Last week, we took a look at the 10 best restaurants in Upper Kirby, a part of town that abuts this week's spotlighted neighborhood: Greenway Plaza.
While it's considerably more difficult to define Greenway Plaza than Upper Kirby -- which has strictly set boundaries, unlike the area around the master-planned mixed-use development developed by Kenneth Schnitzer in the 1970s -- the Greenway Plaza neighborhood can loosely be defined as such: south of West Alabama, west of Buffalo Speedway, north of Highway 59 and east of Loop 610.
And although some Greenway Plaza office workers frequently bemoan the lack of good dining options in the area, I cheerfully disagree with them. Between hosting one of the absolute, all-time best restaurants in town (our No. 1 pick, naturally) and some excellent, inexpensive lunch and dinner options, Greenway Plaza offers more than meets the eye.
Honorable Mention: Greenway Coffee & Tea
Although it's not a restaurant, we'd be remiss not to mention the little office coffee shop that spurred Houston's current love affair with serious coffee programs. Not only do owners David Buehrer and Ecky Prabanto roast their own beans and help other restaurants/coffee shops to get their own coffee programs in place, the pair is also opening a new shop in Montrose this month: the hugely anticipated Blacksmith.
A good choice for either lunch or dinner, Skewers smartly caters to both crowds independently. At lunch, you'll get a quick and filling meal with quality food -- baked chicken or gyros are both great choices -- for a low price. And at night, with full service and live entertainment (on the weekends), it's a lovely spot for a post-work drink (you must try the Lebanese wine) or a dinner date over silky hummus and fragrant kafta kebabs. As a bonus, the Edwards Greenway Plaza movie theater is right around the corner.
Oshii is a fun and funky sushi diner. Most regular sushi is a dollar apiece, with rolls starting around $5. During its famous happy hours on weekdays from 3 to 7 p.m. and on Saturdays from 3 to 6 p.m., domestic beer is $1.25, imported is $1.75, hot sake is $3 and all of the $4 appetizers are buy one, get one free. There is free wi-fi, and much of the scruffy, multi-cultural crowd is usually taking advantage of it.
8. Pepper Tree
Pepper Tree is best known for its buffet, which features vegetarian Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Western cuisines. Typical dishes made with meat are reimagined as vegetarian here: Tofu versions of Peking duck, General Tso's chicken and kung pao chicken all come out tasting delicious. The modern, calming decor, spotless interior and friendly, knowledgeable staff make this the place for the novice or the experienced vegan.
Unstinting applications of a good, snowy mayonnaise make this Danish hole-in-the-wall's old-fashioned chicken and potato salads among the very best in town. Other treats: corned beef and Swiss on rye with a pale, homemade liver paté and devastating Danish butter cookies by the sack. Take your food to-go, unless you enjoy dining in closetlike quarters.
Hot and trendy Korean fusion food isn't just found in food trucks; Kobecue offers a brick-and-mortar location on Richmond at Weslayan for you to get your kimchi fix. Pork and short rib tacos are among the most popular items, served with cilantro, onion and lime just like you'd find at a taco truck. But the real star here is a paper boat of kimchi-covered cheese fries. Drizzle some sweet, vinegary bibimbap sauce on top for a unique combination of flavors.
5. Ragin Cajun
If, for some reason, you can't find Ragin Cajun (it hasn't moved in over three decades...), just look for the huge red crawfish covered in Christmas lights next to the railroad tracks. Inside, you'll find picnic-style seating and walls adorned with Mardi Gras, LSU and various other Louisiana paraphernalia. If the counter service in the main dining area isn't your preference, there is a smaller table-service area to the right as you enter towards the back of the restaurant. Happy hour happens every weekday starting at 3 p.m. and runs until 7 p.m., except on Mondays, when it lasts until closing. I've been ordering the boudin links and red beans and rice since I was a kid, and my love for both has never waned.
4. Thai Cottage
Thai Cottage offers a thoughtfully heat-indexed menu (and trust me -- trust them when they try to warn you "five pepper too spicy!"). Standouts include the crispy crab meat and cream cheese rolls with a spicy-sweet raisin sauce, and the velvety tom kha soup: chicken chunks and enoki mushrooms swimming in coconut milk spiked with lime juice and lemongrass. Diners choose their own degree of heat for red or green Thai curries; on the one- to five-pepper scale, three will gently prickle your scalp.
3. LA Bar
The elegant older sister to Ragin' Cajun (the ultra-relaxed Cajun hotspot next door that's been owned by the Mandola family since 1974), LA Bar features many of Ragin Cajun's best menu items in a much nicer setting. Dark wood tones, chandeliers and a chic full-service bar highlight the grown-up space, while entrées such as a bone-in Cajun rib eye and barbecued blue crabs serve as a reminder that this is still a solidly Louisiana spot.
Oporto Cafe offers unusual wines and great snacks from chef Shiva Patel -- who owns both it and The Queen Vic Pub along with partner Richard Di Virgilio -- in a hip, relaxed, cozy atmosphere, making this a great happy hour or date night destination. The wine list features several selections from Italy and Portugal, and there are tapas-size portions of interesting dishes such as linguiça (a Portuguese sausage), empanadas, meatballs in a saffron-tomato sauce and a bacalhau (salt cod) croquette. Lunch includes excellent pizzas and panini sandwiches (try the Italiano, with lots of meats, provolone and arugula).
For the quintessential dining experience with service (and prices) to match, there's only one place to go in Houston -- and Tony Vallone's namesake restaurant is it. The decor is elegant yet subdued, and the wine list under wine director Scott Banks is unparalleled, with many sold by the glass. Every day brings a new list of specials influenced by whatever is freshest and in season. The regular menu under chef de cuisine Grant Gordon at this Greenway Plaza mainstay is a food lover's delight, with dishes like Petrossian Imperial Ossetra caviar as an appetizer or main courses such as handmade ravioli stuffed with soppressata and a 55-day dry-aged Prime New York strip. And you simply haven't lived until you've had one of Tony's soufflés for dessert, which can be made in any flavor imaginable.
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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 The Woodlands Top 10 in Spring Branch Top 10 in Little India Top 10 in Far Northwest Houston Top 10 in Chinatown