Between hungry college kids, shoppers needing a bite between stops, and plain ol' residents, the Rice Village and West University area offers plenty of gustatory variety and deliciousness. We've picked out several of our favorite eateries from this slice of the Houston area for your enjoyment:
Some of the best tacos in Houston can be found at this stand at food hall Politan Row operated by chef Victoria Elizondo. Her bread-and-butter is cochinita pibil, starring pulled pork shoulder marinated in achiote and citrus, but we also recommend chicken with a slightly spicy mole and queso fresco. A couple of ceviches are also on offer, plus sides like elote and chips and salsa.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Chef Evelyn Garcia has made a name for herself by presenting vibrant interpretations of Southeast Asian cuisine, and at Kin that work continues. Spotlight dishes include brisket roti, featuring 44 Farms beef; golden khao soi curry, with smoked chicken; and tingling-hot Lao-style larb (citrus pork and herbs) served in lettuce wraps. Get a few and share amongst a couple of people, adding snacks like crispy veggie dumplings and smacked cucumber salad.
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.
At Prego modern dishes, like duck ravioli, and old-fashioned classics, like lasagna, 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.
Last January owner Shannon Scott rebranded the fine-dining eatery Sud Italia, which opened at the corner of Morningside and University in 2015, as Roma, a less expensive, more casual spot. Chef Angelo Cuppone focuses on classic and modern Roman cuisine while sprinkling in a few tried-and-true Italian favorites. The bolognese is good, but our favorite item on the pasta menu is the tender gnocchi served with shrimp in a smoky, velvety saffron sauce.