In a neighborhood that’s increasingly drawing some of the city’s best restaurants—ahem, Helen Greek Food & Wine, our best new restaurant of 2015—here’s a look at a few other straight-A spots, both old and new, in West U.
Owner Benjy Levit set the table, so to speak, for Houston’s plethora of locally focused New American restaurants when he opened his first benjy’s in Rice Village in 1995. The restaurant feels as fresh as ever, thanks to a chic dining room with a breezy, modern Miami vibe and creative cuisine. Get the smoked asparagus with a poached farm egg, mustard caviar and dill yogurt, followed by a pillowy pizza topped with grilled mushrooms and very of-the-moment raclette.
From the owners of—what else?—Tacos a Go-Go comes this never-knew-you-needed-it concept offering family-size servings of fajitas, served to-go from a convenient drive-thru window. This isn’t lowbrow fast food, though; the fajitas, quesadillas and enchiladas all merit a visit. And while you can’t order margaritas here, you can get a bottle of fresh lime-agave marg mix (they’ll even let you bring your own tequila, if you’re staying to eat on the sunny patio).
We once ate at a Dallas establishment whose décor is most accurately described as “Texas drag.” This Houston classic, by comparison, is as genuinely Texan as a Larry McMurtry story. Order the hearty venison chili (no beans!) or buttermilk chicken-fried steak and work it off two-stepping to live honky-tonk.
Chef William Wright’s deeply authentic yet reimagined takes on Greek standards make for seriously beautiful dishes. Favorites include Gulf-caught grilled octopus, served with a charred thyme oil alongside gigante beans in tomato sauce, and a horiatiki that properly eschews lettuce in favor of the best tomatoes and olives Wright can find—the former from Texas, the latter from Greece.
Nicely plated dishes of brisket enchiladas, bacon-wrapped quail and fajitas-for-one match the handsome dining room at this nicer-than-it-needs-to-be Tex-Mex joint, a modern spin-off of local staple Guadalajara Hacienda. At its popular Sunday brunch, Guad serves generous portions of huevos divorciados and “grits de desayuno” with terrific chorizo hash browns.
As Bon Appétit’s Andrew Knowlton once wrote, Houston’s, part of the Hillstone restaurant chain, “the best-run, most-loved, relentlessly respected restaurant in America,” is “never going to win a James Beard Award.” And that’s fine. Try to resist the spinach and artichoke dip, marvel at the perfectly roasted chicken, and admire the impeccable 50/50 martini made with Hendrick’s gin and Lillet Blanc.
While other bars and cafes have come and gone along its stretch of Morningside in the Village, this restaurant has been a steady presence since 1999. Its army of loyal regulars come for the oven-fired flatbreads—both thin, beef-topped lahmacun and nicely doughy pide with cheese and Turkish sausage—best enjoyed on the shady patio over glasses of apple tea.
True to its name, this café specializes in getting your food out fast. Most people call ahead and take their ceviches and jaleas (fried platters filled with shrimp, crawfish, squid, octopus and more) to go. That’s the best idea, as seating is limited to only a few counter seats. Make sure to order a chica morada, the café’s wonderful iteration of the tartly sweet, bright purple Peruvian drink.
Why is there always a line 50-people deep at this hot dog stand in Rice Village? The “All the Way,” a hot dog loaded with warm cream cheese, spicy mustard, grilled onions, curry ketchup, crunchy fried onions, honey mayo and a squirt of Sriracha—that’s why. It’s good anytime, but perfect after a night spent at the bars.