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The Essential 38 Houston Restaurants, November 2014

Houston's Eater 38 gets a fresh update.

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It's time to update the Eater 38, your answer and ours to any question that begins, "Can you recommend a restaurant?" This highly elite group covers the entire city, spans myriad cuisines, and collectively satisfies all of your restaurant needs, save for those occasions when you absolutely must spend half a paycheck. Every couple of months, we'll be adding pertinent restaurants that were omitted, have newly become eligible (restaurants must be open at least six months), or have stepped up their game. These restaurants aren't ranked in any particular order.

The new additions this time around include Coltivare, Songkran, Ibiza, Boada Cuisine, and Jonathan's The Rub. We've removed the shuttered Coppa, Cove, and MF Sushi, as well as Giacoma's and Mala Sichuan Bistro.

Hit the tipline if you have a serious gripe, or if there are any places you think we should add to the next Essential 38 update.
—Jodie Eisenhardt contributed to this map.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Killen's Barbecue

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3613 Broadway St
Pearland, TX 77581
(281) 485-0844
About a year before this smoked meats mecca opened, owner Ronnie Killen was hosting cookouts and barbecue pop-ups that have earned this Pearland place long lines of folks eager to taste ribs, sausage and brisket. Since it's opened, popular 'cue man Aaron Franklin, Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn and several other venerated names have stopped in to see what all the buzz is about. Get there early because they often sell out well before closing time.

2. Caracol

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2200 Post Oak Blvd Ste 160
Houston, TX 77056
(713) 622-9996
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Coastal Mexican cuisine stepped up a notch when renowned local chef Hugo Ortega (Hugo's) and local restaurateur Tracy Vaught opened this Post Oak Boulevard establishment late last year. Pastry chef Ruben Ortega is creating desserts that are a draw in and of themselves, and beverage director Sean Beck knows just what to pair with your baked oysters, lobster and huitlacoche mole-topped steak.

3. Good Dog Houston

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903 Studewood St
Houston, TX 77008
(832) 800-3647
For years, Daniel Caballero and Amalia Pferd served their hot dogs out of a blue bus, but the owners set down roots at a Heights-area bungalow last fall. That's where they serve premium hot dogs made with 85 percent beef and 15 percent pork that are topped with house-made condiments and held together by Slow Dough pretzel buns. Plenty of local brews are on tap, and new menu additions rise to the quality of the gourmet hot dogs.

4. Costa Brava Bistro

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5115 Bellaire Blvd
Bellaire, TX 77401
Upscale, cozy and with the best paella in the city, this Houston spot is a classic. All of the Spanish classics are flawlessly executed by chef Kitty Bailey.

5. Himalaya Restaurant

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6652 Southwest Freeway
Houston, TX 77074-2210
(713) 532-2837
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This Indo-Pak spot always hosts industry players who are seeking authentic, satisfying dishes with serious spice. If you've never been here before, start with the hara masala and lamb biryani. Chef and owner Kaiser Lashkari's desserts are always changing, one notable sweet plate was paneer soaked in a sweet, creamy sauce and sprinkled with chopped pistachios.

6. Uchi

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904 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 522-4808
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This Austin import serves consistently satisfying dishes in a delightful setting that's not stuffy or over-the-stop fancy. The Brussels sprouts are a can't-miss, and the desserts are conceived by award-winning pastry chefs.

7. Paulie's Restaurant

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1834 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77098
(713) 807-7271
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Paulie's is that rare spot in town that looks and feels as casual as a low-key coffeehouse but offers up pasta made in-house, fresh ingredients and recipes that impress with their classic simplicity. The prices are on point, if not cheaper than they could be, and sandwiches and desserts offer some variety for when you're not in the mood for pizza or pasta.

8. Corkscrew BBQ

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24930 Budde Road, Wood Winds Shopping Center
Spring, TX 77380
Like another popular 'cue man, Nichole and Will Buckman's ribs and brisket always sell out thanks to long lines of patient guests. The small black trailer with pink lettering serves up great smoked meats and classic country sides. Grab a picnic table at this BYOB-friendly place for a truly Houston lunch. [Photo: Corkscrew BBQ/Facebook]

9. Kata Robata

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3600 Kirby Dr.
Houston, TX 77099
(713) 526-8858
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The go-to spot for anyone seeking fantastic Japanese fare, Kata bridges the gap between those who want fresh sushi and those who prefer a heartier dish. It's consistently good and well priced for the quality of food.

10. Oxheart Restaurant

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1302 Nance Street
Houston, TX 77002
(832) 830-8592
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The spot that Alison Cook has called the best in town twice in a row, and that critics from Pete Wells to Andrew Knowlton have raved about, Oxheart seems to have been a classic since day one. Chef and owner Justin Yu's impressive vegetable dishes and delicate meat offerings please those who are willing to try something new and inventive.

11. Cafe TH

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2108 Pease Street
Houston, TX 77003
Houston's dining scene is practically synonymous with outstanding, authentic Vietnamese cuisine, so it made sense to include a place that offers that plus some modern spins on traditional fare. Look out for one of owner Minh Nguyen's special dinners. The turnip cake (Banh 
Bot Chien) is a can't-miss option.

12. Killen's Steakhouse

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2804 S Main St
Pearland, TX 77581
(281) 485-0844
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Out in the suburbs is Ronnie Killen's hidden gem of a steakhouse. The dry-aged Kobe ribeye and seafood starters are consistently satisfying. Just make sure to leave room for dessert.

13. Etoile Cuisine et Bar

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1101-11 Uptown Park Blvd
Houston, TX 77056
(832) 668-5808
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Chef Philippe Verpiand recently welcomed pastry guru Jose Hernandez back as his sous chef, but even before then Verpiand was turning out French with modern touches in a small but stunning Uptown Park space that has become a local favorite. [Photo: Debora Smail]

14. The Pass and Provisions

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807 Taft
Houston, Tx 77015
(713) 628-9020
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Whether diners are out for a romantic, bank-breaking meal or for something more casual but still innovative and delicious, this spot will satisfy any mood between one of its two concepts. It's amassed an impressive number of awards and received much national attention for its playful, high-end tasting menu dinners at the Pass and for its casual dining side's smart pastas, pizzas and sandwiches.

15. Hugo's

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1600 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 524-7744
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This spot is for those seeking authentic Mexican food instead of Tex-Mex. The upscale Montrose classic prides itself on offering classic dishes that satisfy and enlighten those who might never have had real Mexican fare. Although the brunch receives much well-deserved praise, the dinner options here are the best in real Mexican cuisine.

16. Underbelly

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1100 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 528-9800
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Chef Chris Shepherd once said that he intended to convey "the story of Houston food" here, and he's done that with his meat-forward dishes that often have Vietnamese influence. It's also a great place to check out when you and your dining companions can't decide between an elaborate dish and a just-plain-great burger.

17. Pondicheri

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2800 Kirby Dr.
Houston, TX 77098
(713) 522-2022
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Modern Indian fusion can be tricky because it can weigh too heavily on the modern end of the spectrum, leaving those spice-addicted traditionalists underwhelmed. That's never the case here, between spicy and satisfying curries to a consistently good lamb burger. Order the Morning Thali for those weekend mornings when you can't decide between breakfast and lunch.

18. Hubcap Grill

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1133 W. 19th St.
Houston, TX 77008
(713) 862-0555
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Burgers are as competitive a market in Houston as barbecue and tacos: It's serious competition. The reason this spot has done so well might be that they cater to a variety of patrons, from those who are near-hamburger-jaded and need the peanut butter and banana-topped "Sticky Monkey" to those who just want ketchup and mustard. Plus, owner Ricky Craig often adds playful temporary additions to the menu.

19. Confucius Seafood

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8880 Bellaire Blvd, Ste J
Houston, TX 77036
(713) 271-6888
The "888" in this restaurant's address means good luck in the Chinese culture, maybe that's why this Houston classic has been so successful. But it's more likely that the ginger-and-onion lobster, baked and coated with black pepper seasoning, has generated plenty of buzz for this small, unassuming spot. (Two lobsters will only run you about $18.) Peking duck is another must-try dish here, just make sure to order it before heading in to the restaurant.

20. Asia Market

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1010 Calvacade
Houston, TX 77022
(713) 863-7074
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It's easy to pass up this local Thai spot. Set in an unassuming Heights-area strip center over by D&T Drive Inn, this tiny hole-in-the-wall spot will impress with its take-no-prisoners spice level and authentic Thai dishes. It's not the prettiest spot in town, and the service is sometimes lacking, but if it's just plain good Thai you're after, this is a place you should check out.

21. Local Foods

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2424 Dunstan
Houston, TX 77005
The gourmet sandwiches are always impressive, from the crispy chicken, with its house-made potato chips settled directly in the sandwich, to the fresh vegetarian sides that will satisfy the health-conscious who don't want to sacrifice flavor. There's now a new outpost in River Oaks, too.

22. Cuchara

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214 Fairview St
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 942-0000
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It's essential because it fills the authentic, modern Mexico City cuisine gap in Houston. Its contemporary aspect is seen not just in the decor and strong cocktail program, but in the fun interpretations of classic, real Mexican dishes. Co-owner Ana Beaven's bites and "Comida Corrida" lunch offerings offer locals a sampling of different Mexican regions, and the fun, busy murals by Beaven's sister Cecilia Beaven reflect a chaotic Mexico City scene. Just don't head to this Montrose spot seeking Tex-Mex anything because you'll be disappointed. [Photo: Gary Wise]

23. Pizaro's Pizza

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14028 Memorial Drive
Houston, TX 77079
(281) 589-7277
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The Neapolitan pizza here makes this BYOB spot a destination for anyone who wants to taste the best margherita in town. Many of the toppings are made fresh daily, and the imported oven ensures a perfectly-baked pie.

24. Teotihuacan Mexican Cafe

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1511 Airline
Houston, TX 77009
(713) 426-4420
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One of the cheapest spots on the list, this Mexican restaurant is one of those places that always leaves me wondering why anyone would go to Taco Cabana when there are places like these around. The food is authentic, the tortillas don't taste like grocery store mass-produced ones and the breakfast is always satisfying.

25. Kenny & Ziggy's Deli

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2327 Post Oak Blvd
Houston, TX 77056
(713) 871-8883
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The friendly folks at this Houston classic cure their own corned beef and serve up exceptional blintzes and massive deli sandwiches. This is the place to go for authentic New York/Jewish deli offerings. And the chicken soup comes with matzoh balls or kreplach.

26. Bistro Provence

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13616 Memorial Dr
Houston, TX
(713) 827-8008
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It's small, intimate and authentically French. The tiny shop run by Genevieve Guy is an asset to busy, high-paced Houstonians looking for refuge in a quiet place with French wine and classic dishes done right.

27. Vieng Thai

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6929 Long Pt Dr.
Houston, TX 77055
(713) 688-9910
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The Thai food here is authentic, the service is fantastic and it's still BYOB, so take a bottle of wine or a bomber of beer that will complement the spicy offerings here.

28. Pho Binh

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10928 Beamer
Houston, Tx
Pho is one of those foods that feels like a hug for your stomach and an ultra satisfying slurp of flavors that hits every one of your taste buds. That (and the fact that it's great for a hangover) has made it a classic dish in a city filled with tons of great Vietnamese options. And this spot is still a local favorite for consistently good pho.

29. Al Aseel

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8619 Richmond Avenue
Houston, TX 77063
(713) 787-0400
For hummus that competes with Kasra's and great Mediterranean food, head to this Woodlake-Briar Meadow neighborhood spot. It's a classic among food lovers and the bane of many a Yelp user's existence due in great part to less-than-stellar service. Still, the food is fantastic.

30. Radical Eats Cafe

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507 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 697-8719
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While this tiny vegan favorite recently moved to a larger Montrose building and has added meat dishes, it's still a local treasure. Omnivores will still want to order the fried avocado tacos and the brunch service is perfect for a peaceful respite from other crowded spots.

31. Emporio Brazillian Cafe

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12288 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77209
(281) 293-7442
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Brazilian expatriates who discover this restaurant quickly make it a regular spot for authentic dishes when homesickness strikes. If you're not in the mood for a meat-forward gaucho churrascaria, head to this spot for other great Brazilian offerings.

32. Kasra Persian Grill

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9741 Westheimer Rd.
Houston, TX
(713) 975-1801
There really can't be a quintessential Houston restaurant list without a mention of Kasra. This spot is where Persian families go for a taste of home. The hummus, beef kubideh and dill rice are must-taste items.

33. Da Marco

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1520 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 807-8857
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Sure this spot's on the expensive end of the Essential 38 list, but it's a Houston classic from the owners of Dolce Vita and Vinoteca Poscol. Order the artichoke alla giudea to start and follow that with the osso buco.

34. Coltivare Pizza & Garden

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3320 White Oak Dr
Houston, TX 77007
(713) 880-8463
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Revival Market owners Morgan Webber and Chef Ryan Pera operate this small gem in the Heights. Utilizing vegetables and herbs grown in the onsite garden combined with highest quality, local meats and poultry, Pera has created one of the city’s most scrumptious menus along with a nice cocktail menu and thoughtful wine program by Jeb Stuart. Don’t miss the tart, crunchy butternut squash salad, any of the pizzas with their singed, pillowy edges of crust or the simple but perfect spaghetti with parmesan and special tellicherry peppercorns. Fall is the perfect time to enjoy patio dining next to the garden. No reservations accepted so come early for less wait time or try Sunday dinner.

35. Songkran Thai Kitchen

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1101 Uptown Park Blvd Ste C-8
Houston, TX 77056
(713) 993-9096
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Houston lacked an upscale Thai option until Songkran opened in Uptown Park last Spring. But this is more than just a sexy room. Bangkok native, Chef Junnajet Hurapan (of the late Gigi’s Asian Bistro) serves up some beautifully authentic Thai including the rarely-done-right “northern” Thai sausage, a bright green curry and wonderful Tom Yum Goong soup. The bar has an interesting cocktail list and patio dining is available.

36. Arturo Boada Cuisine

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6510 Del Monte Dr
Houston, TX 77057
(713) 782-3011
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Chef Arturo Boada was on the cutting edge of Houston cuisine in the 90’s with Solero and onward into the new century with Beso. After splitting with longtime business partner Bill Sadler at Arturo’s Uptown Italiano (still run by Sadler), Boada opened his own neighborhood eatery just off Voss to the delight of loyal followers. Using the freshest ingredients, Boada’s cuisine is precise. Clean flavors and perfect texture can be found in housemade pasta and seafood dishes like golden tilefish served in a clean, saffron broth tinged with lobster meat along with excellent daily specials. There’s a wood-burning oven for pizza and a thoughtful wine list.

37. Jonathan's The Rub

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9061 Gaylord Dr
Houston, TX 77024
(713) 465-8200
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Chef/Owner Jonathan Levine is staying put at his original Memorial, where he has been serving some of Houston’s best cuisine since 2008. “The rub” refers to a custom spice blend Levine is known to use in a number of dishes on the varied menu. The celebrated burger, along with a number of seafood, meat and “South Brooklyn” Italian dishes round things out. Diners love the BYOB option as well as a value-driven wine list. Don’t miss the coconut cream pie.

38. Ibiza Food and Wine Bar

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2450 Louisiana St, Ste 200
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 524-0004
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Chef Charles Clark was a pioneer in Midtown long before everyone else staked their claim. Even now, as Clark Cooper Concepts continues to grow it’s mini-empire, Ibiza continues to impress. Mediterranean, French and Spanish influences are evident on the diverse menu, with a generous number of shared small plate options and an emphasis on uber-fresh seafood. Current highlights include Portuguese octopus with Spanish chorizo, and Colorado ruby red trout with salsa verde. As is the case with Clark’s other restaurants, the wine list is fantastic and reasonably-priced.

1. Killen's Barbecue

3613 Broadway St, Pearland, TX 77581
About a year before this smoked meats mecca opened, owner Ronnie Killen was hosting cookouts and barbecue pop-ups that have earned this Pearland place long lines of folks eager to taste ribs, sausage and brisket. Since it's opened, popular 'cue man Aaron Franklin, Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn and several other venerated names have stopped in to see what all the buzz is about. Get there early because they often sell out well before closing time.
3613 Broadway St
Pearland, TX 77581

2. Caracol

2200 Post Oak Blvd Ste 160, Houston, TX 77056
Coastal Mexican cuisine stepped up a notch when renowned local chef Hugo Ortega (Hugo's) and local restaurateur Tracy Vaught opened this Post Oak Boulevard establishment late last year. Pastry chef Ruben Ortega is creating desserts that are a draw in and of themselves, and beverage director Sean Beck knows just what to pair with your baked oysters, lobster and huitlacoche mole-topped steak.
2200 Post Oak Blvd Ste 160
Houston, TX 77056

3. Good Dog Houston

903 Studewood St, Houston, TX 77008
For years, Daniel Caballero and Amalia Pferd served their hot dogs out of a blue bus, but the owners set down roots at a Heights-area bungalow last fall. That's where they serve premium hot dogs made with 85 percent beef and 15 percent pork that are topped with house-made condiments and held together by Slow Dough pretzel buns. Plenty of local brews are on tap, and new menu additions rise to the quality of the gourmet hot dogs.
903 Studewood St
Houston, TX 77008

4. Costa Brava Bistro

5115 Bellaire Blvd, Bellaire, TX 77401
Upscale, cozy and with the best paella in the city, this Houston spot is a classic. All of the Spanish classics are flawlessly executed by chef Kitty Bailey.
5115 Bellaire Blvd
Bellaire, TX 77401

5. Himalaya Restaurant

6652 Southwest Freeway, Houston, TX 77074-2210
This Indo-Pak spot always hosts industry players who are seeking authentic, satisfying dishes with serious spice. If you've never been here before, start with the hara masala and lamb biryani. Chef and owner Kaiser Lashkari's desserts are always changing, one notable sweet plate was paneer soaked in a sweet, creamy sauce and sprinkled with chopped pistachios.
6652 Southwest Freeway
Houston, TX 77074-2210

6. Uchi

904 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006
This Austin import serves consistently satisfying dishes in a delightful setting that's not stuffy or over-the-stop fancy. The Brussels sprouts are a can't-miss, and the desserts are conceived by award-winning pastry chefs.
904 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77006

7. Paulie's Restaurant

1834 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77098