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Dec 21, 2006 10:01 PM

Where's the hotter food scene - Dallas or Houston?

Hello Texas,

I'm a fellow 'hound from NYC and I work for a magazine that does intense, city-focused tastings across the country for editorial features as well as our up-and-coming chef award.

We have yet to hit any cities in Texas, but myself and several
others in the office have lobbied and won for a Texas event. There's only one problem....we can't decide which city.

Half the office is calling for Houston, the other half says Dallas. We're looking for a city that's got a hot dining scene that's not all about looks but about taste. The food doesn't have to be fine-dining, but it's got to be fantastic. Think Abacus in Dallas or Cafe Annie in Houston (as reported by friends).

So if anyone has an opinion...I'd love to hear it.(The idea of San Antoinio is great too, but at this time it's got to be Dallas or Houston.)

Many thanks for any advice that you all have to offer - and if anyone need NYC recs, feel free to ask.


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  1. In the aggregate, I would say that Houston has better restaurants than Dallas. And there is definitely more variety in Houston, especially in ethnic restaurants.

    At the level you've indicated, though, I would say it's a toss-up. You can find great food at top restaurants in either city. And there are better places in Dallas than Abacus, and better places in Houston than Cafe Annie (unless, of course, you are seeking chicken-fried steak ... and then Scott recommends Cafe Annie).

    1. Not to be harsh, but I think Kirk is nuts. At the top levels, Dallas has Houston beat hands down. Houston has Cafe Annie and Mark's that I've eaten at personally. Both very good.

      Dallas has York Street, Lola, Bijoux, Local, Aurora, Stephen Pyles, Osteria Danielle, and the Mansion. And that's the just the restaurants that are better than Abacus that I can think of off the top of my head that I've eaten at in the last six months. (I should caution that I'm not the biggest fan of Aurora in the world. Menu is too schizophrenic for my tastes.) Any one of those can run with Cafe Annie and Mark's (although only Lola has as deep a wine list as Cafe Annie).

      And Dallas has some great spots in the good by not great category. Not real foodie places, but fun and interesting restaurants (that aren't a chain) where you can get a very good meal. I don't know many of those spots in Houston.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Mike C. Miller

        You're not the first -- nor will you be the last -- to have questioned my sanity. And not to belabor the point, but your two posts, taken together, say pretty much the same thing mine did.

        1. re: Mike C. Miller

          I think that I have the background to speak intelligently on this subject having been raised in Houston and having lived in Dallas for the past 5 years. I definately give the nod to Houston in all realms. The one fact that speaks volumes about the lack/or perceived lack of culinary talent in Dallas is the number of upscale "chains" setting up shop in Dallas (i.e. Craft, Nobu, BLT Prime). Houston is also a victim in some regards (like Jean Georges' Bank) but not nearly on Dallas' scale. Mike C. has some good Dallas suggestions (esp. Local of which I am a big fan, and Stephen Pyles). Houston has much more in the way of local-grown high quality cuisine. I also agree that Houston runs much more of the gammit from high-end to great neighborhood BYOB-type places.

          Some Houston suggestions that have not been mentioned: Indika, Hugo's, The Glass Wall (there a number of up-and-coming restaurants in the Heights like Catalan, whose chef, Charles Clark, will appear in an upcoming Iron Chef America episode), and T'afia. I also hear very good things about the re-encarnated Tony's but have yet to try.

          Other facts that illustrate that Houston is a better dining town -- one of the few cities in the US with its own culinary magazine (My Table)/Houstonians eat out more on average than any city in the US (somewhat dated info but still may hold true)/Houston is the fattest city in the US (not something that Houstonians advertise but does say something). I could go on and on but I won't bore you guys any longer.

        2. Despite being much smaller, Austin has better sushi, Tex-Mex, and BBQ than either city.

          If forced to compare between the two, I think Houston beats Dallas. (However, if you include Fort Worth while considering, D/FW might turn the tables.)

          4 Replies
          1. re: tom in austin

            While I conceed whole-heartedly that Austin tops Houston in BBQ (and is itself topped by the surrounding hill country), I'm not convinced about Tex Mex. While Austin is great at affordable TexMex, I believe Houston has some better/less affordable spots that go toe to toe with what Austin offers (Hugos, the Original Ninfas, Picos, and El Tiempo come immediately to mind).

            Off topic, but barely, is that Houston gets thoroughly pounced by just about any breakfast place in Austin or Dallas. I have no idea why this is the case, but it is...

            1. re: tom in austin

              I'll agree with the BBQ assessment but otherwise Austin is severely lacking in ethnic variety.

              1. re: tom in austin

                I get to Austin trequently and spent over 40 years in Dallas and although I made trips to Houston, I cannot comment on it. Austin just doesn't have the depth or depth in variety save Tex-Mex and Q. We ate at a number of top places recently, while in Austin and I think, while a few were excellent, they can't compare to Big D. And yes, if you consider the "Metroplex" or include Plano or Frisco, there is no contest! There are some super places out in the 'burbs!

                1. re: tom in austin

                  Austin has the only Tex Mex place (in Westlake) that Ive eaten at that charged for an extra basket of chips and hot sauce(salsa) please Austin get a grip Im a life long Texan with family roots dating to 1832 in Texas so Im no yankee outsider, But this is the most outrageous thing Ive ever experienced, in this type of dining.

                2. I honestly admit that I don't know very much about fine dining because I can't really eat at that level on a college studen't budget. However, in terms of ethnic food and dives (hole in the wall), Houston's *much* better than Dallas.

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: air

                    This is great - thank you guys so much for your replys. And thank you to Tom who reminded me that "Dallas" can also include Dallas / Fort Worth.

                    Austin's awesome...but we're looking at just these two cities. As much as I eat at ethnic and divey places in NYC, these articles will focus more on a fine-dining bent.

                    I'm sad to hear Abacus is not so great - the chef's brother is a friend from Atlanta. Bummer.

                    Anyone else care to weigh in? It seems like I need a tie breaker.

                    Thanks again! You guys rock.

                    1. re: jordanbaker

                      Well, I may have been too harsh. Many really like Abacus. The craftsmanship in the food is quite high. My complaint is that the menu as a whole (at least the last time that I ate there, which is admittedly a few years ago) is eclectic to the point of being schizophrenic. It's neither fish nor fowl as it were. World cuisine was the moniker that it went by at one time, but to me, it just was all over the place without any common thread or narrative. But there are many who would argue that it is one of the better restaurants in Dallas.

                      And I guess that sort of makes my point about Dallas. You can have a preference and not like one of the top restaurants in town, and still have at least a half a dozen more to pick from. By the way, I thought of one other top restaurant in Dallas although it is a chain of sorts -- Craft. Some would also include Hattie's in the top tier. The one time I went there, it was awfully loud, but the food was quite good. Nana might also qualify, although I haven't personally eaten there in many years. Chef is from Spain and allegedly worked at El Bulli for a time. Been meaning to go, but just haven't made it.

                      I also think Air is correct that at the lower levels, perhaps Houston is a bit more eclectic. However if Dallas excels at nothing else, it certainly does excel at excess. So perhaps high end places are more naturally it's metier. As to Tom in Austin's claims, I'm not a big Tex-Mex fan, but Dallas has some good places, and it can hold it's own in sushi although I'd appreciate his thoughts on where to get sushi near downtown as I'll be in Austin a fair bit over the next few months. But mentioning BBQ is not fair. If you're willing to drive out side of town for forty-five minutes, no city on the face of the earth has better BBQ than Austin. Period. It's just a fact.

                      What is Kent's brother these days? Keith or Kevin, maybe? Can't remember the name for sure. He had his own restaurant here in Dallas at one time. I enjoyed it more than the brother's frankly.

                      1. re: Mike C. Miller

                        It's Kevin. He owns Rathbuns and Krog bar in Atlanta, which is where I lived before New York. I see someone posted a barbecue comment below; uh-oh, I don't want to start a fight.

                        1. re: Mike C. Miller

                          Mike, you're missing loads of homegrown spots that are worth the effort.

                          *Yutaka - it could be the best sushi in Texas
                          *The Landmark - I don't know how Joel Harloff leaving affected the quality, but when he was there, I loved it. I had arguably the best cioppino is history there.
                          *Suze - I went to a dinner party with Jeff Hobbs the other nite, and that fool can cook his arse off.
                          *Lanny's in Fort Worth is absolutely amazing. It may be the finest restaurant with the most surprising flavors in all of Texas.
                          *Lola's - the finest wine program in Texas? The Tasting Room is absolutely top notch.

                          1. re: Mike C. Miller

                            "But mentioning BBQ is not fair. If you're willing to drive out side of town for forty-five minutes, no city on the face of the earth has better BBQ than Austin. Period. It's just a fact."

                            I am assuming the drive you refer to is to the Salt Lick in Driftwood. The BBQ there is still pretty darn good, but it has become so much of an "in" place that the little joint we used to go to is lost in the crowds of yuppies and soccer moms. Iron Works BBQ on Red River isn't bad, but essentially suffers from the same fate with not as good fare.

                            Fact is that average BBQ in Texas is so much better than that of other places we're almost talking standard deviations here. But between Lockhart, Luling, Llano and a few others, saying Austin has the best BBQ is pretty unsupportable. I go to those places to judge my efforts at home and contesting. Usually, I come out even or better. But there's lots of good BBQ cookers in Texas with pits out smokin' in their yards...

                            1. re: mgwerks

                              Lockhart and Llano are about 45 minutes out of Austin...

                              (but the best bbq in the world is actually cooked in the Ozarks in NW Arkansas)

                          2. re: jordanbaker

                            i'll cast a vote: i think houston ranks better in mid-level and ethnic places, and has greater variety as well as a higher standard of quality overall (IE, even the cheaper places meet a certain level of competence, unlike dallas, where cheap is pretty much = crappy).

                            but if you're looking specifically for high-end, i think dallas has more and better.

                            1. re: jordanbaker

                              Although based in Dallas, since my firm has an office in Houston I dine there fairly often. I think most of these posts are pretty much on target. Houston is probably better in terms of variety (more and better Chinese places, for example), and I just don't eat Dallas barbeque (other than an occasional plate of ribs at Baby Back Shaq). At the high end, though, I agree with Mike C. Miller that Dallas has the edge (especially if you include Fort Worth's best spots, like Lanny's). He's also right that Dallas has a pretty pretentious restaurant scene.

                              1. re: jordanbaker

                                Jordanbaker, looks like your original post is quite dated so I'm interested to hear what the decision was btw Hou and Dallas (if one has been made). SInce I didn't see the original in Dec, if it is still of interest to you my thoughts are a mix match of what you received above. But I would like to clarify your focus as it seems the above blog trailed off into a discussion of BBQ, ethnic spots, and Tex Mex. From your original message you referenced Abacus and the spots in Atlanta as well. If those "type" restaurants are indeed the focus, the nod goes to Dallas rather handily.

                                Several spots were mentioned above, and by the way I'm one of those that thinks Abacus is still near the top in Dallas. I would also throw in Suze and Mercury Grill, as local chef driven spots that set us apart from Houston. The Beard House is always a good gauge in my mind as far as who has more chefs and therefore restaurants that have been nationally recognized. The last list I saw, Dallas had many more than Houston.

                                Finally, someone pointed to the number of high end chains, NOBU, N9NE Steakhouse, Craft, Bice, etc that have opened here as an indicator that the dining scene in Dallas was lacking. I totally disagree. To me, that says the dining scene in Dallas is hotter and these companies wanted to jump in and get a piece of it. It is also worth noting that all of those spots mentioned above are either part of hotels or new real estate developments and were HEAVILY recruited here by the developers and city.

                                Dallas has long suffered nationally being labeled as a spot for Tex Mex, BBQ and steakhouses (and considering the above discussion quickly went in that direction, it is no wonder). Glad to hear your publication agreed to a TX spot. Pls update everyone on the final decision and where we can read the reviews.

                            2. So who does barbeque better, Dallas or Houston?