New restaurants and bars are opening in downtown Houston faster than we can keep up, thanks to a renaissance around the Market Square Park area that's bringing new life to downtown's north side. But that's not the only part of downtown that's blossoming -- nor are those new restaurants the only game in town.
Note: For the purposes of this post, downtown is defined as the 1,178-acre area bounded by I-45, Highway 59 and I-10.
Treebeard's, for holding it down with badass red beans and rice since 1978; Hearsay, for helping lead the revitalization charge on Market Square and concocting delicious cocktails; Niko Niko's, for offering pitas in the park; Mia Bella, for hosting the best brunch on Main Street; Macondo, for serving excellent Colombian cuisine and coffee; Kobecue, for bringing Korean fusion to the heart of downtown; and Spindletop, for boasting the best view in the city.
Because these two restaurants are still so new, it's risky to put them any higher on the list, but they both deserve a lot of credit for bringing something bold and new downtown. Batanga offers a modern take on tapas and a beautiful patio to enjoy brunch, lunch or dinner on Market Square. Goro & Gun is the city's first full-scale ramen shop, but also offers a menu of pan-Asian-inspired dishes and a cocktail program to rival that at Anvil, plus outdoor seating on this newly-busy stretch of Main Street.
9. MKT Bar
Dining inside MKT Bar is slightly akin to an out-of-body experience. You're in a familiar Houston institution (Phoenicia Speciality Foods, which adjoins MKT Bar) and those are definitely Houston's streets outside, but there's an urban European feel to the scene that's unusual and appealing. Credit the long, sleek marble bar and its eccentric wine and beer selection, or the gelato case and menu of Lebanese-inspired pizzas. Grocery shopping in the Phoenicia -- the United Nations of food -- only adds to the fun, while live music in the evenings and specials like MKT Bar's popular steak night keep it busy every night.
These two restaurants in plush downtown park Discovery Green are both owned by the Schiller-Del Grande group, although they each offer different experiences. Enjoy an upscale dinner inside the architecturally stunning Grove, which provides a beautiful view onto the park by day or night. For something far more low-key, get a burger and fries from the fast-casual Lake House and take in fun from the sprawling lakeside deck.
Separated by just two blocks, these two independently owned lunchtime favorites on Main Street are proof that downtown's office workers will emerge from the tunnels onto the streets if the food is good enough. The Burger Guys took its successful gourmet burger concept from far West Houston and transplanted it into a much larger space, with duck fat French fries and Vietnamese iced coffee-flavored milkshakes intact. Bombay Pizza offers intriguing and inexpensive Italian-Indian fusion at lunch and dinner, as well as delivery to downtown offices and high-rises.
Downtown's premier steakhouse is all glitz, all glam, all the time -- even during its popular Burger Fridays, when chef Carlos Hernandez pulls out all the stops to create hits like the Bone Marrow and Bacon Burger topped with bone marrow custard, smoked Gouda, pickled shallots, Thai chili and (of course) bacon. By night, the glittering dining rooms offer some of the city's best steaks and service while the murky piano bar is full of "dark corners for doing dark deeds."
5. Hubcap Grill
Ask any burger fan to list his five favorite burgers in Houston, and Hubcap Grill will inevitably fall somewhere on that list. Owner Ricky Craig is famous for his fusion burgers (Philly cheesesteaks and muffalettas are just two sandwiches he's transformed into fantastic burgers), his colorful personality and the long lines at the tiny, cash-only joint he runs with the help of his family. Hubcap's downtown location is only open at lunch; head to the Heights if you want Craig's burgers (and some ice cold beer) for dinner.
This enormously popular Tex-Mex spot on the edge of downtown keeps accreting like some whimsical urban coral reef. Take in the irrepressible Irma Galvan's folksy decor, politically wired clientele and enormously comforting Mexican mom-food: landmark cheese enchiladas, real mole, chiles rellenos, pork ribs in home-style tomatillo sauce. Don't sweat the lack of menus, and instead sip some of Irma's lemonade while you wait. Although it used to be lunch-only, Irma's now serves dinner on Thursdays through Saturdays.
Chef David Luna's modern Texas fare at Line & Lariat showcases the best the Lone Star State has to offer, from surf to turf. Try the Gulf-caught red snapper or cobia for lighter fare that doesn't skimp on flavor, or go whole hog with an antelope steak or mustard-roasted wild boar chop. You'll find everything from German and Mexican to cowboy and Cajun influences on the menu, which ranges from pulled pork tostadas (which make a great bar snack with a pint of locally brewed beer) to filé gumbo filled with Gulf shrimp and local chicken -- all of it served in a converted two-story bank lobby that's simply the most stunning dining room downtown.
Lunch is rather standard at this downtown hotel restaurant, offering Continental business fare. Dinner is where Italian-born chef Maurizio Ferrarese is allowed to shine, however, and when the prices reflect the quality of Quattro's simple, streamlined dishes and house-made pastas. Ferrarese's signature short rib ravioli with black truffle and corn purée is a favorite, as are his perfectly executed risotto dishes. Sunday brunch is a popular draw, too, with a lavish buffet that's justifiably famous.
Chef Justin Yu joined forces with his pastry chef wife, Karen Man, to create a restaurant that's wholly Houston except for one notable thing: Instead of sprawl, the tiny Oxheart only seats 30 people. Yu and Man highlight locally grown produce and locally raised meats on their veggie-heavy menus, which change from week to week. Three different chef's tasting menus are available at night, priced from two affordable four-course menus to a more extravagant affair with seven courses. All three tasting menus are available with wine pairings, which are as joyfully unusual as the food: a sweet Blandy's Sercial Madeira paired with a dusky, savory sunflower seed soup, for example, or Kalin Cellars Semillon drunk with a rabbit saddle cooked with green garlic ash. Oxheart is one of the restaurants chiefly responsible for bringing waves of national attention to Houston's current dining scene, which is all the more satisfying given the restaurant's entirely humble setting and cozy appeal.
Check out our other Top 10 neighborhood lists:
Top 10 Restaurants in Montrose Top 10 Restaurants in the Heights Top 10 Restaurants in Rice Village Top 10 Restaurants on Washington Avenue Top 10 Restaurants in the East End Top 10 Restaurants in the Galleria Top 10 Restaurants in Midtown Top 10 Restaurants in Memorial Top 10 Restaurants in Upper Kirby Top 10 Restaurants in Greenway Plaza Top 10 Restaurants in The Woodlands Top 10 Restaurants in Spring Branch Top 10 Restaurants in Little India Top 10 Restaurants in Far Northwest Houston Top 10 Restaurants in Chinatown Top 10 Restaurants in EaDo Top 10 Restaurants in River Oaks Top 10 Restaurants in Garden Oaks/Oak Forest Top 10 Restaurants in Westchase Top 10 Restaurants in the Third Ward Top 10 Restaurants Near Hobby Airport Top 10 Restaurants Near Intercontinental Airport
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