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Houston's Best Restaurant Bites

Houston's Best Restaurant Bites: The newcomers, oldies and departing icons that wowed

Triniti restaurant, sign
Triniti became a brunch destination. Photo by Morris Malakoff
News_Marene_Who Moved My Lunch_Sorrel Urban Bistro
Sorrel Urban Bistro offered some unusual upscale takes. Sorrel Urban Bistro/Facebook
Blanco's Bar & Grill, sign
Blanco's hit the end of the road in 2013. Photo by Imelda/Flickr
Kate McLean of Tony's Restaurant Houston
Kate McLean — Tony's first female chef — showed she's one to watch in 2014. Photo courtesy of Tony's
The Palm Houston interiors July 2013 dining room
The Palm went through a major facelift — and emerged better than ever. Photo courtesy of © Palm Restaurant
Triniti restaurant, sign
News_Marene_Who Moved My Lunch_Sorrel Urban Bistro
Blanco's Bar & Grill, sign
Kate McLean of Tony's Restaurant Houston
The Palm Houston interiors July 2013 dining room
News_Marene Gustin_columnist_mug_head shot

Despite a pretty impressive list of restaurant openings right before the holidays, 2013 wasn’t the most memorable of eating years in Houston — although there were some standout dishes.

The year started with two new Sunday brunch menus: Sorrel Urban Bistro and Triniti both opened up to Houston’s busy brunch crowd offering seasonal, creative dishes and cocktails. Both restaurants have offered upscale takes on biscuits and gravy and eggs Benedict. The poached egg dish atop a lobster cake on the current Sorrel menu is pretty amazing.

Longhorn beef continued to make inroads in the Houston dining scene — the meatballs made from University of Texas’ mascot at Giacomo’s Cibo e Vino are delicious.

 In fact, 2013 in Houston eating may be best remembered as a great year for lobster lovers. 

By springtime The Federal Grill had opened in the old Branch Water Tavern spot in the Heights and brought a delightful discovery. I don’t hate eggplant after all! One of the best dishes on menu is the sesame-crusted eggplant Napoleon, a tower of deliciousness with saag paneer, raita and cucumber salad.

One of the most amazing bites of 2013 has to be Ronnie Killen’s beef short ribs at his pop up barbecue joint in Pearland. Hopefully, the brick and mortar version will open shortly and we can get this incredible meat all week long.

There was plenty of wonderful tuna and steak tartar to be had this year as well as oysters galore in many forms. And there was lobster, lots of lobster, and one of the year’s most anticipated openings was Maine-ly Sandwiches inside the Loop shop offering decadent, authentic lobster rolls.

And speaking of lobsters, The Palm reopened this summer with a $5 million facelift and giant lobsters parading amongst the tables. In fact, 2013 in Houston eating may be best remembered as a great year for lobster lovers. I think my favorite dish at The Palm is the Nova Scotia lobster and bacon (yes, bacon!) fondue served with warm pretzel rolls.

Restaurant Delights & Closings

This fall was also the time I discovered afternoon tea at The Queen Vic Pub & Kitchen. Long a fan of their beef Anna sandwich, the sweet and savory tea includes scones and clotted cream and tasty finger sandwiches. And although the brewed tea is delicious, you can also order off the afternoon cocktail and beer menu.

Then there was the fall menu at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. I had a glorious dinner there with chef James Cole as a dining companion. There was the iced seafood tower (more lobster!), wonderful steakhouse sides and sourdough bread and then an incredible 35-ounce, wet-aged tomahawk. When it comes to steak I’m pretty much a black and blue filet mignon person, but this steak was amazing. Sadly, it was a fall special and is no longer on the menu.

 You either loved it or hated it, but it was an institution for more than 30 years in River Oaks, the last of the Houston city honky tonks. 

Alas, also no longer is Blanco’s Bar & Grill. You either loved it or hated it, but it was an institution for more than 30 years in River Oaks, the last of the Houston city honky tonks. Great country bands at night and a busy lunch crowd that came for the cheap beer and good burgers. On the last day of service I joined friends and family for one last burger and curly fries. May be one of my best dining memories of 2013.

OK, may be second best. I think the best might have been a holiday celebration lunch with family and friends at Tony’s in December. Always a go-to spot for celebrations because of the great food and superb service, this luncheon was the best ever thanks to legendary restaurateur Tony Vallone who had new head chef Kate McLean send out course after course of divine dishes.

Possibly the best dish of 2013 was her Alba truffle soufflé, a delicate, delectable, earthy dish that just melts in your mouth. The youthful chef McLean is the first female sous chef and head chef at Tony’s and she’s one I’ll be watching in 2014.

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