Brasserie du Parc – French – A lower-key, but still white tablecloth, offering from Philippe Verpiand of Étoile that offers an enticing range of largely well-known French dishes both day and night. There might be more of an emphasis on seafood, but there are several steaks; it’s Texas, after all, plus it needs to satisfy those (mostly male) business travelers that might be congregating at the George R. Brown just a short walk away. It’s an airy and approachable place, that sense might be enhanced by the charmingly cheap-looking reproductions of French poster artwork on the walls.
Georgia James Tavern – American – This handsome spot with a clubby feel across from Market Square and part of the Underbelly Hospitality Group has cycled through a few chefs before Tim Reading took the helm in early 2022. With an accomplished resume that’s included heading the kitchen at the top Mexican seafooder Caracaol, the team here delivers in refined fashion on the upscale American fare like pan-seared salmon, brick chicken and a ham-brined pork chop. This also works well in tavern fashion before an event nearby for cocktails and upscale bar snacks like crispy duck fat potatoes, East Coast oysters with a cucumber jalapeno mignonette or warm marinated olives. The short wine list skews heavily red and food-friendly, most priced well under $100.
Golfstrømmen Seafood Market – Norwegian Seafood – The name is quite appropriate, meaning Gulf Stream in Norwegian, as this seafood spot from a duo of acclaimed chefs, one from Norway and the other in Texas, employs products, inspirations and preparations from there and here. It begins with excellent fish and shellfish sourced nearby and the north Atlantic, the bounty of the Gulf Stream and the Gulf. In the Post Market development downtown, the food hall setting isn’t much, but there is usually a tempting display of seafood set on ice that can be gastronomic eye-candy that might include fish not commonly seen and not like langoustines, scallops, and oysters like the delicious and different Belon (though from Maine rather than Brittany). Christopher Haatuft, from coastal Bergen where his restaurant Lysverke has a Michelin star, and Paul Qui, a James Beard Award-winner who once had the excellent Aqui on lower Westheimer, have a kitchen that highlights the high quality of their sourcing with mostly straightforward creations in ways usually familiar to locals that can be absolutely delicious. A seemingly simple open-faced sandwich featuring plenty of the slightly sweet lump Jonah crab meat with melted lightly herbed butter, a bit of mayonnaise and some welcome strands of raw onion atop a toasted, tasty sourdough loaf with a side of crisp, freshly made potato chips is excellent. A nice array of wines, too, to complement, that have a welcome strong French accent.
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse – Steak – Boisterous, always loud and often delightfully indulgent and even excessive – these and Georgia James are clearly the best two steakhouse concepts in the city. Not only is the food excellent, especially the nearly unparalleled wet- or dry-aged steaks, most importantly, but the compendious wine list is the most impressive in the city. The Westheimer original has around 5,000 labels and 28,000 bottles, and the downtown branch slightly less, so there is seemingly everything you might want at a fine dining restaurant with depth in Champagne, Burgundy – both colors, with pages of Grand Cru and Premier Cru – Bordeaux, Napa, Super Tuscans, Barolo, Rhone, and much, much more. You can spend a small fortune on just drink here. Along with the kitchen and cellar, the wait staff here, is also a cut above among the local steakhouses. The attentive, friendly and proficient service stands in stark contrast to the casual, not-so-professional or informed service you might find at Mastro’s, another expense account steakhouse, for example.
Perbacco – Italian – Featuring approachable Southern Italian cooking geared toward local sensibilities from a longtime restaurateur from Capri, off the coast of Naples, the fare is generally lighter and better prepared than similar dishes elsewhere. Set in pleasantly utilitarian fashion in the ground floor of an office building, albeit Philip Johnson and team’s landmark Pennzoil Plaza, the emphasis is on enjoyable eating rather than fine dining. There are several, somewhat hearty, baked pasta dishes such as lasagna and cannelloni, a dozen other pasta and sautéed items such as penne with Gulf shrimp, veal Marsala, and gnocchi with eggplant in a tomato sauce, and several straightforward grilled proteins. Their version of the traditional, simple linguine and clams is one of the best around. Entrées are served with a small salad, helping to make this an especially nice value for lunch. Open for dinner on Friday and Saturday, too.
Potente – American Italian – The preparations here are Americanized Italian with a luxurious bent, as the caviars topping the menu might indicate, it has a top chef at the helm, Danny Trace formerly of Brennan's and Commander's Palace, and uses approachable preparations inspired from Italy with excellent ingredients to a welcome, if quite expensive result. Trace’s kitchen is very adept with seafood and those preparations occupy much of the menu, but it is tough to go wrong here; decadent pastas, a few steaks and dried porcini-braised veal cheeks are some other options. Directly across from the ballpark, this is owned by Jim Crane, owner of the reigning World Series champions Houston Astros.
Rosalie’s – Italian-American – Houston has historically been tough on out-of-town restaurateurs and hotel dining, but things might have changed, as West Coast-based television chef Chris Cosentino has channeled his Italian-American roots into what has been a popular and adept smallish spot in a refurbished and now surprisingly hip hotel – the C. Baldwin was a setting for the “The Bachelor” airing in early 2022 – at the southwestern edge of downtown. Chef-created Italian-American might be the best description of the offerings here. The crab cannelloni features Sauce Americane, a French concoction featuring cream and lobster shells. Fairly rich and redolent of the sea, it’s quite tasty if not what any Italian-American family (or restaurant) makes. The menu is enticing with other pastas, spot-on sides such as roasted cherry tomatoes with garlic and breadcrumbs, and protein-centered preparations like a spicy Shrimp Fra Diavolo, a hanger steak Pizzaiolo also with peppers and capers, and a milanese with chicken – there’s no veal on the menu. There are pizzas, too. Though the crusts are not nearly flavorful nor soft enough to pull off a successful margherita, but the other toppings might work well. This cab be a fun stop, and it’s in a hotel!
Theodore Rex – New American – In an out-of-the-way part of downtown, the Warehouse District – it might be a bit far, and too interesting, to walk from any of the hotels – Justin Yu has drawn (mostly) raves in a couple of versions with a technically impressive personal cuisine that draws on a variety of influences, often French, and that gives plants some prominence. A few pastas are usually on the menu like thin strands of freshly made noodles warmed in cultured butter, seasoned with oyster liquor and mignonette, and another not-at-all-Italian creation with fermented radish crisp, mushroom and dill. Larger plates might include a Gulf snapper with soupe au pistou. The restaurant is not for everyone but it’s a destination for those interested in meticulous and informed preparations done with “a little sense of humor,” attentive service and an excellent wine list largely of low-intervention labels.
Vic & Anthony’s – Steakhouse – Catercorner from the ballpark and set in a hefty, bunker-like building, this is actually one Landry's concept you can visit without having to apologize for yourself and it’s one of the best steakhouses in the city that checks all the proper boxes, and with an Italian-American accent.
Xochi – Mexican – This opened in 2018 in time for the Houston-hosted Super Bowl – there has never been a Houston team in the Super Bowl, of course – with an array of enticing Oaxacan-themed offerings, most well-suited for sharing that was something a both little different and also quickly familiar. There are crudos, roasted oysters, an array of moles, as Oaxaca is the land of seven moles, after all, and other preparations, all bolstered by excellent sourcing. There are even a few insects on the menu, for the adventurous, even if these tastes might not be too far out. As at their other restaurants, Sean Beck puts together compelling wines and cocktails that makes this a clear winner both dining and imbibing. Located in the Marriott Marquis across from Discovery Green downtown, the interior is quite attractive, more so the further you are from the lobby, though the patio seating can be an invitation to be pan-handled. The cooking is as good as Hugo’s – and maybe more consistently so – though it is less of a value.
Good at the bar at Georgia James Tavern