Andrew Harper's West 2013

From Andrew Harper

Covering nearly 600 square miles, Texas' largest city often can feel like an ungainly, sprawling and humid monster, and Houston has long been known more as a business center than a tourist destination. But there is much to recommend this Lone Star powerhouse, and the open-minded traveler will relish the unique mix of regional and cosmopolitan flavor.

Houston's demographics — like those of much of the state — are strongly Latino, a feature reflected in city institutions like the Talento Bilingüe de Houston, one of the largest Latino cultural centers in the country, and a vibrant food scene heavily influenced by Mexican and Central American cooking. Houston's diversity extends to a new Asiatown, where the massive Hong Kong City Mall offers a smorgasbord of exotic foods and shopping. And the city's African-American heritage shines through in venues such as the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum and The Ensemble Theatre, a black theater company of national prominence. American cowboy culture is alive and well here, too — the world's largest livestock show and rodeo happens each spring. South of the city, NASA's Johnson Space Center trains astronauts and welcomes visitors to its displays of U.S. achievements in space.

All recommended restaurants in Houston

Brennan’s of Houston

The owners here are the same Brennans of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, so, under the watchful eye of Alex Brennan-Martin, you will find culinary reminders of the Creole tradition. Houston, after all, is known as the “Bayou City.” Look for starters such as rich Gulf Coast seafood gumbo generously stocked with fish and shellfish, or a delicious Texas wild shrimp remoulade with shrimp-boil vegetables, new potatoes, butter lettuce and preserved lemon. Main courses might include the Brennan classic pecan-crusted Gulf fish with crushed corn maque choux, French beans and mixed greens; or succulent lamb chops with a crust of Creole mustard.

3300 Smith Street
Houston, TX 77006
United States
$50
Da Marco
Housed in a renovated cottage, this is an unpretentious but sophisticated Italian restaurant. Chef Marco Wiles comes from Friuli in Italy, and spent many hours with his aunt learning the regional cuisine. Look for antipasti such as shaved celery salad with beets, and Pecorino artichokes alla giudea. Among the primi courses, you might find an indulgent single raviolo filled with ricotta, egg and truffles. Secondi might include lamb chops scottadito (quickly cooked on each side) or Chianti-braised short ribs with a burrata risotto. The wine list is full of intriguing Italian regional wines.
1520 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77006
United States
$55
Mark’s
The setting for this restaurant is a former church with a magnificent golden arched ceiling. The cuisine is New American as interpreted by chef Mark Cox. The menu changes frequently, but starters might include duck ravioli and foie gras with peach and cherry preserves; prosciutto-crusted quail and toasted brioche served with a Madeira sauce; or roasted oysters topped with a ragout of jumbo crabmeat, shrimp and roasted leeks in a truffle-aioli vinaigrette. Main courses could be grilled Scottish salmon with a coconut risotto, yuzu-citrus carrots and crispy sesame shrimp; or black walnut-crusted rack and loin of Colorado lamb with potatoes in three colors and thyme-roasted spring squash and zucchini with a basil-Madeira sauce.
1658 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77006
United States
$80
Tony’s

Perfectlyexecutedlighting,subtlecinnamon-coloredleatherseatsanda fabulous art collection (just the two Rauschenbergs would make it notable) make this striking modern dining room one of the most captivating in Houston. Here, the celebrated Tony Vallone looks after his guests, who have come for his superb French-Italian food. You might begin with one of the superb pastas, such as pansoti filled with squash and served with Parmesan and sage essence, or the hand-rolled garganelli with Calabrian chilies, shrimp and pancetta meatballs and fava beans. Main courses could include seared red snapper with jumbo lump crabmeat, leek purée and a rich Barolo reduction; or a center-cut veal chop with arugula and oyster mushrooms in a concentrated sauce of Chianti and portobellos. The wine list has more than 1,100 selections.

3755 Richmond Avenue
Houston, TX 77046
United States