houston 1 nite
We're visiting Houston (from Chicago) for just one night. Haven't been to Houston in about 7 years (I think we ate at Tony Ruppe's last time, which no longer exists, but which served us a pretty decent meal). We'll be staying near Montrose but will have a car. We're open to just about anything not-to-be-missed from hole-in-the wall Mex or Tex-Mex to fine dining. A couple of preferences:
If it's a hole in the wall, we'd prefer someplace that has a liquor license (byob is okay, but only if it's really really earthshatteringly amazing food).
if it's higher-end, we care most about the food, but we care about the room as well -- (sleek and minimal is good; we're kind of turned off by crystal chandeliers, fancy napkin folding and choreographed service); we'd prefer a $25-$35 or less entree range as opposed to a $40-$50 entree range); and if possible, we'd rather go someplace that has a regular menu as opposed to a tasting menu.
We're excited to try something new in Houston -- thank you very much in advance for any suggestions!
PS: If anyone out there knows Chicago, I can give you an idea of our general taste in restaurants:
Fine dining: Avec, Blackbird, NoMi, Custom House Schwa (yes, they are tasting-menu only, too, but the food is earthshatteringly amazing)
Casual: The Silver Palm, TAC Thai
We love El Tiempo Cantina on Washington Ave. Wide range of Mexican/Tex Mex, moderately priced, but large portions that are great. Nice atmosphere.
Also I would recommend Cafe Red Onion, 3 locations, for Central/Latin American cuisine. Nice atmosphere, casual dress, exquisite presentation of the dishes. I LOVED the Chicken Brasil. It was a taste explosion in my mouth! They also have a Red Onion Seafood y Mas restaurant but I haven't been there. The chef is a local guy, or has been around so long we think of him as such. His name is Rafeal Galindo. This is not something you will find in Chicago.
I am trying to think of an up-scale place you might like, but we are more casual - but I will let you know if I think of something great you can't get in Chicago.
I second the choice of Hugo's for dinner. It's a Mexican restaurant that serves very different dishes, not your typical tex-mex. If you can't make it for dinner, they also have a wonderful brunch on Sundays which include upscale food and not-to-be-missed desserts. Hugo's serves food that you probably won't get in Chicago.
Actually the Mexican in Chicago is much better than here. I would say they have 4 places (Chilpincango, Ixtupulach(spellings are way off), topo, nuevo leon(hole in the wall but good) that are as good or better than Hugo's. Now, we do have Tampico on Airline that is mexican seafood. Might not get that in Chitown>? I would say if hole in the wall then hit this place. If you are in town on a weekend night sit upsatairs on the patio. Order the snapper alla plancha.
The Thai in Chicago is awesome so I would say no to Vieng Thai or Kanamwan a couple other hole in the walls.
Himalaya is a great hole in the wall no booz pakistani place? I love it! If interested I can guide you?
Upscale I would say either Catalan (casual upscale) for the great starter dishes and the exceptional and relatively cheap wine list or Marks for really well prepared new american cousine joint.
While I do not necessarily disagree with any of the previous posts, on the casual/upscale side of dining, I would suggest two places that are inventive on food, very minimalist in decor and great food:
T'afia and Glass Wall. Both are in the price range you wanted. T'afia is in Midtown (Alabama/Travis) and Glass Wall is not far from Montrose (Heights...Studemont/10th or so).
Having experience with both Chicago and Houston, I have to offer that Chicago does "authentic" Mexican cuisines better. Go for the Tex Mex in Houston...Chicago has tons of mariscos, birria, whatever joints. Also...Thai cuisines are well-represented up North...instead seek out Vietnamese in Houston. And...if you want a great burger(by Chicago standards...I know Houstonians tend to look askance at this rec. for some unfathomable reason...I've never had a bad meal) check the chain, Beck's Prime(I'd go for the steak sandwich or any of their hamburgers).
The Glass Wall is great. I went there with my husband for valentine's day and the food was amazing and reasonibly priced. I had a pork dish that had tenderloin and shoulder, it was the best pork I ever had. We also got a mushroom risotto appettizer that had me licking the bowl. The wine pairing with the pork was a pinot noir from oregon that was great. We also loved the desserts. They had this chocolate toffee pie called shepherd's pie that was out of this world, salty, sweet, and rich. A prefect ending to a great meal.
I would like to thank everyone for all these wonderful suggestions. We definitely have some appealing options to work with, and I only wish we could stay several nights instead of one! I'm hoping I can ask you all for one more recommendation -- there's a small chance we won't be able to get to Houston until late that evening, possibly between 10 and 11. Most of the places listed above seem to close at 10, and I'm guessing that's the standard for the city. But if any of you know of any decent places to get a good late meal of any kind -- with a drink; by then we'll need one! -- I'd be grateful for one last round of information.