January 9th, 2010
2009 Bestus Prospectus: Restaurants of the Year
Ah, we finally come to the end of our Bestus Prospectus series with our Restaurants of the Year. It’s been a fun ride, and we hope that you enjoyed it as much as we did. We have an eclectic group below for your pleasure. There are even a couple that we managed to write experiences about before this list (which is something that we hope to turn into a trend). So, without any more of these words that we tend to love so much, here are our ten best (plus one, but who’s counting?).
10] Tacos A Go-go (Richard)
This restaurant almost makes the list on appearance alone, luckily the delightfully scrumptious Tex-Mex and convenient operating hours give it that extra push to arrive at numero diez. I’ve gone there at 1:00 a.m.after trips to the Big Top, at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday for breakfast, and for lunch during the work week. I have yet to be disappointed. Just beyond the Carmen Miranda you’ll find a long, narrow room with brightly colored walls and high ceilings, art and decorative trinkets hung throughout. With the chalk board menus offering a variety of plates from: brisket tacos, migas, and huevos to the simple, but ever-pleasing, chips and salsa, guacamole and queso, there is no wrong choice. The go-go service, paired with the perfect sized portions, make it easy for a quick lunch that won’t leave you lethargic, should you be forced to brave an afternoon of work, post feast. Perhaps Tacos A Go-go should’ve been raised a bit higher on the list, as I have yet to think of the negatives at the close of this experience?
9] Pink’s Pizza (Paul)
Several of you just pause and did one of those “…wait a second…” looks at your computer screen, but let me make my case. Sure, it’s pizza. Sure, Pink’s Pizza, specifically on West Gray, doesn’t have much for seating, making it a tough sell as a “restaurant.” However, they do have some of the best pizza I’ve ever found in this town. Couple that with the fact that they do some terrific harmonizing with the toppings, and you’ve got my vote for one of the ten best restaurants I had the pleasure of eating at in 2009. Plus, when you think about it, Pink’s has the best dining room ever: Your living room. Eat fantastic food in the comfort of your home, splayed out on your couch, watching the Texans fumble yet another game away, or throwing in Dirty Dancing to keep the little lady happy (admit it, you kind of like it too) is the best choice for dining areas. It’s win-win, especially if you’re getting the Bada Bing or the Lazy Lasagna (ricotta on a pizza? Yes, please). Don’t forget your order of Bacon Cheesy Bread or you may as well just put the phone down now. Bippity Boppity BACON!
8] Reef (Marc)
Look, I’m no foodie. I like food, I even obsess over certain types of food (pizza, burgers and gorditas), but the running joke is that I eat like a five year old, and honestly, I do. But I’m okay with that. I know what I like, and I eat it. I feel like I have to say this in order to defend my inclusion of Reef on this list, because I don’t like seafood. Yes, you heard that right, I am including a seafood restaurant on this list as the one of Houston’s top restaurants, not because of it’s famous seafood, but on the strength of my experience with their steaks. My last dinner at Reef was with a few co-workers, who were in town on business. Reef scored big time. First of all, the sliders at Reef are nothing short of amazing. I know that Little Bigs in Montrose is supposed to be just as good, but they aren’t. Not even close. My only complaint is the order should be bigger, because I only got one after passing them around the table. The jumbo crab cake was also a big winner. But the star of the meal for me was The Naked Ribeye with Brown Butter Gnocchi. The steak was by far one of the juiciest and most flavorful steaks I’ve ever had, not from a restaurant, but anywhere. Many of the high-end steak houses could learn a thing or two from Chef Bryan Caswell. The other entrees were passed to and fro, with everything getting rave reviews, but I stubbornly savored every morsel of my meal.
7] McDonald’s, Washington (Paul)
Let’s face it. Utility, ease, simplicity, and speed are sometimes the most important things when considering a meal. There is no way that I was going to let myself drop at least $728 on a restaurant over the course of the last four months and NOT put it on this list. So, here’s a shout out to you, Mickey D’s on Washington. The next Big Mac is on you, M’Kay?
6] Petrol Station (Paul)
It’s rare when a place can pull off the bar, coffee shop, restaurant trifecta so convincingly. Petrol Station does it with relative ease, while maintaining its status as one of the coolest neighborhood spots in town. For all I know, they put something in the food, beer or coffee to keep the community of Garden Oaks coming back night after night and day after day. Maybe I fell victim to that secret ingredient of addiction when I was there last, but I just can’t get it out of my mind. “You guys want to have a Loopster meeting? We can go to Petrol Station.” “We should go get a quick bite to eat. What about the Rancor at Petrol?” I bring it up for no good reason and any reason at all. The burgers are delicious, the locals are friendly, and the beer is potent. There’s not a single thing to complain about for the lot of us, I just hope that if I go enough, the owners will eventually share the special ingredient they use to get people hooked, with me. We’re going to start putting it in the water over here at The Loop Scoop. We’ll be the website version of nicotine.
5] Dolce Vita (Paul)
Marco Wiles has been a busy man in the last decade. With the continued success of Da Marco he went on to open Pizzeria Dolce Vita in 2006 and, most recently, Vinoteca Poscol this past year. I haven’t brought myself to drop the coin necessary to go to Marco’s yet, but Dolce Vita has been one of those restaurants I can’t get enough of. I spent a couple years in Naples as a child and the tastes of Dolce Vita are a time machine to those giddy, boyhood days. My family was quick to buy into my passion for their brick-oven pizza and we usually head down to Dolce Vita when they’re visiting Houston. Find your way to the converted house on Westheimer for lunch or dinner on most days and prepare to impress those that you are with. It’s not just magnificent pizza, either. The entrees and pastas are artfully prepared and provide ample reasons for return visits without breaking the bank.
4] Au Petit Paris (Aaron)
This is one of the most authentic French restaurants in Houston. The cool, art deco Paris Metro sign on the facade and the subway tiled restrooms will bring back fond memories of France if you’ve ever been lucky enough to make them. The menu is classic, concise and extremely well executed. The fish is particularly spectacular. The Terrine de Foie Gras Maison and brioche is made fresh daily and it is, without a doubt, some of the best I have ever had. Their wine list is surprisingly reasonable and the service is not french in the least. Their website says it all: “A little bit of Paris right next door.” It’s true both in the sense that the restaurant offers a true taste of Paris and is, literally, in “the house next door” on Colquitt. There’s no shopping center chic to belie the experience. Au Petit Paris just began opening for lunch on Tuesday through Friday, the menu looks promising and less expensive than dinner. Bon Appetit or Bon Ape Tit if you prefer.
3] Joe’s Barbeque Restaurant (Richard)
I know this one might get some flack from the Inner Loopers of the bunch, but damn good barbeque is damn good barbeque, no matter what part of Houston it’s in. Having grown up in South Houston with fellow Loopster, Paul, Joe’s was a must for our voracious adolescent appetites. The faded wood barn, with Nolan Ryan paraphernalia and license plates tacked on walls, gives Joe’s a character unlike any place I’ve been. I still make the drive on occasion when I get a hankering for their seasoned, post oak smoked, brisket. I have yet to meet its equal. Brisket that’s been smoked slowly for 24 hours needs no knife, sauce or any fancy condiments, the beef itself is more than enough to satiate my craving. They do offer sauces and rubs, of course, and all of these are delicious. If it’s how you prefer your meat, there’s no harm in it. Brisket isn’t the only enticing food on the menu: smoked turkey, smoked ham, smoked sausage, one hell of a breakfast buffet, and delicious cobbler, if you’ve got the room, are all popular options. After getting your mouths salivating, you’ll be happy to know that you can leave with a full stomach for a relatively light price.
2] Catalan (Aaron)
I find it’s toughest to write about the things you love most. This holds true with Catalan, my experience of which has been has been sitting, unfinished, on my computer for months. The menu at Catalan is straight forward and plainly worded, with pithy titles like “Chef’s Playground”and “What we are eating/drinking now”. Chris Shepherd is an eater’s Chef and has an amazing vision for food. I’ve had everything from a halibut that tasted like a BLT, Foie Gras Bon-Bons to “The Breakfast of Champions,” Pork Belly, Duck Egg, Goat Cheese Grits with Maple Syrup. If you like food and are willing to part with $80, you have to try the Chef’s Tasting Menu. It is undoubtedly worth the money, just make sure you bring your appetite, as it’s 7 courses. The Chef’s tastings at Catalan offer one of the best opportunities to learn about food in Houston. Just tell them what you like and don’t like and sit back as the Chef and Sous Chef walk you through your meal. When you’re there, I recommend asking for Trey. He provided some of the best service I’ve had in years! Want to save some coin? Stop by for a late dessert, which is almost as inventive as the savory food. Catalan can definitely lay claim to the Best Dessert on Washington Ave.
1B] Cafe Annie (Paul)
The spirit of Cafe Annie may live on in the new and posh digs over at RDG, but The Loop Scoop will miss the place that made Robert Del Grande famous. Perhaps it just gets a nod as the sentimental favorite of this list because Cafe Annie ushered us into the world. She took our V-card and we’re not ashamed to shout it from the rooftops. When we look back at the last six months of looping and scooping there isn’t another place on our site that we feel so honored to have experienced. Cafe Annie was gaudy and tacky and over the top to a certain extent, and for an average Joe such as myself, it was downright expensive, but tradition, ambiance, great food, and the best service have a price that you’re willing to pay. We haven’t been over to RDG yet, part of it is because we’re not ready for that kind of closure. Experiencing the Omega and the Alpha too quickly together may make us forget the former, and I’m not willing to give up that last memory at the moment. There will be a day, though. There always is.
So you thought we’d do it to you again and give the honor of our top restaurant to a place that was closed? Gotcha! Find The Loop Scoop’s number one restaurant below.
1A] Beaver’s Ice House (Marc)
The inspiration behind The Loop Scoop is celebrating the treasures in and around Houston that lend distinction to our fair city. Houston is diverse and eclectic. It’s classic Adidas high tops, designer jeans, Ed Hardy shirts, and cowboy hats all worn as an outfit. Sure it’s a little wild and kinda crazy, but it’s comfortable, and so is Beaver’s Ice House. It doesn’t get any more quintessentially Houston than the Texas gastro pub. Fusing the barbecue, Cajun and ice house food cultures of southeast Texas into one menu allows Beaver’s to have fun with it and doesn’t compromise the food one bit. They even offer something for the vegans, but we know there aren’t any of those in Texas. I know it might not be as upscale as some of the other places on other lists, but I’m not much for the stuffy, fine dining approach. I want to have good food and an even better time. Beaver’s is exactly that, and that’s why it’s on my list. Not to mention that you’ve gotta love a place that has the balls to take a NY Strip, deep fry it, and toss on bacon “gravy.” It’s like giving a big middle finger to NYC, saying we’ll take your steak, and raise you gravy, cause that’s how we do it in good ol’ Houston town., chump.