Many people associate Houston with NASA, oil, and sprawl -- but it also happens to have a serious food and cultural scene. The downtown area is developing into a hotspot for cocktails, noshing, and socializing; the museum district features world-renowned collections including the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Menil Collection; and the zoo, theatre district, and music venues are brimming with both locals and visitors. Go to Houston for the sights, but stay for the cuisine. Here are five Houston restaurants and drinkeries that might surprise you...
1. The artsy Montrose neighborhood is home to one of the most celebrated and written about bars in the United States. Anvil Bar & Refuge has been featured in Food & Wine Magazine and landed on Esquire’s Best Bars in America list. Old-school and craft cocktails are the order of the day. Served with fresh ingredients in an industrial-chic atmosphere, the swanky bar is a place to slow down and sip a caipirinha or Sazerac, perhaps with the grande cheese and meat plate, bratwurst, or the lengua pastrami from the small plates menu.
2. With only 30 seats, Oxheart by Houston natives chef Justin Yu and baker Karen Man, is an intimate dining experience. Each course from the ever-changing seasonal menu is crafted with fresh local ingredients and an artful eye. Guests can opt for table or counter seats in the modern, loft-like dining room, where the open kitchen becomes like a stage. There's a garden menu with a mung bean pancake, stuffed with braised mustards, potato, and miso with pickled vine beans and sunflower; the tasting menu may include a guinea hen stuffed with rice and collard greens in a shellfish sauce.
3. In 2011, Uchi Houston opened to much fanfare among foodies who frequented its eponymous Austin predecessor. It's helmed by the much heralded sushi chef Tyson Cole who received his training in Japanese cuisine via a traditional apprenticeship under Takehiko Fuse of Austin’s Musashino, and later at Bond Street in New York City. Cole is known for his innovative pairing of global flavors, ingredients, and influences resulting in creations such as the maguro sashimi and goat cheese, featuring bigeye tuna, pumpkin seed oil, and fuji apples; or "gyutoro to sakura," which combines short rib with cherry and red cabbage.
4. Houston is all over its coffee game with local roasters Greenway Coffee Company leading the charge, and being offered at most fine coffee purveyors in the city. Blacksmith offers up the creamiest lattes, cappuccinos, flat whites, cortados, and other espresso drinks to the city’s bean-obsessed masses, but if you are smart, you’ll take advantage of the simple, but serious food menu. Get the biscuits and die happy.
5. No trip to Houston -- or Texas for that matter -- is complete without indulging in some of the finest Mexican food in North America. Hugo’s specializes in regional Mexican cuisine with dishes from chef Hugo Ortega, ranging from light seafood to rich Oaxacan moles. Both lunch and dinner service are recommended, but Hugo’s Saturday brunch is an event. Get the cachetes de puerco en manchamanteles (pork cheeks with fruited mole and homemade tortillas) or the classic huevos rancheros.