Fearless Critic and My Table's Ultimate Food Lover's Guide to Houston are both roaring back onto the scene this year, updated and ready to guide Houstonians in their quest for the city's best.
The last edition of The Ultimate Food Lover's Guide to Houston was released back in 2008 by My Table, Houston's bimonthly food magazine. And with over 300 full-color pages of the not-to-be-missed restaurants, wine bars, ethnic grocery stores, bakeries, butchers and even pick-your-own orchards, it quickly became indispensable.
However, as anyone knows in Houston, restaurants open and close with the weather, and the book -- while still useful -- began to get a little stale.
Sidebars from chefs like Bryan Caswell and Chris Shepherd on the best spots to purchase food made it interesting as well as useful, and the "personal favorites" lists from local big shots like Brian Ching and Anne Clutterbuck gave it a deeply personal edge. Hell, it even had a pull-out map featuring one of the most basic necessities for new Houstonians: a guide to the various alternate names for our freeways. Try finding any of that on a site like Yelp.
But last week on its Facebook page, the magazine announced that it would be printing an entirely new second edition of The Ultimate Food Lover's Guide for 2011, due out this fall. Like the old book, the new one will also feature the ultimate of everything edible in town, from farmers markets to fishmongers. And it looks like My Table is starting a pre-sale list, which I recommend getting on as the last batch of books sold almost completely out.
And while there's a lot to be said for the printed word, Houston diners have become increasingly reliant on technology for restaurant recommendations, using everything from our own Best of Houston app to those from Urbanspoon and Yelp. And now the Fearless Critic guide has an app, too.
But what the Fearless Critic books and application have going for them that Urbanspoon and Yelp don't is a complete lack of bullshit.
Whereas you're never quite sure of the motives or even basic education behind so many Yelp reviews, the Fearless Critic reviews in Houston -- as in Austin, Seattle or Portland -- is composed by a carefully selected panel of hard-nosed, old-school food lovers and writers whose palates and backgrounds are nearly unassailable. I would personally vouch for every single one of them, in fact, and the yearly Fearless Critic guides are every bit as indispensable as The Ultimate Food Lover's Guide.
The app, which is free for the iPhone, is based on the guide's carefully cultivated reviews and has an incredibly user-friendly interface that's based on visual presentation of data: a map that shows you, with color-coded pins, where the best restaurants are within your vicinity. Filter the results to show only restaurant in a certain price range or that serves a certain type of food. You can even filter the results by categories like "brunch menu" or "good beer."
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Fair warning: Although the app is free up front, you'll have to pay a $4.99 yearly fee after the week-long trial period ends, but $5 is completely worth it to have all of the Fearless Critic reviews in hand, at a glance, and plugged into a map.
The new app goes hand-in-glove with the new book itself, which you can purchase for just under $11 at Amazon (or, preferably, at a local bookstore). Whether you prefer print or a touch-screen map, it's a good (and increasingly easier) time to be an adventurous diner in Houston.