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Top 8 Places to Eat in Houston

At our annual League of American Orchestras conference this year in Houston, I was surprised to learn that Houston, and not my New York City, is the most diverse large city in the United States. It's also widely known now as a major culinary hotspot, and here are just a few great places to enjoy. The first five are tried and true, and the last two are the great restaurants at the two Virtuoso hotel in Houston.


I'm adding my own spot to the list: The Rustic in Downtown Houston. My friend Melanie took me here for lunch last weekend, and everything we ordered for the table was yummy. Besides making a nice memory with a best friend and her husband here, The Rustic has a wall open to that outdoor beer garden and stage with free live music Wednesday to Sunday. The musician on Saturday had a smooth, mellow voice, and his country cover of The Cure's Lovesong did me in. Houston is full of surprises....


Excerpt below from 12/14/2017 article by Adam Erace can found here. 


When David Chang, king of the New York-based Momofuku empire, mused that “Houston has the most exciting food scene in America right now,” locals likely shrugged: Thanks, but tell us something we don’t already know.Houston is a poster child for Lone Star sprawl: the nation’s fourth largest by population, 655 square miles, parts of which were devastated by Hurricane Harvey in September 2017. But the city and its restaurant community have proven resilient, and there’s reason to celebrate. In Houston, the dining scene can cure cravings for everything from incendiary Szechuan tofu stew to country-fried Wagyu rib eye. It’s also an immigrant haven, with newcomers (and oldcomers) from Vietnam, Guatemala, India, Korea, the Philippines, Pakistan, Mexico, and many other countries, and a mayor dedicated to defending Houston’s sanctuary city status. That makes for delicious, diverse dining.  

Another boon: Houston chefs have access to a long growing season and sterling meats and seafood. Follow Buffalo Bayou, the sluggish river twisting through the city, about 40 miles southeast and you’ll wind up in the Gulf of Mexico. To the north and west of town, the rolling pastures of cattle country, where some of the best barbecue in the country gets its start, stretch to the horizon. Add thoughtful cocktail dens, beer halls, and wine bars, and surprising overall affordability – even the highest-end restaurants seem reasonable – and you don’t have a city that might be the country’s culinary capital. You have a city that already is.


Here’s where to go: 

Lunch Classic: Irma's Original 


No surface is spared a knickknack at Irma’s Original, a city institution at the bottom of an I-69 off-ramp. And as the cheerful clutter (kids’ drawings, beer-brand neon, wedding photos, toy figurines, a working traffic light) fills the multiple dining rooms, so does 77-year-old Irma Galvan’s homey Mexican cooking fill the belly. A Brownsville, Texas, native of Mexican descent, Galvan opened Irma’s in 1982 to support her family after her husband’s death and quickly earned a loyal local clientele. “Hi, sit anywhere,” is the no-nonsense greeting you’ll likely get from Galvan’s daughter, Monica, a fixture of the restaurant. But over the course of a lunch of plump chiles rellenos, fluffy pork tamales, or enchiladas with red and green salsas, she’ll be sending you out free tres leches sponge cakes – and then hugging you goodbye.


Belle of Bellaire: Mala Sichuan Bistro 


Bellaire Boulevard, the multilane artery running west out of the city, is the spinal column of Houston’s vibrant Asian immigrant community, and on it, Mala Sichuan is the restaurant not to miss. The place is named after the tongue-numbing heat associated with Szechuan peppercorns, deployed here with precision in dishes such as custardy mapo tofu and popcorn-style fried chicken. The full-throated spice, convivial atmosphere, and wine list stocked with quenching off-dry rieslings draw multigenerational families, chefs on Bellaire field trips, and intrepid fire-eaters, helping Mala earn a James Beard Award nomination. 


Curry Climb: Himalaya


Located in a spiffy Little India shopping center, Himalaya serves evocative recipes from Karachi, Pakistan, hometown of gregarious chef-owner Kaiser Lashkari. As the “best-of” awards lining its walls attest, this place is beloved by Houstonians, and on any given day it’s a genuine cross section of the city’s manifold colors and creeds. In addition to Pakistani, North Indian, and Indo-Chinese dishes, Lashkari does fun Texan fusions such as smoked brisket masala and paratha-dillas. But the best thing on the huge menu is the hara masala, a pastel-green curry made with green chilies, yogurt, and cilantro. Scoop it up with lots of blistered naan and fragrant basmati rice. 


New ’Cue: The Pit Room


You don’t have to strain your imagination to figure out The Pit Room’s specialty. Halfway down its Montrose neighborhood block, this barbecue stop announces itself with aromas of smoke and barbecue drippings riding the Texas breeze. Served on aluminum trays lined with butcher paper, chef Bramwell Tripp’s brisket is heady and lush. But there are a dozen other enticements rounding out The Pit Room narrative, from the wine list – with barbecue, who knew? – to the house-made venison sausage that crackles with black pepper and the kick-ass crimson cherry pie, which is sold whole or by the slice and happens to taste even better late at night in a hotel bathrobe. 


Smoke Signals: Killen's STQ


Ronnie Killen has tended pits since 1991, when he and his dad turned an old icehouse – that’s “beer store” in Texan – into a barbecue joint called Killen Time. Over the following decades, they spun off several restaurants, including the seminal Killen’s Barbecue, and emerged as Houston’s first family of barbecue. His latest restaurant, Killen’s STQ, is a well-articulated mash-up of Westworld looks (wood cladding, saloon doors) and steak house fine dining (white tablecloths, studious wine list). Gracing those pristine cloths, says Killen, “is the food we’ve done at events in the past that never found a place on our other menus.” Dishes such as molten corn ravioli, country-fried rib eye, pork-belly gumbo, and a forearm-size short rib bathed in espresso sauce may sound like odd menu mates, but smoke is the through line underpinning STQ’s varied, vivid flavors and influences. It gets into everything here – including your clothes. Leave your coat in the car.


Where to Stay in Houston (and dine at great restaurants too)


The St. Regis Houston

Leather ottomans, tufted headboards, and chaises anchor the 232 oil-tycoon-chic rooms at The St. Regis Houston, located between the River Oaks neighborhood and the Galleria district. Four drinking and dining venues include the mahogany-clad Remington Bar, which hosts live music on Friday and Saturday nights. There’s also a tranquil spa offering caviar facials and spirulina salt scrubs, among other treatments. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily, a $100 dining credit, and more. 


The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston

The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston is the city’s only Forbes Five Star property. Add commanding views of downtown Houston, the unmatched culinary excellence of Mastro’s Steakhouse, two-story Rolls-Royce showroom and direct helicopter pad access, The Post Oak Hotel is sure to satisfy even the most discerning taste. Virtuoso travelers who stay at The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston receive breakfast daily, a $100 dining credit, and more.



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