Houston only has a handful of Turkish restaurants. Strangely, two of them are less than a block apart in Rice Village.
My long-time favorite is Istanbul Grill on Morningside. The restaurant is a small, spartan space in a short strip mall with very little parking. The parking issue is significant because so many people go to the bars nearby, particularly toward the end of the week. The restaurant also is not very romantic, but the food makes up for it.
Meals begin with a heavenly Turkish bread (pide?) that is fluffy and crispy. It is paired with olive oil poured over some earthy spices and sesame seeds. I could eat just oil and bread for a meal. But there are good reasons not to. Istanbul Grill serves some good Mediterranean appetizers, pizza-like dishes on Turkish bread (Lahmacun or Pide), and some fantastic grilled meats. I particularly like Adana Kebab -- a shish kebab made with lamb.
Because I liked Istanbul Grill so much, I have been ignoring the other Turkisn restaurant, just down the street on University -- Pasha. I finally tried it last night and was very impressed.
Pasha is more romantic. It is located in a house instead of a strip center. Tables are covered with white tablecloths. There are a few more parking spots, but I imagine parking remains an issue on weekends, when you probably need a reservation to avoid waiting for a table.
A meal at Pasha also begins with some wonderful Greek bread. But the oil served with the bread is not quite as good as Istanbul Grill; it could use more spices.
Pasha's menu very similar to Istanbul Grill. Although neither restaurant is expensive, prices tend to be about $1 - $3 more per item at Pasha. And Pasha has a handful of additional items that Istanbul Grill does not have.
Last night, I was particularly impressed with a special that involved Lamb, slow-cooked in the oven for 5 - 6 hours. The lamb was tender and flavorful. Also noteworthy was ezme -- a cold appetizer with chopped tomatoes, onion, crushed walnuts. It was both sweet and spicy hot.
Both restaurants have nice small wine lists that focus on Turkish wines. I like Turkish reds quite a bit -- even more than the reds made by their Greek and Lebanese neighbors.
I recommend both Istanbul Grill and Pasha. Pasha is a little better on a date. Istanbul Grill is better on the budget. Both restaurants serve great Turkish food.