The Year In Yum

Houstonia's Favorite Meals Of 2018

Staff writers pick some of their most memorable outings in the Bayou City.

Edited by Timothy Malcolm December 28, 2018

Earlier this week, our dining editor shared his favorite meals from across the Houston restaurant landscape in 2018. A few staffers chimed in with their own favorite meals:


Falling in Love with Houston at El Real

It was an unseasonably warm day last January, and I'd just moved to Houston (sight unseen) a few months prior after leaving everything I knew and loved 2,000 miles away in Vermont. Eager to explore my new neighborhood but lacking the means to do so (I had no car), I called an Uber to bring me to the Montrose block of Westheimer for some thrifting. The short drive from my apartment was long enough to bond with my driver, Cheryl, who very nearly ditched the rest of her workday to join me. She didn't, but we vowed to hit the Cottage Shop together on a future weekend before I set out on my solo jaunt. I found some treasures—namely my first pair of proper cowboy boots—and wandered down the street to El Real Tex-Mex Cafe, bewitched by the art-deco marquee of the one-time Tower Theater.

Inside, an old black-and-white western played on the giant movie screen and warm chips and salsa greeted me like an old friend. I sipped the best frozen strawberry margarita of my life, and by the time I'd drained my second, I was feeling wild enough to wade into uncharted waters ... specifically, queso. A notoriously picky eater, I've always been wary of condiments or dips of any sort, and that's doubly true of any that come in a jar. Because, you have to understand, that's the only way I'd seen queso in the north: dubiously yellow, tepid, and sitting on a grocery store shelf beneath the Tostitos. I'd heard the gospel of queso spoken ad infinitum since my relocation, of course, but only now did I feel compelled to visit the altar.

And then, just like that, it appeared before me. The moment I dunked that first chip in the brimming saucer of creamy white goodness, it was game over. I was born again, and I finally got it. El Real swiftly became my favorite restaurant, one I'd return to again and again—for my birthday, with my visiting parents, when I was sad or stressed, after shopping with friends, or just because. Every meal is a good one, but nothing has quite lived up to that late afternoon in January when I sat alone in the middle of the near-empty dining room, a little drunk, contentedly full, and feeling like I might just belong here after all.

—Abby Ledoux, lifestyle editor

Welcoming Old Friend Aladdin to the New Hood 

My favorite meal of 2018 has to be me and my husband's first time to the new Aladdin in the GOOF. The food—chicken kabob and saffron rice for me, gyro and potatoes for him—magically tasted even better when located just a few minutes from our new abode. We had been missing our Heights and Montrose haunts since we bought our house in the GOOF in 2017, and now one of our favorites had finally followed us up there. We tracked the inconsistent online countdown and even ventured on a few drive-bys to check on construction, eagerly awaiting more info on the “Coming Soon” banner for months.

Apparently, we weren’t the only ones: On opening night, the place was so packed that many of the trays at the counter service restaurant had been wiped clean by the time we arrived around 7:30. But it didn’t deter us. We were met with the same friendly, neighborhood feel at the new location as we had experienced down south, with the manager himself piling on heaping portions of what was left and comping the meal that lived up to what we had been dreaming about for weeks. It seemed that they were just as excited to be there as we were.

We still find ourselves at our Aladdin about once a week—sometimes just the two of us, other times with neighbors in tow—for that chicken kabob, gyro, top notch service, and, of course, to support the GOOF.

—Laura Furr Mericas, custom publishing editor

Selling the Bayou City with Nobie's

A friend visited town from Chicago after being recruited for a teaching job at UH. He’d never been to Houston—maybe had some misconceptions about it—and was trying to decide whether to take the position.

Knowing he’s a bit of a hipster and a mega-foodie, I decided to bring him to Nobie’s. To my satisfaction, he went wild for everything, delighted by the foie gras nigiri, the Texas tartare, the sweet potato tots, and the lamb kebab. I loved all those things too, and overall it was my favorite meal of the year. But the thing I remember most vividly, that I can close my eyes and still taste, is the olive oil cake. It was just sweet enough, moist for days, and topped with a heaping helping of fresh whipped cream. I couldn’t stop eating it, and neither could the Chicagoan. It was gone almost immediately, and by the end of dinner, he had decided to take the job. Coincidence? I think not. 

—Catherine Matusow, editor in chief

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