Let's get one thing straight: Houston has a pretty rockin' restaurant scene.
This is largely thanks to the sheer number of restaurants we have in town (by some estimates, one of the highest numbers per capita in the country) and the huge variety of ethnic food available.
Still, there are some areas for improvement. We asked the Twitterverse what they think the Houston bar and restaurant scene is lacking, and responses poured in. Pizza and authentic Thai food were two popular suggestions, along with nose-to-tail restaurants (RIP, Feast), Eastern European fare and anything worthy of two-to-three Michelin stars.
Based on your suggestions and our own unsatisfied cravings, we've compiled a list of what this great city is still missing, restaurant-wise. We're fairly certain that if we could just master this few areas...we'd be pretty darn near perfect.
5. Downtown Nightlife With the exception of the 300 block of Main Street and Market Square Park, Downtown Houston is pretty lackluster. Drive any out of town visitor from New York, Chicago or even cities like St. Louis or San Antonio, and they'll be confused by the absence of after-hours happenings downtown. The majority of Downtown Houston is made up of office buildings and parking garages, all of which shut down after dark, leaving most of the area a wasteland. The revitalization of Main Street and Market Square Park is definitely helping the matter, but there's still a large area between there and Midtown that only sees action during the day. For the fourth-largest city in the country, the vast majority of our downtown sure isn't that exciting.
4. Moroccan Food Houston used to have a few Moroccan restaurants, but they slowly shuttered, and with them went our North African feasts filled with tagines, couscous and orange flower water. Moroccan food is surprisingly approachable; One of the most popular dishes in the country is chicken with lemons and green olives cooked in a tagine, a traditional pot with a conical top (tagine is also the name of the dish). Houstonians would love that! We'd also love pastillas--essentially meat pies--lamb cooked with prunes, preserved lemons, vegetable couscous and sweet treats made with a multitude of almond paste. So where are all the great Moroccan restaurants?
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3. Good, Quick Sandwiches From Quality Delis I don't care what you say, Jimmy John's does not make a quality sandwich. We're talking good, old fashioned delis where you can get in and out with a fresh pastrami sandwich topped with homemade pastrami in less than ten minutes. The kind of place abundant in New York, San Francisco and most major European cities. Great meats and cheeses, friendly service and grab-and-go options that rival the creations at Local Foods, Phoenicia or Revival Market, a few of the spots in town making good sandwiches with good ingredients. But where are our Jewish delis? Where are our Italian delis? Where's the great mom-and-pop sandwich shop with the best homemade pimento cheese in town? There are some but there should be a lot more in a city this size.
2. 24-Hour Restaurants Katz's. Chapultepec. Spanish Flowers. House of Pies. Various and sundry fast food establishments. And...that's about it. Unlike the City That Never Sleeps, Houston has very few late night dining options, and even fewer 24-hour restaurants. One of the Twitter commenters who responded to our query mentioned Cafe du Monde, and it's true; We don't have a 24-hour gathering place with truly great food serving all walks of life like many other cities. Houston is the City That Totally Sleeps, and when the bars close, we go home to our Pop-Tarts and leftover enchiladas and call it a night. But what if we had somewhere to gather after hours, somewhere with great coffee and pastries and maybe a greasy (but quality) dish or two to ward off impending hangovers? Come 2 a.m., we'd all meet up there unintentionally, nodding hello to each other over steaming cups of sober juice, then driving off into the Texas sunrise.
1. Parking Houston is just too big for its britches, parking-wise. We have too many cars and not enough space to put them. It's occasionally a problem at the grocery store or when you have to parallel park a few blocks away from your office, but how often are you able to pull right up to the door of a restaurant, park and walk in without paying anyone for your trouble? Many of the places that appear to have ample parking employ valet for one reason or another, meaning we often pay people to park our car 15 feet away then hand us our keys on the way out. Some restaurants in neighborhoods like Market Square Park or much of the Heights don't employ valet and boast few parking spots on side streets, meaning folks have to drive in circles or park several blocks away in order to get to their destination. True, it's probably worse in New York or Los Angeles, but there's no denying Houston has a parking problem, too.