Where I'm Eating Now

7 favorite to-go dishes from Houston restaurants offer memorable meals

7 favorite to-go dishes from Houston restaurants offer memorable meals

Shelby, Best of Everything, Etoile, March 2013, restaurant interior
Etoile's dining room may be closed, but its cuisine is still available. Photo by Debora Smail/RealityPhotography

Hard to believe it’s only been two weeks since Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo ordered all restaurants to close their dining rooms to help slow the spread of COVID-19. With the order's extension until April 30, it's going to be May (at least) before they reopen.

While some restaurants have temporarily closed, many are operating by selling meals for delivery and to-go. As someone who is both a fan of restaurants and not inclined to cook, I have been availing myself of the opportunity to support establishments by purchasing their food.

In keeping with the spirit of Judge Hidalgo’s Stay-Home/Work-Safe order, most of my dining has been limited to restaurants in or near Montrose. A month ago, I thought nothing of heading up to Old Town Spring to try tacos at Belly of the Beast, a promising new restaurant from a chef with a serious pedigree, but those sort of journeys seem gratuitous — even though chef Austin Simmons’ pictures of the new family-style desserts at Tris do look good

In picking restaurants, I’ve made a deliberate choice to support locally owned, independent businesses. I know every restaurant employs local workers, but the Chick-fil-As and Shake Shacks of the world will survive without my dollars. To keep more money at the restaurants and to save myself expensive fees, I’m mostly picking up orders myself rather than utilizing third party delivery apps.

Here’s a few of my favorite meals from two weeks of semi-quarantine.

Chow Wok 
Through a long standing friendship with owner Matt Chow, I received a delivery of garlic fried rice ($8.95), shrimp egg rolls ($3.50), and hot and sour soup ($1.50). The fried rice provided a sufficient portion for two meals, and the intense garlic flavor is perfect for social distancing.

El Topo 
Chefs Tony Luhrman and Mike Serva have temporarily scaled back some of the more ambitious elements of their dinner menu, but the tacos they’re serving from the restaurant’s to-go window remain vital. My order included both a Houston (beef barbacoa with epazote aioli, $5) and an Austin (roasted vegetables with adobo sauce, $5) as well as a slice of their Basque-style cheesecake ($5).

Étoile Cuisine et Bar 
It had been at least a couple years since I visited chef Philippe Verpiand’s French restaurant in Uptown Park, but a meal of tomato salad ($14), risotto with shrimp and asparagus ($22), and apple tart ($10) has been a highlight of my recent dining. Seasoned with lemon and saffron, the risotto possessed real depth of flavor, and the shrimp has been nicely seared.

Good Dog Houston 
A Chi-town (Chicago-style hot dog with tomato, pickles, relish, etc., $7.75) and a Chillin’ Dog (chili, pickled jalapeño, diced onion, $7.50) made for a highly satisfying meal. Travel may have even improved the meal a bit by allowing the chili to ooze into the bun.

Kenny & Ziggy's
A pastrami sandwich ($17.95), a potato knish ($6.95), and a slice of seven layer cake (on special for $4) satisfied a deli craving and provided enough food for two meals. The restaurant gives each knish a quick blast in the oven before serving, ensuring the pastry arrives crispy and flaky. 

Riel 
Sometimes, a person needs the comfort that can only come from steak and potatoes. Enter Riel’s hanger steak with cheddar and potato pierogi ($29), which came out nicely medium with a generous side of horseradish cream sauce. The meal also including a gem lettuce salad, the restaurant’s take on a wedge, that comes with plenty of blue cheese, bacon, and tomatoes.

Romano’s Pizza 
A 14-inch pie with sausage and peppers ($22) satisfied a craving for a New York-style pizza. Romano’s serves a classic, foldable slice with a slightly doughy crust that holds up well to travel and reheating.