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.
Dak & Bop
I wrote previously about the wild things happening at the new location of Dak & Bop (the former La Vista 101 in Lazybrook/Timbergrove). Risotto with jjajang sauce? Carbonara with kimchi? It's true Korean and Italian fusion, and it spills over into other parts of the menu (calamari, bulgogi flatbread). Of course, the tried-and-true twice-fried chicken is here. Also here: too-good smoked kimchi pancakes.
The hip Montrose cafe and bar has made some changes to its menu and bar program. On the former front, a whole host of vegan dishes are now available, including spaghetti with garlic, green peppercorn, and cucumber; and tofu verde with quinoa and spiced peanuts (apparently co-owner Bobby Heugel went vegetarian for two months to better understand the dietary needs of those who don't eat meat). Also, Penny Quarter now does cocktails, thanks to the work of new head bartender Sarah Crowl, former bar manager at Coltivare. Coming soon will be a surprise bar next to Penny Quarter (Heugel has one of these already: Tongue-Cut Sparrow upstairs from the Pastry War). It's a good time to take in this fun and easygoing Montrose spot.
Taqo Mexican Kitchen y Tequilera
Portobello in pesto inside cactus tortillas—this can be yours if you visit Taqo, the new Heights taqueria that promises dishes that work with a clean-living lifestyle. The meatless offerings are pretty great, especially the crunchy cauliflower in buffalo sauce and calabacita with seared panela cheese. Any taco can become a bowl here, and there are a plethora of smaller dishes and sides like queso and potatoes with spicy cilantro pesto. Soon you can get the restaurant's proprietary tequila onsite. Doesn't that sound good with a couple tacos and a seat outside during patio season?
I kick myself that I didn't highlight Mein in my writeup of top Chinese spots about a year ago. While the Chinatown restaurant specializes in Cantonese fare like char siu and some of the better xiao long bao in Houston, it has something for every palate. The firecracker chicken doesn't numb the mouth quite like the chili-inflected dishes at some of the city's most beloved Szechuan spots, but it's effortlessly juicy as it pops inside your mouth. A hearty dish of fu chow fried rice with shrimp, pork, squid, and mushroom sauce hits the spot anytime. Even the innocent beef and broccoli hor-fun kicks butt. All this to say you should keep eating at Chinatown.
If you want an experience like the Annie Cafe & Bar but maybe want to spend a little less, Merus Grill is a good solution. The new Uptown Park restaurant from J. Alexander Holdings features a predictable menu of Continental staples—filet mignon, French dip, crab cakes, Norwegian salmon—but everything is cooked especially well, handled by well-trained servers, and all inside a dining room that's both romantic and easygoing.
The recent Houston episode of No Passport Required with Marcus Samuelsson shed a light on Houston's exciting West African scene and made a few stars along the way. One is Patricia Nyan, owner of Suya Hut down in Southwest Houston, who wouldn't give away her secret marinade to chef Marcus. And why would she? The sauce, applied vigorously as the suya (skewered meat) sits on the grill, brings a fantastic heat with a smooth peanut note. It makes Suya Hut a must-visit for anyone wanting a true feel-good meal. Just add jollof rice.