Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Houston Fed 50: Nos. 40-36

The countdown continues for my 50 favorite places to dine around Houston. Click here for my self-imposed eligibility guidelines where you can also find links to the first ten spots on the list.

Puntas chimino from Alicia's Mexican Grille
No. 40 Alicia's Mexican Grille (Multiple locations): I feel I would be doing our city a disservice if I did not have at least one Tex-Mex place on the list, and Alicia's Mexican Grille is worthy. Having been to both the Katy and Cypress locations, I can vouch for the quality and consistency of the food Alicia's is putting out. Some of the more popular Tex-Mex chains around town have seen a decline in quality and an increase in price over the years, but Alicia's remains an affordable option for a good Tex-Mex meal despite their growing roster that now includes four locations. My go-to order at Alicia's is the puntas chimino: chunks of beef tenderloin cooked with bacon, jalapeños, mushrooms and onions and served with a great avocado relish over which my wife and I go to battle. In true Tex-Mex style it is a large enough portion to bring some leftovers home for a meal the next day. It is a spicy dish, so if that isn't your speed the fajitas and enchiladas are a safer and still very good choice.
Zucca (left) and Margherita (right) pizzas at Dolce Vita. Pardon the lighting.
No. 39 Dolce Vita Pizzeria Enoteca (Montrose): I go back and forth in my head on which Houston pizza is my favorite, Dolce Vita or Pizaro's. Truth be told I still haven't decided, but the research sure is fun and the competition will only increase with Dallas favorite Cane Rosso opening in The Heights later this year. The pizzas at Dolce Vita are Neapolitan style with a vast selection of toppings. One of my personal favorites is the zucca featuring charred thin crust topped with buffalo mozzarella, butternut squash, pancetta, and red onion. Dolce Vita is more than just good pizza though; the various fritto options and cured meats are not to be missed, and Chef Marco Wiles' team does great things with vegetables. The grilled broccoli with pecorino and a perfectly roasted cauliflower are wonderful examples of excellence in simplicity.

No. 38 Café TH (EaDo): Houston's large Vietnamese population means that there are a plethora of options from which to choose when in the mood for a banh mi, a bowl of pho, or any other Vietnamese delicacy. Cafe TH more than fills that role for the east end crowd. Owner Minh Nguyen is always present to greet customers, answer questions, and check on tables at his small cafe that serves up  delicious, affordable weekday lunches. My personal favorite is the xiu mai (pork meatball) banh mi, but I'm often swayed by the rotating list of daily specials Nguyen offers. The house made spring rolls are always crisp and fresh too, if you feel a lunch appetizer is in order. In a time where most fast food meals approach the ten dollar level, Cafe TH is one of the best lunch options in town when it comes to price and quality.

No. 37 Marini's Empanada House (Katy & Westchase): Katy is undergoing a bit of a restaurant revolution. Some of the chain restaurants are closing (bye-bye Steak 'n Shake) and more family owned and chef driven restaurants are opening. Long before the improvement in this suburb's dining scene, when family owned places were scarce, there was Marini's. Located in a small strip center on Mason Road near Westheimer Parkway, Marini's serves handmade savory and sweet empanadas. Savory options include a spicy pulled pork with onions and cilantro and a chicken poblano with mole. The fried pockets arrive hot and golden brown with a side of Marini's bright chimichurri sauce. Two empanadas is usually a good serving size, though a table of two hungry diners may opt for an order of five to share. The service is attentive and friendly; you'll almost always be served by a member of the Marini family. Another reason that Marini's became a favorite of mine when I lived in Katy: they are big fans of craft beer and keep a great selection at the store. Can't find the latest "get in line at Spec's" offering from a popular brewery? Check Marini's- you may be able to get one to go.

Mexican chocolate and horchata swirl in a brown butter waffle cone.
No. 36 Fat Cat Creamery (The Heights): It's hard not to love ice cream. It's even harder not to love Fat Cat Creamery's frozen treats. This small batch ice cream outpost began a few years ago by selling to different vendors in the city such as Revival Market as well as a small rolling cart which they'd take out to places like Buchanan Plants in The Heights to peddle their wares. It was there that I first had both their Mexican vanilla ice cream and their strawberry and buttermilk made with Waterlooo gin. After building up a strong customer base, "the cats," as they are known to call themselves, opened up a shop at Shepherd and 19th Street. In their small but inviting space they offer both of the aforementioned vanilla and strawberry flavors as well as a milk chocolate stout and an array of rotating flavors. Feeling nostalgic? Go for their soft serve flavor of the day in one of Fat Cat's signature brown butter waffle cones. My favorite find there was an horchata and Mexican chocolate soft serve swirl. Next time you're out for a meal in The Heights (Fat Cat is a stone's throw away from Southern Goods, Hunky Dory, and Bernadine's), skip dessert at the restaurant and cap off your night with a couple scoops.

1 comment:

Kim said...

That horchata and Mexican chocolate soft serve at Fat Cat is absolutely unreal.