Long the bastion of boring chain restaurants and overly expensive hot spots, the Galleria has seen a resurgence in the past few years when it comes to food. Chef-owned-and-driven restaurants are upping the ante along Post Oak Boulevard, while places like E-Tao and White Oak Kitchen + Drinks are showing shoppers that it's possible to have a great meal inside the massive mall itself without splashing out or trudging through the subterranean food court.
And in the surrounding blocks around the Galleria, brand-new eateries like family-owned Adair Kitchen and low-key French bistro Etoile Cuisine et Bar are drawing new fans to the area each day. And while there are still plenty of terrific, inexpensive options to stretch your dining dollar -- Zabak's, Jenni's Noodle House, Cafe Mawal, Chacho's and Jake's Philly Steaks spring to mind as just a few -- today's list of Top 10 restaurants in the Galleria has changed quite a bit since the last time we tackled this part of town...in 2010.
And considering that holiday shopping season is right around the corner, getting reacquainted with some good places to fuel your shopping spree isn't a bad idea.
Disclaimer: Because "the Galleria area" can apparently encompass anything from Highland Village to far-flung stretches of Westheimer, we've tightened up the boundaries for the purposes of this list to keep it clean and compact. For purposes of this Top 10 list, the Galleria is defined as anything west of Loop 610, south of Woodway, east of Fountain View and north of Richmond Avenue.
10. 1252 Tapas
The new Uptown Park location of this suburban import (the other two 1252 Tapas locations are in Cypress and The Woodlands) features a sleek, modern menu of traditional Spanish tapas and a much more urban vibe than its far-flung counterparts. Get the tabla alfonso x if you go with a group so that you can taste 1252's array of excellent Spanish cheeses and cured meats, or get experimental if you go on your own: morcilla (blood sausage) with apple and Dijon mustard sauce and pulpitos en su tinta (baby octopus sautéed in its own ink) are two favorites.
Yes, the Galleria is full of steakhouses -- but none of them are quite like Tango & Malbec. The large, well-appointed restaurant features the cuisine and wines of Argentina and its neighboring South American countries, which means lots of meats grilled on a wood-burning fire. The extensive menu has some Italian influences -- items like the carpaccio, provoleta (grilled provolone), and various pizzas and pasta dishes are all expertly prepared. Meat lovers will adore the bife de lomo (filet steak) and the bife de chorizo (rib eye) as well as the Wagyu beef short ribs. Whatever you do, leave room for the magnificent desserts, such as the torta rogel (dulce de leche cake with meringue), the chocolate soufflé and the profiteroles.
In a shopping center saturated with middling fast food and ultra-expensive chains, E-Tao is a welcome happy medium: a low-key, low-cost restaurant with great food. Situated near Nordstrom in the Galleria IV, the newest of the expansions to the gigantic mall, E-Tao serves traditional Sichuan favorites that are far more authentic than one would expect for mall food. While it's gaining a following for its soup dumplings (xiaolongbao), the rice-and-pork-stuffed chicken wings are equally excellent. And if you can't deal with the drive out to Chinatown, E-Tao makes a surprisingly good replacement for the Bellaire Boulevard dumpling houses.
The Oceanaire -- a sleek seafood palace that anchors "restaurant row" in the Galleria -- is designed to resemble an art deco ocean liner, and the pampering service fits right into the theme. The staff is extremely well-trained, with spot-on knowledge of every oyster and fish variety on the menu and the attention to detail that means getting a white or black napkin based on the color of your clothing. Tell them it's your birthday or anniversary when you make your reservation and you'll get a specially printed menu and a congratulatory card when you sit down at your table. And that's really where the Oceanaire shines; it's a special-occasion sort of place that really does make the occasion feel special. The Oceanaire was also one of the first places in Houston to carry so-called Gulf appellation oysters -- so you know it's on-trend with its dishes -- but it also carries old standbys that most places have done away with, like Baked Alaska.
This is not your typical wine bar food, between small bites like miniature grilled cheese sandwiches on Slow Dough pretzel baguettes with chèvre and sweet tomato jam and entrées like a pizza topped with house-made Broken Arrow Ranch venison sausage, Gruyère, caramelized onions and roasted red peppers. Sunday brunches with a distinctly Southern twist are hugely popular events, as are the occasional crawfish boils thrown on the patio in the summer. And while you normally wouldn't consider a weekday lunch at a wine bar, the menu of gourmet sandwiches and dishes is so alluring that you'll even forget they serve wine.
Homesick New Yorkers make lunch and weekend breakfasts a standing-room-only affair at Kenny & Ziggy's, widely hailed as the best New York deli in the country -- despite being located in Houston. Local customers scarf down the fluffy, delicious matzo balls, the legendary three-inch-thick deli sandwiches (served with Hebrew National mustard, flown in from New York), the Hungarian-style stuffed cabbage, the Hungarian goulash or big bowls of barley-based kasha varnishkas -- total Jewish comfort food. A bowl of delightfully crisp and tangy pickles is delivered to the table as soon as you sit down, and they're almost as much of a draw as the knishes and blintzes. The slices of New York cheesecake are nearly as big as the sandwiches, with a dense exterior that gives way to a fluffy inside. Jovial owner and chef Ziggy Gruber was recently featured in a documentary, Deli Man, as he's "the only third generation Jewish deli man who is still actively running a restaurant," according to former Houston Press food critic Robb Walsh.
This contemporary, multi-space restaurant sits in the newly built two-story mall on Post Oak near San Felipe that also houses fancy French restaurant Philippe and retail boutiques such as Hermes. The restaurant is broken up into three main sections: the Grill Room (upstairs), Bar Annie (also upstairs) and Blvd Lounge (downstairs). The Grill Room is the most upscale of the three, serving the same gourmet, French-influenced Southwestern cuisine that first made owner and chef Robert del Grande famous. Bar Annie is a step down from the Grill Room, price-wise, and Blvd Lounge is the most casual of the three, serving bar food and cocktails. Thanks to chef del Grande's celebrity status, this is a destination restaurant. Most diners come in with high expectations, and those expectations are usually met or even exceeded.
3. Ciao Bello
Sitting on the more casual end of the Tony Vallone empire, Ciao Bello plays up Italian classics under California transplant Bobby Matos, who took over as executive chef two years ago. Having worked under farm-to-table pioneers like Trey Foshee back in California, Matos has made Ciao Bello into one of the can't-miss restaurants of the area with dishes such as a rich, buttery Bolognese over handmade pappardelle, corn pansoti with black truffles, Gulf flounder amatriciana and porchetta glazed with saba.
The eponymous Philippe belongs to one of Houston's most enduringly popular chefs, the French-born Philippe Schmit, who chose the glitzy area for his upscale French-esque brasserie. Schmit is fond of both his French roots and his adopted home in Texas, which shows in the menu: It ranges between the French and the Texan, with frequent layovers around the Mediterranean basin. The two-story restaurant itself is similarly tumultuous, a charmingly jumbled mix of old-world glamour and steely industrial flare. Try Schmit's twists on old favorites like "pigs in a blanket" and drunken foie gras to see the restaurant really shine, or indulge in a Cowboy burger during the extremely affordable weekday lunches. Downstairs, sommelier extraordinaire Vanessa Treviño Boyd has turned the casual lounge space into one of the better wine bars in town, with a staggering 80 selections by the glass.
Impress your clients with massive USDA Prime, dry-aged steaks, a plush atmosphere and a special cigar lounge where you can enjoy expensive cognacs and big fat stogies after dinner. There is really very little else in town that can compare when it comes to smooth, old-school charm and elegance than Pappas Bros. Steakhouse. The steakhouse prides itself on a wine list loaded with rare old wines, such as an 1811 Château d'Yquem listed for $30,000, but you can find a decent vintage of Bordeaux or Burgundy for a couple hundred dollars thanks to talented sommelier Steven McDonald (whose top pick for a bargain wine is an $80 bottle of La Pialade Côtes-du-Rhône 2007 by Chateau Rayas). Bring a big appetite and an even bigger expense account -- the cheapest steak on the menu is $43.
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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 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 Far Northwest Houston Top 10 in Chinatown