To The U

Our 15 Favorite Restaurants in Rice Village and West University

From food hall bites to swanky date nights, there's a little something for everyone here.

By Timothy Malcolm With Houstonia Staff

Image: Local Foods

BETWEEN HUNGRY COLLEGE STUDENTS, shoppers needing refreshments between stops, and longtime residents, the Rice Village and West University area of Houston has more than enough foot traffic to justify its insane number of delicious restaurants. In the mood for a juicy burger? You have options. Craving queso? You're covered. Thinking you'd like to get crazy and try a whole grilled branzino? You're in the right place!

We’ve picked out just a few of our favorite eateries from this slice of the city—enjoy!

Black Walnut Cafe

The best location in popular chain is right off Morningside Drive, nestled between Rice Village’s other quaint shops. Serving a special weekend brunch until 11:00 a.m., Black Walnut’s menu options include tacos, burgers, and sandwiches for all. Make room at your table for the vegetarian in your life, as Black Walnut serves a hearty Beyond Burger and seasoned fries. Bring your laptop; this location has complimentary wifi and a heated patio.

Café Rabelais

A visit to this Rice Village staple, open for nearly two decades, is akin to taking a quick vacation to France—only you don’t have to go through the hassle of boarding a plane in order to get your authentic French café experience. At Café Rabelais, you can sip and savor some of Houston’s finest French cooking and wine in an atmosphere that is thoroughly laid back and inviting. Staples like the Prince Edwards Island mussels (served in a white wine cream sauce) are a must, as is the boeuf bourguignon, which is sinful enough to make your inner Julia Child blush.

Coco Crêpes and Coffee

Coco, which sits on the outer edge of Rice Village, is a coveted spot for a scoop of gelato, a warm bowl of soup, or a jumbo-sized crêpe. Coco’s allure is in its atmosphere; situated just on the edge of the Village’s hustle and bustle, this cafe is the best place to sip a cup of coffee, preferably on the covered patio, and watch the busy day-to-day of the shopping center unfold.

Coppa Osteria

Peer into the “dough room” to watch as pastas and pizzas are made by hand at this lively Italian spot. Standouts include the beef carpaccio, the Houston Dairymaids cheese board, the chicken parmesan, the pepperoni and goat cheese pie, and, especially, the divine, lightly creamy spaghetti carbonara with salumi toscano and an egg that’s broken table-side by your server.

D’Amico’s Italian Market Cafe

Get that Italian feel without having to hop on a plane! This restaurant serves authentic Northern and Southern Silician food while also boasting an imported market featuring items straight from Italy. A casual indoor setting complements a romantic, green and covered patio for an overall cozy-digs feeling. Paninis, gelato or wood-fired pizza—take your pick—D’Amico’s has all the options if tonight’s mood is relaxed Italian.

El Topo

In January Tony Luhrman opened his brick-and-mortar ode to Texas and New Western cuisine in the cozy West U spot that formerly housed Pizza Motus. At first he shelled out tacos and other street foods for breakfast and lunch, and then came dinner service, with plates like chicken-fried St. Louis ribs; a wagyu ground brisket burger, with smoked American cheese; and masa dumplings, with pickled mushrooms and poblano crema. Covid-19 changed some things at El Topo, but you can visit the taco window for offerings like 44 Farms beef barbacoa, lime herb chicken tucked into tortillas, or sandwiches, like the LGBTQ chicken (fried chicken, spicy mayonnaise, lettuce, and onion).

Hamsa

Sof Hospitality, the group behind Hamsa, has a track record of doing outstanding things. First came Doris Metropolitan, then Badolina Bakery & Cafe. Hamsa, the group’s new modern Israeli concept, is no less impressive. Chefs Sash Kurgan and Yotam Dolev’s menu offers a world of possibilities, from the flavorful salatim to a hummus that blows any other local options fully out of the water. Rounding out the menu are several options for grilled skewers, whole grilled branzino, and the unforgettable Balady eggplant—whole roasted and served on a bed of tahini with pine nuts and parsley. Hamsa, even in its early stages, is already raising the bar for Middle Eastern food in Houston—and may do so for years to come.

Helen's famous tipiti dip is a great starter.

Image: Alice Levitt

Helen Greek Food & Wine

You’re in for an authentic Greek experience in this snug dining room. Start with the chickpea dip, the feta-rich tipiti dip, and, when tomatoes are in season, the dakos salad made with barley bread, heirloom tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, and feta. Follow that with the honey-sweet cheese pie—quintessential Greek street food—and smoked lamb ribs with orzo. The extensive wine list, all Greek, includes classics and selections from Santorini.

Hopdoddy Burger Bar

Hopdoddy Burger Bar is the perfect place for those tired of fast food but in search of traditional American food in a sit-down setting. Hopdoddy has everyone in the friend group covered: the meat-lover, the vegan, and everyone in between. If you’re not in the mood for a meal, take a seat at the restaurant’s full bar and order a boozy milkshake—sweet with the spiked aftertaste of Kahlúa—Hopdoddy’s twist on an American staple.

Istanbul Grill & Deli

The lahmacun, or cheesy, thin-crust Turkish pizza, is a specialty at this friendly spot with red-checkered tablecloths and a covered patio. It’s perfect for sharing, as are the grilled kebabs, from lamb to chicken to eggplant. Start your meal with the lebni—yogurt with dill, garlic, and walnuts—and finish with the baked rice pudding.

Local Foods

Local Foods is part of the Benjy’s family of restaurants (it’s right next door in Rice Village). The modern deli is especially famous for its huge sandwiches—choose from egg salad, the famous "crunchy" chicken, or Gulf shrimp—stacked with as much local produce as two slices of bread will hold. Granted, the price (up to $15 a sandwich) is steep, but each comes with two impressive sides, such as house-made chips with Old Bay seasoning; Tuscan kale salad with raisins, pine nuts, and parmesan; or a broccoli and quinoa salad with cashew yogurt. Counter service and booth seating give the beautifully designed space a casual, modern feel.

Prego

At Prego, modern dishes and old-fashioned Italian classics appear side by side on the menu, with plenty of antipasti, pizzas, risottos, and second courses rounding out the menu. The pasta is homemade, with gluten-free versions available. The Berkshire pancetta, which graces the spaghetti carbonara, is also made in-house. The dining room is done in dark wood and earth tones, with booth seating, and the quaint bar has a beautiful, old-school cappuccino machine as its centerpiece. It’s a romantic atmosphere with an upscale, but not too fancy, feel—perfect for date night.

A visit to the Village isn't complete without Roma's gnocchi with shrimp and saffron sauce.

Roma

In 2019, owner Shanon Scott rebranded the eatery Sud Italia, which opened at the corner of Morningside and University in 2015 with cuisine of southern Italy, as Roma Ristorante, which now focuses on covering multiple regions of food from Italy. Chef Kevin Bryant focuses on classic and modern Italian cuisine, bringing in traditional pastas and recipes unique to each region, while incorporating proteins of land and sea.

Sweet Paris

Sweet Paris boasts savory and sweet crêpes of every type; choose from extensive options such as “apple cinnamon crème brûlée” or a simple ham and gruyère as you sit on their sunny patio or enjoy the restaurant’s intimate venue. Take a chance and order something that the crêpery is less known for, such as a full lunch with the Croque Madame, a plate complete with scrambled eggs, gruyère, smoked ham, and béchamel sauce.

Velvet Taco

Craving a late night snack? Velvet Taco remains one of Houston’s greatest spots for gourmet tacos at a reasonable price. Open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (12 a.m. on weekends), Velvet Taco serves specialties that fuse multiple cultures into one tasty taco—like the fried paneer or the falafel taco—made from scratch with fresh ingredients. Rich in flavor, the tacos at Velvet combine the character of Tex-Mex with the smooth undertones of foods from other cultures and places. This restaurant is one of the city’s most popular weekend night foodie destinations, with eclectic and “funky” vibes in each bite.

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