Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Houston Fed 50: the ground rules

Here's the list so far: Nos. 50-46  |  Nos. 45-41  |  Nos. 40-36  |  Nos. 35-31  |  Nos. 30-26
                                          Nos. 25-21  |  Nos. 20-16  |  Nos. 15-11  |  Nos. 10-6  |  Nos. 5-1

When I first began this undertaking, I knew it would be daunting. It ended up being even more difficult than I'd imagined. How does one put together a list like this in a city so sprawling and so diverse in its cuisine? How could I could compare a burger joint to a fine dining restaurant? Where does great barbecue fit in with the James Beard nominees of Houston? There were no perfect answers. I decided I needed to set some ground rules for myself to keep some semblance of structure to the list. Here were my parameters:

Rule No. 1: Only places I had visited more than once would be eligible for the list. There are plenty of great places in the city which I either have not visited, or only had a single meal at for one reason or another. If one of your favorite places isn't on the list, there's an excellent chance that I just have not dined there enough to make what I feel is an informed assessment. All restaurant recommendations are welcomed!

Rule No. 2: Personal biases, either positive or negative, absolutely could not factor into the equation. Over the course of time there have been chefs and restaurant owners with whom I've developed personal relationships. Conversely, there have been others for whom I have a less than rosy opinion. Neither end of the spectrum will play a role in this list, unless it pertains to the dining experience. Plainly put, service matters. The full dining experience, relative to the type of restaurant, factors in to my perception of each place. Of course I do not expect the same type of service from a white linen, sit down restaurant as I would a hole in the wall, counter service Vietnamese place.

Rule No. 3: This is not a ranking of the fifty best restaurants in Houston. There are places you won't see on this list that serve a higher quality of cuisine than places that are on the list. This list is meant to represent a variety of different types of cuisine at various price points throughout our city. Tony's is not on this list. Does it mean that Bill's Cafe in Kingwood (no. 50 on the list) serves better food than they do? Of course not. But it could mean that, relative to price, I feel more confident that a patron will walk out of Bill's feeling better about their dining decision than they would had I recommended they go to Tony's. This is not meant to single out Tony's, I chose them as an example because I have never eaten there. That's not to say that there won't be some high dollar restaurants on this list, but price relative to experience is a factor.

Rule No. 4: This list will encompass not just Houston proper, but the surrounding areas. As someone who has lived in various Houston suburbs for nearly my entire adult life, I am a firm believer that Houston's outskirts are an extension of the city. I know that comes as a shock to many inner-loopers, but there is worthy cuisine outside the boundaries of 610. Venture out once in a while; you might be surprised!

Rule No. 5: No outside food writer influence. The Houston Chronicle's Alison Cook is among the most respected food writers in the country, and for good reason. Her annual top 100 list is always a fun exploration of what our city has to offer. Culturemap's Eric Sandler is often on the front lines of all new Houston restaurant news, and his monthly hot lists serve as a great resource for me and other enthusiastic food seekers in our city. If you haven't been reading Phaedra Cook's restaurant reviews for The Houston Press, or the insightful stories that Katharine Shilcutt, Alice Levitt, and company are doing over at Houstonia, you're missing out on some great food writing. That said, I definitely don't always agree with their takes on every restaurant, nor would I expect them to agree with mine. Food is subjective. It would be easy to compile a list of all of their favorites and call it a day, but there are enough aggregator sites around these days.

This list is filled with my opinions of Houston food, for better or worse. Feel free to disagree with me or call me crazy, but please trust that my opinions come from an honest, informed place. I will release a new batch of five places each week for the next ten weeks until I reach number one. I hope you follow along until the end. It should be a fun trip.

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