Unlike neighboring Memorial, the Westchase district of Houston -- which runs roughly down the spine of Westheimer from Gessner to Dairy Ashford -- is brimming with some of the city's best and (happily) least expensive ethnic restaurants. Although you could eat at a place like J. Alexander's or Le Peep in this area, why would you?
Westchase may not offer much by way of aesthetics, but it makes up for it with excellent restaurants. And with all the choices it offers, it makes for a veritable United Nations of food. Below are our 10 favorite places to eat when we make the trek outside the Beltway.
10. Rudi Lechner's, 2503 S. Gessner
This is less of a German restaurant and more of an Austrian one. But does anyone even know the difference? All you need to know is that they have a drunk, ribald polka band on the weekends and schnitzel so thin, so crispy, so tangy, it will make you long for the Alps. Feeling invincible? Order the heritage platter and attempt to make your way through all that spaetzle, sauerkraut, potatoes and meat -- we dare you.
9. The Bull & Bear Tavern and Eatery, 11980 Westheimer
It isn't the most authentically English pub in town, but it's an outpost of civility and chips and curry on the west side whose gleaming mahogany bar and TVs tuned to footy make even the reddest neck long for the other side of the pond. Nothing to look at from the outside, the interior is quite cozy and warm, while the long, sleek bar with its row of shining taps is clearly the center of attention. Order a shepherd's pie or a basket of chips with HP brown sauce, and it's almost like being in London.
8. Bistro Le Cep, 11112 Westheimer
This charming French bistro is long on the long-in-the-tooth crowd -- think Luby's at 4 p.m., but upscale -- although the food isn't entirely reflective of the elderly crowd. It might be a little old-school, but it's always fresh and delicious. Our favorite dishes here include the pan-roasted calf's liver with apples, bacon and potatoes and the always excellent Coq au Vin.
7. Kasra Persian Grill, 9741 Westheimer
There are some who argue that this Persian palace has the best hummus in town -- a bold claim to make in a city so redolent with excellent Mediterranean restaurants. The only way to be sure is to go and judge it for yourself. And while you're there, familiarize yourself with the intriguing bounty of Persian cuisine like khorake bademjan -- long-cooked lamb shank in a sauce of tomatoes, onions and sour grapes -- or kubideh, a meat-lover's dream.
6. Sabine River Cafe, 10001 Westheimer
Relatively new to the Westchase scene and occupying the former space of Wolfgang Puck's ill-fated fast-casual concept, Sabine River Cafe seems destined to succeed in a spot where others have failed. Robb Walsh loved the paneed rabbit at this inexpensive yet tasty Texas-Cajun fusion restaurant, while others praise their breakfasts like the "Toledo Bend" Benedict (pictured above) and the Crème Brule Lost Bread.
5. Manena's, 11018 Westheimer
One of the few Argentinean restaurants in town and arguably one of the more authentic, Manena's serves breakfast, lunch and early dinner to Houston's small Argentinean ex-pat community and those lucky enough to stumble upon the little cafe. We recommend the extraordinary empanadas, which make a filling meal any time of day, or the milanesa sandwich. And don't forget to grab a few delicacies from the wonderous pastry case before you go.
4. Pho One, 11148 Westheimer
This year's Best of Houston® winner for Best Pho, this unassuming little Vietnamese restaurant (which shares the same red awning-ed strip center as Bistro Le Cep) is long on both service and great food. The pho here is made from the same recipe as the famous soup at Pho Tau Bay back in Saigon. Why? Because the owners are the grandchildren of famous pho restauranteur Y Van Vu. Not that pho is the restaurant's only selling point -- it offers delicious bun and com dia as well.
3. Phoenicia, 12141 Westheimer
It's a grocery store, it's a deli, it's a cafe, it's everything all in one! Whether you need a refill on your apple tobacco for your hookah, some dried packets of borscht, a case of Mythos beer, freshly made lebne, 24 different kinds of olives or halal lamb for dinner, Phoenicia has you covered. But if you want to just sit and enjoy a leisurely meal, you can do that too. We love their piping hot pita bread (which you can watch come down on a giant conveyor belt) paired with baba ghanoush and piquant muhammara. And no meal is complete without dessert: Phoenicia rocks the best baklava in town in its pastry case.
2. Rioja, 11920 Westheimer
Yes, the best Spanish restaurant in town is outside the Loop. Way outside the Loop. But the trip to this oddly located Spanish paradise is entirely worth it. You'd never know once you're inside that you're bordered by some rough apartments and a Fuddrucker's -- Rioja is a little slice of Alicante in Houston. And while the paella here is very good (not stupendous, but better than you'll get anywhere else in town), the real treat is the tapas menu. On weekdays, Rioja offers a phenomenal lunch deal: three tapas for $13.95. The patatas bravas and the jamon serrano will make you feel as if you're right back on the Costa Blanca.
1. Cafe Pita +, 10890 Westheimer
Anyone who's eaten at this charmingly rough-around-the-edges Bosnian restaurant will tell you that it's not only the best place to eat in Westchase, it's one of the best in the entire city. Bosnian cuisine is an interesting confluence of Mediterranean cooking and Central/Eastern European influence. As such, you'll find dishes here that seem oddly familiar, like the spanakopita-on-steroids-esque burek. But the best items are the succulent meat dishes like plejskavice (especially when filled with cheese) and the cevap. After one meal, you'll ponder why it's taken you so long to try Bosnian food. And you'll never look back.