The Montrose is one of Houston’s most important culinary epicenters. It’s thanks to some of the high-quality establishments in the area that Houston is repeatedly cited as one of the best food cities in the nation.
When people hear “Montrose,” they tend to think of a small area around the intersection of Montrose and Westheimer. It’s actually a much bigger neighborhood than that. To the north is Buffalo Bayou and to the south is Highway 59. It’s bordered on the west by Shepherd and the east by the jaggy, vertical line of Taft, Baldwin Street and Spur 527.
When new, ambitious concepts want to set up shop, this is often the first place they look for a space (and those spaces are very hard to find right now). Thanks to an influx of new talent and the continuing excellence of existing favorites, the competition to be the best of the best has grown fierce over the past two years. As a result, Houston diners have more and better choices than ever before.
All of this comes with a price. Most of these places are impressive but not necessarily inexpensive, so if you’re looking for something easier on the wallet, check out our list of the 10 Best Budget Restaurants In Montrose.
10. Uchi, 904 Westheimer
The tasting menu is really the way to go for the full tour of Uchi's stylish, modernized Japanese fare. However, diners who pick and choose à la carte might consider some of Uchi’s most classic dishes, like the seared wagyu nigiri, foie gras nigiri, jar jar duck (a sealed jar that releases a puff of wonderful-smelling smoke when opened) and the fried milk are all likely to please. The only negative is that even though the food is still stellar, Uchi’s creativity seems to have stagnated since it opened three years ago. It’s time for some new surprises.
9. L’Olivier, 240 Westheimer
This seems to be the year L’Olivier has really hit its stride. Chef Olivier Ciesielski, who made Houstonians sit up and take notice during his tenure over more than a decade at Tony’s, has struck an interesting balance between French classics and Houston sensibilities. There's a renewed sense of playfulness and it’s fun to see. Wednesdays is fried chicken and Champagne night, and who would want to miss that? Every Tuesday is a three-course vegetarian tasting menu, and Thursday is “Paws On the Patio” night. Never fear, though — the French classics, like fillet of beef, escargot and duck leg confit still rule.
8. Mark’s American Cuisine, 1658 Westheimer
Mark Cox is like the chef’s chef. Even after all these years, rather than relegating kitchen oversight to someone else so he can schmooze customers, he still insists on being part of that process. While Mark’s definitely still caters to its loyalists, it also seems to be on a path of reinvigoration. The restaurant has added a happy hour menu that features $6 wines by the glass and $7 small plates, and there's a lot of fresh new talent behind the bar, in the kitchen and on the floor. Keep an eye on the Facebook feeds of both Cox and the restaurant itself. It's a good source of information for what's new, as when rare black and white Italian truffles arrive or when the kitchen is featuring delicate branzino fillets. This Houston institution deserves to be cheered on for its new, adventurous efforts.
7. Cuchara, 214 Fairview
This colorful place in a tucked-away area on Fairview is so intent on bringing a true Mexico City experience to Houston that the owners import handcrafted Mexican art both for the restaurant decor and for sale. The all-female chef staff focuses on bringing the same kind of authenticity to diners’ plates and palates. The mole negro sports 34 different ingredients, and the spicy green mole with pork tenderloin is just as compelling. Be sure and try the peanut salsa. It sounds strange, but the creamy, savory, spicy concoction is incredibly addictive. The weekend brunch is popular, and families with well-behaved children are always welcome. Cuchara is almost the most reasonably priced restaurant on this list.
6. Da Marco Cucina e Vino, 1520 Westheimer
Marco Wiles’s institution of fine Italian fare continues to be a reliable source of memorable dining experiences. Service is impeccable and there’s a charming, old-school seriousness that translates to a sense that there’s really something special going on. The pasta dishes, like asparagus ravioli with slow-cooked rabbit, never fail to delight. Main courses like the Chianti braised short ribs with burrata risotto paired with robust Italian red wine are satisfying dishes that will send diners home with warm, fond memories.
5. BCN Taste & Tradition, 4210 Roseland
Chef Luis Roger’s Spanish heritage and ambition quickly established BCN Taste & Tradition as a noteworthy spot for elegant and intimate dining. There’s a real passion here for authentic Spanish ingredients, many of which are imported. That said, there’s a genuinely human touch to the dishes as well. Roger cultivates his own fresh herbs, and there’s a feeling that every dish that leaves the kitchen meets his fastidious standards. The best thing about BCN is that it knows when to let quality ingredients — such as delicate langoustine, salted cod, fresh anchovies, jamón ibérico and silky foie gras — shine mostly under their own power.
3 & 4. (Tie) Underbelly, 1100 Westheimer and Hugo’s, 1600 Westheimer
Hugo’s and Underbelly are both outstanding and have long been recognized on a national level. They’re also totally different from each other, and there’s no way to say one is superior to the other. So we'll call this one a draw.
At the helm of Hugo’s, serving up legitimate interior Mexican cuisine is four-time James Beard Best Chef Southwest nominee Hugo Ortega. He was one of the first chefs to show Houstonians that “Mexican” food was not the same as Tex-Mex.
Ortega’s brother, Ruben, is responsible for a dessert program that, among other things, incorporates cacao beans roasted and ground into cinnamon-spiced Mexican chocolate on-site. The resulting desserts and hot chocolate are delightfully intense. The Sunday brunch is nearly legendary, there’s a separate menu for vegetarians, housemade tortillas and several excellent moles.
Underbelly’s chef is Chris Shepherd, the man who was the first Houston chef to win the James Beard Best Chef Southwest award in 11 years. (Chef Robert del Grande, currently of RDG + Bar Annie, won in 1992. Shepherd was honored in 2013.) Shepherd’s goal is to present “the story of Houston food,” and his inspiration comes from the fare served by humble mom-and-pop cafes, including Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai.
Underbelly’s food is also enthusiastically seasonal and local. Meats come from local ranches and produce comes from local farms. People who dislike uncertainty might not like that the menu changes regularly, but that ensures the food is as fresh and ecologically sound as can be. You can always count on the old-timey vinegar pie, the "Butcher’s Cut" (basically a big hunk of local meat seared in a cast-iron pan meant to be shared) and the Korean goat dumplings in spicy gochujang sauce.
Which is better? Well, what are you in the mood for? The choice is yours.
2. Pax Americana, 4319 Montrose
Chef Adam Dorris’s innovative perspective on ingredients, proprietor Shepard Ross’s passion for the best American wines and consistently excellent service combine to make Pax Americana one of Houston’s must-visit dining destinations. Even dishes that sound like bistro standards have some kind of enlightening surprise in store, like discovering that blueberries and citrus puree are terrific companions for akaushi short rib. The spiced, smoked brisket topped with a refreshing salad of strong herbs has been a hit since the beginning and remains on the menu to this day. Don’t fail to save room for dessert, because there’s always something surprising on the menu, such as butternut squash cake with pine nut butter mousse.
1. The Pass & Provisions, 807 Taft
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The Pass & Provisions has been a consistent source of creative, thoughtful fare since opening in 2012. The more casual Provisions side is influenced by what chefs Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan say they enjoy eating themselves, while The Pass side showcases their more ambitious culinary talents.
Provisions has a selection of seasonally driven pizza, pasta, salads and a few larger entrées, like roasted arctic char with smoked turnips, fennel and mulled beet broth. A group of funseekers might split an entire lobe of foie gras, but most of the beauty found here is in the earthy pasta dishes (such as the duck rillette raviolo) and simple delights like thinly shaved, cured domestic ham.
Hidden behind a stark black wall is The Pass, and the elegant setting is the perfect place for anniversaries, birthdays and “serious” date nights. It’s not cheap, but for what you’re getting, it's a bargain. (Imagine a low-key, less pretentious Alinea that doesn't require you to take out a second mortgage.) Eight courses with pairings is $160 plus tax and tip.
In the past, The Pass has featured impossibly ethereal uni, deconstructed onion soup, Willy Wonka-esque dessert carts from which guests can pick anything they want, vegetable medleys constructed in fairy-tale forest shapes, and ice cream made in a ceramic cow filled with liquid nitrogen. The food is limited only by the chefs' imaginations, and it's always a delight to see what new, unforgettable thing they’ve come up with.