As is the tradition at Eater, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends and food writers. This year, we asked the group eight questions, from meal of the year to top restaurant newcomers. We'll be posting their answers each day until we ring in the new year. Responses are related in no particular order; all are cut, pasted and unedited herein. Readers, please add your survey answers in the comments.
What was your Restaurant Standby of 2014?
Mai Pham, food critic for Houston Press and freelance writer for My Table magazine, 002 Houston and Forbes Travel Guide: I found myself at Tiger Den often this year, not only for their ramen, but for their great selection of well-priced robata (grilled items) like their beef tongue, chicken wings, and whole grilled squid. Another standby is my local tex-mex fave, Lupita's in Sugar Land, where I can always rely on a fantastic plate of fajitas paired with hand-made flour tortillas -- great every time. For coffee, Blacksmith, Southside Espresso, Siphon, or Doshi House are on constant rotation. For Italian, nothing beats a plate of the pappardelle bolognese at Ciao Bello, or the spaghetti with mama Mandola's meatballs at Damian's.
Ellie Sharp, Eater Houston contributor and freelance writer for Bayou City magazine: Pico's Mex Mex, Sweet Paris, and Bernie's Burger Bus (storefront location). I appreciate the consistency and atmosphere of each of these - nothing overly fancy but just good food and good service.
Jodie Eisenhardt, Eater Houston contributor, freelance writer and marketing consultant at Two Chicks Communications: Coltivare, Soma, Lillo & Ella
Dutch Small, proprietor of Forma Revivo and marketing consultant/publicist at Immersioncy Public Relations: This year, I spent a lot of time looking for under-the-radar spots and less time running from opening to opening. Nam Giao rose on my list and I can't get enough of the Bahn quai vac. Or the Bahn beo. Actually, I can't get enough of everything - I'm going to eat there right now. However, my real standbys continue to be Mamak, Fu Fu, and Uchi.
Hank Lewis, food blogger at Hank on Food:
1. Jonathan's The Rub is a place that I always love, where I always feel welcome and the food is consistently good. I can take friends, coworkers, family there and there's something everybody likes. Jonathan Levine and his son Sam are ever present conducting the operation and engaging with the diners. They are always packed and it's not hard to see why.
2. The Flying Saucer Sugar Land is still my favourite craft beer bar/pub despite several other great cocktail and beer bars opening this year. The staff knows me, the selection is always good and rotates regularly, and when I bring newbies to try craft beer, between me and the Bartenders and Beer Goddesses, we can always find two are three that they'd enjoy.
3. Brothers Bakery is still one of the best places for baked goods--pies, cakes, cookies, you name it. When I've had to get a dessert to bring to work, for a function at my kids' school or a gathering and I don't have time to prepare my own, I know they will be able to take care of my needs professionally and quickly, and their desserts have always hit the mark when I've brought them along, as well as when I've recommended them to friends/readers.
Anthony Calleo, proprietor and chef of Pi Pizza Truck:
1. Ninja Ramen- my girlfriend and I have a syllogism, if after 9 and not Monday then Ninja Ramen
2. Downhouse- they keep late hours, the food is well sourced and thoughtful and it's always excellent.
3. The Bird House- the sides are as good as the chicken, and the chicken is damn good. I'm curious to see where this temporary chicken shack heads to in the future.
4. Bernies Burgers- the brick and mortar location always makes me happy when I want a burger and the new items Justin has added to the menu are always fun to try.
Chris Frankel, food enthusiast and bartender at Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar: My favorite restaurants in Houston are all the great little mom and pop spots serving traditional ethnic cuisine. Stalwarts like Mala Sichuan Bistro, Himalaya, Shri Balaji Bhavan, Mi Pueblito, and Emporio Brazilian Cafe are my go to spots. Some sleeper hits I recommend are Ghazal India Cafe in Stafford for regional Kerala cuisine and Punta Cana Caribbean Restaurant in Willowbrook Mall for Dominican cuisine. On the more upscale side, my short list includes Giacomo's Cibo e Vino, Kata Robata, and Indika.
Eric Sandler, food writer for CultureMap, monthly contributor to Houston Matters and The Cleverley Show: Tiger Den, Himalaya, Bernie's Burger Bus, Pico's, Pax Americana, Paulie's and Common Bond