So, I thought it would be a good idea – and something fun to do as a thought exercise at the very least – to create a list of possible restaurants to recommend here for them. My tact was to highlight cuisines that aren’t found in the Chicago area, or not found in much quality. Barbecue, Creole and Cajun, Gulf seafood, Tex-Mex, Vietnamese come quickly to mind. But, I won’t suggest any places for chicken fried steak, as enjoyable as I occasionally find it.
And they won’t want pizza – it’s far better in Chicago to be sure, and not just deep-dish – nor Italian. My cousin is Italian-American and they seem to go out for it a lot. I don’t believe that there are any better Italian chefs in Chicago than Maurizio Ferrarese at the new Alba in the Hotel Granduca or Giancarlo Ferrara at Amalfi here, though.
There are only so many calories that can be ingested in a weekend, even a long weekend, but below is a list to work from, listed alphabetically.
- Barbecue – As extraordinary as Houston barbecue can be now, I had thought that this might not be an option given the inherent heaviness, but then I realized that if you show some restraint – something I can have a hard time doing, myself – like just having a sandwich or splitting a plate, a visit to a barbecue joint doesn’t have to be a one-meal day. – The Pit Room, Piper’s, Pinkerton’s, Blood Bros., Truth
- Breakfast – If they want breakfast, there are some excellent, casual and fun choices that are different from what is found near where they live. – The Breakfast Klub, Goode Co. Taqueria, El Tiempo
- Breakfast Tacos – For a quick and even more casual breakfast that can be picked up, and something that isn’t much of a thing at all in Chicago, breakfast tacos can be a piquant and tasty morning start when time is a consideration. – Tacos A Go Go are clearly the top stop for these and there a few locations to from which to choose. La Carreta in the Heights is a close second. – Tacos A Go Go, La Carreta
- Brunch – If they desire a brunch day, three of the Hugo Ortega-Tracy Vaught restaurants do a great job with brunch and in different ways, then there is the grand Creole brunch at Brennan’s, a high-calorie and necessarily alcohol-laden morning feast. – Hugo’s, Xochi, Brennan’s, Backstreet Café
- Cocktails – I think that they are into cocktails or maybe at least before dinner and several of Bobby Heugel’s spots can do the trick terrifically well, led by the trend-setting Anvil. – Anvil, Tongue Cut Sparrow, The Pastry War, BCN (for the Spanish gin and tonics)
- Creole / Cajun – Creole as practiced in New Orleans doesn’t exist in Chicago today though there have been some Cajun-themed eateries for while most prominently with Heaven On Seven that was popular when I was traveling frequently there decades ago; it’s all much better here, of course. –Eunice, Brennan’s, Ragin’ Cajun
- Gulf Seafood – Restaurants specializing in Gulf seafood will be something unique for them, and a few spots excel with it. – Goode Co. Seafood, Eugene’s, 1751 Sea and Bar
- Mexican – Hugo Ortega is our answer to Rick Bayless, except he is from Mexico. He and Tracy Vaught’s trio of upscale Mexican restaurants are the best Mexican restaurants here and called the best in the state. And the new, more casual Urbe looks like it will be an enjoyable asset to the dining landscape. – Hugo’s, Caracol, Xochi, Urbe
- Steak – The Great American Steakhouse template doesn’t vary too much across the country even as it has evolved over the years. There is something to be said for top-quality, well-marbled steak from grain-fed Midwest beef seared over a very high heat with fatty sides and a plush atmosphere. Georgia James does something different and is also fantastic while Pappas Bros. excels at the more familiar with a wine list that is a enophile’s dream, well, a well-heeled one. – Georgia James, Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
- Sushi – I think that Manabu Horiuchi at Kata Robata is not only a terrific sushi chef and for Japanese cuisine in general, but he is one of the very best chefs in Houston regardless of cuisine. – Kata Robata, MF Sushi, Uchi
- Tex-Mex – There’s not quality Tex-Mex there and this is always well liked by relatives from Illinois when traveling to Houston. – El Tiempo, Goode Co. Kitchen & Cantina
- Viet-Cajun (during crawfish season) – A recently developed cuisine that has drawn considerable attention with its leading light an especially fun dining experience, and one that’s quite regional. – Crawfish & Noodles
- Vietnamese – A Houston staple, certainly for me. My favorite place for Vietnamese food is still probably Jasmine then its sibling Saigon Pagaloc, both along Bellaire Boulevard. A more modern, accessible and fun, and geographically easy location is probably better, unless they want to experience Seven Courses of Beef. That can be fun. – Xin Chao, The Blind Goat
- Wine – Houston has some really good wine bars, both in terms of selection and comfort, one can be a fine way to began an evening or to be the evening. – 13 Celsius, Camerata, How to Survive on Land and Sea, Montrose Cheese & Wine, Vinology
- Other – A few other places to note mostly for their quality, as MAD and BCN are two of the best restaurants in Houston, and UB Preserv is also a proudly Houston-centric establishment that is worth showing off. – UB Preserv, MAD, BCN
Whittling this down for an itinerary for a weekend, even a long weekend, will take some additional work. I think there will be some time before they actually make it here.
A medley of dishes at Eunice