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New to Houston- does what we're looking for exist here? Good Thai, Indian, unpretentious American?

My husband and I moved here from DC in June, and we've yet to really find the kinds of places we enjoyed there. We love good Thai and Indian places, and also places that serve upscale food in relaxed settings, not the kind of "see and be seen" places we've noticed here so far. An example of this kind in DC: http://www.blackmarketrestaurant.com/...
Chowhounders, any suggestions? We currently live inside the loop near River Oaks/Greenway.

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  1. Vieng Thai on Long Point is really good. The massaman curry sings and the salads are very good.
    Thai Restaurant on Richmond is also good.
    Kanamwan is a little overrated BUT the soups are very good.
    Himalaya is my favorite restaunt in town, its pakistani and heavy on the meat dishes. Not a big vegatarian joint. Naan is very good.

    1 Reply
    1. re: jscarbor

      For good food in a "relaxed" environment: I would suggest La Vista -- excellent food and has the added benefit of offering the option of BYOB at a reasonable corkage. While Reef has a bit of the see and be seen element, I think the food is outstanding and wine prices are far better than you find at similar caliber restaurants across the country. Backstreet cafe (http://www.backstreetcafe.net/) would also be a good choice though maybe a little more upscale than the restaurant you have linked.

      If you want authentic Indian, you have to go to Hillcroft. There are a number of decent, though by no means fancy, Indian restaurants there.

    2. Well, this isn't Thai or Indian but it is "upscale food in relaxed settings." Charivari has excellent food. The chef is from Transylvania, and he has a very interesting, varied menu. It is a nice, romantic, restaurant close to downtown. They have a website, and when you go the chef usually will come out to greet you.

      1. You bring up a good point about the restaurant scene in Houston. Just by reading the posts on this board you can see that the restaurants basically fall into 3 categories: (1) inexpensive hole-in-the-walls and ethnic restaurants with great food, (2) mid-priced restaurants (often chains) with mediocre food, and (3) expensive trendy restaurants with great food. Since this board is essentially about people seeking great food, there ends up being a lot of discussion about restaurants in categories (1) and (3), and Houston has plenty of them. It may be a principle of restaurant economics 101, but you do not come across many restaurants of the type you describe - upscale food in a relaxed setting (which I will add the qualifiers of mid-priced and good atmosphere).

        Soooooo........when you want something nicer than Thelma's, Ninfa's or Kanomwan but don't want the wallet whipping of Da Marco, Reef or Strip House, where do you go? I'm not sure (Raven Grill is one place that comes to mind though, http://www.theravengrill.com/), but hopefully there are fellow chowhounds who can give suggestions!

        1. When I think of upscale food in relaxed settings here in Houston, I think of places where you usually order at the counter, but with food as good as what you'd get at a table service place. If that appeals to you, I have a few recommendations.

          Close to downtown on Houston is a place you must try, Dharma Cafe. Excellent for dinner as well as Sunday Brunch (where there's a buffet). Totally delicious and, I think, totally what you may be looking for.

          Rattan Bistro on Eldredge Pkwy. may be a little far out for you, but it's an excellent pan-Asian bistro that's been getting rave reviews lately. The location saves it from being a "see and be seen" place; if it were in the loop, it most certainly would be. http://www.rattanbistro.com/

          Inside the loop is Mak Chin's on Shepherd - another pan-Asian joint that's casual, but not nearly as casual as it used to be. They added table service and raised the prices beyond belief (thanks in part, I bet, to Pei Wei's lawyers) but you may want to give it a try.

          Two American places come to mind in Rice Village. Ruggle's Cafe/Bakery has some outstanding bistro dishes (http://www.rugglescafebakery.com/) and Black Walnut Cafe has great soups, salads and sandwiches. Beware - Black Walnut's reviews have been very mixed - unjustifiably in my opinion.

          I like Pronto Cucinino for good Italian in a casual setting. There are two locations, one on Montrose and, closer maybe, on Holcombe. It's run by a family who also owns several upscale Italian restaurants in Houston. Pronto's prices do reflect a more casual menu but I think the food is 80-90% of their more expensive counterparts.

          1. I don't think I'd like eating at any of the see and be seen places, either. Perhaps because of your location you're hitting some of the RO crowd? Maybe you could tell us some of the places you've tried that you found wanting?

            I'll second the recs of Himalaya - better than any Indian I know of in town, and Ruggles in the Village.

            6 Replies
            1. re: brucesw

              I agree with Bruce - tell us where you have been, and what you liked or disliked so we know what you are looking for. I've never been to DC, so . . .

              1. re: danhole

                We haven't been to many places yet, but I'll tell you about some we've experienced so far.
                We've visited Vincent's and Nino's, the original Carrabas, Grotto, Collina's, Star Pizza, and Dolce Vita Pizzeria Enoteca.
                We've also been to Goode & Co, Ra Sushi, Indika, Miyako Sushi, Hobbit Cafe, Lupe Tortilla, Cafe Laurier Food and Wine, Cava Bistro, El Tiempo Cantina, Katz's Deli, Maggiano's, Grande Luxe, and a Tapas place that I can't remember.
                Our favorite of all of these is Cafe Laurier- it approximates the friendly and warm, yet well-prepared and intelligent, places we miss.
                We haven't found any good Thai- asking around, we've heard nothing positive.
                Indika was good, but maybe too trendy for us.
                Of the Italian places, Dolce Vita is good and similar to a place called Two Amy's in DC, but its pizza and its presentation doesn't quite compare.
                The other Italian places seem like approximations of trendy chain Italian, not really authentic and also very showy.
                As for sushi, Ra was way too trendy and the sushi too rich, and Miyako is stuck in an '80s time warp. We're looking for authentic, yet upscale sushi places.
                My husband and I came to the conclusion that there are many great restaurants in Houston, but many of the kind we seek lack something important: warmth and friendliness. DC isn't always the most friendly city, but many of its upscale restaurants balance a kind of casual warmth with great food and decor. Houston's upscale restaurants haven't gotten there yet- they're somewhat cold and impersonal so far.
                Thanks for all of your suggestions- we will definitely check them out!

                1. re: jenabeth

                  I'm not sure exactly what you're looking for, but will offer some suggestions of my favorite places that you might like to try. I liked the food at Cafe Laurier, too, but thought the employees were very unfriendly--and never went back. Maybe I just got them on an off day. At any rate, all these places are inside The Loop, and so, are close to where you live. Check them out on www.b4-u-eat.com for reviews and directions. In order from most casual to least: Brasil, Baba Yega, Mak Chin's, Daily Review, DaVino, Raven Grill, Shade, Mockingbird. Hope at least one or two of these is close to what you're looking for. I also know LOTS of good Latin American places, but you didn't mention that you were interested in those--let me know if you are.

                  1. re: maryanntex

                    You must have hit an off day at Laurier! We've been eating there for years, and the staff are always wonderful. The food is outstanding and size is just right: small enough to be really cozy and not one of those huge, noisy scenes. If the weather allows, the patio is a fabulous place to linger. Jasmin, citrus, comfy seating, and in our experience, great service. This is the place we always take our out of town guests.

                  2. re: jenabeth

                    I think your conclusion is a little hasty. The 2 sushi joints you went to would be near the last placesI would personally go. Ginza, Teppay(best most expensive) and kubos would be my choice. Have not been to these in years because I am indifferent to sushi but these atleast used to have the freshest sushi.
                    Of the places you mention I like Indika a lot and Dolce Vita a lot as well. El Tiempo is goodbut I find myself eating there less and less because of the prices. For tex/mext I go to Lopez out at Wilcrest and 59 or Teotuhacan on Airline.
                    Two places mentioned already and 1 you have been to would be great suggestions. You have already been to Cafe Laurier. Did you have the steak frites? I really like that. Also, Backstreet Cafe is perfect for what you are looking for.
                    Mockingbird Bistro is another place that at times can be very good.
                    Prego is an underrated place that never gets mentioned but is very good. It can get loud.
                    Shade, also mentioned once beforeis really relaxed with really good food.
                    Its a little trendy but if you like Catalan then you have to gofor the wine alone. Its sister restaurant is Ibiza. I would think wednesday night would be a great time to go toeither of these?

                    1. re: jenabeth

                      for sushi, go to sage 400 near the galleria. their fish purveyor is bill nagasaki, who own sushi jin on the west side. the fish is flown in daily on air japan. the menu is more creative here. no udon or hamachi kama on the menu, however you will find some amazing delights such as edamame hummus, hamachi carpaccio (with thinly sliced jalapeno and cilantro in yuzu), and uni tempura. the chef that opened the restaurant sous-ed under nobu. they have always had o-toro on the menu when i visit.

                      the last 5 times i went there in the last 3 months, i have walked away floating on air. the o-toro and escolar have been among the best i have ever had and i lived in NYC for 3 years. i am convinced that this is the best sushi restaurant in houston.