Why Houston needed a restaurant guide
For years, there has been no comprehensive guide to Houston's restaurants. Houston has a lot of restaurants, yet there has been no one place to go to find out where to eat.
Other sources of reviews are not sufficiently reliable or comprehensive to act as a one-stop source of reviews. The capsules in the Chronicle, Houston Press, and Texas Monthly are helpful, but too short, and too few restaurants are reviewed. Our outstanding food critics (Robb Walsh & Alison Cook) and amateur bloggers (like Epicurus and me) can only write detailed reviews for a handful of restaurants at a time. And the more populist dining guides, like Zagat and b4-u-eat, are only as informed as the people who decide to voice their opinion -- and often they are not very informed.
In short, Houston desperately needed a smart, cuisine-conscious collection of thorough reviews about a broad range of restaurants.
Today I received a copy of the Fearless Critic's Houston Restaurant Guide. This big volume contains detailed one-page reviews of over 400 Houston restaurants. I am impressed with the intelligence and candor of the reviews, the scope of coverage, and the judgment of the reviewers. Houston finally has the restaurant guide it deserves.
Good concept, good reviewers
The FCHRG's format is user friendly. Every restaurant gets a witty one sentence caption such as: "Good-hearted Greek food in a gaudy room that ranges from raucous to strangely lonely" (Alexander the Great Greek); and "Vegas decor, and haphazard pan-world food that's even worse than a sleazy casino" (Zula). Then, the restaurant gets a thorough review, with informed details. I like the fact that restaurants are listed alphabetically, but also indexed by cuisine style, location, top 100, and other categories.
This guide also succeeds because it is the work of six informed reviewers, all with chef and/or guidebook writing credentials. They write well. The reviews are entertaining.
Should I even continue this blog?
The FCHRG is now the single best resource for finding a great place to eat in Houston. My immediate reaction was that the FCHRG might make this blog obsolete. What else can Epicurus and I add?
A few things. First, I can disagree. And sometimes I do. The FCHRG gives some dismal grades to a few restaurants that I enjoy:
Bistro Le Cep (C) (deserves a B+)
Goode Co. Barbeque (C-) (deserves a B)
Kanomwan (C+) (deserves a B)
Lankford Grocery (C+) (deserves a B)
Oceanaire (D) (deserves a B)
It gives some mediocre grades to some of my favorite restaurants, (each of which deserves at least an A-):
Backstreet Cafe (B+)
And it gives some grades that are just too high:
Tony's (A) (deserves at best a B+ for overpriced, uncreative food)
Doneraki (A) (utterly average Mexican food, deserving no more than B-)
Luling City Market (A-) (some of the driest, worst barbecue in town, a D)
Fortunately, though, most of FCHRG's rankings are about right.
Second, the FCHRG misses some great restaurants. With over 400 reviews, it covers a lot of ground, including almost every good upscale restaurant in town. Yet with one page per restaurant, it is impossible to cover everything. It skips many of my hidden favorites, especially on the cheaper side: La Sani, Mary'z, Oporto, Candelari's Pizza, Droubi Bros. (on Hilcroft), Mint Cafe, La Jaliescience, Merida, Blue Fin, Rattan, Alfreda's Cafeteria, Cafe Mezza, and William's Smokehouse. On the other hand, it includes many out of the way places that I have never tried.
Despite these quibbles, I highly recommend the FCHRG, the best guide I have ever seen to Houston's most visible restaurants - and some that are not so visible.