Here are the best listed alphabetically.
BCN – Spanish – Set in a handsome older house, this provides locals with a very well-executed glimpse into Spanish fine dining that is both contemporary and deeply rooted in the traditions of Barcelona. The kitchen is headed by Chef Luis Roger, who had years of experience in kitchens in his native Catalonia including a stint at El Bulli. Before proceeding to think much about the entrées and something from the excellent all-Spanish wine list, it’s a great idea to start slowly here, with one of the nearly fifteen or so tempting pintxo-esque appetizers like seared bluefin tuna, crispy baby artichokes with romesco sauce and boquerones and one of the fun, revelatory gin tonics like the signature BCN: Hendrick's gin, Indian Fever-Tree tonic water, juniper berries and cucumber. A few of the tempting mains are: Spanish hake with bomba rice cooked in cuttlefish’s black ink, baby squid and scampi, suckling Ibérico pig “a la Segoviana,” and grilled duck breast served with quince, Idiazábal cheese sauce, pine nuts and balsamic vinegar reduction. Then there are desserts….
Bistro Menil – New American – The focus seems to be on refined versions of healthy, high quality fare that is interesting and also accessible. Chef Greg Martin mentioned that he wanted the restaurant to be able to aptly serve patrons who visit the museum from all other the world, as do the restaurants associated with the Louvre in Paris and the Prado in Madrid, and that here was no need to be overly ambitious with the offerings. No need for foams. The result is that the menu is rather eclectic, but seemingly well-suited to potential diners: there are meaty, rich crab cakes; a quiche with a terrific, sturdy, crumbly crust; crepes filled with crab and mushroom; risotto; an excellent charcuterie plate; salads and much more, including many familiar French-inspired items.
Cuchara – Mexican – Self-described as a Mexico City-style bistro, the preparations here are vibrant, often surprisingly light, and always enjoyable from a menu that highlights dishes not often found in Houston. Portions are sensibly sized, maybe more so than large appetites might appreciate. The setting is comfortable with an industrial and minimalist, urban feeling highlighted with whimsical cartoons that dot the wall from the chef’s sister that is well-suited to its address on Taft and Fairview near the heart of Montrose.
Da Marco – Italian – In a small house with gated parking on Westheimer, Marco Wiles’s Da Marco serves truly excellent food that represents the best of many of the northern Italian regions. It is appealing and sometimes eclectic, if seemingly less so these days, but always flavorful and sometimes sublime. Da Marco is much like a very proficient, upscale trattoria whose cooking is not tethered to a particular locale. True to form, here you are expected to dine in the Italian fashion with antipasti, a first course, a meat or fish entrée, and separate sides. It’s all done expertly here, and this has been one of the best restaurants in the city for years. Along with the cooking, the top-notch wine list is strictly Italian, and pricey. Among its accolades, back in 2006 Gourmet named among the top 50 restaurants (number 29) in the country and the restaurant might be better these days.
Eugene’s – Gulf Seafood – Inspired in part by the robust regional Gulf Coast cookery of yore along with a healthy dose of influences from neighboring Louisiana, this dark-wooded, clubby-looking space in the heart of a neighborhood, can delight in a number of ways with its updated presentations. Redfish stuffed with a blue crab dressing and broiled, several baked crabmeat dishes straight out of New Orleans, and the Oysters Kyle, green onion sautéed in a seasoned lemon garlic butter sauce are a few of main plates. The highlight here might be a starter, the very dark roux-based gumbo filled with shrimp, crab and oysters and served with white rice that quickly set the local and, for some critics, the gold standard anywhere for a dish that has been locally popular since soon after the first person with a French surname moved west from the Crescent City here. There’s a lot from which to cheese including fish and shellfish that can be cooked grilled over oak and hickory, fried in peanut oil, pan-broiled or blackened. Plus, it always pays to note the daily specials like locally caught red snapper, ling, mahi mahi and grouper and crawfish and soft-shell crabs in season.
Hugo’s – Mexican – The restaurant that introduced the authentic fine dining Mexican restaurant to Houston in 2002 is still going strong and a fixture in the heart of Montrose that works well as a stop for dinner, lunch and brunch. Approachable, lively and easily appealing and most everything works well from a menu that takes inspiration from much of Mexico across meats, seafood, vegetables and even chapulines. Crispy duck in mole Poblano, grilled octopus, delectable carnitas, lamb barbacoa and the decadent churros stuffed with dulce de leche served with thick Mexican hot chocolate are just a few of the enticements.
Kau Ba – Vietnamese – A hip and friendly spot serving personalized Vietnamese cooking including some Viet-Cajun accents and preparations at dinner that’s attractively presented and a welcome addition to the city and the neighborhood. at dinner. Creative cocktails, too.
March – Mediterranean (Spanish, Italian, Portuguese) – This is the best of breed of the quartet of pricey set-menu-only restaurants that came on the scene in 2021. The most ambitious offering in the Goodnight Hospitality Group (Rosie Cannonball, Montrose Cheese & Wine), and one of the most ambitious around, March is staffed by a very capable and broadly experienced team led by executive chef Felipe Riccio that can pull off Michelin-starred-quality creations inspired by top restaurants around the Mediterranean. It’s only dinner here in six- and nine-course meals that begins with snacks of the fanciest kinds and drinks in the lounge area. A seafood escabeche cooked in piquant harissa sofrito and aided with Jamón Ibérico, and blood sausage paté with black currants are a couple of past items. The food is exquisitely rendered and served in a nicely understated setting along with informed and attentive service to make this one of the premier dining experiences in the city. One of the two wine pairings might be the easiest way to proceed but if you want to use the wine list you will be rewarded: a hundred pages put together by Master Sommelier June Rodil has plenty of Burgundy or Bordeaux, but also lot from the finest cellars in Piedmont and a number of wines from top Italian and Spanish producers like Quintarelli, Fontodi and López de Heredia.
Neo – Sushi – Another omakase concept from alumni of Uchi, this is more than sushi and fish. The setting is also different, in a menswear showroom. It can be tough to get a ticket and that will cost $260 for the twenty or so courses, drinks and tip, along with something to brag about, if successful.
Nobie’s – New American – This eclectic spot is a cool, eclectic, chef-driven spot featuring local and regional ingredients, of course, but with global influences, including a number of dishes from restaurants in Chicago, or riffs on them. The accessible, if often refined cooking includes giant smoke-kissed ribeye named after a consumer of legendarily sized chops, Fred Flinstone, meant for sharing, a date dish inspired by Chicago's acclaimed Avec, a mild, yet very flavorful house-made chicken liver mousse featuring the flavors of an Old Fashioned cocktail, a terrific, an entire fried chicken (or more) nicely presented, excellent rich chocolates and more. Even the fresh pastas can draw raves. The setting is an old house that was occupied by Au Petit Paris for a decade and seems perfectly appropriate for the seemingly, personal, fun fare, except for the horrific lack of parking. Good acoustics and vintage speakers (speaker technology has not changed much in a quite a while) supply a steady stream of late 1960s and 1970s guitar-heavy rock over the airwaves from old school vinyl. An enthusiastic bar staff can provide an enjoyable cocktail starter or finish, too, after you've enjoyed the well-edited wine list for the meal.
Ostia – Americanized Italian – Italian-esque that also has roots with a top Manhattan toque, this one Jonathon Waxman and his well-regarded Barbuto in the similar vein. Worthy of a visit solely for the pizzas, which are just a red and white – no tomato sauce – and just at lunch. The red might involve a margherita with a protein the white cheese and maybe an egg. Both feature a properly enjoyable, fairly flavorful soft crust with ingredients that are noticeably higher quality and so tastier than usual. You might want a little more integration between the toppings and crust, but these are still pizzas were returning for.
Poscol – Italian – Poscol, which is the dialect name for the main thoroughfare in Udine (Via Poscolle), Wiles’ hometown in the northeastern Italian region of Friuli, might be described as an all-Italian wine bar supported with enticing small plate preparations, many meant to be shared. The roughly 50-item menu will be comprised of regional Italian specialties. There are risotto dishes, baked pastas, bruschetta, a well-chosen selection of Italian cheeses, and seafood including salmon, braised calamari and braised octopus. Its longtime Sunday special of porchetta, a roasted pork preparation, has even thrilled a native of Umbria, where the dish was born. The food has a strong northeastern Italian influence along with impeccably Italian sensibilities that have worked extremely well for Houston diners at Da Marco, not far down Westheimer. The pizzas do not, though.
Riel – New American – The description on their website seems quite apt: “Globally Inspired Gulf Coast Cuisine,” as its offerings include items and inspirations commonly from Japan to Canada to Eastern Europe and especially nearby, as executive chef Ryan Lachaine seemed to gain much from his stints at Reef and Underbelly, home of the two best executors of our contemporary regional Gulf Coast cooking, Bryan Caswell and Chris Shepherd (coincidentally, both above). This thin usually energetic spot, quaint for Houston at about sixty seats, has an appropriate setting and atmosphere for its eclectic but sensibly assembled mix of savory preparations numbering about fifteen or so, most easily shared. A stellar trio of which, that have been on the menu in some form since its opening exactly a year ago, include snapper ceviche, a seafood karaage, a fairly delicate Japanese-style fried preparation, and a hanger steak with terrific, salty crust encasing the moist, deep-red interior that is served sliced for sharing along with a horseradish cream sauce. Excellent sourcing for both proteins and plants are readily evident along with the precise techniques. A solid cocktail program and wine list help complement the kitchen’s efforts.
Roost – New American – A cozy 50-seat spot set in a house on Fairview, the eclectic, often fun menu – like Coffee n’ Donut Holes for dessert – changes frequently, but some commonly found highlights include fried cauliflower with toasted pine nuts and bonito flakes in a miso dressing, mussels, steak, shrimp, and a really good burger, often with flavors from the Middle East, Asia, and our part of the world. The ingredients here come mostly from top local and regional producers and the small well-chosen wine list is largely food-friendly Old World with a Pieropan Soave, a Rioja Reserva from Beronia and even a white Côtes du Rhône.
Rosie Cannonball – Italian / Spanish – Italian preparations including well-done fresh pastas and pizzas plus a few dishes ranging to other southern European spots. The second of five concepts, four serving food, to open in a very smart and neat complex – March – is just above this is essentially an Italian restaurant with a more than a few nods to the Iberian peninsula on the short menu. There are some very well-crafted, if possible precious, fresh pasta preparations in the Emilian tradition, excellent pizzas, plus breads and greens and other vegetables, and a quartet of proteins including the requisite steak and seafood preparations. These crowd-pleasing dishes and stylish space have made it an attractive stop for the ladies who lunch and a busy spot at night. The wine list is expansive and mainly Old World and fun for almost any wine lover.
Shun – Japanese – From the son of the owners of longtime favorite of Japanese transplants and visitors, Nippon, also in Montrose, Shun is something nicer, hipper and more ambitious than his parents’ comfortable stop. A little less traditionally Japanese, too, with locally attuned flavors and ingredients make their appearance in some of the dishes. With a mix of sushi and sashimi, grilled robatayaki items, and a grab-bag of Japanese small plates, the menu might be tough to navigate for some, but the servers are helpful guides. One of the highlights we were directed to on a recent visit was the Lengua Gyoza, a trio of big, soft and delicious dumplings filled with tender tongue meat from wagyu cattle – a far cry from what’s in cheap lengua tacos – and served with salsa verde in a ponzu mignonette. The pricey, but large pieces of nigiri sushi and sashimi are excellent, as you might expect with the experience at Nippon, with some sourced from more exotic waters. Fun and delectable rolls like the Sun Blast filled with salmon, apple, tobiko, micro cilantro, lime, spicy aioli and topped with a piece of crispy salmon skin might have more wide-ranging appeal. Shun can seemingly appeal to a range of customers with familiar items like tempura, miso soup, pork katsu, and sushi rolls, those interested in a meal of mostly sushi and sashimi, and there’s a separate sushi counter, or those wanting something more unique. The customers appeared to reflect that, with families with young children, middle-aged Inner Loopers along with plenty of Japanese folks. They all looked as happy we were, the highballs and well-compiled sake list helped see to that.
Soto – Japanese / Sushi – A transplant from Austin sporting a gorgeous dark interior, unrecognizable from that of the previous tenant Bistecca on the lowest of Westheimer, this offers an approachable, well-executed, well-sourced take on the popular Tokyo-style sushi occasionally spiked with some regional favorites like jalapeño, avocado and even tacos of a sort. Truffles and foie gras make appearances, too. Some items arrive from Tokyo’s Toyosu seafood market; the uni here is from Hokkaido rather than Santa Barbara. Japan Express menu changes daily and with often about ten seasonal available as nigiri or sashimi. One of the omakase menus, at $150 and $250 a head, offers an indulgence. In that vein is the A5 Wagyu beef that’s one of the fairly numerous hot dishes on the menu that can be worth visiting even if sushi is not part of the meal.
Uchi – Japanese / Sushi – Serving a creative take on modern Japanese food and known for its sushi and sashimi preparations, this is a version of the most acclaimed restaurant in Austin that won Chef Tyson Cole a James Beard Award several years ago. It quickly became part of the restaurant firmament in Houston after opening in early 2012, and remains a top destination for sushi and seafood, period. Terrific service, too.
One of the elaborate preparations at BCN