Best Of :: Food & Drink
Texans are very passionate about chicken-fried steak and it's hard to find one to satisfy all the nitpickers. Mel's Country Cafe, though, has always served one worth making the drive to Tomball. The steaks come in "small" eight-ounce and "large" (behemoth) 16-ounce portions with all the desired choices of sides: green beans, skin-on fries and, of course, mashed potatoes. There's white cream gravy, as is right and proper. The breading is seasoned and light, which allows the tenderized beef to remain center stage. The chicken-fried steak at Mel's is, simply put, a Texas classic.
READERS' CHOICE: Hickory Hollow
Americans love to joke about how the British can't cook, but chef Richard Knight at Hunky Dory proves them all wrong daily. In addition to his amazing charcuterie, delicate vegetable dishes and hearth-roasted meats, he also has constructed the best burger in Houston. It's a lush, two-patty specimen with amazing beefy flavor. The secret is the combination of ground chuck, brisket and tongue. With the complexity of the meat blend, it makes sense to finish the burger with simple ingredients, and he does so with American cheese, pickles and onion. The warm, willowy fries alongside are excellent too.
READERS' CHOICE: Hubcap Grill
This Vera Pizza Napoletana-certified shop has changed the way Houstonians think about pizza. Blistered in a 900-degree, custom-made Italian brick oven, the pies cook in about 90 seconds, coming out with a just-scorched crust and soft, pillowy center that is best topped lightly. San Marzano sauce and housemade mozzarella are just fine, but you may want to tack on high-quality toppings like spicy soppressata, prosciutto and crimini mushrooms too. Lightly, of course.
When people think "cafeteria," images of sad green beans, soggy fish and scoops of mashed potatoes with wells of brown gravy might come to mind. The cafeteria-style service at Aladdin, though, offers flavor-packed, healthy Mediterranean fare. There are big trays of pickled cabbage salad, hummus and baba ghanoush (eggplant dip). Further down the line is a wealth of roasted fish and meats, like braised lamb shank doused in pan sauce and red snapper filets. Items like deep-fried falafel, dolmades (rice-stuffed grape leaves) and a nice selection of vegetables make it easy to dine vegetarian-style too.
If you thought there was no reason to drive to Richmond, think again. These gourmet rounds come crispy and golden on the outside, with a heavenly interior of fluffy dough. As excellent as the base is, it's the extras that truly make these doughnuts special. Get them in flavors like chocolate tres leches, salted caramel macchiato and key lime pie, or look out for sweet and savory cronuts topped with everything from strawberries and cream to honey chicken.
READERS' CHOICE: Shipley Do-Nuts
With an all-star lineup of local talent (including former Underbelly chef Lyle Bento, former Goro & Gun chef J.D. Woodward and BBQ mastermind Patrick Feges), this Southern-inspired eatery provides full-service comfort through contemporary plates, along with craft cocktails and two dozen beer taps. A constantly rotating menu keeps things interesting, while mainstays like the double-meat, double-cheese SG burger smothered in comeback sauce ensure you'll always leave satisfied. The tiny space is known to get packed, so come early or be prepared to grab a seat at the bar or on the outside patio. Oh, and if bourbon balls are on the menu, get some.
READERS' CHOICE: Max's Wine Dive
At this homegrown Montrose newcomer, excellent daily baked baguettes get the proper banh mi treatment with the addition of scratch-made truffled garlic aioli, housemade pâté and plently of pickly things. But it's the 24-hour sous vide pork belly that really warms the soul. The delectably fatty pig comes unctuous as all hell and packed with Vietnamese spices, with those aforementioned spreads adding to the decadence and thin slices of pickled daikon, carrot and cucumber helping to cut through all that richness. You can also get the sandwich on a croissant and add a yolky egg.
Though we'll miss this Heights staple's brief stint in dinner service, the recent cafe expansion brought a satisfyingly awesome all-day breakfast to the next level. Get farm-fresh yard eggs with a house-made corn beef and potato hash, fat and fluffy buttermilk biscuits stuffed with insanely hot Memphis-style fried chicken and local honey, and a rotating selection of daily quiche that will keep you coming back for more. Wash it all down with 24-hour cold brews and flawlessly crafted lattes. And this should go without saying, but if Revival is running one of its coveted Kolache Saturday specials, you most definitely want to show up for it.
READERS' CHOICE: The Breakfast Klub
Soup dumplings, or xiao long bao, are a deliciously delicate type of Chinese steamed bun with soup trapped inside. The best ones are crafted one-by-one using a thin, preferably hand-rolled wrapper, then filled with a dollop of marinated meat and a block of gelatin, before being quickly closed with tiny pleats that end with a pinch at the top. The gelatin melts when the dumplings are steamed, which results in a treat with a savory broth surprise. One Dragon Restaurant, more than any other Asian eatery in Houston right now, has perfected the delicate craft of xiao long bao. The dumpling wrapper is very fine and thin without breaking. The soup gushes when you bite into the dumpling, and the meat inside is tender, juicy. There's a reason why the dumplings are the first item on the menu, and also why this restaurant is usually packed with over an hour's wait on weekends.
READERS' CHOICE: Auntie Chang's Dumpling House
Melange fans rejoiced when the beloved Montrose crepe cart announced it would have a full-time spot at the underground food hall and beer garden, Conservatory. That's because the Parisienne-style creperie slings out what is easily considered the best version of the classic French street eats in town. Get the incredibly delicate crepes stuffed with high-quality ingredients, from the traditional banana and Nutella to the more creative additions such as chicken satay with peanut sauce. Rumor has it chef-owner Sean Carroll is still working on opening his own brick-and-mortar, so we can only expect even bigger, better things from Melange Creperie in the future.
With locations in both Bellaire and Katy and a soon-to-open Heights spot under its belt, this new-school burger joint continues to draw crowds of patty aficionados. That's because the very talented chef Justin Turner focuses on all things house-made, with from-scratch buns, daily ground Angus beef patties, and homemade condiments ranging from mustard and ketchup to a chipotle blackberry barbecue sauce. Hungry patrons can go for the beastly Detention burger, a monster beef bomb with two cheddar-topped patties and all the fixins packed inside two buns made of bacon grilled cheeses. And burger purists can take solace in the flawlessly prepared Principal, an old-fashioned cheeseburger with mustard, mayo, ketchup and house pickles. Add on classic milk shakes and hand-cut fries for extra credit.
Coastal Mexican restaurant Caracol is more than a nice place that happens to sell seafood. It's a celebration of seafood in all its forms, from raw oysters to wood-roasted fish. The warming blue crab soup with rich, chile-infused broth and masa dumplings is a good beginning; or start off on the cold side with the namesake caracol (conch) ceviche with pineapple, ginger and red jalapeño. From there, Caracol offers a dozen or more different seafood dishes to try. The camarones encamisados (bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with poblano and Chihuahua cheese and accented with roasted pepper mole) and the atún a las brasas (coal-roasted peppered tuna with charred yellow bell pepper escabeche and avocado salad) are just a few worthy seafood adventures.
READERS' CHOICE: Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen