The area adjacent to the Galleria has become a dining destination in its own right, thanks to classic institutions still serving the steaks and cheesecakes of your fondest food memories, as well as exciting newcomers shaking up seafood and soufflés.
Since reclaiming his restaurant’s original name last year, chef Robert Del Grande has also recaptured its energy. The classic tortilla soup and elegant black-bean-and-goat-cheese terrine remain as lively as the first time they were served in the 1980s, and as fresh as newer creations such as wood-grilled rabbit in adobo or a silky mushroom soup with musky huitlacoche and duck prosciutto. Constantly rotating prix-fixe menus at lunch and dinner are an attractive way to make your way through the menu.
Credit the continuing charms of chef Hugo Ortega’s third restaurant not only to its food—attention-grabbing ceviches, wood-grilled seafood and fascinating entrees such as the crispy duck in fig-and-apricot mole—but also its service, which a dining companion recently commented was among the best he’d ever had. We agreed. A big selection of clever cocktails doesn’t hurt, either.
For those days when you want Tony’s-caliber pasta but in a more casual setting, there’s this, the little sister to Tony Vallone’s legendary Italian palace. The place has carved out a niche in its own right for crave-able comfort food: thin-crust sausage-and-pepper pizzas, soul-warming pappardelle Bolognese, and the most amazing side of creamed corn you might ever taste.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a deli in New York City itself that stands up to chef/owner Ziggy Gruber’s renowned restaurant tucked into—what else?—a strip mall. But the location is the most Houstonian thing about it: the matzoh ball–topped chicken soup, bagels with belly lox, triple-smoked pastrami, and towering slices of cheesecake are straight out of Midtown (Manhattan).
There’s a certain functionality to the soaring, two-story restaurant that makes its appeal all the more persuasive: Its cute-as-a-button ground-floor level fulfills the role of drop-in bakery or happy hour spot as effortlessly as its second-floor aerie pulls double duty as a destination for classy business lunches and blow-out date nights alike. There’s nothing this place can’t do, whether it’s carving a rack of lamb tableside or wrapping up a box of perfect macarons.
Seemingly custom-made for such occasions as Mother’s Day dinners, girls’ brunches and post-shopping R&R, the colorful Houston location of Dallas’s not-all-but-mostly-soufflés restaurant Rise No. 1 is almost too precious. Still, it all works in the end, thanks to a surprisingly thoughtful wine list of small-production vintages, soufflés whose flavors sparkle through their light egg custards (a spicy crawfish and Gruyere special was a standout), and the showy “cheese chariot,” featuring an astounding assortment to choose from.
The broad, second-story patio with views of the Uptown skyline offers an unusually scenic setting for sushi, sashimi and rolls, all fine examples of the genre. But it’s smaller plates like cucumber salad with baby octopus, and grilled dishes like Norwegian mackerel and tender yellowtail collar, that really stand out.
The progenitor of the wine bar model that has since proliferated across Houston, this comfortable spot remains an attraction for its regularly updated menu as much as its lineup of tastings and release events. Brunch is a family-friendly affair, offering kid-sized portions of such adult favorites as the orange crème brûlée French toast, while weekday happy hours reel ’em in with truffle fries and $5 glasses of wine.
Since 1981, this has been the area’s go-to spot for seafood towers and anything topped with jumbo lump crab (including the famed Oyster Bar Trash, with a base of juicy Gulf shrimp). The Signature Mixed Grill is the best way to try all of the restaurant’s specialties, including catfish topped with a crawfish beurre blanc, jambalaya with spicy andouille sausage, and a perfectly seared châteaubriand steak.