Let's leave aside a second some of the things we hate about the Upper Kirby district -- the bizarre desire to forge a connection with the U.K. based solely on sharing the same initials and installing anachronistic red phone booths on random street corners, the fact that Kirby itself is always a congested mess, and the deforestation of the main thoroughfare to make room for the enormous SUVs that the overprivileged residents drive -- and focus on what we do like about it: the restaurants.
While a vast majority of the restaurants in the area are chains, there are some wonderful independent Houston restaurants in the mix, too. And while many of the restaurants are some variation on plain Jane American food -- not that there's anything wrong with that; please don't send us to a Fox News reeducation camp -- there's a good variety of ethnic restaurants for the adventurous.
10. House of Pies, 3112 Kirby
House of Pies might not be serving any groundbreaking cuisine, but it does two things incredibly well: tater tots (which they call "cottage fries") and pie. And at 2 o'clock in the morning -- which is absolutely when you're eating there; don't lie -- those two items eclipse all others in terms of importance. We recommend the Bayou Goo pie (seen above) and not pissing off your waitress in your possibly inebriated state. Oh, and leave a good tip -- you'd want one, too, after babysitting a group of drunk college students for a large portion of your evening.
9. 59 Diner, 3801 Farnham
Diners seem to be omnipresent in the Upper Kirby district, but 59 Diner stands out as a timeless relic of days when the Fonz sported a leather jacket and a pompadour, and your parents were still married. The diner has several other locations now -- several of them also 24/7 joints, just like the House of Pies -- but the original is still the best. It claims to serve the best milkshakes in town, and we don't disagree. A thick butterscotch malt from here changed our lives; it might just change yours too.
8. Hobbit Cafe, 2243 Richmond
Hobbit Cafe isn't just for vegetarians or Tolkien fans anymore. With one of the best patios in Houston (if you can successfully navigate the pothole-ridden parking lot, which is easily the worst in town) and a menu that contains enough meat to satisfy any carnivore, there's something for everyone here. Our favorite is still the Thorin Oakenshield, however: a tabouli sandwich with mushrooms and melted cheese.
7. Crescent City Beignets, 3260 Westheimer
Even better late-night dining than House of Pies or 59 Diner can be found at this little beignet shop across from Lamar High School. Although these aren't the best beignets in the world, they're as close to Cafe Du Monde as it gets -- just remember not to breathe in or out while you're taking a bite. And make sure to grab some of Crescent City's delicious cafe au lait to go along with your sweet pastries.
6. Dessert Gallery, 3600 Kirby
Whether you're in the market for a solid sandwich or sweet treats, Dessert Gallery has the hook-up for you. We might be just a little biased since it's owned and operated by a native Houstonian and a woman -- the latter of which is a rarity in the restaurant industry -- but the food backs up our love. We should probably branch out from just getting the Calypso Chicken sandwich when we go, but the curried chicken with golden raisins, green onions and toasted pecans never fails to hit the spot.
5. Taco Milagro, 2555 Kirby
There's a reason that Taco Milagro's broad, fountain-anchored patio is packed every single day starting at 4:30 p.m. The food is good, the margaritas better and the atmosphere can't be beat. It's rare that a restaurant offers a trifecta of delicious food, fabulous people-watching and a casual vibe, but Taco Milagro has all three. Grab a plate of pork barbacoa or fish tacos, sit back and enjoy the show (especially on Thursday and Friday nights, when live music and dancing reigns supreme).
4. Pesce, 3029 Kirby
Oh my God, a Landry's restaurant on the list? Heresy! Sorry, but the food at Pesce is above reproach -- even if it's owned by the evil restaurant empire itself. Be prepared to drop some serious cash when you dine here, but the food -- prepared by the talented Mark Holley -- is worth it. Service can be shaky, which is why Pesce didn't rank higher on the list. But the Oysters Damian and the whole roasted fish of the day almost make up for it.
3. Yelapa Playa Mexicana, 2303 Richmond
Now that the patio is open and the kitchen is hitting its stride, this young but dynamic restaurant is firing on all cylinders under the direction of its equally young chef, L.J. Wiley. The menu is a diverse assortment of all types of Mexican cuisine, with something to please both traditionalists (quesadillas, fish tacos) and adventurous eaters (chicken on a bed of creamy huitlacoche, Mexican shrimp and grits).
2. Giacomo's Cibo e Vino, 3215 Westheimer
Lynette Hawkins's colorful and casual little restaurant, tucked away among the thick oak canopy on Westheimer, hides some of the best Italian food in town. It's ideal for a long lunch, as you won't want to leave the bright space once you've settled into your table and into a bowl of tortelli di bietola, the magical ravioli stuffed with swiss chard, ricotta and goat cheese in a luscious sage butter sauce.
1. Kata Robata, 3600 Kirby
Not only the best restaurant on our list, but hands down the best sushi restaurant in Houston if not Texas, Kata Robata is just a bit older than Yelapa. But its food has the depth, maturity and consistency of a place that's been around for years. Head chef Manabu Horiuchi (a.k.a. Hori-San) worked at Kubo's -- the popular sushi restaurant in Rice Village -- for years before opening Kata Robata along with the Azumi group. He brought with him a wealth of experience and knowledge that shines in the more traditional areas of Kata's offerings, while sous chef Jean-Philippe Gaston rounds out the more unexpected sides of the menu like ginger lamb lollipops.
Some of our favorites were left off the list -- there are only ten spots, after all -- but that doesn't mean we don't also love spots like Khyber Grill, Star Pizza, Avalon Diner, Blue Fin, Ruggles Green and Haven. Which of your favorite restaurants do you think should have made the list?
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