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Houston - Help with Dining Recommendations!

Hi all, will be in Houston for 3 weeks (from NY). Staying downtown at the Four Seasons and will not have a car, although I could get one on weekends. Looking for your best recs for lunch/dinner, steak, Italian, Pizza, Mexican, and any seafood in the area. Also--critical question--is there a Whole Foods (or similar market) in the downtown area? Many thanks for your help!

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  1. I am not that familiar with downtown, but here is a link to a new place that has recently opened up in downtown. It has a market, a casual restaurant and take-out food. I have not been there, and it is very new, so there isn't a whole lot about it out there. Look at this, though:

    http://www.byrdsmarket.com/?page_id=2

    As far as Whole Foods goes, there is not one in downtown. The closest would probably be on Kirby at Alabama, but that is not around the corner. Not that far if you have a car.

    I'm sure if you search this board you will find downtown recs. People are always asking about downtown. Another resource is B4-U-Eat.com. Go there and choose downtown for the Area of town. It also would probably be good to search by zipcode, using the zip for the Four Seasons.

    3 Replies
    1. re: danhole

      Thanks for the market recommendation! Looks fantastic--will definitely try it out.

      1. re: apple342

        After your Whole Foods experience,, head over to Central Market on Westheimer/Weslayan for the ultimate foodie shopping experience. On w/e's, if the weather is right, you'll even be treated to outdoor entertainment,, live music ranging from blues, zydeco and pop.. Enjoy the experience while munching on a custom crafted sandwich and cream soda!

        My pics for terrific restaurants to visit during your stay and near your hotel;

        Tex/Mex-Irma's Southwestern Grill on Texas Ave-Only open during the lunch hour, weekdays. Not far from your hotel..

        Mexican-Hugo's on Westheimer. Visit any day, but Sunday brunch is an experience not soon forgotten. Game over! Minutes from downtown.

        Reef for Seafood in "Mid-Town" just minutes away.. One of the best young chef's in the country. Don't forget the Mac and Cheese and milk shake at the end of your meal. Trust me!

        Dolce Vita on lower Westheimer , minutes away, for Italian style Pizza. Beats Otto's hands down (tho Otto's has the most extensive wine list I've ever seen).
        Should you get homesick for a NYC pie,, head to Romano's on West Gray (Vinnie and Frank are from Queens-Lugi from Naples). They talk the talk and walk the walk. Its close,,,,, but as they say,, its the water..
        By the way,, I enjoyed Keste on 5th last month before heading over to the Blue Note to hear Roy Hargrove and others.

        Vic and Anthony for steaks,,,just down the road from your hotel.. you might also consider Pappas on Westheimer (locally owned).

        Indika's for the most creative Indian cuisine,, lower Westheimer just minutes from you and located next door to Dolce Vita (see above). Sunday brunch is ridiculously inexpensive for some of the best food,, anywhere.. Go any day tho for lunch or dinner.

        Apple,, don't forget to post your impressions/feedback.. Houston has a terrific restaurant scene,, very eclectic,, ethnic and relatively affordable (cheap considering the $$ in nyc).

        Enjoy!

        1. re: bornie

          Bornie, thanks so much for these recommendations! Someone else had mentioned Dolce Vita to me (that was on my list), as well as Reef.

          Love Keste--glad you enjoyed it--great spot.

          I will definitely post feedback. Its always fun to explore another city's restaurant scene. Thanks again..much appreciated!

    2. Just outside of downtown on Washington is El Tiempo. We ate there a couple of weeks ago for the first time and it was wonderful. It's more expensive than most Mexican joints but it was very very good. The crab quesadillas were the best!!! We'll be going back soon.

      1. I agree with bornie for the most part, but am definitely not a fan of Irma's. I loved it ten years ago, but think it is overpriced and ho-hum now. For breakfast or lunch downtown, try El Rey at 233 Main. I haven't been to that location, but the one on Washington is wonderful. Good breakfast tacos, fresh squeezed orange juice, lemonade, fish tacos, chicken tortilla soup, ropa vieja... Downtown for lunch, Beck's Prime (in the tunnel) for burgers is good. Mai's vietnamese is good and not expensive and generally in the downtown area. Nidda Thai is great, and not too far from downtown, although not in walking distance. For sure make a visit to Spec's Warehouse at 2410 Smith. It is a wine-beer-liquor-grocery-sandwich-all kinds of stuff store and is HUGE. It is the first place I take visitors.

        4 Replies
        1. re: maryanntex

          Thanks, Maryanntex! Spec's sounds like my kind of place...looks like it might be my first stop when I arrive Sunday! Gracias.

          1. re: apple342

            Do not go on Sunday. All liquor stores in Texas are closed on Sunday.

          2. re: maryanntex

            "I agree with bornie for the most part, but am definitely not a fan of Irma's. I loved it ten years ago, but think it is overpriced and ho-hum now."

            This seems to be the consensus these days. Too bad.

            I also think this is the problem with Mai's. Houston has great Vietnamese, but Mai's is no longer one of them. Try Nga, Thien An or Huynh.

            Totally agree with the Specs rec.

            1. re: Bulldozer

              -For fancy food dowtown, visit:
              Voice at the Hotel Icon.
              220 Main St, Houston, TX 77002 (832) 667-4470
              Make sure Chef Kramer is in the house; without him the food isn't the same.

              -Mai's is average at best, skip it. Good for late night eats (think: after a night on the town) but that's just food in your stomach, not good food.

              -Definitely head over to Central Market - it is a dream of a place and you can have lunch/dinner there too. Better than Whole Foods imo. My favorite destination for out-of-towners. Get the hot sandwich from their made-to-order sandwich stand for $5.99 - The California Connection. Trust me, it's yummy.

              - I agree with apple342 on Dolce Vita for great pizza - just took a friend there in town from Frankfurt and she was orgasmic over the margerita pizza. I always order the beets, the patatas bravas, the eggplant parmesan, and the spicy salami pizza.

              - You can also visit Dolce Vita's sister restaurant, Poscol, a new concept wine bar/Italian eatery. Poscol 1609 Westheimer Houston, TX 77006 (713) 529-2797. there are so many good things on the menu, and i can't remember the Italian names, but I like the the baked cod (warm creamy dish served with thin bread), the housemade cured beef and the pork tenderloin (cold meats), the parmesan potato pancake, and the blueberry casserole dish, and a taglialini? (baked noodles).

              - Dolce Vita's parent restaurant, Da Marco, has some of the best Italian (upscale) in town, regularly hailed as the best restaurant in Houston: Everything is good here, but ESPECIALLY the corn and lobster ravioli appetizer.
              Da Marco, 1520 Westheimer Rd Houston, TX 77006 (713) 807-8857

              - T'afia is a new concept organic restaurant downtown that is pretty good but pricey. Try them on Friday afternoon for lunch, when they serve a prix-fix for $22.
              T'afia, 3701 Travis St Houston, TX 77297 (713) 524-6922

              - Azuma downtown has a decent happy hour and sits in the post rice lofts bldg.
              Azuma. 909 Texas St Houston, TX 77002 (713) 223-0909

              -The Grove has great space and sits adjacent to discovery green and the convention center downtown. Food attempts to be high end but just misses the mark on perfection. If the weather is good, lunch is a better option here. 1611 Lamar St, Houston, TX 77010 , (713) 337-7321

          3. Thanks everyone for the fantastic recommendations. Wanted to follow/up on some of these, as I am bringing to a close my 5 week stay here in Houston. Will be back again on 15th for a few weeks. Houston has some terrific restaurants. Really appreciative all the input.

            Reef--probably my favorite. Beautiful presentations, all the fish very fresh. The fried Mac & Cheese is outstanding.

            Catalan---second favorite. Shrimp over bacon/goat cheese grits to die for. Peanut butter pie sublime.

            Shade--great spot-- Felt like a New York restaurant. The coconut cream pie should be illegal, it was so good!

            Pappas Brothers Steak--good but didnt love it. Very happening room, atmosphere. I think for those who dont live here, it should be tried b/c it is specific to texas. We have so many steak places in NY...nice to try a different one. On a side note--Didnt care for Pappasita's at all!! (Mex place) Ick!

            Vic & Anthonys---liked this much more than Pappas Brothers. Only thing was, where we were seated was FREEZING...we let them know and it never warmed up. Other than that---food was great. Packed!

            Dolce Vita---good pizzas....wasnt as wowed with this as I thought I would be (guess my expectations were really high for)...hey, I am from NY where we have fantasic pizza. I had the sicilian pizza (hardly had any olives/capers). Should be more generous on the toppings. Argula salad--- really good.

            The Grove---some things they do are really good and somethings they really miss the mark. Promise I eat more than arugula salad, but worth noting the one here is oustanding.

            Grouping of restaurants walking distance to Four Seasons that are worth noting:

            Mia Bella---ok italian and very convenient to Four Seasons. Feels like a NY restaurant.
            Guadalajara---good tex mex. Not great.
            Andalucia---really really good tapas. Only complaint is the noise level once the live music starts.
            Strip House--good, but we have in NY.

            Steer clear of Yao's. Anyone who tells you it is the Houston version of TAO. Food was horrible. The lighting in there is really bad.

            Did try Byrd's Market downtown for lunch a few times and would recommend it. People who work there are fantastic. They left the avocado off my salad one day, when I called them up , they had someone deliver it immediately! Cant get better than that.

            Bistro Lancaster was nice for lunch. Pretty good crab cake. As was Sambuca and Azuma.

            Specs--was great---like a mini bristol farms (those from California know). Saw lots around Houston , but went to the one downtown (on Smith, I believe).

            Central Market--good and nice change from Whole Foods. The closest Whole Foods to downtown was the one on Kirby and Alabama.

            On the list for return trip: Da Marco, Max & Julie's (anyone have any feedback on this spot?), Le Mistral, Hugo's, RBG Annie.

            7 Replies
            1. re: apple342

              Thanks for that very complete report. We get so many requests concerning where to eat downtown, this thread should be pinned.

              1. re: dexmat

                Yes, I too want to add my thanks for getting back with us. I've hardcopied your list and am going to tuck it away for future reference. And I, too, wish this thread were pinned, as we get, what, one request a week? for the exact same thing.

              2. re: apple342

                I feel that LeMistral has much better food that Max & Julie's, but M&J is MUCH closer. It has a nice patio & deck - good atmosphere and service. The food is good, but have never had the "Oh Yum" moments there despite many visits. Another semi-close French spot is Bistro Des Amis in the Rice Village (corner of University & Morningside). Atmosphere and menu set up are a little scattered, but food is excellent (at lunch the quiche Loraine is a must even if you aren't a quiche person). Crappy parking, but valet on weekends.

                Another two places to consider next time:
                1) Sorrento on Westheimer (many of the original DaMarco crowd ended up here) they do an excellent truffle parm risotto. Ask for Serjio as your server. http://www.sorrentohouston.com/

                2) Hearsay Gastro Lounge - just off Market Square DT. Food is fresh and very good. Reasonably too. An added attraction is the historical value - one of the oldest buildings in Houston. http://www.hearsayhouston.com/

                1. re: DaTulip

                  DaTulip---thank you for the info on M&J/Le Mistral and for the two other recommendations! Appreciate it much. I will be back in Houston Monday for several weeks and will try both M&J and Le Mistral.

                  Am really excited to try Sorrento---did you say truffle/parm risotto? :::swoon:::
                  Also just looked up Hearsay and see that is located 3 blocks from my office downtown! Cant wait to try that spot. Yay!

                  Does anyone recommend Mark's on Westheimer? That is one of the places I have not been...but if the food is good, want to try since I am on the expense account. Also, Do you know if you can dine at the bar?

                  Thanks again! Will definitely report back on these. Looking forward to another couple of weeks of great dining in Houston!

                  1. re: apple342

                    If you will have a car and would like a little taste of authentic Mexican seafood, try Ostioneria Mar Azul on Bellfort. Try the ceviche and anything else with seafood in it. They are particularly noted for their steaming seafood soups, which are perfect tummy warmers now during this cold snap.

                    1. re: apple342

                      Expense account? and eating at the Bar? Then Mockingbird Bistro is where you want to go. It's just as good as Mark's and eating at the bar is nice. I don't see it mentioned anywhere above, but it gives you a very similar experience as Mark's and you can enjoy putting it on the expense account. (Mark's is very good too, but for the bar thing, I'd do Mockingbird)

                      1. re: montroseguys23

                        I would do dinner at Mockingbird and then go to Marks for dessert and sit at the bar for that. Marks dessert options are really good and creative.
                        If you liked Reef, you will like Stella Sola too and you can check out the Heights part of Houston