Best New Restaurant:
The in-house bakery, Macarons, with its crave-worthy custard-centered canelés. The casual downstairs café, Marché, perfect for a lunch date of salads and Croque Monsieurs. The unpretentious, elegant Château on the second floor, where tableside carving of roast fowl or Parmesan-crusted rack of lamb and exquisite service is no anachronism. And last but not least, the first—and until recently, only—Houston outpost of luxury publisher Assouline. Yes, La Table packs a few of our favorite new haunts beneath a single roof on Post Oak Boulevard.
Dish of the Year:
Ka Sushi's Shiso Salmon
Though Oxheart's cilantro-blanketed Texas grain porridge was a contender, we just have to give credit to a less common herb. Each parcel of salmon unwraps like a Klieg-lit gift, illuminated with a shiso leaf and a single pickled cherry. Saffron-flavored salt adds a final touch of subtle luxury.
51Fifteen Cuisine & Cocktails
There's nothing wrong with your grandmother's favorite salade Niçoise, but wouldn't you rather eat a local lamb T-bone with heirloom carrots, served both roasted and as carrot-top salsa verde? At the restaurant's new incarnation in the revitalized Galleria Saks Fifth Avenue, chef Stefon Rishel is betting so.
Best New Dessert:
State of Grace's Smoked Chocolate Sundae
An ice cream sundae? Really? Yes, really. Seafood may be the star at the first local eatery from prolific Atlanta restaurateur (and native Houstonian) Ford Fry, but vanilla ice cream is the center of the city's best new dessert, a gooey amalgamation of dark smoked-chocolate sauce, cloud-like meringue and crunchy Graham cracker crumbles.
Best Dinner You Haven't Tried:
Heights residents may know Scott Tycer's fresh-baked breads and pastries, even his sandwiches and breakfasts. But most overlook his dinners—think homemade pastas, potpies and desserts—served Thursdays through Saturdays under the stately clock tower on 22nd Street.
Best New Restaurant in the 'Burbs:
Murdoch's Backyard Pub
A family business appropriately based in a former home, this restaurant's menu promises to go "beyond normal" and doesn't let its customers down. Fried foods include tender, deep-fried pork belly as well as kimchi fritters that pair shockingly well with guacamole. Homemade sausages, though, are the main attraction. We especially love the Ohana, which combines smoky house bacon, pineapple and macadamia nuts. Get a sampler plate and enjoy it with autumn-inspired maple-pecan-pumpkin pork sausage or a delicately flavored chicken sausage that expertly blends mozzarella, basil, pinenuts and white wine.
Best Restaurant We Never Expected to See in Houston:
The cuisine of the Uyghur people of China's Xinjiang province encompasses flavors from across the Silk Road. Its diversity makes it appealing to practically every palate, but because it's cooked by a small ethnic minority, there are only a handful of Uyghur restaurants in North America. From its heavily spiced, ropy noodle dishes to a lip-smacking lamb shank over rice, Houston's entry in the category would be well worth a trek through the Taklamakan Desert.
Best Chef Discovery:
Sylvia Couvarrubias of Edgar's Hermano and Part & Parcel at the Whitehall Hotel
Cajun crawfish queso, short rib tamales with Bourbon barbecue sauce, mac ‘n’ cheese-stuffed fried chicken with Dr Pepper-bacon jam—what mad scientist of modern fusion cuisine constructed such a menu? That would be Sylvia Covarrubias, native of San Luis Potosi, Mexico and Southern-Tex-Mexican specialist, who's quietly plied her trade in Houston hotel kitchens since 1978. One taste of her bright oxtail soup, and you'll be as thankful as we are that she's finally emerged from the shadows of chain-hotel anonymity.
Chef Who Deserves to Have a Beard Award by Now:
Hugo Ortega of Hugo's
It took 10 years of near-perfect chilaquiles and ceviches before Ortega was first recognized with a nomination for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest. But since 2012, the Mexico City native has been up for the award every year. Hey, that's only a quarter of the noms it took Susan Lucci.
But even if Beard never grants Ortega a medal, he's a winner in our book for classic lamb barbacoa slow-roasted in agave skin, chubby lobster tacos and seasonal squash-blossom delicacies. As fans of the other restaurants Ortega owns with wife Tracy Vaught—Backstreet Café and Caracol—we can't wait for the arrival of their much-anticipated new downtown place, Xochi, this December.
Best New Burger:
Though unrelated to the famous Kuma's Corner in Chicago, there could come a time when chef Willet Feng's new subterranean burger joint—found in a most unlikely location, a Greenway Plaza food court—eclipses its northern namesake.
The former Oxheart cook has stocked his shop with fun, fresh-made toppings like soy-marinated Serrano chiles, sambal mayo, scallion aioli and kimchi relish, the better to build your own burger at this hands-on operation. Even the bun offers options: Upgrade to a waffle, or get a gluten-free short-grain rice version.
But keeping it simple is still the best way to enjoy Feng's terrific beef patties, their crispy exteriors glazed with a blend of shiitake mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, soy sauce and brown butter.
Best Gourmet Market:
In a big city, it's easy to forget how many small food businesses Houston hosts. But this market/restaurant hybrid never forgets. Downstairs, you can pick up local breads, honey, preserves and cheese—ingredients that also find their way into the excellent comfort food served upstairs—as well as prepared items to take home, from roasted Brussels sprouts to toasty tarts.
The Best Test of Time:
There's a decent chance Altavista was your favorite search engine back in 2001. It's even possible you didn't hate Fred Durst or Scott Stapp yet. Not much from 15 years ago has stood the test of time. Houston's first upscale Indo-Texan restaurant is the exception.
Bite after inspired bite, chef Anita Jaisinghani's cuisine is every bit as fresh as when she opened the place, without a hint of "vintage" about it. Don't call it fusion, either. The menu flows from Jaisinghani like breath—of her childhood in India, her time in Alberta earning a master's in microbiology, her years baking in the kitchen at the original Café Annie.
The result pays homage to both the diverse regions of South Asia and the chef's adopted Houston home, whether she's serving up homespun fried okra masala, fiery lamb chops vindaloo or grass-fed Texas beef with a creamy cashew curry.