The last time we tackled the Top 10 restaurants in River Oaks, Tony Mandola's was still open in what is now Brasserie 19's spot in the River Oaks Shopping Center. Needless to say, things have changed a bit in three years. And in spite of its ritzy exterior, River Oaks still has plenty of inexpensive holes-in-the-wall and divey spots to go along with the big-name restaurants that make bank with their society patrons.
Note: For the purposes of this post, River Oaks is defined as south of Buffalo Bayou, west of Dunlavy, east of Suffolk and north of Westheimer.
Although these spots fall outside the boundaries of River Oaks, they're still thought of as area classics. Get the pan-fried dumplings at Weslayan Cafe, and coffee with cookies at Tiny Boxwood's (if you can endure the long line).
10. Avalon Diner
Avalon Diner has been serving up some of the best greasy-spoon food in the city since 1938. The place is usually filled with regulars, and the waitstaff has been there for ages. There's something for every diner craving, from Blue Plate Special comfort food to arterially challenging breakfast staples. The lure of breakfast food all day long is reason enough to stop by and check it out at least once, and the milkshakes -- some of the best in the city -- long ago cemented Avalon Diner as a true Houston classic.
Except for the updated accents, this no-fuss coffeehouse in a mid-century strip center looks like a New Orleans original, with exposed brick walls, black-and-white photography and zydeco music in the background. The specialty here is, of course, beignets, which are as hot and fluffy as you remember them at Cafe du Monde. (Just remember not to inhale or exhale while taking a bite, unless you're looking for the perfect powdered sugar storm.) The house beverage, café au lait, is a vacation in a cup, but we recommend another treat: granitas, akin to frozen coffee smoothies. Crescent City also serves Cajun/Creole entrées, but it's the beignets that always draw me in -- especially late in the evening, after dinner has already settled. It's a good thing Crescent City stays open until 10 p.m.
8. Red Lion Pub
Don't let the red pleather-upholstered booths and faux Tudor timbers fool you. This isn't just another fake British pub. This is an authentically fake British pub, right down to the iconic red telephone box inside. Founder and owner Craig Mallinson is the son of British folk singer Sarah Mallinson, and he bakes the Cornish pasties himself. He even has the "Fruity" variety of HP sauce to slather on your sausage rolls. But it's not all Sunday roasts here; true to England's food culture (which incorporates Indian food much in the same way we do Tex-Mex), you'll find excellent curries on the menu, too. In cold months, enjoy the warmth of the cozy interior fireplace. But in warmer months, the tree-shaded patio is the place to be.