Let's get one thing out of the way before we get started: This is a list of the ten best restaurants in the Heights, as "the Heights" is defined by the Houston Heights Association. That means that restaurants outside of its boundaries -- north of Loop 610 West, west of North Shepherd, south of the Katy Freeway or east of Studewood/Airline Drive -- are automatically excluded.
This means that truly excellent restaurants such as Gatlin's, Hubcap Grill, El Gran Malo, Pappa Geno's and Rainbow Lodge didn't make the cut. But it also means that future lists such as "Top 10 Restaurants in Oak Forest/Garden Oaks" or "Top 10 Restaurants in Timbergrove" are forthcoming.
With that in mind, here are our picks for the top 10 restaurants in the Heights, proper, which still proved quite a challenge to select despite the small territory. If there's one thing the Heights is richer in than antique shops or bungalows, it's amazing food.
10. Carter & Cooley
The winner of our 2009 Best of Houston® award for Best Atmosphere, sandwich shop Carter & Cooley has been serving excellent BLTs, Reubens and warm honey ham and brie sandwiches for more than 20 years. The Simon Lewis building in which it's housed was erected in 1921 as Ward's Drugs and has been lovingly restored by owner Neil Sackheim. Eat your corned beef on dark Bentwood chairs under a pressed tin ceiling and enjoy the sense of being lost a few decades back in the Heights' history.
A small, unassuming, family-run place in the Heights, El Gallo de Jalisco is one of the few joints left in the increasingly restaurant-saturated area that's remained ungentrified. It's still cash-only, and very limited English is spoken inside, but you'll also find wonderfully authentic tacos, tortas and perhaps one of the finest chicken mole plates in town. Interestingly, the homemade salsas aren't at all spicy, but they taste great with basket of warm chips and a cold glass of jamaica.
BRC Gastropub chef and owner Lance Fegen shows off his Cajun side at Liberty Kitchen, an oyster bar that manages to feel like Louisiana and New England at the same time. The relaxed restaurant is perfect for slurping down East Coast oysters over local brews (which is why we gave Liberty Kitchen a 2012 Best of Houston® award for Best Raw Bar) or enjoying a huge bowl of gumbo topped with fried oysters. Other big winners: burgers made from fresh-ground beef that taste like upscale Big Macs and shakes made with tangy custard from dessert spot Petite Sweets.