Friday, December 12, 2008

Houston restaurants in the eyes of Dallas

Here is a fun article. Bill Addison is a food critic for the Dallas Morning News. He identifies 10 great restaurants that define Houston's diverse dining scene.

News Flash: Houston and Dallas are different

Addison says dining in Houston and Dallas is different. Yes, our restaurants are different. And our food writers are different. Addison writes that his "recent sprint through the gamut of Houston restaurants illuminated just how different its culinary canvas is from Dallas'." I can't see a pretentious sentence like that being written by Robb Walsh or Alsion Cook.

Despite his florid prose, Addison says some nice things about Houston, so I should say nice things about Dallas. Dallas has some excellent restaurants -- world class restaurants even.

I just have one complaint: when I am in most Dallas restaurants, there is nothing to remind me that I am in Dallas instead of New York or Chicago. That makes sense. Dallas likes to think of itself as a smaller version of New York or Chicago. It isn't. But it likes to think that.

Houston is happy to just be Houston.

Do these 10 restaurants really tipify Houston?

Addison concludes that 10 restaurants tipify Houston. Let's see how he does:

Chocolate Bar
Que Hong

I seriously disagree with three choices:

1 - The Chocolate Bar is great. But how does it tipify Houston? Addison tries to explain, "A city as sultry as Houston needs a fantastical retreat." What in the heck is he talking about?

2 - Pizzitola's serves decent barbecue. But it does not tipify the barbecue of the region nearly as much as Thelma's, Burns, Goode Co., or even Luling City Market. Plus, I am not sure I would include any barbecue joint on this list. There are plenty of Texas towns better than Houston for barbecue. (Blame air quality regulations).

3 - Irma's is quirky. But I have been disappointed at my last several meals there. Houston has far better Mexican food, and plenty of restaurants that better tipify the local scene. For instance, I would pick a representative of the Ninfa's school of grilled Mexican food that began here in Houston. Probably the best current example is El Tiempo.

I have not eaten at Que Hong or Textile yet. But there is no question that some Vietnamese restaurant belongs on the list and that Scott Tycer's cuisine belongs on the list. So I'm cool with those choices.

The rest of Addison's list is excellent. There are few better examples of the diversity of Houston dining than Catalan, Feast, Hugo's, Indika, and Reef.

I might round out that list with a few suggestions of my own:

Fung's Kitchen or Szechuan Cuisine (representatives of the amazing area near Chinatown)
Vieng Thai or Asia Market (deeply authentic Thai and Laotian food)
This Is It or Alameda Cafeteria (East Texas soul food)
Frenchy's (fried chicken) or Barbecue Inn (fried chicken, chicken fried steak, and stuffed crabs)

Addison's list is pretty good, especially for a food critic from Dallas. Plus, I have to give him credit for recognizing the best aspects of Houston's food that set it apart from Dallas -- Houston's breadth and diversity.


Misha said...

I think the list is reasonably good, with a exception of a couple of lazy selections such as Irma's (hugely overrated) and the Chocolate Bar.

Feast, Hugo's and Indika would be my top three picks to recommend to someone who wants to get a unique taste of Houston. Maybe not entirely representative (how many people really eat at Feast?), but definitely unique.

I do think Dallas has a certain culinary identity, though. Acrodoro is one of the few Sardinian restaurants in the country and it originated in Dallas. Both Fearings and Stephan Pyles are Dallas iconoclasts and have styles distinct even from Cafe Annie in Houston which carries the same Southwestern flag. Hattie's is another place that I think makes Dallas different, even though I think the food is better at Ouisies Table.

The most promising and potentially unique restaurant in DFW area is probably Lanny's Alta Cocina. Unfortunately my meal there was disappointing. If they get it together it could be one of the most interesting restaurants in Texas, however.

Jody said...

I agree, there are some very interesting choices...being away from Houston for the last 3 years, until recently, I'm getting my foodie feet wet again locally....Hugo's & Indika yes. And Feast would be a great addition to ANY town. Reef - YES - how can you go wrong?

neverfull said...

i agree with you that pizzatola's has no business being on that list.

i am impressed que huong made it to the list and not mai's.

is chocolate bar even a "restaurant"?

it would have been great to see vieng thai and himalaya on that list too.

mikemcguff said...

I don't know how to email you, but I wanted you to check out a post that is like this one you might like.

Anonymous said...

i would be appalled if Mai's was on the list instead of Que Huong. Que Huong is truly one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in town.

anonymouseater said...

neverfull: Mai's is neither the best nor the most authentic Vietnamese restaurant in town. But it was the first. I would argue that it is like classic Tex Mex. Like fans of real Mexican food who know Tex Mex isn't great, fans of real Vietnamese food know Mai's isn't great. Still, for many Houstonians Mai's was where we lost our Vietnamese food virginity.

Mike McGuff: Thanks for the link. Riccetti's list is excellent for this purpose. I finally found and bought his Houston Dining on the Cheap. I have been looking for it for almost a year -- ever since I struck up a conversation with Riccetti's mother at H Mart. I like his writing and his judgments.

Rubiao said...

It will be interesting to see how many of those restaurants on the list will still be there in a year or two. I think Irma's makes sense in showing the diversity of Houston, as you need something downtown and you need at least one restaurant older than 10 years. The others are mostly frighteningly new. Textile has been around for a few weeks, Reef and Feast a year or two, etc. He seems to have set out to show the diversity of our cuisine and wound up showing that the restaurant scene is improving quickly (or was nonexistent before?).

That being said, Textile is amazing. And I would go soon (this week), as the irreplaceable bartender who matches the creativity of the chef is leaving. Waiting for the group in front of you to finish a 7 course degustation menu in an hour and fifteen minutes (they sat at 6:45 and our reservation was at 8) would have been unbearable without him, though with him it was a joy.

Tiger said...

Reef, Feast, Textile? Yawn.

I think it was an incredibly lazy list; it focused almost entirely on new restaurants, the ones that currently get all the press. Did the writer actually visit these, or did he just pore over reviews?

The older restaurants were mediocre picks; any Houston foodie knows that none of them are the best in their respective categories.

raiderdav said...

Lazy is a great word to describe that list. I think it would be neat to have a critic-swap and have someone like Robb or Alison make the list for an out-of-town critic, and vice-versa.

greglor said...

Mai's represents the Vietnamese of Houston to me. MMmmmmm... Mai's...

Fulmer said...

The list is close to being spot on, but Irmas? I agree it is overrated and Pico's or La Merida (on Navigation) are more suitable selections. As much as I love the Chocolate Bar it would not make my top 10 list. Mardi Gras is a possiblility and maybe even Voice.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if the chocolate bar properly represents Houston, but I can't wait for it to come to dallas!

Great share, thanks.


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