I greeted last week's news of a second Banana Leaf with a bittersweet kind of joy. It's sad to lose the only good Chinese halal restaurant in Chinatown, but if the trade-off is getting another Banana Leaf location...then I guess it's almost an even trade. Because -- hopefully -- this means not having to endure a one-hour wait for the city's best Malaysian food.
Currently, the only way to avoid the interminable wait at Banana Leaf is to go during its off-peak hours. Which means you'd better be hungry for lunch/dinner at 3 p.m. Its new location is roughly four times the size of the original in the sprawling Dun Huang Plaza just across Bellaire Boulevard, which could mean those long waits at Banana Leaf will soon be a thing of the past.
Or not: The opening of a second Tiny Boxwood's location has yet to lessen the wait time at the original bistro in River Oaks, ditto the downtown location of Niko Niko's and the still-hopping original on Montrose.
7. Brasil (weekends only)
If you want to eat breakfast at Brasil (and you really should; it's fabulous stuff, especially the Eggs El Salvador), go during the week. Monday through Friday, it's a warm and calm setting for catching up on newspapers or reading a book over a leisurely breakfast and endless cups of the strong house coffee. On the weekends, the same counter service that functions just fine during the week goes haywire. Get there early or prepare yourself to wait at least half an hour in line, and probably longer for your food to arrive.
6. Niko Niko's
The line at this Montrose institution has actually gotten better with time and a long overdue expansion. The long-lived Greek eatery is still as popular as ever, but the expanded seating area can accommodate crowds far better than it used to. That doesn't mean there isn't usually a line stretching to the door, however. On the plus side, the food is usually delivered to your table swiftly, and you can always call ahead to get your gyro to-go.
5. Banana Leaf
Part of the reason there's always such a long wait at Banana Leaf is because it's one of the few Malaysian restaurants in town. But the larger part of the reason is that the food -- all one million menu pages of it -- is amazing. I admit it: I am fully willing to wait 30 minutes for just one plate of that roti canai.
I'm not as willing to wait the one-hour-plus it takes to even reach the counter at Tiny Boxwood's; the food is just not good. It's not. I'm sorry. But feel free to queue up with all the other pretty people for an overpriced, flavorless brunch so you can be part of the herd. It leaves more room at better brunches for the rest of us.
Chalk it up to Gatlin's weird hours and the increasingly high demand for pitmaster Greg Gatlin's pecan-smoked ribs and brisket; his stuff has been given our Best of Houston® award for two years running. At this little spot in the Heights, you're always guaranteed a line at least six-deep -- if you're lucky. But good barbecue isn't something to be rushed, and Gatlin's is always worth the wait.
Baby Barnaby's is adorable, inside and out. The waiters are charming. The food is actually legit. But despite all of this, I've never been able to stomach the wait at the Montrose breakfast joint that has only a few benches outside to accommodate the masses of neighborhood residents that line up for Green Eggs and French toast. However, if I can manage to get there as soon as it opens on Saturday morning, that's a whole other story...
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The big bad mamajamma of lines, The Breakfast Klub is known as much for the queues that stretch airport security-style throughout the parking lot and all the way back around to Main Street. Every day. Almost every hour of every day it's open. Rain or shine. It's impressive, actually, although I'd rather grab my wings and waffles or catfish and grits from a place that doesn't require a dose of heatstroke before being seated.