Culinary awards are usually reserved for restaurants with big-name chefs, limited hours, and high price points. For the Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year category, we recognize the places people go for an everyday meal.
Need to grab a quick lunch? Too exhausted after work to cook dinner? A neighborhood restaurant is there to provide consistently good food, friendly service, and affordable prices.
To assemble the nominees in the of Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year, we asked our panel of former winners and industry experts to pick restaurants that are open for lunch and dinner almost every day of the week. Ideally, these are the restaurants they’re dining at on their days off.
Who will win? Find out at the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards party presented by Woodford Reserve on March 27 at Silver Street Studios. We’ll reveal the winners, sip cocktails, and dine on bites provided by the nominees. Tickets are on sale now.
Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine
Not only does this Mediterranean cafeteria serve excellent food, it serves that food all the time. When other restaurants are closed — whether for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas or just to take a day off — Aladdin is serving up pita, hummus, kebabs, and its signature lamb shank. An extensive selection of vegetable sides means it’s possible to eat healthy, and reasonable prices make it easy to eat there often. No wonder this restaurant recently added a second location in Garden Oaks.
Field & Tides
No surprise that last year’s Best New Restaurant winner has been nominated in this category. With a mix of seafood, meat, and even vegan items, chef Travis Lenig’s Southern-inspired menu caters to just about every taste. Cocktails anchor the beverage program, alongside an appealing selection of wine and beer. Adding a private dining space and expanding the patio even allows the restaurant to serve as a venue for special occasions.
Giacomo's Cibo e Vino
Chef-owner Lynette Hawkins’ casual Italian restaurant has a reputation for being underrated, but people usually mean it doesn’t receive much press attention. While “Giacomo’s, still awesome” isn’t a take that’s going to generate a lot of debate, the restaurant is universally acknowledged as one of Houston’s most consistently excellent dining experiences. Whether a diner is seeking a light lunch of small vegetable plates or a multi-course meal built around the excellent pastas (both housemade and imported), Giacomo’s offers a variety of consistently appealing choices. The well-priced list of Italian wines makes it too easy to spend an afternoon lingering on the patio.
Gus's Fried Chicken
Even though Houston already has plenty of options for fried chicken, this Memphis import has made a splash. Credit the thin, crispy batter that keeps the chicken hot and juicy. Reasonable prices and quick service balance out the so-so sides. Also, it’s nice when a restaurant has a sense of humor; at least, we hope serving Mickey’s Malt Liquor in 40-ounce bottles is meant ironically.
For a 40-plus-year-old chain restaurant, Houston’s has been attracting a lot of buzz. James Beard Award winner Justin Yu recently gave the restaurant a shout out in the Houston Chronicle, praising it for consistent execution and friendly service. He’s not alone; diners who pop in for dinner on a Sunday or Monday night are likely to find chefs, bartenders, and servers from some of the city’s best restaurants chowing down on prime rib and knocking back a couple of perfectly executed martinis. To steal a line from one of the '80s most accomplished poets, it’s hip to be square — and to eat at Houston’s.
Every right-thinking Houstonian loves the simple pleasure of a $7 bowl of pho, but significant rewards await those who are willing to spend a few dollars more. Chef Cat Nguyen’s beef, chicken, and vegan broths show incredible depth of flavor without relying on the palm sugar and other tricks that make less expensive pho so delectable. An appealing menu of small plates and intriguing specials — the Vietnamese street corn is particularly addictive — allow Les Noo’dle to stand apart from its more traditional peers.
Open every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, this Upper Kirby restaurant defines the utility that marks a great neighborhood restaurant. Its ambitious menu of Indian-inspired fare offers something for vegetarians, omnivores, and even people with a sweet tooth (via the upstairs Bake Lab). Picking a favorite dish is tricky, which is what makes the signature thalis so appealing; they offer a sampler of different tastes for a reasonable price and are easy to split between a couple of people.
The Original Ninfa's on Navigation
As this week’s James Beard Award semifinalist nomination for the country’s most outstanding restaurant demonstrates, the Houston institution that brought fajitas to the world isn’t resting on its laurels. After a comprehensive series of upgrades to its dining room, patio, and kitchen, The Original Ninfa’s might be better than ever. Sure, the fajitas, queso, and enchiladas are as delicious as ever, but chef Alex Padilla keeps things interesting with specials like lamb barbacoa, wood-roasted octopus, and current favorite rabbit in red mole. Adding chef Jason Gould to the team ensures that the upcoming Galleria-area location will be just as successful as its Second Ward sibling.
The Pit Room
At a time when many high-quality barbecue joints are only open for lunch or five days a week, this Montrose restaurant turns out excellent ‘cue for lunch and dinner seven days a week. That means the restaurant’s two wood-fired offset smokers are basically running 24/7, but the result is that Montrose residents can satisfy a craving for juicy brisket, housemade sausage, and succulent pork ribs at just about any time. Tex-Mex touches like queso, housemade salsas, and tortillas that use smoked brisket fat not only help it stand out from other barbecue joints — they’ll power a spinoff restaurant that’s opening this summer.