Our 2013 Best of Houston® winners have been announced, but in many cases, picking the best item in any category was no easy task. In order to show off all the culinary greatness Houston has to offer, we're rounding up the "rest of the best" in some of our favorite categories during the next several months. Bon appétit!
Among my friends and family, I am known as the salad queen. Almost every time I cook at home or go out to eat, I either make a salad or order one. To me, salads feature the freshest ingredients, and since I change my mind about what to eat as often as Katy Perry changes her hair color, a salad gives me a variety of foods to enjoy in one big bowl or plate.
While some see salads as merely bunches of lettuce with croutons and Ranch dressing, and maybe some cheese and shredded carrots, they are mistaken; salads are so much more than that. Kale, arugula, Bibb and Romaine, spinach, spring mix and everything else in between make one heck of a salad base. Toss in a variety of toppings to make whichever flavor you desire -- Mexican, Asian, Greek -- or use what's in season to make a fresh summer salad or comforting winter dish.
Just about every restaurant in Houston offers a salad, but we have scoured the city for the best ones and offer ten you shouldn't miss.
10. Parrilla Salad at El Tiempo Cantina
While the typical taco salads stuffed in a fried tortilla bowl are awesome (and so not diet-friendly if you eat the bowl), the Parrilla Salad at El Tiempo Cantina satisfies all your Tex-Mex cravings -- no chip bowl needed. El Tiempo's ensalada comes with just one typical Tex-Mex topping, avocado, and the rest you'd expect to find on a seasonal summer salad in an American-cuisine restaurant. Tender slices of avocado are paired with smooth mango, crunchy jicama, juicy mandarins and sweet praline pecans, all of which sit atop a bed of mixed greens tossed in not only a citrus cilantro dressing, but also a mole sauce. Add grilled fajita chicken or spicy shrimp and you'll feel as though you're sitting in Mexico. Add a margarita and your meal is complete. What makes this salad so special is the mole sauce, though; it ties everything together in structure and flavor.
9. Salad Bar at Salata
Although Salata is a chain, there's no denying that its salad bar is incredible. With four types of greens to choose from (Salata mix is the best) and what seems like an endless selection of vegetables, cheeses, fruits and proteins, you cn probably make as many salads as you can make drink combinations at Sonic. Feeling Greek? Toss in feta cheese, olives, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, chicken and a lemon or herb vinaigrette, then add a side of pita chips for the finishing touch. Or how about a fresh summery fruit salad any time of year with strawberries, grapes, walnuts, blue cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, avocado and mango dressing? You may screw up your salad by adding something that just doesn't go with the rest of your toppings, but a little experimentation never hurt anybody.
8. Black Pepper Shrimp Salad at Dry Creek Cafe
Out of all the Creeks, Dry Creek Cafe offers the best variety of well-crafted and executed salads. While the Asian Beef Salad is unique and the Goat Cheese Salad is similar to a cheese plate with leafy greens, the Black Pepper Shrimp Salad is your best bet. It's the last one on the menu and will sway your decision the second you begin to read its ingredients: mango, avocado, feta cheese, diced red onions and tomatoes. Choose either the honey mustard dressing or the raspberry vinaigrette for the perfect amount of creamy sweetness to complement the sweet mango, tangy feta cheese and spicy black pepper shrimp. It always feels like spring time when you're sitting on the patio, people-watching and enjoying this light, refreshing salad ... with a bottle of wine, of course.
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7. Pork Salad at Speers Rolling Bistro
The star of this salad is the juicy and tender roasted pork. Speers Rolling Bistro roasts its pork for nearly ten hours and seasons it with garlic, mojo, and bitter orange and lime juices, giving the meat a tart-vinegary flavor. The warm pork sits atop a bed of spring mix lettuce and is topped with a generous sprinkling of creamy crumbled queso fresco and pickled red onions. The lime vinaigrette coats each piece of lettuce and pairs nicely with the lime and orange juice bursting out of the pork and the zippy pickled red onions. It's a lip-smacking salad that'll leave you wanting more pork after it is all gone.
6. Chicken Harvest Salad at Adair Kitchen
If you crave summer flavors in your salad, then turn to Adair Kitchen's Chicken Harvest Salad. It's so simple, yet so scrumptious. As you dig into this butter lettuce-based salad you will find yourself trying to grab a piece of each ingredient for the perfect bite. If you can grab a forkful of walnuts, strawberry slices, ripe avocado chunks, crisp and sharp purple onions, crumbled goat cheese and grilled chicken, then props to you! The sweet green dressing, made with herbs and olive oil, is the bow to the wonderful salad; it simply ties everything together.
5. Petaluma Salad at Barnaby's Cafe
Barnaby's is known for two things: its friendly and welcoming staff, and its giant salads. Each salad comes piled high with toppings almost too intimidating to eat. But, your taste buds always defeat your hesitancy to take the first bite because you're afraid you'll knock the whole salad onto the table. Out of all the salads, though, the Petaluma is always an excellent choice. It's a Tex-Mex version with just about every ingredient used in the cuisine's traditional recipes. Barnaby's uses a mixture of iceberg lettuce, red cabbage and Romaine lettuce as the base for the insane amount of toppings: black beans, corn, stoplight bell peppers, Parmesan cheese, olives, cilantro, sliced tomatoes AND pico de gallo, sour cream, guacamole and, finally, tortilla strips. This seems like a lot, and it is, but Barnaby's doesn't overwhelm the salad with too much of any one ingredient; there is a perfect balance of each. Although the guacamole and sour cream serve as excellent substitutes for the dressing, you'll want to dip each bite in the chipotle ranch dressing for an extra-spicy kick.
4. Salad Bar at Whole Foods Market on Waugh
While each Whole Foods location has a salad bar, the one on Waugh is the best one. The prepared-foods section in the Montrose Whole Foods is always buzzing with people grabbing lunch or dinner to-go throughout the day, and we can see why. It's easy to make a simple salad with fresh shredded carrots, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, shredded cheese and croutons, but with the options to add black-bean hummus, golden raisins, cold quinoa salad and a variety of olives and greens, you can't help but make the most interesting salad possible. And next to the cold salad bar, you will find hot food options to make a complete meal. The protein options vary daily, but you will often find grilled tilapia coated in a lemon or spicy tomato sauce, roasted chicken, and grilled tofu. Don't forget to top your salad with the sesame sticks; the crunchy toppers are ten times better than plain croutons.
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3. Brussels Sprout Salad at Backstreet Cafe
Even if you don't enjoy Brussels sprouts, you'll fall in love with this salad. Backstreet Cafe makes sure to blanch the sprouts to soften them just enough to confuse your palate and make you think you're eating a soft leafy green (such as Bibb lettuce). The Brussels sprouts are paired with arugula and endive, as well as red Romaine lettuce, to create a heartier salad base. It's finished off with shaved Parmesan cheese and a light sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. Each bite is better than the one before, as the large pieces of Parmesan melt into the slightly warm Brussels sprouts. We guarantee you'll be sad when it's all gone.
2. House Corned Beef Salad at The Grove
You might think this is a strange combination of flavors in a salad. But, as you glance back at the menu, deciding what to choose, the House Corned Beef Salad will keep coming back into your line of vision. The Grove takes an atypical salad protein, corned beef, and pairs it with warm roasted fingerling potatoes, crisp red onions, sharp crumbled Maytag blue cheese and a super spicy (we're not kidding) chipotle ranch dressing. The tender and juicy corned beef sits beneath the greens along with the fingerling potatoes, allowing you to enjoy the best part, with every single bite. Make a perfect combination on your fork with the corned beef, a tender fingerling potato, blue cheese, red onions and greens coated in chipotle ranch; it's unlike any other salad you have ever had and a great change of pace to the traditional house or Cobb varieties.
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1. MKT Salad at MKT Bar
Pop a squat at the bar inside Phoenicia Specialty Foods, and order a glass of wine and the MKT Salad. This Greek grocery store's bar offers one of the most simple salads on our list, yet each bite is so complex. Sweet halved grapes with crumbled pungent feta cheese, tiny cucumbers, mint and pistachios seem like plain ingredients on their own, but, tossed together with a creamy lemon-garlic dressing similar to tzatziki sauce and crunchy toasted pita chips, it becomes a refreshing salad bursting with Greek flavors. It may not look like much to the naked eye, but close your eyes with each bite and you'll be swept away to Athens.