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Recs for a few days?

Bada Bing Feb 22, 2014 11:51 AM

I'll be staying late March at a hotel in the museum district, adjacent to Hermann Park (Hotel ZaZa), but I don't know ANYTHING yet about Houston geography or the foods, except that the food is supposed to be good to a degree that surprises outsiders like me. The hotel actually offers free transpo to anyplace within 5 miles, plus I have an expense account. So I'm thinking I'll have time to take 2-4 outings from my work to worthy destinations, elevated or humble.

My tastes: If I'm going anywhere, I like to try what's distinctive to the place (hoagies in Philly; pizza in NYC and CT, etc). I could suppose that BBQ is one thing to look for in Houston, but I don't even know that for sure.

Mexican or other ethnic foods would certainly interest me. If there's great Indian food in Houston, I'm there. (The more regionally specific, the better.)

Also, I don't know if Houston has the food-truck culture of some other places, but that could be worth trying, too. What I'm told is that the museum district doesn't really have many good food places nearby, so I would think that food trucks would be a great idea in such an environment.

Thanks in advance for any tips.

  1. Bada Bing Feb 22, 2014 01:31 PM

    Adding to my query: I'm seeing there's a lot of Chinese places. Would especially like recs. for Dim Sum and especially any place with worthy xiao long bao (soup dumplings).

    1. Lambowner Feb 22, 2014 01:59 PM

      Skip BBQ and try the Tex Mex. El Real on Westheimer is not far from you. Houston has a vast Chinatown and I've been to Mala Sichuan there, but others can reco your specific dish. It is not within 5 miles. We also have a Mahatma Gandhi district on Hwy 59 @ Hillcroft that has amazing Indian food at places like London Sizzler and Himalaya. On Kirby near 59 is Pondicheri, an award winning Indian casual eatery, and on Westheimer near El Real, its upscale sister Indika is pricier and more elegant and that menu utilizes local ingredients where possible. Danton's Seafood is within 5 miles, I imagine and is excellent Gulf Coast Seafood with a Cajun flair. There are high end steaks everywhere. Vic and Anthony's downtown is a good choice for that, and is also a people watching location. Sport celebs like to eat there.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Lambowner
        Bada Bing Feb 23, 2014 07:08 PM

        Boy, that's a lot of great recommendations! Thanks. I'll be investigating.

      2. j
        James Cristinian Feb 22, 2014 02:31 PM

        Chinatown is a bit of a cab ride away, but if you go here are some places.

        http://blogs.houstonpress.com/eating/...

        At the end of this top ten there are a more top ten locations that will give you some ideas.

        1. j
          James Cristinian Feb 22, 2014 02:47 PM

          Hugo's chef Hugo Ortega is again nominated for James Beard top chef southwest. Mexican, not Tex-Mex but I love my Tex-Mex, see Lambowner.

          http://blogs.houstonpress.com/eating/

          http://hugosrestaurant.net/

          1. Cheflambo Feb 23, 2014 04:17 PM

            You'll be very close to Rice Village -- check out Prego or Coppa Osteria for Italian; Shiva for Indian. Dolce Vita has legendary pizza. Hugos is THE go-to place for authentic Mexican. El Real Tex Mex is ... Tex Mex and some of the best. For national recognition, don't miss Underbelly. All of these are within 5 miles of Zaza.

            1. Bada Bing Feb 23, 2014 06:43 PM

              Thanks for all these recommendations so far, everybody! From a quick review, I'm thinking Underbelly and Hugo's might be top picks, but I'll investigate further. And I'm still on the Chinese dumpling (esp. xiao long bao) hunt. Need to follow up on all these links...

              1. k
                kagemusha49 Feb 25, 2014 10:19 AM

                Sabri Nihari is on Hillcroft close to route 59. It is pakistani and specializes in Nihari (which strictly speaking isn't regional as it migrated from India to Pakistan) and other muslim associated items like haleem. You can order a la carte and they also have a buffet at lunch. Their nan comes to you glistening immediately after preparation. Definitely low rent decor and prices but high rent flavor. This is my favorite Houston Indo/pak - along with the classier and more expensive Indika.

                1. Bada Bing Feb 25, 2014 01:54 PM

                  I think this is the summary of recs. so far:

                  Tex Mex: El Real on Westheimer

                  Chinatown: Mala Sichuan and others (cab ride away)

                  Indian: London Sizzler, Himalaya, Pondicheri and Indika (upscale) and Sabri Nihari (low-rent but excellent)

                  Seafood: Danton's Seafood

                  High-end Steaks: Vic and Anthony's downtown

                  Award-winning specialty-chef places: Hugo's, Underbelly

                  Italian: Prego or Coppa Osteria

                  Pizza: Dolce Vita

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Bada Bing
                    b
                    bornie Mar 4, 2014 08:45 PM

                    Indikausa.com for Indian, Reef for regional Gulf coast seafood and Hugo's for mex. All, in the same vicinity and a short cab ride away. Avoid the dingy rest picks on Hillcroft and avoid the road snarls and construction in and near Chinatown.
                    Go to the MFA to view a terrific collection of a pvt collection of impressionist works, on tour,, steps from ur hotel. Oh, For Italian, houston style, enjoy Carrabba's on Kirby ave and Dolce Vita for pizza like they serve up in Naples!

                  2. b
                    brentk Feb 25, 2014 04:39 PM

                    I am planning a trip to Houston, too, and am curious what the posters here think about Nara. I was intrigued by what I read about the place on houston,eater.com

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: brentk
                      arashall Mar 3, 2014 01:26 PM

                      I assume you mean Nara Thai? Excellent. I lived in Thailand for 3 years, so I have a fairly good reference point. I took Thai friends who had been in the mid-west for several months without Thai food, and they were very pleased. You can also order off-menu. You don't go there for the decor, you go for the food.

                      1. re: arashall
                        b
                        brentk Mar 4, 2014 04:53 AM

                        I was actually referring to Nara, the "modern" Korean restaurant at 2800 Kirby Drive. Sorry for the confusion. If anybody has thoughts about that place, I would still be interested.

                        Speaking of Korean, I arrived in Houston last night and wound up going to Down House to try the kimchi burger (that I also read about at houston.eater.com. I am still trying to wrap my head around the contrast in flavors between the sweetness of the Bulgogi sauce, the sourness of the kimchi, the garlic from the aioli, the egg and the cheddar cheese. Not sure it came together enough for me to want to order it again, but it was certainly worth a try.

                        1. re: brentk
                          arashall Mar 4, 2014 10:23 AM

                          Ah...this was my brain on drugs. I meant Vieng Thai, anyway. I was in the wrong city.

                    2. Bada Bing Mar 8, 2014 11:25 AM

                      Update: I've got plans for two of our three dinner evenings. One dinner at Underbelly, another at Hugo's, and the third is still open. I gather that two Indian places are nearby to our conference (museum district and Hotel ZaZa): Indika and Pondicheri.

                      I'll take a look at other web chatter but would especially value what Houston chowhounds think of these two in relation to each other.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Bada Bing
                        m
                        mjust Mar 8, 2014 11:30 AM

                        Indika and Pondicheri are run by the same person. Both are great. Pondicheri is a more casual setting and food, whereas Indika is fancier. You really can't go wrong with either, so it just depends on what you are looking for. One other consideration is that I'm not sure Pondicheri takes reservations.

                      2. j
                        Jaymes Mar 9, 2014 10:23 AM

                        Somebody mentioned Korean. My personal fave is Bon Ga:
                        http://www.houstonpress.com/bestof/20...

                        1. Bada Bing Mar 19, 2014 03:14 PM

                          With thanks to all, I can say that it looks like we'll have time for three dinner outings. We'll do Underbelly, Hugo's and Indika.

                          Any menu or other logistical recs. will be welcome. Never been to Houston before, much less to these particular places.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Bada Bing
                            Lambowner Mar 20, 2014 08:43 AM

                            There's a Hugo's menu discussion going on here:

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/968677

                          2. Bada Bing Mar 21, 2014 12:14 PM

                            I wonder if anyone on this board has been to Underbelly lately? I'm visiting in a week and have a reservation. As I started to google around to see what people like there, I noticed a rather large number of recent "meh" reviews on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Urbanspoon, etc. An NY Times review from a year ago was much more glowing.

                            I'm never sure how much to trust those sites mentioned above.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Bada Bing
                              Lambowner Mar 22, 2014 07:18 AM

                              I've been a couple of times and it was very good. The menu changes frequently, but the dish that most people seem to mention is the Korean braised goat and dumplings. They used to have a dish called lamb helper that I loved, ground lamb with pasta. They do a nice job with the fish.

                              The Yelpy sites often don't track my opinion and with a no star opinion right next to a five star opinion, it often seems to muddy the waters. I mean, it can't be the worst in town and the best in town, can it?

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