For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2011 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.
Whether you call it pub grub or just bar food, it's always good to have an ace in your pocket: a place where you know the food will be just as good as the beer, and not just a greasy means of soaking up the excess alcohol in your system. For purposes of this category, we excluded bars that are more well known as restaurants, such as The Red Lion or The Queen Vic, and tried to keep the list to joints that are bars first.
Despite the presence of spots like The Red Lion and the Richmond Arms, The Bull & Bear is still my favorite little English pub in town. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but it's a warm mahogany embrace on the inside, with all the UEFA games and Boddington's you could ever want. The menu is huge, too, but I suggest focusing on the English classics: Cornish pasties, cottage pies and the mound of chicken curry that feeds two. And remember to ask for a bottle of brown sauce to complete your meal.
Our own Mike Smith claims that Blanco's has the best cheap burgers in town. (I disagree, and still maintain that those are found at either Burger Park or Cream Burger.) But the burgers at this honky tonk are still pretty good, especially considering they're only $4 each. For the stout of heart and stomach, I recommend the saddle dogs: hot dogs and cheese rolled up in a flour tortilla and deep-fried, State Fair-style. They're huge and heavy, but you can twirl it all off on Blanco's dance floor.
Both places are as well-loved for their greasy pub grub (a basket of Nuts & Bolts at Rudz or fat egg rolls at Community Bar), and both have owners who are as good at cooking as they are at stocking beer. At Community Bar, it's Bob Covington, whose steak night packs the non-Midtown-esque Midtown bar every Tuesday night. And at Rudyard's, it's Joe Apa, who often creates epic beer dinners at the Montrose haunt. Community Bar will almost always cook you whatever you ask for -- provided Covington has the food in stock -- and Rudz usually has nightly specials that come out of the small kitchen, and are a far sight more elegant than the standard pub fare.
Monday-night burger nights just might be Petrol's busiest day of the week. For $10, you'll get a pint of one the bar's famous craft beers -- there's a reason they've been given so many Best of Houston® awards, after all -- and a cheeseburger that descends after a patient wait like manna from heaven. The cheeseburger is so good, in fact, that it made it to the Final Four of our Burger Bracket in April and very nearly won the entire thing.
Assistant music editor Craig Hlavaty wrote of Royal Oak in this year's Best of Houston® issue:
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Royal Oak came on the scene towards the end of 2010, a newly minted addition to the Montrose bar scene and the next venture from the owners of the hipster-Valhalla watering hole Boondocks just a block away. Royal Oak is shinier and brighter than Boons, and it has one killer food and appetizer menu that can go up against any of the so-called gastropubs in town. Start with a pint of Fireman's #4 and a plate of truffle fries, soaked to perfection in truffle oil, Parmesan cheese and fresh-cut herbs. Bring a friend, because unless you haven't eaten in a few days or you just ran a marathon, you will not be seeing the bottom of the pile on your own. As for entrées, you can't go wrong with a burger or the Gulf shrimp & grits. More than likely, Royal Oak will be the only stop on your nightly crawl once you have seen the menu. Food comas aren't a joke, kid.
I'm going to pretend I didn't see truffle oil, but the shrimp and grits can't be argued with.