Dining out this weekend is guaranteed to be mass (or approaching critical mass) chaos. Shelby Hodge, writing for CultureMap, reports that nearly all of the high-end places close to downtown are booked solid for the weekend, while just as many other popular restaurants have been designated as official Final Four viewing party locations for visiting fans. 29-95 has a full list for all four team's fan bases, which includes spots like Christian's Tailgate and Cadillac Bar (and a Chili's? WTF?).
In other words, look forward to a total clusterfuck if you want to eat out. And that's before taking into account all the road closures. So what's a visitor to our fair city to do?
We've compiled a list of five restaurants to hit this weekend and five more to definitely miss. We love restaurants from both sides of the list (and feel that they're all very representative of the bounty that Houston has to offer), but those on the miss side are more likely to be overly crowded and therefore miserable for out-of-towners (as well as for us natives).
Miss: Goode Co. Barbeque
Here's the thing: Goode Co. is all things Houston and all things Texas. But it's going to be jam-packed on a good weekend and its regular barbecue simply isn't as good as its wild game and desserts.
For the real deal, head to Pizzitola's on the edge of the Washington Avenue hospitality zone. Ribs are what you want here, and lots of them. We prefer ours without sauce so you can really taste the flavor of the smoke -- that right there is what Texas barbecue is all about, after all. Order a big pitcher of sweet tea to wash it all down and don't be surprised to hear the old-school waitresses say, unironically, "Y'all come back now, y'hear!"
Miss: Ninfa's on Navigation
Hit: Xuco Xicana
Ninfa's on Navigation may have some of the best traditional Tex-Mex in town, but it's also one of the most crowded spots in Houston -- and that's on a good day.
Instead, head over to the newly revamped Xuco Xicana (pronounced "chuco chicana") in the old El Patio building, smack in the middle of the Downtown/Midtown hospitality zone, and experience a take on Tex-Mex that's both modern and a welcome throwback to the quality cooking once done in Houston's best enchilada kitchens. Try Chef Jonathan Jones's tacos ahogadas, tender barbacoa, spicy carne guisada tacos or just a belly-warming plate of cheese enchiladas. Bonus: At night, the upstairs portion of Xuco Xicana features strong drinks and great DJs, while Sunday brunch is a great place to console your tequila-sodden stomach over Mexican-tinged French toast.
Miss: The Counter
The Counter might be smack dab in the middle of all the excitement in the Washington Avenue hospitality zone, but we simply won't stand for visitors eating California burgers while they're here.
You'll feel like a native in the best possible way if you head to Bubba's Texas Burger Shack (IT HAS TEXAS IN THE NAME), right on the edge of the Galleria hospitality zone. Sure, it's under a freeway overpass, but welcome to Houston. That's just part of our charm. Bubba's makes a mean cheeseburger that's made even better by an abundance of ice-cold Saint Arnold beer. You have to drink our beer while you're here, after all, and a Saint Arnold Lawnmower will cool you down fast if it's hot outside.
Miss: Mardi Gras Grill
Hit: Moon Tower Inn
Yes, it's right in the thick of things in the Washington Avenue hospitality zone, but you'll pay dearly for it by having to wait ages for your mudbugs at Mardi Gras Grill.
Instead, head to one of Houston's favorite icehouses and relax on the sprawling lawn while you enjoy crawfish, "damn good dogs and cold ass beer." Hell, Moon Tower is big enough to host all four NCAA teams at once -- as long as they don't mind sharing picnic tables with strangers. Sundays are crawfish days starting at 3 p.m. and it's all-you-can-eat for around $15. If you go on a Friday or Saturday, however, Moon Tower only serves dogs, but they're some of the finest sausages in town.
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Despite its plum location, stunning interior and fabulous food, Reef isn't recommend for this particular weekend. Come back another time, when the restaurant won't be slammed, to experience Gulf seafood at its most creative.
Instead, enjoy the old-school vibe at Bayou City Seafood, where the service is Southern, the food is Cajun and the atmosphere is all Houston. It's also right on the edge of the Galleria hospitality zone but away from the madness. You can feed an army of college students here -- beware of enormous portion sizes -- for a relatively sane price. Indulge in the dark roux-ed gumbo, the fresh catfish and the crawfish étouffée (you can never have too much crawfish).