Well, it's still not great out there. After restaurants opened to as much as 75 percent of standard capacity in May, operations have scaled back because COVID-19 is still very much in our city. So here's the deal: If you eat out, wear a mask even when at the table, wash your hands a bunch, stay away from others, and just be kind and patient to the workers trying to figure all of this out while dealing with likely fewer hours and definitely a lot more stress.
Me? I'm still eating takeout, and that's what I recommend you do. Just buy a lot of food from your favorite places, and tip well, and when picking up your food, keep that mask on. Make it easy for people. Don't risk others' safety.
Here are six places whose food I've enjoyed recently:
Opening just weeks before COVID-19 altered the course of life, Underground Hall at the former Conservatory space is still operating with multiple concepts turning out tasty grub, including a few you may know, like Texan-Asian food truck Wokker and tres leches specialists Treacherous Leches. I have a soft spot for the smashed burgers from Hotline Burger, a new venture from Breaking Bao's Philip Kim (get the Patty Melt). Pizza proprietor Crisp recently left the hall, but another pizza-focused vendor is promised to step in soon, along with a separate sushi concept. Underground Hall encourages ordering through each specific vendor via a third-party delivery service. Call 713-888-4323 to start the ordering process.
If it's Friday evening after another long, dreary week of virtual meetings, childcare stumbles, and the constant sense that this world as we know it is unceasing, I suggest calling Giacomo's on Westheimer and ordering some pasta, namely the pappardelle ai funghi e gorgonzola. Just get the biggest order you can and pair it with a beautifully dry wine. Really let the mushrooms, peppered throughout a creamy and nutty Parmesan sauce, take over. Just indulge. There are other great pasta dishes to be had here, like the imported orecchiette giorgione with chile-inflected lamb meatballs, but seriously, start with that pappardelle.
Speaking of things that are rich and ultimately life affirming, there's the risotto half of the shrimp and risotto entrée at this Upper Kirby stalwart. The rice has just a little chewy texture, while the Parmesan (the secret ingredient in all these awesome dishes, it seems) and champagne beurre blanc it's cooked in prove an addicting, bright combination. Nicely charred jumbo shrimp are the perfect topper. You'll pay a bit to eat from Tiny Boxwoods, but it's a dinner you won't soon forget.
During one of my family's rare times out recently—for swimming—sandwiches were in order, and the old-school favorite Nielsen's was close enough for a quick pickup. While not as monstrous as, say, Kenny & Ziggy's towering achievements, the 'wiches at this family deli nonetheless pack considerable meaty flavor. My corned beef and pastrami had the right bite and fatty finish I crave, while even the kids' ham and cheese on wheat looked great. Pro tip: Get a big tub of the heavily egged potato salad, and save some for the next time you get a little down.
Sundays and Wednesdays are vegan-only days at the GOOF Indian restaurant with a daily buffet, something to keep in mind if you're craving well-crafted Indian cuisine without animal products. Offerings change every day, and if you order takeout, you'll get whatever the reserved plate is for that day, but know that you're getting a quality meal. You may get basmati rice or another grain; curry with vegetables; a star protein-style item like scrambled tofu (that really does taste like eggs) or barbecue tofu; and chana masala. You'll also get roti and a small dessert—in my case, one of the most delicious chocolate cakes I've ever tasted.
Of all the spaces I've visited to get food and drink since COVID-19 started, Saint Arnold had one of the more efficient and easygoing processes. You just pull up the car to the tent near the on-site art cars and pick up your food and beer to-go. Me? I like ordering one of my favorite pizzas in the city: the super-cheesy Flanders—mozzarella, Parmesan (sense a trend?), cheddar, queso fresco. It's best enjoyed out in that superb beer garden with a couple of beers (the new-ish Gratuity is a nice sipper), but now that we're back at stay-home status, bringing it home is the way to do it. Hopefully we can return to a world where going out regularly to eat and drink is a special privilege that feels completely safe and normal.