January 12th, 2012

2011: Hello. Good Bye. Houston Drinking and Dining that Came of Age

2011 brought some extraordinary improvements to Houston. Its allure in all things consumer is becoming a veritable Grow Monster, submerged in beer and queso. Some establishments added to that growth with grand openings, others opened second locations (Tacos A Go-Go, Christian’s Tailgate), and still some closed down, leaving a short lived vacancy for another’s aspiring fortune.

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Gran Malo

Gran Malo is the tequila-soaked assault on the senses that The Heights was begging for. Maybe we didn’t realize it until we slurped down a flight of schnozberry shots or dove into a mess of their tacos, but once we started down that rabbit hole there was no looking back. A luchador-masked shrine exalting the wilder side of life we all live in our dreams, Gran Malo is less a destination, and more a twisted journey of the tastebuds.

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The Rice Box

Chinese cuisine gone mobile? An idea so brilliantly simple should’ve come along ages ago, and yet it’s only now a reality. With General Tso Chicken, Fried Dumplings, Sweet and Sour Chicken, the Golden Doomba Special, and the new healthy choice, Buddha Delight, the Rice Box is hitting Houston’s yearning for delicious Asian dishes square in the mouth.

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Torchy’s Tacos formerly Grateful Taco

No. I won’t do it. You can’t make me. We already have the Creeks on Austin’s jock, and now you’re telling me I’m to be force fed more hippy-dippy Cap City Crap? I loved Gratefull Taco (damnit!). You can’t make me eat a ….Mrppfghgrrglesplitmurgh (sound of me having my mouth shut with one of Torchy’s Dirty Sanchez tacos, followed by the silence and humility of being proven wrong. I deserved this. Torchy’s is just plain GOOD.)

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Hughes Hangar, Formerly Washington Grille

I went to Washington Grille once. From what I remember, it was a patio. Granted, it gave me patio envy, but a bar and grill cannot survive on outdoor seating alone (and no, your icehouse argument does not apply here). Not in Houston. Something about eight months of summer. Hughes Hangar, while born the typical Washington culprit (you know what I’m sayin’), has managed to conjure charm. Maybe it’s the dark wood panels, random shit on the walls, and comparatively ample parking. Or perhaps the thoughtful name that incorporates one of Houston’s more prominent personalities, Howard Hughes; whose bones rest less than a mile away at Glennwood Cemetery.

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Good Dog Hot Dogs

When we first visited Good Dog Hot Dogs we realized what a hot dog should be. After another recent visit where we experienced their “Bahn Mi” dog, we realized why they will be around for a long time. Daniel and Amalia are consistently knocking it out of the park and we’d be thrilled if Minute Maid hired them as “encased meat consultants” before the Astros’ 2012 season starts.

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Revival Market

This little shop at Heights and White Oak opened back in March to a lot of anxious locavores. And why not? It boasts locally raised beef, pork, chicken, and lamb—every imaginable cut; that includes pig trotters and lamb tongue. I’ll take it. Their shelves provide the pride of Layla Farms, Slow Dough Bread Company, Fluff Bake Bar, Hugo’s Restaurant, Amaya Roasting, and Houston Dairymaids. Then there’s the store made vinegars, jams, sauces, and pickled vegetables. The #SLGT movement is gaining like a pig on slop (carefully regulated slop) in spite of expensive prices in the middle of a recession. No, this pig won’t be slaughtered, she’s your pet. As for Revival Market; do what seems to be coming naturally; thrive on.

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Down House

Down House saw some ups and downs in 2011 but they’ve leveled out and are now, in my mind, a solid source of great cocktails, hard to find beers on tap, and delicious food. The poutine, a newer item on the menu, brings a little bit of Montreal to Houston and does it with a slight twist. From breakfast to lunch to the late night menu, Down House makes me glad to be within walking distance.

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Roost

I accused Roost of having the best dessert in Houston for the price point with their delectable doughnut holes slathered in sweet, rose water syrup. Yes, I realize that’s like saying that Superman is better than The Hulk. It gets a big “And?”. There may be a lot of kick-ass grub in this city, but when that kind of dessert follows savory seafood served with a side of rustic charm, well, I can spot a winner when I see one.

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Sammy’s Wild Game Grill

Back in college, a good friend and I used make burgers out of the nilgai he’d get from his south Texas wild game ranch. I thought my days of bizarre burger samplings were over. Not so. At Sammy’s Wild Game I had Kangaroo. After that, an Australian frowned upon my choice and told me those things are like the wild boar of Australia. “Can’t hit enough of ‘em with your car, mate.” Whatever. It was delicious. Ostrich, Yak, Elk, Pheasant, and Buffalo—you’re next and next and next. Don’t get me started on the Elk Chili Fries. Oh and by the way, speaking of pesky pigs, the Pulled Wild Boar Sandwich is as good, if not better, than any traditional barbecue pulled pork in Houston. Sammy’s has drive-thru too. Grab it to-go and take it back to the wallow.

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Hubcap Grill and Beer Garden

Whatever you expected when you heard that Ricky Craig was going to expand his empire, well, you got it in spades, my friend. The contender for the burger throne revamped his menu putting some cult favorites on the big board and experimenting with some new combinations. Then Craig found his way into your fantasy beer cooler and picked out some favorites to serve along with the classic sodas he’s always had on hand. The patio expanse is a perfect place to invite all your friends and pretend that you’re the man on the grill. Hey, at least it was your idea, right? You need to get credit somewhere down the line.

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Happy Fatz

During the rejuvenation of White Oak in the Heights, we passed over one of the players. Happy Fatz has set up in one of the bungalows to the east of Heights Blvd. with a curious combination of both sweet an savory. On one hand they offer some delicious baked goods, pies and cakes. On the other, you can choose from any of a variety of specialty hot dogs. But what do they have to wash it all down? A well-stocked station to create your favorite Italian soda or skip the fizz and go straight for some gourmet coffee or tea. Why haven’t we gotten around to telling you about them yet? Maybe we’re just trying to keep the secret for ourselves.

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Bar Munich

I was apprehensive about Bar Munich when it first opened. The concept was sound. We have a plethora of ethnic food and drink establishments, but with the exception of Rudi Lechner’s out west, German ain’t one of ‘em. Stephan and I were hung up on what looks like the typeface, Bauhaus, portraying Munich or München if you insist on using the umlauts above the “u.” I know, I know, what bearing would that have on a watering holes drinkability? It smelled like an impostor, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. With viele deutsche Biere (many German beers) on tap and in bottles at unexpectedly low prices for the quantity you’re getting (a liter or more—sorry Farva not o’ cola), wursts, furters, pretzels, large jenga, a zillion televisions and now an Xbox Kinect—I’m all for Münich.

I’m still on the list, but with less detail:

Pi Pizza Truck The Modular | Cafe Luz | Eatsie Boys | Sorrel Bistro | Plonk Bistro

What we miss?

— The Loop Scoop

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