100 Best Restaurants 2016

Food Fight: Who Makes Houston’s Best Pub Grub, Indian Sweets, Fancy Tacos and More

We tossed our favorite spots into the ring together to see whose cuisine reigns supreme—but there are no real losers in this delicious contest.

By Alice Levitt and Katharine Shilcutt September 19, 2016 Published in the October 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Pondicheri Bake Lab + Shop

Subcontinental Sweets

Pondicheri Bake Lab + Shop vs. Hot Breads

Both of these popular spots trade in chaat, Indian-spiced breakfasts and lunches, and Euro-style sweets in exotic flavors. One is the hip upstairs bakery of a beloved restaurant. Its competitor, a Houston outpost of a South Indian chain (the other Hot Breads on Hillcroft is unrelated). We may be addicted to Hot Breads’ chicken tikka croissants and pistachio cake, but innovations like Pondicheri’s honey mesquite cakes and chocolate-chili cookies place the West Ave shop firmly in our sweet spot.

Winner: Pondicheri

Triumph of the Taco

Eight Row Flint vs. Stoked Tacos & Tequila

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Stoked Tacos & Tequila

Handmade tortillas stuffed with local ingredients? Both of these taco yearlings have ’em, and we love Eight Row Flint’s exceptional heritage-corn version, which gives the whisky bar its name. But we prefer the whimsy of Stoked—who can say no to a giant brisket-filled taco, locavore Frito pie, and daiquiri served with a banana carved into a smiling dolphin?

Winner: Stoked

Dreamy Donuts

The Grove Do-nutz & Deli vs. Pena's Donut Heaven & Grill

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Image: Andrea Weir

Both of these family-friendly, family-run, suburban destinations are known for creative cult favorites: Peña’s “dosant” is a version of NYC’s famed Cronut, while The Grove’s Sriracha bacon donuts combine two of Houston’s favorite foods into one pastry. But while we’ll always savor each flaky layer of Peña’s dosants, The Grove triumphs on two counts: with a new food truck that’s carting its creations across town, and with sheer volume, counting at least 42 different donuts on its vast menu, from cajeta-filled churro donuts to The Elvis, crammed with peanut butter, bacon and bananas.

Winner: The Grove

Premier Pub Grub

The Hay Merchant vs. Wooster's Garden

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Wooster's Garden

Pedigreed chefs helm the kitchens at both of these popular watering holes. At Hay Merchant, Chris Shepherd’s “Cease and Desist” burger, a jumped-up take on the In-N-Out double-double, is better than the burger at adjoining Underbelly. At Wooster, chef Brandon Silva recently launched a menu of dishes like bone marrow with caviar that matches the bar’s elegant surrounds. Hay Merchant remains the only craft beer bar (we know of) to offer a whole roasted pig’s head, but we have to side with the lighter offerings at the open-air Wooster’s Garden, from sunflower seed toast with radishes to dainty venison al pastor tacos, leaving more room for beverage director Steven Salazar’s creative cocktails.

Winner: Wooster's Garden

Compelling Kolaches

Koala Kolaches vs. Morningstar

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Koala Kolache

Though its name is the result of an iPhone autocorrect mix-up, the radical menu of pepperoni-and-mozzarella–stuffed kolaches and Blue Bell ice cream–stuffed donuts at Koala Kolaches is decidedly deliberate. At Morningstar, meanwhile, the kolaches are filled with one thing only: delectable brisket from nearby Southern Goods. And while there’s no arguing with pitmaster Patrick Feges’s perfectly smoked meat, we adore the fact that Koala’s Crazy Kolache Lady, Vatsana Souvannavong, fills hers with everything from mac ‘n’ cheese to sausage and gravy. Mmm.

Winner: Koala Kolaches

Creative Creamieries

Kwality Ice Cream vs. Cloud 10 Creamery

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Kwality Ice Cream

Can one really compare Cloud 10's basil mascarpone with Kwality's mitha pan? Allow us to try. Both creameries know how to craft a smooth base, though Kwality's silken, gelato-like lightness gets the edge. As for the flavors, as much as we love Kwality's Indian combinations, like rose and chikoo, chef Chris Leung's Cloud 10 creations using local produce (think beets) are wildly original, allowing him to regain his position. This fight looks like a delectable draw to us.  

Winner: Tie!

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