As is the case in many other areas of Houston, the downtown restaurant scene has expanded and grown in sophistication. Whether you’re looking for a quiet café, a ritzy scene, a good place for a business meeting or cheap eats, there’s a great restaurant to suit your needs. In fact, there are so many to choose from that there are many worthy choices in our Honorable Mentions list.
- Treebeards, 315 Travis, for serving up comforting Cajun fare like shrimp étouffée, red beans and rice, corn muffins and jambalaya to downtown diners since 1978.
- Irma’s, 22 North Chenevert, founded in 1989 by the legendary Irma Galvan. The menu-less Tex-Mex restaurant is an original Houston classic with an ever-changing selection.
- The Honeymoon, 300 Main, which magically goes from coffee shop (that serves excellent espresso and coffee from Boomtown Coffee) and breakfast stop to charming lunch cafe to cocktail bar, all in a single day—every day.
- Batanga, 908 Congress, a South American restaurant with a full bar, a sizable tapas menu and an even more-sizable patio ideal for outdoor dining.
- The Flying Saucer, 705 Main, for its “let your hair down” menu of burgers, hot wings and salads and being way ahead of its time in the craft beer movement.
- Niko Niko’s in Market Square Park, 301 Milam, because gyros never taste as good as when eaten in the open air. The little stand in the park is like having a ready-made Greek picnic nearby that doesn’t need to be prepared or packed and all of the pitas can be packed as box lunches with the addition of hummus and dessert.
- Bovine & Barley, 416 Main, is still a fledgling, but there’s some burgeoning potential. The brisket tacos here are excellent, as are the fried chicken “lollipops.” The atmosphere is a lot like something you might find on 6th Street in Austin.
Now, on with our top picks.
10. MKT Bar, 1001 Austin
MKT Bar is an excellent option for convention goers. It’s just a few blocks from the George R. Brown and features light, Mediterranean fare as well as a few homages to its hometown of Houston. Take, for example, the Bayou City Sliders with ground chuck patties, sharp cheddar, onion, pickle, applewood smoked bacon and Turkish coffee barbecue sauce on a brioche roll. MKT Bar is adjacent to Phoenicia Specialty Foods, so quality ingredients are just a step away. Hungry diners might take a look at the 10-ounce T-bone or the Chicken Fattoush. There are social and live music events through the week and steak night is on both Tuesdays and Thursdays.
9. Artista, 800 Bagby
The current construction outside the Hobby Center For The Performing Arts has Artista a bit undercover right now but the show-stopping interior and lovely South American fare makes it worth seeking out. It’s one of the Cordúa family’s many Houston restaurants, but unlike América’s or Churrascos, there is only one Artista. Dishes like Plantain-Crusted Chicken with seared panela cheese, black bean sauce and crema fresca makes for a perfect business lunch while the rack of lamb makes for an apt celebration before heading to a show at one of the many nearby venues in the Theater District.
8. El Big Bad, 419 Travis
El Big Bad is a fun, casual, funky hangout with a huge balcony, perfect for a bird’s eye view of the downtown streets below or just enjoying the sun. The chef, Jonathan Jones, is formerly of the defunct Xuco Xicana and crafted the interior Mexican menu there. El Big Bad’s predecessor was the former and beloved El Gran Malo, so the menu is a marriage of some of the best dishes from each. Tart, fresh ceviche, Jalisco “Wangs,” tacos and rib-sticking posole are among of El Big Bad’s best dishes. Wash it all down with one of the drinks on the cocktail menu which includes several inventive margaritas made from with their fruit-, pepper- spice- or even vegetable-infused tequilas.
7. Main Kitchen, 806 Main
Chef Erin Smith at Main Kitchen at the J.W. Marriott set out from the beginning to not be an ordinary hotel restaurant. Along with our number five pick below, Main Kitchen sets out to prove that, just like in other major cities, Houston is fully capable of having hotel restaurants worthy of being destinations even for those who live in the city. Houstonians would be amiss to not stop in and try one of the thin-crusted smoked brisket pizzas, the Massaman curry Mussels or the inventive Togarashi Green Beans.
6. Hubcap Grill, 1111 Prairie
With locations in Kemah and The Heights now and more to come, it’s hard to remember that just a few years ago, there was only one Hubcap Grill. It is still delighting downtown burger lovers. Yes, it’s humble and cramped, but it’s charming, too and it's always a joy to see owner Ricky Craig's mom and dad behind the counter. As far as the burgers and fries go, they are well worth waiting in line for. There are barbecue burgers, burgers topped with Philly cheesesteak and even a Cheetos burger with cheese sauce, but even just the simple cheeseburgers are gourmet-level food.
5. Quattro, 1800 Lamar
The in-house restaurant at the world-class Four Seasons Hotel has to be able to keep up with the high expectations of the world travelers and Houstonians alike. Under chef Maurizio Ferrarese, Quattro seduces diners with the tender, in-house made pastas and more luxuriant dishes such as whiskey-braised short ribs and farm-raised striped bass from Danevang, Texas. During casual times, there’s little that feels more peacefully cosmopolitan than securing a window seat and looking over downtown with a class of wine in-hand. Vegetarian and gluten-free diners should take note, as compliant items are clearly identified on the menu.
4. Myth Kafe, 1730 Jefferson
When people talk about “hidden gems,” they’re talking about places like Myth Kafe. It’s tucked away in the humble CWA Union building in the far southern corner of downtown near where I-45 intersects Highway 59. The owners are Greek and the lovely interior belies the outside. Inside, you will find legit, lettuce-free Greek salads with ripe red tomatoes, lemon-herb roasted chicken and porkopoulo, or pork sautéed in white wine sauce with sun-dried tomatoes, capers, herbs and feta. They’re open for lunch and recently re-opened for dinner. The building is up for sale, so let’s hope whoever buys it realizes what a gem of a restaurant there is inside.
3. Jackson Street BBQ, 209 Jackson
The enormous, barn-like barbecue place is the brainchild of Bill Floyd, Bryan Caswell and longtime pit master Greg Gatlin. When it opened earlier this year, the timing couldn’t have been better as Gatlin’s BBQ had just had to close due to non-renewal by the landlord. (The new Gatlin’s BBQ in Garden Oaks is
2. Prohibition Supperclub & Bar, 1008 Prairie
Prohibition Supperclub & Bar proves that Southern food can be homey, comforting, decadent and luxurious all at the same time. A long, sturdy bar anchors the front dining room where it’s overseen by beverage director Lainey Collum. Overhead, ornate crystal chandeliers cast twinkling light across the black and white marble floor, and the silverware are matched sets, right down to the oyster forks.
The main dining room in back is much more opulent, with a stage, cushy booth seating, spiral staircase and upstairs balcony. It’s recently been the scene for some impressive pop-up dinners with top chef talent from across the country, like a recent charcuterie dinner that featured Salt &Time from Austin, Craig Deihl of Artisan Meat Share in South Carolina and Houston’s own Andrew Vaserfirer from Revival Market. The weekends get more racy when burlesque troupe The Moonlight Dolls take over the stage, making for some sexy dinner theater. Afterward, the scene in the front dining room can become quite boisterous as it changes from dinner scene to a bar scene.
1. Vic & Anthony’s, 1510 Texas
The steakhouse scene is about to get fiercely competitive, as Pappas Bros. is about to open its own downtown location. Vic & Anthony’s seems ready to battle. It remains a classic while keeping up with modern expectations. It has blossomed under chef Michael O’Connor (a process guided by Houstonian Carlos Rodriguez, the corporate executive chef who now oversees Vic & Anthony’s locations nationwide). Just as diners expect, there are wet-aged strips, ribeyes and porterhouses, but seductive dishes like Foie Gras Torchon with Pop Rocks and Orange Bitters Gelée and Szechuan Pepper Crusted Tuna with Soy Ginger Butter, Rice Vinegar Cucumbers and Fresh Wasabi prove this stalwart knows how to keep things fresh. The food is wonderful and service is where Vic & Anthony's excels. It's a combination that keeps them on top.
Wait just one darn minute here. Where’s Oxheart?
You’ll have to make up your own mind about Oxheart. I have a conflict of interest so I can’t give it a rating. However, you might check with some other people to see what they think.