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Breaking down the second round of Final Four restaurant challenge: We've gotnailbiters!
If you thought the first round of The Big Dance Restaurant Challenge had some epic battles, just look at how round two is shaking out.
The Sweet 16 that advanced are going head to head, and this time more than pride is on the line — in addition to the ultimate bracket winner chosen by voters (like you!), judges will pick three other restaurants to represent Houston at The Big Dance Concert Series from the top eight in this challenge. A victory in this round puts a restaurant in the running to serve food at the Final Four's outdoor party, no matter what happens afterwards, so don't forget to vote for your favorites (remember, you can vote once per day).
I've earned a pretty abysmal record trying to pick winners in the first round, but here's how I see the matchups shaking down.
Arturo's Uptown Italiano vs. Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen
Based on first round wins, one might expect Arturo's to own this match, considering it rolled to the largest victory margin of any restaurant in round one and Sylvia's beat Cadillac Bar at the proverbial buzzer.
But the fight between Arturo's comfortable Italian favorites and Sylvia's relaxed Mexican standards may come down to which cuisine is more popular. This still being Texas, I'll give a slight advantage to Sylvia's.
At the half: As of late Friday afternoon, with this round running until 2:59 p.m. Monday, Sylvia's held a 53 to 47 percent lead.
Chili's vs. Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse
Quality versus quantity: If Chili's wins this, it'll be the upset of the century. Chili's might be a global institution, but we'll take the masculine, luxury-laden Del Frisco's steakhouse over it any day.
At the half: The favorite holds a comfortable 61-39 percent lead over Chili's, but this underdog can't be counted out.
Gigi's Asian Bistro vs. The Tasting Room
There are so many factors to consider here. Dumplings or wine flights? Drunken chicken or goat cheese fritattas? Eating under cherry blossoms or while a flamenco guitarist plays?
I've already given a nod to one giant Galleria establishment, so I'll change it up and join Team Tasting Room.
At the half: Gigi's trials by eight percentage points.
House of Blues vs. Mockingbird Bistro
You know how during March Madness there always seems to be one No. 1 seed that gets gifted with a relatively clear path to the Final Four? I think in the Restaurant Challenge that lucky (but deserving) seed is Mockingbird Bistro. The River Oaks-area favorite should have an upper hand over the House of Blues, and from there, who knows.
At the half: So much for easy! House of Blues leads 54 percent to 46 percent.
Maggiano's Little Italy vs. Quattro
An upscale Italian face-off! Maggiano's has the advantage of a premium, hard-to-miss space near the Galleria, while Quattro is hidden on the second floor of the Four Seasons. I love the big, stick-to-your-bones Italian-via-New York dishes at Maggiano's, but the light touch and straight-from-Florence flavors at Quattro earn my vote.
At the half: Maggiano's is up 53-47 percent.
Niko Niko's vs. Ninfa's on Navigation
The gyros and fries at Niko Niko's are a force to be reckoned with (and so popular there's virtually no competition inside the Loop). But I strayed from Ninfa's last time and I won't do it again — those burgers and the famous Tacos a la Ninfa have too strong a hold on me.
Ouisie's Table vs. Sullivan's Steakhouse
Classics in different ways, Sullivan's cultivates a swank Rat Pack vibe, while Ouisie's functions more like a grande dame of Houston dining, with elegant Southern comfort food and pretty patios. My pick: Ouisie's.
At the half: Sullivan's 55 percent to 45 percent.
Max's Wine Dive vs. Molina's Cantina
These Washington Avenue neighbors are accustomed to fighting for valet parking space, but now they are fighting for a trip to the Elite Eight. Molina's has nearly 70 years of history and a famous Jose's dip, but I predict a Max's win.
At the half: Max's Wine Dive is up 54 percent to 46 percent.