Hoffman's Houston
keepin' it 100

Ken Hoffman on why everyone should read CultureMap's Top 100 restaurants list

Ken Hoffman on why everyone should read CultureMap's Top 100 list

Riel restaurant 44 Farms bone-in ribeye
What does the Drive-Thru Gourmet think of our Top 100 list? Photo by Bradford Eu

Have you checked out CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler’s thoughtful and sober ranking of the “Top 100 restaurants in Houston?”

Pity poor Eric, having to put in those long days and nights eating the best meals at the finest restaurants in one of the great restaurant cities in America. Yeah, tough job.

As Reese’s candy says: “Not sorry.”

One hundred restaurants — that sounds like a lot. But think about all the restaurants that didn’t make the list. Now, I’m doubly impressed.

A (food) man of the people
Here’s what I respect most about Eric’s list. I don’t think he will mind me saying this: Eric is a food snob. He has to have his nose in the air to maneuver around a menu at a ridiculously exclusive, high-end restaurant and know what’s good and bad.

But Eric also has the common touch. Proof? I’ve eaten lunch with Eric at the Golden Corral. There was more blood in my fried chicken than a Scorsese gangster movie. We’re going to B-Dubs this week because I bragged so much about their new beer-battered chicken sandwich.

Of course, there’s nothing more subjective than restaurants, so Eric’s list is the ultimate conversation piece and argument-starter. I sit next to Eric at Gow Media World Headquarters, and we occasionally disagree about restaurants, plus I have some gripes with his list.

One time, I took some out-of-town friends to a popular barbecue restaurant for dinner, only to be told by the owner, we’re out of this and that. I was not happy one bit, what a lousy way to run a restaurant. Eric explained that’s the way of the barbecue world: sometimes good barbecue places run out of brisket. Brisket takes hours and hours to prepare, it’s not like they can whip up more brisket on the spot. I should have gone there for lunch.

I said restaurants that habitually run of out menu items have something in common with Texans coach Bill O’Brien: bad clock management. If you’re going to stay open for dinner, like this barbecue joint, then make damn sure you have your best-sellers available for dinner.

Anyway, I think some barbecue places run out of brisket on purpose to build their reputation as something special. I also think Popeyes running out of chicken sandwiches last week was a hoax.

I’ve eaten at only six of Eric’s Top 100: Killen’s STK (for Bobby Mintz’s surprise birthday lunch — I sat next to Jeff Bagwell), the Pit Room, Bernie’s Burger Bus, Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen Restaurant, B&B Butchers, and Tony’s.

Tony’s? A few years after I got to Houston, the general manager of Tony’s called me and said, “My son is crazy for Hulk Hogan. If you can arrange for him to meet Hulk Hogan, I’ll treat you and three friends for dinner at Tony’s.” The next time that WWE was in town … “Kid, meet Hulk Hogan.” I had the duck.

One time my editor at the Chronicle said, “I have an idea. Why don’t you go eat the $125 hot dog at B&B Butchers?” It was a total gimmick and I expensed it to the Chronicle. The hot dog at Beck’s Prime is a hundred times better and (slightly) less expensive.

The One
We sometimes have this discussion: If you had to eat at only one restaurant, every meal for the rest of your life, which one would it be? I love the fried shrimp po’boy at BB’s Café, but I couldn’t eat there every day. I would need a restaurant that opens early for breakfast and stays open late for dinner. I would need a restaurant with a varied menu with lots of different kinds of food.

The answer is obvious: Kenny & Ziggy’s. The menu is like the Manhattan phone book. Owner Ziggy Gruber is obsessive about quality, everything is top-rate. His burger patties are flown in daily from Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors in New York.

Ken and Eric's food fight
Here’s where Eric and I might have to build a wall between our desks to stop the arguing. (Editor's note: We have no current budget for this.)

My favorite pizza place is Grimaldi’s Coal Brick Oven Pizzeria, a few locations in Houston. I think it’s the only pizza that, if you closed your eyes, you couldn’t tell it apart from the great pizza joints in New York City.

Eric prefers … I don’t even know what he prefers because I can’t listen to anything he says about pizza if it’s not Grimaldi’s.

Hey, I’m a restaurant critic, too (the Drive-Thru Gourmet). Maybe I should come up with my own Top 100 list. There are so many McDonald’s in the Houston area, I could rate them 1-100.

Bottom line: Look, I’ve been around a lot of restaurant critics, and each one seems to have a Best Restaurants list. Some of these critics ... let’s say I don’t trust their judgment, and I wouldn’t want to have dinner with them … again. Fool me once.

Eric’s ranking is, by far, the most reliable and dependable — and I trust his judgment.

On everything except pizza.


You can find CultureMap's Top 100 list here