As part of our year-end coverage, dining editor Timothy Malcolm looked back at the more than 225 meals he ate out this year and came up with a list of the best places out of those that opened in the last calendar year. These are his Favorite Restaurants of 2019.
Let's dive into a year of eating in and around Houston. These are my favorite bites of 2019.
Have to mention
- I was astounded at the high level of flavor and energy at the reimagined Annie Café & Bar.
- It was fun running through Politan Row a bunch of times—special shout out to Kin, Cochinita & Co. (oh my goodness those tacos), and Susu Kopi & Boba (get the Ovaltine ice cream).
- Call me happily surprised after a couple meals at Ouzo Bay. Insanely good octopus.
- I'm very excited to see Mico's Hot Chicken rolling into the loop. Best chicken sandwich I had this year.
- My bar of the year is Monkey's Tail, a true neighborhood joint that isn't afraid to mix it up. Great vibe.
- Go to La Vibra. Those costras are awesome.
Basically also No. 5: 1751 Sea & Bar. The attention to detail with a touch of madness here elevates this Heights-area seafood restaurant to the upper echelon of upscale dining experiences in the city. I'm still dreaming about the char siu pork belly with house-made kimchi, and the simply awesome Tom Yum Hot Pot.
Also, basically also No. 5: Verandah Progressive Indian Restaurant. Chef Sunil Srivastava goes to great lengths to entice diners here. The chicken tikka comes from Srivastava's former Great W'kana, and it's an obvious dish to get. But look for gourmand selections like braised and smoked rabbit and vegetables in a roasted sesame peanut curry. Let chef take you on the journey.
What a funny restaurant we have smack in the geographic center of the Heights. Brian Doke's hilariously gargantuan wine list may baffle, but trust a server and let go. Chef Micah Rideout has put together a wild menu of crazy collaborations and silly connections that, sometimes, lead to unbelievable moments. Examples include Potato Principles, Carrot Away, Chicken on Quack, and Ribeye Cruda, all on the small-plate-ish garden and guilt menu. The biggest dish I loved most was the acidic Tandoori lamb fajita (which is not a fajita really). Honestly, the most fun I had a more upscale place this year—just be open.
4. Bravery Chef Hall
It seemed at every other dinner, a table near me was talking about food halls. "Which ones have you been to?" "Have you heard of this one?" "What do you think of that?" And on the occasions someone asked me about food halls, I told them Bravery was my favorite. I had a killer cheeseburger at Atlas Diner, just loved the goat curry at The Blind Goat, had a couple too many bowls of chicken fat rice at Kokoro. BOH's airy yet crispy Roman-style pizza? Jessica Timmons's pork chop and chicken-stuffed chicken? Just go. To me, this place is all about the scent. Stand in the middle of Bravery with a glass of draft wine and smell the combined kitchens at work. It's just awesome.
The Dutch baby pancake at this Heights restaurant from Justin Yu and Bobby Heugel (manned by chefs Mark Clayton and Drew Gimma) got too much early hype. The true beauty of Squable is its careful, considerate nature, from the in-table drawer that hides your silverware to the curated wine list to the f'in martini to beautiful little dishes like kona kampachi crudo, sweet potato with pork, and the dessert bread. Also, the mussels and calico beans on bread is one of my favorite dishes of the year. A stunner. Beautiful little restaurant, too.
2. Hu's Cooking
With John Hu's leadership and Wang Yu's creative hand, this Medical Center-area Sichuan and Taiwanese dining room didn't fail me once. In fact, it blew me away on multiple occasions. The shabu shabu lamb with spearmint is the dish I told the most people about this year. The sweet-skinned duck on Yu's specialty menu is delectably devilish. Yu also has a beef in garlic sauce with the fluffiest little buns ... goodness. We're not talking fine dining here, and the service can feel maddening if the place is busy (it usually is), but chances are Hu will get to your table and chat for a few seconds. Also, chances are you'll hang out for two hours because the food is too dang good to box up.
It's a vibe. It's an experience. I've been there just a few times and yet, when I close my eyes, I can still see servers' faces. As I wrote previously, you can roadmap the best single meal in Houston at Rosie. It undoubtedly starts with the focaccia di Recco, which is one of my three favorite bites of food in 2019. Probably dish of the year. I can't get enough of the Neaopolitan-inspired pies like the fennel sausage and speck and chili oil. The green beans are outstanding. Pastry chef Shawn Gawle is a breakout star, and if you don't know why, just try the tarta de queso. The service is superb, the wine selection is robust, and the toned-down and chic interior is lovely and romantic without ever being cloying. My absolute favorite restaurant of 2019.