Having trouble keeping up with Houston's busy restaurant scene? No worries—allow me to suggest some of my favorite recent experiences. Here's where you should eat this month.
We figured the new spot from the Better Luck Tomorrow team (Justin Yu, Bobby Heugel, Terry Williams, and chefs Mark Clayton and Drew Gimma) would be an instant hit, and it has, as I've routinely seen eager guests outside waiting for a table to open (the restaurant takes reservations but leaves about half the dining room for walk-ins). I recently had some small plates here and really enjoyed the sourdough with mussels and calico beans—messy, indulgent, meaty, salty. Pair every dish with a different cocktail from Anna Wilkins's bar and let the night take you for a ride.
When Will Gruy opened his Roman pizza spot in West University last year, I was immediately drawn to the serious and refined process that created his airy, bubbly, and yet crunchy dough. At a recent visit, I found that crust is even better than I remember. A plain pie of tomato sauce and cheese is totally cool here (a single order has four rectangular slices, perfect for two people), but I really like his sausage, which has just the right kick of garlic and pepper. It's BYOB, so make a run to Spec's on Holcombe before sitting at a picnic table on the front porch. On a warm evening when the wine is strong and the pizza is hot, this is as good a pizza experience as we've had in Houston.
I've had a couple run-ins with Sofrito lately, primarily at Latin Restaurant Weeks events, a good reminder that this place specializing in Puerto Rican cuisine exists, and its sandwiches are terrific. Sofrito is a small kitchen tucked in the middle of a building at a Garden Oaks/Oak Forest car wash (at 34th and Ella). Walk past the salon to get to Sofrito, then pull up a stool and order the Tripleta—brisket, roasted pork, glazed ham with garlic and ketchup aiolis, verde sauce, and plantain chips, all on a Hawaiian roll. My eyes rolled back while eating it. They serve breakfast tacos and a ham, egg, and Swiss sandwich in the morning, too.
Sometimes you know before ever eating the food. Yes, we raved about John Hu's restaurant on Holcombe between the Med Center and Rice Village, so I knew to expect good things. But when I had to park down the road—because dozens of people were descending on Hu's Kitchen for both dine-in and take-out and had taken all the parking spots—before my first visit, I knew this place was the real deal. The shabu shabu lamb is outstanding, and mapo tofu has all of that tingly, numbing heat that you can't stop devouring. It's also super casual (you can bring your own wine), and you might find yourself lingering for two hours or so. You just have to snag a seat, first.
Welcome to the era of the all-day café. Come early for coffee and an egg sandwich. Return for a lunch salad, then hey, grab a drink for happy hour. Tropicales, from Greenway Coffee’s David Buehrer and Carlos Ballon, and chef-turned-general-manager Jill Bartolome, can deliver all of it and then some. I—along with much of Houston—enjoy the pan con aguacate, better known as a Mexican pizza or a fancy avocado toast on fried blue corn. The tacos are solid; refried black bean is the way to go. The bright, cool Bissonette spot decorated with mid-century-modern furniture is great for friendly, lazy lunches, or even a couple hours with the laptop.
The Original Ninfa's Uptown
It’s poised to be a big year for the Ninfa Laurenzo brand. While we await the opening of Mama Ninfa’s Tacos y Tortas at Understory, we now have a second location of Ninfa’s at BLVD Place in Uptown. For those worried those tried and true recipes can’t translate to a satellite location, there's no need to fret. Executive Chef Jason Gould, an Australian native who has cooked in kitchens across the world, has duplicated Alex Padilla’s recipes with aplomb. The tamales? Great. The enchiladas? Same as before. And those famous fajitas? Still sizzling, warm, juicy, and comforting. Order one of beverage consultant Linda Salinas’s original cocktails for the complete, elevated Ninfa’s experience. Yup, Ninfa’s is now perfect for date night.