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Where to take out-of-country guests in Houston

In a couple of months we are going to host a couple from the UK. I have a few ideas but I would certainly appreciate some thoughts. the idea is to impress because the places are authentic; different from anything you'd find in the UK; and have good food. Not to impress by the prices or the beauty of the decor or indeed the fellow patrons. (But being pricey is not a disqualification.)

Is there such a thing as a "road house" with great food and atmosphere, that's uniquely Texas (Houston) and where there's not too much chance of bar fights erupting?

I can come up with ideas in the Chinese (authentic) arena but I am less good with the more mainstream (ironically).

Good service is important, but by that I always mean unobtrusive. I don't want to know the waiter's life story or have him demonstrate his no doubt interesting and astonishing personality. Nor do I want to know what "wilting" or "balsamicization" has been imposed on the "pristine Lake Titicaca duck breast" etc. etc. Anyone who knows the Caucus Club in Detroit knows what I am seeking on service.

I'd obviously wondered about Brennan's in the equation. But the choice could be a bowling alley for that matter. Just so long as a good dining experience can be had.

As always, I appreciate any responses. Feel free to venture a little outside Houston as well. If so, preferably to the west NW SW.

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  1. How about the Swinging Door , out FM 359 near Richmond? Authentic (check), different from anything you'd find in the UK (check), good food (check). Too bad they've discontinued the regular Friday and Saturday night boot-scootin'. (At least I think I heard that they had.)

    1. What about Hickory Hollow in the Heights? They even have live music on the weekends...? I have only been to the location on my side of town (NW), and they do not have the live music. Nonetheless, I enjoy their food, and the atmosphere - friendly people, clean and very "Texas". They catered the rehearsal dinner for my wedding several years ago. Wonderful chicken fried steak, sausage, brisket...Great pecan pie, too. My other choice would be Lyndon's Pit Bar-B-Q off of 290 - not the same in exterior atmosphere, b/c its in a strip mall - but the bbq is rockin and the inside is pretty authentic Texas-themed. I would have loved to recommend Williams smokehouse to you, but its gone now. :(
      FWIW, at both places you order first (unless the Heights location is different), and they call your number to come and get your food yourself. Its pretty low-key.

      One other thought - Tampico Seafood on Airline for snapper a la plancha? We've taken lots of out-of-towners there. They've recently opened a new location on I-45 & West Rd, I believe. I saw it driving by, and it looks much nicer than the hole-in-the-wall no frills Airline location (which I love anyway!).

      1. Check out the "Steamboat House" out by the Sam Houston Race Park.

        It is filled with Texas history and is an interesting place to dine.

        Maybe a night at the races after dinner would be fun.

        Enjoy!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Bright

          I went to this place last week and put a review on this board. You might want to check it out.

        2. If you want a Texas theme - I would do Goode Company BBQ on Kirby (and drinks at the Armadillo Palace across the street). I live in the Heights and ate at Hickory Hollow once and it was NOT good. Goode Company is legendary.

          If you can get off the Texas theme, my favorites (for outstanding food and service) are Mockingbird Bistro and Ibiza.

          1. Thanks for all the suggestions so far. There are ones that I will definitely use! Have a month to go yet so by all means keep them coming. Many thanks in advance. bb

            1. I'm going to give this some thought. But I have several comments:
              If you want them to have something different than what they can get in the UK, then strike Chinese, unless they ask for it. You can get great Chinese food in the UK - after all Hong Kong used to be a colony. For the same reason, pass on Indian food. But if they decide that they miss Indian, have them try Indika on Westheimer. (They used to be all the way out west, but have moved into town to our delight).

              I love the Mockingbird Bistro, and think that would be a great place to go. A place with a kookier decor, but food just as good would be Sambuca in the old Rice Hotel (during the week is less noisy) or Bank, both of which are downtown.

              Consider a brunch at the Rainbow Lodge - that way you get the feel of being in a hunting lodge. The food is great, the atmosphere very casual, and it is amazing how a place so close to so many people can feel so rural. It feels very "Texas" without having license plates and junk on the walls.

              1. Maybe you would like to try Hugo’s ( 1600 Westheimer Houston, TX 77006 ) for some Authentic Mexican ( not Tex-Mex ). Their goat and rabbit dishes are excellent. I have only been there 3 times, but so far everything was delicious. The mixed appetizer plate was a hit with our small group of four. Try their flights of premium tequilas too. Here is a link to Hugo’s website: http://www.hugosrestaurant.net/index....

                Trying some of the random Taco trucks around town is also a fun thing to do with guests from the UK. Our friends loved doing this when they first moved to Texas from London a few years ago. It’s difficult to recommend any specific truck since they move around town. There is a place called the Jarro Café (1521 Gessner Dr, Houston, 77080) that started off as a taco truck. They still have one stationed in their parking lot. They have 5 types of homemade salsas and they are not for the faint of heart. We like all of their pork tacos… I think there are 3 versions to choose from. Their corn tortillas are much better than their flour.
                Here are some links: http://jarrocafe.com/update/
                Review: http://www.houstonpress.com/2004-04-2...

                La Mexicana (1018 FAIRVIEW ST @ MONTROSE HOUSTON, TX 77006) has been a Houston institution for 25 years. They have excellent CARNITAS (fried pork) tacos and CARNITAS GUISADAS tacos (Fried carnitas stewed with onion, tomatoes and jalapeños). Be sure to order flour tortillas with your tacos. They are some of the best tortillas we have ever had in Houston. Homemade and very tender, dotted with buttery brown crispy spots – they will melt in your mouth. La Mexicana also serves Chicharrones (deep fried pork cracklings). They also have tasty Charra Beans and TACOS AL PASTOR (Marinated pork). You can order from the menu; however, we always peruse the steam table for our favorites. Too bad their beef fajitas and queso are lacking… try Goode Company Taqueria (4902 Kirby Drive Houston, Texas 77098) for a superbly grilled fajita skirt steak.

                La Mexicana: http://www.lamexicanarestaurant.com/M...
                Goode Company Taqueria: http://www.goodecompany.com/goodeRest...

                We also like Pico’s at 5941 Bellaire Blvd, 77081. They have both Mex-Mex and Tex-Mex. Most of our out-of-town visitors LOVE the Cochinita Pibil ( slow roasted “pulled pork” Yucatan style). We always order the Nachos Jorge, which features this delicious pork served with red pickled onions. Picos is very loud on the weekends with live Mariachi bands. It is also very crowded on the weekends but we have never had to wait more than 20 minutes for a table.
                http://www.picos.net/AboutUs.htm

                You may want to check the Texas board for more old-school Tex-Mex recommendations in Houston. This food is definitely unique to Texas. Other places may try their hand at Tex-Mex, but it always seems to lack a little something.

                Good Luck!

                2 Replies
                1. re: Jayro

                  Off the subject but finally someone else realizes that La Mexicana is actually really good. I have been going every time I make it to Houston since my brother moved in the late 90's. I love the jumbo burrito with fajita meat and the margaritas

                  1. re: Jayro

                    I do NOT recommend La Mexicana. It's overpriced ($6 for a four-ounce rita?) and all the dishes I've tried were unimpressive. There are much better Tex-Mex joints in Houston... If you must go there, avoid happy hour; the servers can't handle it.

                  2. It's been years since I used to travel to Houston but one thing I would always get when I was there -- in a place not too far out of town near a lake -- was a huge platter of cajun style crawfish. Surely some of our listers can tell you where a good place to get crawfish around Houston can be found these days. Also, I used to go to a bar in the Galleria Mall and eat really good local oysters. Both of these things can be found in the UK but usually only affordable if you remortgage the manor house.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: susanl143

                      Going beyond the ubiquitous Tex-Mex, you should definitely consider Taste Of Texas, on I-10 just east of Beltway 8. Its been there forever, has excellent service, a reasonable wine list and great food. There is, of course, an emphasis on meat, but everything is done to order. I've been there many times and have never been disappointed. The quail appetizers are my favorite, and make a tasty lunch. It is authentically "Texas" without the hokey cowboy theme.

                      1. re: susanl143

                        the oyster bar you are thinking of is called shucker's sports bar in the westin hotel. i wasn't sure if it was still there, but it's listed on google and b4-u-eat.com, so i guess so...

                        also in the galleria is oceanaire. it is more upscale, but the oyster bar there and cold seafood items are fantastic. they get oysters shipped from the east and west coasts daily.

                        a great place for crawfish is big woodrow's on chimney rock. i was just there for lunch and the crawfish are huge! it's fun to go there with a bunch of friends, pick a picnic table outside on the deck, and eat crawfish/drink beer for a few hours.

                        1. re: neverfull

                          neverfull,

                          OMG! You are so right about Big woodrow's. We went last Friday, 3 of us, and had 3 of the 5lbs for $19.95. Ate for a couple hours and the crawfish were the largest I have EVER had. They were so big it was incredible. Thanks for the heads up. It was a great way to spend an afternoon.

                          1. re: danhole

                            good to hear the crawfish are still big! i have some out of town guests coming in this weekend and i plan on spending a few hours at big woodrow's for the same reason! can't wait!

                      2. How about Dozier's Market (for BBQ) in Fulshear. It's a nice and not-too-long drive out of town. You drive through the Hosuton sprawl and pretty soon you're in the country. If you have an extra half-hour or so, go south when you get to the end of Westheimer/FM 1093 at FM 359, and you're in actual farm country. Or simply go north for a couple blocks and you're at Doziers. Their sauce is abysmal (akin to cherry cough syrup). But I like their smoked meats. Get chips and drinks in the market, and your meat from the counter and chow down!

                        Dozier's Grocery & Market
                        8222 FM 359 Rd
                        Fulshear, TX 77441
                        (281) 346-1411

                        Cheers!

                        Dorothy

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Dorothy

                          Then, take home some of their peppered bacon!

                        2. I am really grateful for all these suggestions. I will report on where we went, and how it went, in a few weeks. Really appreciate the thoughtful and very helpful comments by all.
                          bb

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: bishopsbitter

                            A great place for brunch is Ouisie's. The atmosphere is very nice but laid back and they have really good food. Our favorite is the Shrimp and Grits. The mimosa's are pretty good as well. It is a great Houston restaurant without the BBQ.

                            1. re: gbrasfield

                              I went on Mother's Day and the service was not so great. I can make better shrimp and grits at home (of course Bill Neal is from Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, NC where I learned to cook it). The mini biscuits and the smoked salmon appetizer were pretty tasty though.

                              1. re: gbrasfield

                                for brunch, go to hugo's or brennan's. i'd pass on ouisie's too. for breakfast, the breakfast klub for wings and waffles or catfish and grits.

                                i second the recommendation for tampico (mexican seafood). get a whole red snapper to share w/ fried rice. your server can suggest how big of a fish to order for the number in your group. skip the add-ons.

                                for BBQ, if you can make it out there for lunch, go to thelma's. the ramshackled house it resides in is something of an experience in itself.

                                for tex-mex, go to el tiempo or teotihuacan for their grilled items. after thelma's and tampico, you might want to splurge and go to el tiempo (especially since the margaritas are better).

                                for thai, vieng thai on longpoint.

                                for pakistani, himalaya.

                                for damn good food and a wine list that impresses even more, catalan. get the pork belly and fois gras bon bons to start.

                            2. don't know if your guests have already come and gone, but i would recommend tony mandola's on west gray and glass wall on studewood. also, how about lankford's for a chicken fried steak?

                              1. bishopsbitter,
                                so how did it go? where did you take them and which places did they enjoy and dislike?

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: neverfull

                                  I was worried someone would ask this. I swear that all good intentions were there but a 2-day visit after an international flight and living 60 miles out of central Houston it just got too difficult to "go back into Houston" to eat. And there's almost nothing out this way worth going for. We even had a reservation at Mark's American but could not rise to the occasion and had to cancel. Obviously we ate, but at home. And at Minute-Maid Park although don't get me started about their ball park grub. I was unimpressed except by the prices, which truly impressed. I mean at Yankee Stadium there'd be a riot with those prices for the quality.

                                  I do thank you all. There was only a shortage of time, and optimistic plans had to be relaxed. Advice is defintiely not wasted and I will report on trying any of these places in the course of normal eating out. Thanks again.

                                  bb

                                  1. re: bishopsbitter

                                    i know how it goes. 60 miles is a long way to drive and only makes a meal at mark's that much more expensive with our current gas prices. i'm sure you guys had a great time anyway.

                                    1. re: neverfull

                                      Yes. It does essentially rule out places east of downtown Houston which is a lot of places to rule out. While no fan of mass transit, if the Union Pacific started a high-speed train from Eagle Lake to downtown Houston I might be a rider :-)
                                      The visitors were very impressed with Houston all the same and vow to return for a longer stay when some of these rec's can be tried assuming it's not too many moons.