This is the easiest post I have ever “written”. Thanks to DanSwany, Brian DonCarlos, and my buddy JT, you are about to be taken on a ride through some of the best places Houston has to offer.
From the desk of DanSwany
Being in Houston can be really fun when you have a love for food. There is just about every cuisine category imaginable in our city… so pick something you like and follow the crowd. I’ll let you in on a few dishes/drinks that are my favorites in the Washington Corridor/Rice Military area that I live. In my neck of the woods there are a lot of great restaurants and a huge nightlife around for whatever mood you are in. This area of Houston is near downtown inside the inner loop (610), and only about 15 minutes away from NRG Stadium.
I’m a guy that doesn’t like to go out in my work clothes to eat. I would rather go home to first put on my cap, shorts, and sandals… then head to the dinner. There are many fancy establishments around this area of town, but you won’t catch me at one unless it is for a business lunch while working.
On Washington Ave there is a place called Laurenzo’s Restaurant that has a huge menu with just about everything imaginable from traditional Italian to any Tex-Mex plate you would want. My recommendation is to try the prime rib quesadillas. You will not be disappointed, as the prime rib is delicious by itself, but add loads of gooey cheese with a soft tortilla and a few jalapenos with a dash of sour cream and guacamole. You will be amazed how many flavors pop inside your mouth.
There are a number of great Tex-Mex places, so many in the area that I constantly switch between which one is my favorite. But, if you want the hands down best jumbo margarita in town go to Cyclone Anaya’s Mexican Kitchen. Ask for the house jumbo and tell me how you feel after just one, wash down two and you’ll be feeling great all night long. They have a lightly sweet taste and it is hard to tell they have much alcohol in them. Watch out, because they are dangerous.
If you don’t want to go the Tex-Mex route and want some true Italian food that is great, but you don’t want to get all dressed up then try Patrenella’s. It is a home in my neighborhood that has been converted into a hidden gem of a restaurant. All traditional Italian dishes are wonderful, my favorite is to ask for the fettuccine alfredo and add spicy Italian sausage to the plate. Creamy sauce and soft noodles with all the spices that drip out of the sausage are to die for!
After stuffing my face, I seem to always find myself at Canyon Creek Café sipping on some beer or one of their famous frozen drinks. The Bluemosa is always smooth and is a frozen mimosa mixed with Blue Moon beer. Always goes down easily. If you are in the mood for something more stiff get the frozen jack and coke.
To end most nights, and since it is within walking distance of my house, the neighborhood locals in the area hit up a little known bar called Ladybird’s. It serves all the local Houston brewery beers, and is just the place to relax with some music before crashing for the night.
Also, remember I am going to be hosting a pregame party at my house before the Tech vs LSU game. I live about 15 minutes by taxi to NRG Stadium, and that is the only way I go to games as parking is an absolute mess after games in NRG. Hit me up at DanSwany@yahoo.com for details if you plan to be in town and want to participate in the shindig!
From the desk of Brian DonCarlos
So, like Dan said, there are a million different options in our fair city if you love food; it’s personally my absolute favorite part of living here, and a huge reason why I came back. I’ll list a few of my choices here, but if you don’t see anything that interests you in particular, definitely hit me up on Twitter or in the comments and I’ll personally tailor something for your tastes. As Dan covered Washington Ave/Rice Military, I’ll highlight 3 other neighborhood clusters conducive to walking/drinking/eating, plus highlight the local breweries.
My current neighborhood, The Heights is a historic residential type neighborhood just north of I-10. Nestled in between the bungalows are plenty of excellent bars and restaurants that cater to nearly all tastes. A great street for bar/restaurant hopping is White Oak, where you can eat a bowl of pho before hopping a door or two down to eat a few Saint Arnold’s braised pork tacos. Here are the highlights for me:
BB’s CAFE – Branded as Tex-Cajun cuisine, BB’s has excellent po-boys and appetizers. The boudin balls are good, but I can’t recommend the mac & cheese with grillades enough. They’re also open until 3 AM, so I suggest hitting the Heights after the game
GOOD DOG HOT DOG – Food truck cum brick & mortar restaurant, Good Dog serves the best hot dogs in town. Grab a guac-a-dog, and treat yourself to one of their amazing milkshakes while you’re at it.
CHRISTIANS TAILGATE – I’m only going to say one thing: Chicken Fried Bacon Burger
One of my favorite neighborhoods in town, there’s almost always something going down around here. From here it should be easy to take some surface streets down to the stadium
EL REAL – Ok, so the #1 reason I’m listing this here is because the game is on Tuesday. El Real, the Tex-Mex brainchild of chef extraordinaire Brian Caswell & food historian Robb Walsh, hosts $2 Tuesdays, where house margaritas are $2 all day long. All. Day. And the price is not proportional to the tequila. Have a few, definitely get the queso with the pico (ground beef) in it, and order yourself the Enchiladas #7 with a fried egg on top. Changed my life.
UNDERBELLY – James Beard award winning chef Chris Shepard’s baby, they do all of their butchering in house. Order a few dishes and share with the table, and definitely get the goat dumplings. PRO TIP – You could make reservations, but it’s so much easier to just walk in and eat at the bar; you can sit immediately, and it tends to be faster. But if that’s packed, just walk next door to. . .
HAY MERCHANT – One of the best craft beer bars in town, Hay Merchant boasts a robust selection of local and national beers that will suit any taste. If you’re feeling fancy, check out their cellared bottle list, as it always holds a few treats, including a lot of the special release Jester King beers. If you’re hungry, the Merch actually shares a kitchen with Underbelly, and all of the food is on point. Try the crispy pig ears and thank me later.
ANVIL – If you’re fancy and want a cocktail, this is the spot. Nationally renowned spirit master Bobby Heugel started this bar, and it’s always worth dropping in to ask the bartenders what’s new.
DOWNTOWN – MARKET SQUARE
I was lucky in the timing of my move back to Houston, as it coincided with the resurgence of Houston’s historic district. Tons of bars have popped up on a block in north downtown, and it’s the perfect place to bar hop/snack before hopping onto the light rail that takes you RIGHT TO THE STADIUM! Get as pickled as you like, just please don’t throw up on our streets.
OKRA CHARITY SALOON – Get this: you order a drink, you’re handed a ticket, and you use said ticket to vote for one of four charities featured that month. The winning charity then gets ALL of the bar’s profits for the following month. The bartenders are all solid and know their way around the classic cocktails, and there are a few local beers available if that’s your speed. The OKRA group was actually founded by the people behind Anvil & Hay Merchant. Also, architecturally speaking, this is one of the most beautiful spaces in town, with brick walls, gas lamps, and a KILLER skylight. One of my favorite places in town.
BATANGA – Great cocktails and Latin American tapas, order a few small plates and share with friends. The courtyard is also beautiful.
PASTRY WAR – Another Heugel joint, this place specialized in tequila & mezcal. The space is beautifully decorated (pay attention to the upholstery studs in the booths), and the drinks are fantastic (get a paloma).
There are literally a ton of bars on this single block, so here are honorable mentions and quick descriptions: HONEYMOON (coffee cocktails are so fire), LITTLE DIPPER (good cheap cocktails, fun bar), NIGHTINGALE ROOM (Copper ceilings! They spin vinyl and the cuba libres are great), CAPTAIN FOXHEARTS BAD NEWS BAR (Only upstairs bar, cool balcony, FANTASTIC cocktails), PUBLIC SERVICES (In the old Cotton Exchange building, words don’t describe how beautiful it is inside. They specialize in whiskeys and make homemade bologna that, no lie, will change the way you think of bologna. Eat it.)
It’s getting to where you can throw a rock and hit a brewery in Houston. Which is great, because now you can go to just about any bar and support a local brewery! I also suggest hopping between the breweries and doing the taste tests there as well; they’re all fun. Here are the Houston beers that you’re most likely to find:
The granddaddy of all Houston breweries, and one of my favorites. The regular line-up is pretty good (Santo is my favorite), but their special beers absolutely sing. When out and about, try to find Bishop’s Barrel, which is a limited series that you can only get at restaurants and bars. BB12 is their Christmas Ale, aged in Chardonnay barrels with cherries added. Whew. The brewery itself, right outside of downtown, gives $8 tours that include 4 tasting tokens and a free glass, and you can also buy Bishops Barrel there as well. If you go, ask for them to give you half the Elissa IPA & half of a Christmas Ale mixed together; this is called a Sailing Santa. You can also make them yourself at home.
Started by some Saint Arnold’s alums, Karbach is the next brewery in town. Their regular series is pretty good (Hopadillo IPA, Love Street Kolsch), but if you see Mother in Lager, check it out. Their Bourbon Barrel Hellfighter also just came out, but I’ve never been a big fan of any of their barrel-aged stuff. Their brewery is located just outside of Loop 610 on the northwest side, and pretty much has the same deal as StA. However, they just opened up a restaurant on site that has turned a few heads, so that’s worth checking out.
Editor’s note: JT turned me on to Karbach a few years ago when he brought several of their brews to a get-together in DFW. A year later, and we’re all in Houston visiting JT and meeting at Karbach on a Friday. The following summer, we’re back in DFW making trips to Central Market to fill our respective growlers with BBH. I can’t brag about their beer enough, with Rodeo Clown as my current favorite.
Located in Swany’s neck of the woods, Buffalo Bayou specializes in. . . unique flavor combinations. You’ll find beers featuring everything from cucumber & chamomille to gingerbread and red velvet, with misses & hits falling everywhere in between. However, their regular series includes 1836, a fantastic easy drinking copper ale, and Sam’s Daily cream ale, which the owners call their “Lone Star killer.” I personally love the Sam’s Daily, so give it a look if you see it. The brewery is just a warehouse, but it usually has a fun crowd and a great variety of beers on tap. Even if a cranberry wit doesn’t sound like your thing, it’s easy to have just a taste at the brewery.
My personal favorite “new” brewery in Houston, 8th Wonder hits all of the nostalgia strings while serving some truly excellent beers. Located in (another) warehouse just 3 blocks from downtown in EaDo, $10 gets you 3 full pints and an awesome glass to take home. They have bean bag boards set up outside, and the brewery is only 2 blocks down from another Little Woodrows, Lucky’s Pub, & nerd bar hall of famer Neil’s Bahr, which will scratch your Super Nintendo fix if you have one. Highlight beers at 8th Wonder include Dome Fauxm (a shoutout to Dome Foam, what beers were called at the Astro Dome) and Rocket Fuel Vietnamese porter. And, if by some stroke of luck they have the French Toast Alt Universe, DRINK IT!!! At bars, you’ll typically see Hoptson, Brewston, & IntelletuAle, and the Dream Shake stout just came out again recently, which is also very good!
From the desk of JT
So here are a couple of options that me and the Mrs. have enjoyed while in “Clutch City”. I read through the other guys and they are all good too. Some of those places I’ve wanted to try and others I have been to. You will have a good cross-section of eateries and watering holes to help out the traveling Raider Nation. That is, if they can get the huskies mushed up!!
How can anyone go wrong with a place that broadcasts to “take your Yelp and shove it” on the menu. This place had been on my list to check out for a while after hearing that they serve wild game hot dogs. From duck, buffalo, pheasant and rabbit, these chefs create artful masterpieces that are a far cry from the “All American” dog at the local Sonic. The beer selection here is also top notch. MTI usually has a few of their own beers on tap as well as a wide selection of other craft favorites (Houston Local and abroad) to quench your craft beer thirst.
The overall atmosphere of the place is very laid back; the entire venue is located outside with picnic benches and a covered patio area so if you decide to visit, plan your outerwear as such…
With close proximity to NRG, Capt. Benny’s Seafood is always a fan favorite. The location is very close to NRG (a short brisk walk if parked near the stadium) and would be nice to catch prior to kickoff. IT is a quaint joint that has a down home feel. There is bar top seating inside the boat shaped building, as well as patio seating to enjoy they nice December weather of Houston.
I can honestly say that prior to my tenure in Houston, I had missed out on the greatness of oysters on the half-shell. Whether you enjoy your oysters freshly shucked or baked, this place does not disappoint. Order up yourself a mess of these tasty treats and wash them down with a house mechaleda. If you are not too high on the oyster scene, the Capt. offers a wide array of seafood entrees. Another family favorite is the Crawfish Pirogue: this french bread loaf, hollowed out to form a food canoe, is chock full of tender crawfish tails, mushrooms, and some green onions, topped off with jack cheese.
The Kelley’s Mantra:
“We Believe You Only Get What You Pay For…
But at Kelley’s You Get More Than You Pay For.”
This could not ring more true. Kelley’s was opened by a retired HPD officer and his family back in 1983. We were turned on to this place from a suggestion from a professor from my wife’s school as a place you “must try” while in Houston. It is a comfort food hot spot from chicken fried chicken to roast beef and breakfast served all day, this place has it all. If you can muscle your way through the entree, go ahead and order up a slice of homemade pie. Like my dad said after his first visit here, “If you leave hungry, it’s your own fault…”
Every time I go to this place I have to try a new burger and with over 15 burgers on the menu, I can say I’ve had almost** all of them (not the triple or quad heart clogger, but give me time…) My personal favorite is the Texas BBQ Burger. Hubcap also has specialty fries that can “compliment” you burger choice and can be shared among a couple of people. Depending on the location you go to, will determine seating options; the Heights location has some indoor seating, but the majority is outside.
Wherever you find yourself in Houston, I can bet you are not far from a Little Woodrow’s. My favorite location is the one Midtown. Little Woodrow’s prides themselves on having at least 50 beers on tap and always has plenty of sports on the TV.