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Top 10 Restaurants in Far Northwest Houston

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First off, it is important that I define what I mean by "far Northwest Houston." It is not Spring, Cypress or The Woodlands. It is bordered on the north by Tomball and to the south by Beltway 8. To the east, I've used Kuykendahl Road to divide north and northwest and to the east, it stops at the eastern border of Cypress. Those areas all deserve to be covered independently.

Now that some boundaries are defined, I am happy to say that despite what many seem to think, this suburban area is not completely ruled by chain restaurants. I live out here, so I've always got my ear to the ground for unique places. There are decent representatives of most cuisines in this area these days, too, so whether you need a green curry fix or a good bowl of phở, this guide should be able to help.

10. Peli Peli

Also considered: Perry's Steakhouse, Texas Land & Cattle

This is the hot bimbo of this competition because it made into my list almost on looks alone. Peli Peli is a gorgeous restaurant that I think everyone needs to see...once. It has a 12 Tribes theme that lends itself to some stunning and ornate carved walls. There's a giant acacia tree in the center of the restaurant. I was mightily intrigued to find out what South African cuisine was like. It turns out that it's a little like Malaysian cuisine, but here's the problem: I don't want a steak covered in sweet sauce. However, the dried beef and sausage are good bets, and the bizarre thing is that I had a very tasty chicken-fried steak here that was a lunch special. Go figure. Don't be surprised if the chef shows up to tell you off-color jokes. That's part of the appeal.

9. Waza Sushi & Robata Grill

Contender: Hido

I fully expected Hido to make it into this list. I've had a few successful business lunches there and found the sushi, sashimi and miso to be the best in the area (although, granted, they are no Kata Robata). On a repeat visit with friends, we had stellar appetizers and then Hido totally blew it with rolls rendered almost inedible with too much sauce, mayonnaise and other unnecessary accoutrements dumped on top. It was just gross.

Waza has a few flaws of its own. For example, I thought the tuna sashimi had an "in the refrigerator with the veggies" off-flavor. What put Waza over the top? The service is not just good; it's warm and friendly. The restaurant is beautiful. Salmon here was especially rich, soft and buttery and I had dobin mushi for the first time. It's a soup with seafood and chicken served in a little teapot and while the meats got a bit tough, the dark dashi was a tastebud teaser.

The cocktail menus at both places are just goofy...full of cutesy names, vodka and syrups. Stick with sake and hot tea.

8. Redfish Seafood Grill (249 location)

Contender: Bonefish Grill

Alas, I'm not sure there are any great sushi rolls in this part of Houston. Redfish Grill has some gigantic ones for a great price, but they also suffer from too-much-sauce-and-stuff-on-top syndrome. However, I had the best fried shrimp in my life here. It's super-fresh and butterflied. The fish here is also very fresh and I like the dishes that have low-key preparations. Just a little lemon, butter and herbs can sometimes elevate good ingredients to greatness. For your pals that aren't in a fishy mood, there is grilled duck, steak and veal.

Cypress residents might be happy to know that there's another Redfish Seafood Grill just off of 290. With that being said, new kid down the block Bonefish Grill also has great fish dishes and is breathing a bit on Redfish Grill's heels. Competition is good for us consumers.

7. Drew's Pastry Place

Andrew "Drew" Rogers, formerly of Houston Country Club, and his mom run this pasticceria (Italian pastry shop) and it would be just as at home in Upper Kirby as it is in its little spot off of Louetta near Vintage Park. Don't miss the pignoli (pine nut) cookies or the thin-crust pizza with sliced, anise-spiked meatballs -- and you'll be sorry if you don't take home some kind of goodie, like cake, cheese or amaretto cookies, to snack on later. Drew's also puts together some great cookie platters sprinkled with Jordan almonds that I've taken to more than one office meeting.

6. Soto's Cantina

Bless Alison Cook for reviewing this gem near my house, or I would start to believe there is nothing but mediocre Mexican food to be had out here. (Okay, I confess...the fajitas at Lupe Tortilla are awfully tasty. But don't tell anyone I said that.)

Soto's isn't always perfect, but it's often wonderful. The cheese jalapeño tamales, the queso and the veggie enchiladas are some of my favorite things. For the health-conscious, look for an emphasis on lower-calorie options here. There are many shrimp dishes as well as some interesting salads, like the cactus (nopales) avocado salad.

(Another Tex-Mex possibility is the El Tiempo location in Vintage Park. I've only been there once for a very good Mexican breakfast. More investigation is needed.)

5. Mango Tree Thai Bistro

When I discovered there was good Thai in this part of town, I was so happy. Then I spent the next three visits browbeating this place into giving me something actually authentic. (On the other hand, a friend of mine was probably cursing my name for bringing him his first Thai cuisine on spice level "3." Mango Tree goes up to "5." He's one of those guys that don't "like spicy," but I give him props for trying something new.) When I made a deliberate visit to review it, things were kind of shaky, but things seem to have leveled out a bit since then.

The fish cake appetizers? Yeah, get them. These seared little beauties have no resemblance whatsoever to their pale cousins that you might find in phở. Once I got the owners acclimated to "No, I'm white but I really mean it!" the green curry with pork at spice level 4 is a heaven-sent lunch. (When I have them convinced that I'm dead serious, "5" is a little much, even for me. The first time I ordered something at a "5" here, the server told me he'd never taken an order for that heat level before.) Mango, when in season, and sweet rice is a perfect ending to a great meal, or try the crunchy and creamy fried banana cheesecake.

4. Phở Thanh Long

We food writers are probably less dynamic when we're not working, but "the proof is in the pudding" regarding what we consider good and spend money on regularly. My family and I end up at Phở Thanh Long often. Yes, you can order the phở here, and it's a good bet, but don't limit yourself to it. The place has a sizable menu. I've had thrilling experiences with Vietnamese-style crepes and had nui xào bò lúc lắc on my last visit. It is "Vietnamese shaking beef" with macaroni, a comforting dish that works very well during this time of the year.

3. Season's Harvest Café

This tiny cafe is the epitome of "hidden gem." It's in a little house behind Soto's Cantina next to a small commercial office building. I'd never heard of the place until my friend Julie Long mentioned it to me. Season's Harvest only serves breakfast and a small but well-curated lunch menu. The focus here is on organic, local ingredients. Most produce items come from Rawfully Organic, a Houston co-op. For the super-health conscious, there is even a "raw entrée of the day." The menu changes daily; check its Facebook page for the current options.

Warning: The place only seats about 35 indoors and word is getting around about them. Get here early for lunch or be doomed to stand around waiting for a table. Expect to be there for at least an hour if they're slammed, but the staff and digs are so homey and charming, it's worth it. (Small place = small staff.) There's a lovely wraparound porch, so they're able to seat more folks when the weather is nicer. Season's Harvest opens for breakfast at 9 a.m., and offers hot breakfast dishes, pastries and espresso drinks. Bonus: they have wi-fi.

2. Indian Wok

I make no promises regarding the Indian Wok lunch buffet. I do offer advice: Don't show up there when they first open at 11 am. I make no guarantee that they'll be ready. I say this from personal experience. My friend George and I, hungry for Indian food and eager for lunch, showed up pretty much when they opened to a buffet of items best served hot...that were still cold.

Dinner, on the other hand, is everything you could ever want from this Indo-Chinese establishment. It's spicy. It makes no apologies. They make the kind of curry and vindaloo that makes you want to have leftovers, because you want to find that little plastic container in your fridge the next day, make some more rice and revel in its left-to-sit-overnight goodness.

1. 1252 Tapas Bar (Vintage Park location)

This stylish, classy tapas bar is a demure establishment by day that turns downright clubby at night. There's always some sort of drink special going on, but don't let that turn you off if you're more the quiet type. The food never suffers for all of 1252's youthful vibe, and lunch and early dinner times tend to be quiet. Look for spicy beef empanadas with flaky dough and gambas a la diabla (shrimp in a red pepper tomato sauce that will make you grab the bread to soak up the sauce).

Here's the kicker. It may be geared to attract the young and cool with its various vodka martinis, but it also has a lovely little wine list that keeps the rest of us happy. In fact, my sweetheart and I recently took his elderly parents there and they had nothing but nice things to say about it. My 17-year-old kid likes this place, too, and if you can make this big range in ages that happy, you're doing something right.

Check out Katharine Shilcutt's recent review of the 1252 Tapas Bar location at Uptown Park.

Check out our other Top 10 neighborhood lists:

Top 10 in Montrose Top 10 in the Heights Top 10 in Rice Village Top 10 on Washington Avenue Top 10 in the East End Top 10 in the Galleria Top 10 in Midtown Top 10 in Memorial Top 10 in Upper Kirby Top 10 in Greenway Plaza Top 10 in The Woodlands Top 10 in Spring Branch Top 10 in Little India Top 10 in Chinatown

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