Of course, we love all of the categories for the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards. Rising Star Chef, Bartender of the Year, Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: together, these categories demonstrate the diversity and talent of Houston’s culinary scene.
But a couple of categories are, shall we say, slightly more special than others; they are Restaurant of the Year and Chef of the Year. After all, people always want to know two things: what’s the best restaurant in Houston right now? Who’s the best chef?
Let’s start with the restaurant category (chefs will follow tomorrow). These are the places that Houstonians seek out for special occasions and recommend to visitors because they deliver consistently outstanding food, drinks, and service. In a city full of great restaurants, these are the best of the best, according to our judges panel of former winners and restaurants industry experts.
Find out who wins at the Tastemaker Awards party on Wednesday night. We’ll dine on bites from 20 of the nominated chefs and restaurants before emcee Bun B hosts the awards ceremony. Get tickets before they sell out.
BCN Taste & Tradition
Don’t tell Luis Roger that fine dining is dead or that Houstonians are only interested in steakhouses. Not only is his Spanish restaurant in Montrose one of the few dining rooms where diners get dressed up, it’s consistently one of the city’s toughest reservations. The combination of Roger’s expert preparations of rigorously sourced ingredients and the disciplined service provided by general manager Paco Calza and his staff have proven to be irresistible. Later this year, Roger and BCN owner Ignacio Torras will open the more casual tapas-style MAD in River Oaks District — bringing the chef’s cuisine to an all new audience. 4210 Roseland
Already considered one of the city’s most reliable Indo-Pak restaurants, Himalaya has stepped things up over the past couple of years. Chef-owner Kaiser Lashkari has added Southern-inspired dishes to his menu of Indian classics. Now the only challenge for diners is deciding whether to stick with favorites like masala fish and hunter’s beef or to embrace new favorites like masala chicken fried steak and crawfish etouffee. Better to go with a big group and order as much as possible. 6652 Southwest Freeway
Whether in its form as Houston’s hottest steakhouse or its current incarnation as an upscale European-inspired restaurant, One Fifth represents chef Chris Shepherd’s vision for putting his unique spin on familiar fare. At Romance Languages, Shepherd and his crew traded the decadence of the steakhouse’s baller boards for a more precise, technique-driven cuisine — hell, he has the whole city eating duck heart bolognese. In September, he’ll roll out One Fifth Mediterranean, which will give the James Beard Award winner the opportunity to put his spin on one of the country’s trendiest cuisines. We can smell the pita already. 1658 Westheimer
State of Grace
The beauty of Ford Fry’s River Oaks restaurant is that it’s so flexible — equally fitting as a happy hour destination for a dozen oysters and a glass of wine as it is for a no holds barred tasting menu dinner at the chef’s counter. Surely some of the credit goes to the decor, which could be wildly over-the-top but somehow feels just perfect. Some to the service, which balances friendliness with knowing when to back off and leave people (like a food writer on a date) alone. Then there’s chef Bobby Matos’ food, which seems to change just often enough that there’s always something new to try. 3258 Westheimer
The Pass & Provisions
With Underbelly, Oxheart, and Triniti having closed, only The Pass & Provisions remains from the class of locally-owned, super-ambitious, chef-driven restaurants that opened between the end of 2011 and the end of 2012. Only chefs Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan are still doing what they’ve always done for almost six years now: turning out an ambitious tasting menu at The Pass and consistently well-executed, interesting fare pizzas, pastas, and other dishes at Provisions. If anything, cutting down the number of courses at The Pass and opening Provisions for brunch and dinner on Sundays has made both concepts more accessible than ever. If the national press has moved on to champion newer arrivals, at least Houstonians still recognize both restaurants’ consistent excellence. 807 Taft
Houstonians have long understood the difference between regional Mexican cuisine and Tex-Mex, but Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught’s restaurant in downtown’s Marriott Marquis hotel introduced the city to the flavors of Oaxaca in a way that was entirely new. From its housemade queso garnished with edible insects to precisely-cooked moles that offer an incredible depth of flavors, Xochi took diners to places they may not have realized even existed. Add in pastry chef Ruben Ortega’s most ambitious desserts to date and beverage director Sean Beck’s mezcal-heavy cocktail program, and the result is a restaurant that’s earned citywide, regional, and national acclaim. 1777 Walker