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.
A live music venue-cum-artist's compound that also serves great fish tacos and does pour-overs of Ethiopian coffees is the last thing you'd expect to find in the crumbling Tlaquepaque Market in the East End. But that only further enhances the sense that you've found something truly special and unique at this brightly hued restaurant. In the summers, the patio is the perfect spot to watch a Texas sunset, especially with a cool mochachino in hand.
4. Cafe TH
Cafe TH is easy to pass on Pease if you're not looking for it -- especially at night, when the strip center looks like a prison block on lockdown -- but the instant you step inside Minh Nguyen's Vietnamese restaurant, it feels like coming home. Nguyen remembers every face, name and order at Cafe TH, and even names dishes after his more memorable customers. Go on a Thursday or Friday night (the only nights Cafe TH is open) for a three-course prix-fixe meal and a Vietnamese speakeasy experience that's further enhanced by the BYOB policy.
As mentioned yesterday, Plonk doesn't need to stinking signs. The wine bar in Garden Oaks could almost join the ranks of such famously signless joints as Absinthe and Marfreless were it not for the fact that there's no speakeasy vibe here -- and the food (and drinks) is far better. You can get wine bar snacky bits, but you'd be missing out on Chef Erin Smith's elegant and modern cooking, like a hangar steak with grits and roasted cauliflower.
The Medical Center is bafflingly devoid of good dining options, with Trevisio as one of the only exceptions. If you can find it. It's perched on the sixth floor of the John P. McGovern Texas Medical Center Commons building, otherwise known as the gigantic waterfall in the middle of the Med Center. Views from Trevisio's sweeping windows are as stunning as you'd expect, but the food far surpasses any expectations. Native Texan Jon Buchanan nimbly navigates a menu of clean, simple, elegant Italian classics and sommelier Sean Beck has compiled a wine list to match those at Hugo's and Backstreet blow-for-blow.
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Most people were stunned when tiny Jonathan's the Rub -- perhaps the darkest horse of 16 competitors -- took home first place in the Houston Press Burger Bracket competition this year. The little restaurant in Spring Branch certainly knows how to grill a great burger, but that's not all: Chef and owner Jonathan Levine and his family also turn out beautiful steaks and stellar bowls of shrimp and grits. In fact, you'd never even guess Levine is originally from Brooklyn until you hear him cracking wise with friends and customers from across the line. Although the casual neighborhood cafe is usually packed, a new addition should be able to accommodate the crowds that are quickly becoming regulars once they find the place.