What is a foodie?
A soon-to-be-released documentary attempts to depict at least one aspect of foodie-dom: the globe-trotting obsessives who try to complete the full list of Michelin three-star restaurants or world's 50 best. Those people are few and far between, of course, but the movie does point to a certain snobbery that's bound up in the word's definition.
Locally, that snobbery manifests itself as a disdain for certain restaurants. Places become unfashionable for a variety of reasons, and all of a sudden no self-respecting foodie will set foot in the door. Which is fine, except that all 10 places on the list below still serve good food.
Just to be clear, I don't have a problem with foodies in general. Without them, I probably wouldn't have this job. I just don't like snobs. If you're a foodie who likes these restaurants, then we're totally cool.
Got more to add? Head to the comments. Think this is a stupid idea for a top 10 list? You probably headed for the comments as soon as you saw the headline.
As I discussed the idea for this article with a couple of friends, we all agreed Pappasito's belongs at the top of the list for serving some of the best fajitas anywhere. Foodies tend to dismiss the Tex-Mex empire for long waits and high prices, but, if anything, the long wait is only proof of its popularity. No, popularity doesn't always indicate quality, but Houstonians are pretty smart when it comes to Tex-Mex. Low-quality operations don't last long. As for high prices, the generous portions and the solicitous service more than justify the expense. Or brave the crowds on Wednesday for half-price fajitas.
Foodies hate Barnaby's because they contend that the casual, comfortable, neighborhood restaurant doesn't serve any outstanding dishes. Or maybe that's it's a Montrose-friendly Chili's ripoff. Instead, I think of Barnaby's as a crowd-pleasing, less expensive version of Houston's (the rare, foodie-acceptable national chain, but that's another list). Consider the baby back ribs; $17 brings a full rack and two tasty sides. Don't like the seasoned, shoestring fries (me neither), swap out for the awesome sauteed spinach. Trying to eat lighter? Go with one of the massive salads that's easily enough for two meals.
As noted in the Top 10 pizza article, few restaurants generate as much foodie hate as Star Pizza. They knock it for over-loading the pizzas with too many toppings and soggy crusts. Yet, both locations attract consistent crowds. What's the compromise? Stay away from the deep dish in favor of the sturdier, whole wheat pan crust. Skip the six-topping Starburst in favor of the simple purity of the sauteed spinach and garlic on a Joe's. Either way, enjoy the simple, homemade vinaigrette dressing on the house salad and the crispy, buttery perfection of the garlic bread.
For many Houstonians, Kim Son probably offered their first taste of Vietnamese food, even if it was rice paper spring rolls or lettuce-wrapped Vietnamese "fajitas." Kim Son loses points with foodies for offering the familiar, Chinese-American comforts of wonton soup and sesame chicken alongside the Vietnamese dishes, but what's so bad about that? Chicken drenched in cornstarch, fried and covered in a sweet/spicy sauce is freaking delicious. Add to that efficient service that never lets iced tea glasses get less than half-full, and it's a recipe for 30 years of sustained success. Sure, there are more authentic restaurants in town, but none of them serve black pepper crab.
Don't think foodies hate Texas's most-beloved fast food joint? Check out these articles by Chronicle critic Alison Cook and food writer Mai Pham that crush Whataburger's signature burger. "What a disappointment," Pham writes. Does Whataburger hold up to the more gourmet offerings from Hubcap Grill or Bernie's Burger Bus? Of course not. Is it fast, made to order and capable of satisfying a craving 24-hours a day? Absolutely. Factor in the menu's diversity, including the essential late-night treat of a bacon, egg and cheese taquito, and there's no mystery why Whataburger is so successful.
It's easy to knock the Montrose Greek restaurant for serving food on disposable plates with plastic cutlery, but let's focus on the food rather than the way its presented. Niko Niko's gyros are a gold-standard in Houston, and the braised lamb shank is one of Houston's most underrated dishes. The chicken avgolemono soup is the perfect comfort food when fighting a cold. Get over the plastic ware and appreciate the high-quality fare, efficient service and reasonable prices.
Maybe it's time to accept that Houstonians love Austin-based chains. From Torchy's to Mama Fu's to Pluckers, it seems we can't get enough. So why do foodies love to hate Chuy's, the original Austin import? No, seriously, I'm asking, because the vitriol has never made any sense to me. The prices are reasonable, the portions are huge and creamy jalapeno is good on, well, everything. Fried burritos aren't exactly haute cuisine, but anyone who expects the restaurant to elevate Tex-Mex is delusional. Go for happy hour when the Texas martinis are cheap and the nacho bar is free. Really, can anyone hate a restaurant that celebrates hatch chili season?
Generally, no self-respecting foodie will admit to patronizing any national chains, especially one that offers an upscale take on traditional Chinese-American food. Yet, multiple people with whom I discussed this list mentioned the restaurant that sprang from the mind of Paul Fleming, the same individual who gave the world Fleming's Steakhouse. While the cuisine may not be cutting edge, it is consistent, and consistently delicious. Just try to say no to the one-two, sweet-spicy punch of dishes like Chang's Spicy Chicken. Add to that the extensive array of vegetarian and gluten-free dishes, and P.F. Chang's becomes a crowd-pleasing destination.
In this burger-obsessed city, Becks Prime has built a successful business by doing things the right way: cooked-to-order, never-frozen patties; soft, eggy, fresh-baked buns; and fresh toppings. Yet, I snubbed the chain in my Top 10 burger list, and blogger Hank on Food maintains a top 20 burger list that doesn't include Becks. Perhaps the lack of trendy toppings hurts its reputation with foodies, but the simple combination of high-quality beef and mesquite wood provide all the flavor that's required. On the other hand, the limp fries still need work.
When it opened in the '90s, this lively, casual Italian spot from restaurateur Tony Vallone was a see-and-be-seen hotspot. After Vallone sold it to Landry's in 2003, the inevitable carping began about how the new owners "ruined" the restaurant. Surely other restaurant owners aspire to ruin meaning a consistently full dining room. In reality, Landry's maintained many of the same personnel and recipes from the Vallone days. Does it achieve the same heights as the current Vallone's concept Ciao Bello? Probably not. Is it still serving consistently executed, Italian-inspired cuisine to hundreds of people a day? Absolutely.