loaded with smoked bacon, pancetta and honey-glazed ham just may be the epitome of comfort. But if you're still on edge, Urban Eats's laundry list of poutine-style frites and craveworthy signature sliders (featuring everything from the pot roast- and gravy-loaded Sunday Dinner slider to a Fried Green Tomato BLT) should help.
READERS' CHOICE: the breakfast klub
Life is too short to drink bad Bloody Marys. And if you're going to get your morning boost through tomato juice and vodka, you may as well tack on a crispy and tender fried chicken wing and beer backer, right? The peppery Big Ol' Bloody Mary at this packed-for-good-reason Heights haunt will give you just that. It'll also give you a perfectly tart, seriously spicy house mix and a foolproof cure for your hangover.
READERS' CHOICE: Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette
Though the cash-only spot has been around awhile — in various forms since 1941, to be exact — this isn't some tired cafeteria. The unassuming eatery brings in fresh farmers' market produce daily and has an inhouse butcher. It isn't your school cafeteria, either. Here, "hot lunch" means you're getting scratch-made chicken and dumplings with a side of beautifully charred Brussels sprouts, flaky poached salmon with tomato and feta salad, and bigger-than-your-head chicken-fried steak with gooey mac and cheese. Just save room for the daily baked bread pudding and lemon chess pies. Oh, and don't forget that cash.
This messy burger-slinging truck already had good grades on its report card, but when it turned brick-and-mortar last year, the king of beef earned honor roll status. And with air conditioning, plenty of seating and an expanded menu featuring things like salad, poutine fries and boozy milkshakes, it's the kind of place the entire family can get down with. Recess grilled cheese sandwiches and mini burgers are perfect for the little ones, while those with growing appetites can smash stacked burgers made with daily-ground Black Angus beef, addicting inhouse condiments, and buttery, scratch-made buns. Trust us — this is one time your family won't mind taking the school bus.
This greasy spoon next to Canino's Produce may be old school (you may get called "honey" or "darlin'"), but that just makes it taste all the better. The family-owned and operated diner has been keeping Houstonians happy and full since 1942. With new, self-proclaimed "comfort food" concepts popping up all over the city, it's reassuring to know that you can stop by old faithful to fill up on grade A diner classics. Head here for the huge and cheap breakfast plates, blue plate specials and a cream-gravy-smothered CFS just like your mawmaw made.
Inspired by the nostalgic decadence of the 1920s, this luxurious supper club sets the mood for a night at the theater. Lavishness is apparent the moment you step into the stunning chandelier-lit space, modeled after old-style American hotels and European cafes — but it comes even more alive when you savor the menu of Creole-infused new American classics such as smoked fried chicken and chargrilled Gulf oysters. And you won't want to miss what may be the best cocktail program in town, crafted by tincture titan Lainey Collum, or the Thursday-Saturday night burlesque numbers from the sultry troupe The Moonlight Dolls. It's dinner and a show.
This West U eatery may have started out as the younger, more casual sister of Coppa, but when its big brother closed, the Italian resto continued to shine bright on its own. With a glass-windowed "dough room," modern, candlelit dining space, and walk-up pizza window, there's something for everyone in the neighborhood. You're just as likely to find couples getting romantic over red wine and decadent house-made pasta as you are a group of undergrads sharing laughs over a few sausage- and chile-topped pizza pies. Those pies, by the way, show up blistered and beautiful straight out of a 900 degree gas-fired oven. If that's not neighborhood-friendly, we don't know what is.
This classic taco truck doesn't include the word "caliente" in its moniker by accident. The house-made salsas — both roja and verde — are tongue-scorching in the best kind of way. Drizzle a little of each over freshly made corn tortillas stuffed with brick-red pastor, melt-in-your-mouth barbacoa, and the richest, most flavor-packed lengua. Just don't forget to squeeze on the lime and get an ice-cold beer from neighboring West Alabama Icehouse to take down the blazing heat. These are the kinds of mind-numbingly delicious Mexican eats you'd expect in Houston. All from a truck in a parking lot.
Helmed by crêpe guru Sean Carroll (a.k.a. Buffalo Sean), this reigning champion of the Houston Press's Best Crepes deserves another win. The fan-favorite Parisienne-style crêpe stand launched a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of going brick-and-mortar earlier this year. Since dreams do come true, the campaign was a smashing success. Soon enough, Houstonians will be able to get their paper-thin, sweet and savory crepes stuffed with everything from the classic banana and Nutella or ham and egg to palak paneer or local fig and goat cheese without standing in the street. It's a win for everyone.
This Montrose haunt — the brainchild of revered chef Bryan Caswell and Texas food authority (and former Houston Press food critic) Robb Walsh — is highly dedicated to authenticity. With a menu focused on "vintage Tex-Mex" (they render fresh lard in-house, y'all), it's no surprise the scratch-made enchiladas are menu standouts. There are more than a handful of varietals, and you'll want to eat your way through them all; but may we suggest you start with the quintessential cheese enchiladas with chile con carne? Add a fried egg and you'll have an intensely sloppy, gravy-smothered meal that will take you back to the good ol' days.
Executive Chef Austin Simmons is ambitious. That's not a bad thing for someone responsible for overseeing the menus of three restaurants in The Woodlands. He is tasked with the care of Hubbell & Hudson Bistro and the more casual Hubbell & Hudson Kitchen. However, it's at Hubble & Hudson Cureight, his tasting-menu "bunker" hidden near the bistro kitchen, where the ambition becomes palpable — and delectable. Simmons is determined to make Cureight a destination worth the drive. He really, really wants diners to not just enjoy his food but to be impressed by it. The artful courses — many of them focused on high-end meat selections — are small yet hearty enough not to be deemed too precious. The menu changes regularly depending on what's in season, but expect the likes of hamachi in san bai zu sauce with spherized coconut milk and firm bay scallops awash in dashi with paper-thin jalapeño slices, radish, green apple and tomato. It's only the beginning of a dining experience like no other in The Woodlands, and Simmons is the one making it happen.