Although it's undergoing some massive growth in the form of redevelopment and expansion at Memorial City Mall and the construction of the nearly finished CityCentre "town square" off Beltway 8, Memorial is still in many ways a sweetly sleepy suburb. But sleepy doesn't necessarily mean boring. And suburb doesn't mean chain restaurants and bland food.
Below are 10 of the best places to eat in Memorial (with only one chain restaurant included -- and it barely counts as a chain anyway). Did we miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments section.
10. Taste of Texas, 10505 Katy Freeway
Sure, it isn't the best steakhouse in town. But Taste of Texas has two things going for it: nostalgia and pure, in-your-face Texas jingoism. When you have visitors in from out of town who have visions of yellow roses and Lone Stars dancing in their head, there's no better place to take them. And when you're looking for a good family dinner spot with Aunt Betty Jo and Great-Grandma Beulah, you can't beat the cozy fireplaces and lofty rafters at Taste of Texas.
9. The Egg & I, 14079 Memorial Drive
This is the one and only chain restaurant to make it to the list, but with good reason: The breakfasts are fantastic. We raved about this place when it first opened last year in the old Hungry's location, and we still love it. From the choice of five different house-brewed coffees to the fresh-squeezed orange juice, the low-key gourmet menu to the low-key prices, this is the best place in the area for breakfast (if you don't count the drive-thru Olde Towne Kolaches a block away).
8. Liebman's, 14529 Memorial Drive
The old Liebman's used to be right across the street from The Egg & I, until it perished in a vicious fire. Undeterred, the owners rebuilt bigger and better in a new location, with a store whose gleaming copper awnings reflect the magnificent selection of goodies inside. For lunch, grab a sandwich from the deli -- we recommend the corned beef -- and take a seat on the small but inviting patio outside. When you're done? Go back inside: Christmas shopping has never been easier if you have a food lover in your life.
7. A Moveable Feast, 9341 Katy Freeway
Back on the other side of the Beltway, this old-school health food store serves up some mean sandwiches and soups alongside jugs of carrot juice and bulk bottles of flax seed oil. Like at Liebman's, hit the tiny but lovely patio while you enjoy the healthy menu -- that thankfully includes bottles of Saint Arnold's beer -- with items like a divine grilled shrimp sandwich with avocado or a homey apple-pecan tuna sandwich.
6. CityCentre, 800 West Sam Houston Parkway
Although none of the restaurants in the brand-new town square at the corner of Beltway 8 and Katy Freeway have been open long enough to merit their own spot on this list, we suspect that some of them will come into their own very soon. For now, head over to this one-stop-shop, park your car and enjoy the selection of restaurants: Bistro Alex, Cafe Rose (both of the Brennan's family), Straits (for all your Singaporean cravings), Yard House (with enough beer for an army), RA Sushi (same fish, better crowd than the River Oaks locale), Eddie V's (prime seafood in a prime location) or just get a tub of popcorn at Studio Movie Grille. We also hear word that a Ruggles Green might be opening there soon...
5. Lemon Tree, 12591 Whittington
Tucked away off Dairy Ashford in the far west reaches of Memorial, this is an unlikely location for the city's best (and only) Peruvian restaurant. With some of the best ceviche and tres leches in town and a friendly, accommodating staff, you'll want to put this on your short list of restaurants when all you want is a simple night out with some stellar food. And beef lovers, you won't want to miss the delicious lomito saltado.
4. Bistro Provence, 13616 Memorial Drive
Although we have conflicted emotions about this jewel box of a French restaurant -- when it's good, it's great, but when it's bad, it's ugly -- there's no denying that the food is top-notch. The only ugliness comes in when trying to get a table or when faced with the occasionally surly staff. But when taken with a grain of perspective, that makes it almost just like dining in France! Owner Jean-Phillipe Guy takes his food seriously, and it shows in exquisite dishes like the duck confit (shown at right) and the robust civet de lapin.
3. Empire Turkish Grill, 12448 Memorial Drive
Partially hidden behind a dry cleaner, this Mediterranean restaurant in a primarily residential area of Memorial doesn't get the credit it deserves. We've never had a meal here that was less than perfect. The authentically Turkish menu ranges from luscious appetizers like the nutty ezme (you'll never go back to baba ghanoush) and the stuffed eggplant dish imam bayildi to savory yogurtlu sis with lamb and more than a dozen mixed grills to choose from. Even better, if you're enjoying a glass of wine at the neighboring Vine Room wine bar, Empire will deliver its delicious food to you free of charge.
2. Sushi Jin, 14670 Memorial Drive
You don't have to travel all the way inside the Loop for some of the best sushi in town. While places like Teppay, Kata Robata and Kubo's are holding it down for the ITLers, the outer loopers know the secret that is Sushi Jin. With some of the freshest fish in the region and a sushi chef who will offer you amazing omakase if you're ready for it, this Japanese outpost in a strip center that's anchored by a Randall's is the very definition of a diamond in the rough.
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1. Sam's Deli Diner, 11637 Katy Freeway
A choice which will likely be met with some resistance as, after all, it's just a-hole-in-the-wall burger joint, this is our favorite place to eat in Memorial. Chalk it up to pure, unadulterated nostalgia -- riding our bikes to Sam's as kids when it was across the freeway in its old location, using our allowance money for an ice cream cone or eating a burger for lunch and playing Pac Man while the neighborhood pool was closed for an hour -- or the perfect patties and oozing cheese in a Sam's burger, the crispy and expertly seasoned fries and the thick, sweet shakes made with Blue Bell ice cream. Even if you didn't grow up here, you'll have to admit that Sam's has the best burger in town.