Thursday, March 09, 2006

top 10 and then some

I have been on a hiatus recently. I have been too busy at work, plus I am out of the country all next week.

So, to maintain interest and possibly some debate, here is the list of my 10 favorite restaurants in Houston at the moment. It goes without saying that this is highly subjective and subject to change tomorrow.

1. laidback manor. This is the most creative restaurant in Houston at the moment. Chef Rucker is a genius. Try it.

2. Noe. This is the other most creative restaurant in Houston -- a fusion of French, Japanese, Italian, and American cuisine. A single dish at Noe can have dozens of complex ingredients and flavors.

3. Da Marco. Easily the best Italian restaurant in Houston, or maybe even in the country. Yes, it is far too pricey, and the markup on the extensive Italian wine list is very high. But the food is worth it.

4. Aries. Good ingredients, creative chef, nice setting, high prices.

5. Le Mistral. This is my favorite French food in Houston (actually, it is in far, far west Houston). The wine list is not as good as Cafe Rabelais, but it is very good, and very French.

6. The Strip House. This steak house barely beats out Pappas Bros. and only because the food is a little bit better.

7. Backstreet Cafe. This little restaurant has been serving outstanding, casual, southwestern food and interesting, reasonable wines for around 20 years. Its sister restaurants -- Hugo's, Trevisio, and Prego -- are great, but Backstreet remains the Queen.

8. T'afia. Fresh and local to the extreme. It may not be quite as good as Monica Pope's previous restaurants -- Quilted Toque and Boulevard Bistro -- but she remains an important champion of local foods and wines and one of the best chefs in Houston. This is the only restaurant where I actually have had good Texas wines.

9. Pico's. Houston is a Mexican food town. Pico's is as good as it gets.

10. Ibiza. Yes, the crowd and the proprietors can be a little too hip and fabulous, but Ibiza has a handful of great dishes and the best-priced wine list in Houston. Frankly, it is the wine list that merits its place on this list.

Almost made my list:

-Cafe Rabelais -- Great French food and French wine list. They do not take reservations, and the wait can be painful.

-Indika -- Indian fusion food. This really ought to be in my top 10, but what would I take off?

-Mark's -- For a long time, this was my favorite restaurant in town. But the last two meals I have had there were dull. A restaurant is only as good as your last meal there.

-Benjy's -- Casual Southwestern/Asian fusion. They have not stayed as innovative as they were in the 1990s, but they have stayed very good.

-Bank -- I have had some incredible dishes here and some dull dishes here. One consistent aspect of this pricey restaurant is lousy service. On my last visit, I waited over an hour after my reservation during which time they seated a local socialite who had no reservation at all. Still, the occasional bursts of food creativity were almost enough to make my list.

-Pesce -- Pricey, but creative seafood in a fabulous see-and-be-seen setting. In other words, the crowd is annoying, but the fish is good.

-Simposio -- My other favorite Italian restaurant.

-Hugo's -- The most creative and unusual Mexican food in Houston. It is a shame that the food does not taste quite as good as Pico's.

-Rioja -- The best Spanish food and Spanish wine list in town.

-Bistro Moderne -- Their crab and avocado bombe is the bomb. The food is so good, I don't know why the foodie scene does not frequent this spot.

-Cafe Annie -- The menu does not change enough to be truly creative. The wine list is not as good since their wine guy left for the French Laundry in Napa. But Cafe Annie is still a Houston institution -- the best place in town to sit in the bar and pay $900 for a rare California cult cabernet and a cheeseburger.

-Kubo's -- Best Japanese food in Houston.

-Saffron -- Best Moroccan food in Houston. Then again, it may be the only Moroccan food in Houston.

-Alexander the Great Greek. Best Greek food.

-Mai's. Houston has a lot of very good Vietnamese restaurants, but no great ones yet. Mai's is still my favorite.