WEDNESDAY, JULY 27, 2016 AT 6 A.M.
The Houston Restaurant Weeks brunch price of $20 means it's a great time to check out 51Fifteen's new digs in The Galleria.
The Houston Restaurant Weeks brunch price of $20 means it's a great time to check out 51Fifteen's new digs in The Galleria.

With more than 200 restaurants participating in Houston Restaurant Weeks this year, choosing where to go can be really tough. We’ve checked out the options and created this guide to help make that decision a little easier.

One of the most interesting aspects of Houston Restaurant Weeks is that the options are broken down by mealtime and price, so our picks are divided the same way. Best bets are listed for each category: $20 lunch, $20 brunch, and dinners at the $25, $35 and $45 price levels. Additionally, there are two picks each for both luxurious splurges by way of menu upgrades and add-ons, as well as menus that abide by the Go Healthy Houston guidelines.

In addition to picking restaurants, we also picked a sample meal based on some of the most tempting individual dishes. 

Check out all the participating restaurants at the Houston Restaurant Weeks website. No matter where diners go, every single Houston Restaurant Weeks meal generates a minimum $3 donation to the Houston Food Bank. Last year's efforts raised more than $1.9 million. This year's dining extravaganza runs from August 1 to September 5, so there's plenty of time to eat many great meals and do a whole lot of good for less fortunate people in Houston. 

$20 Lunch

Artisans, 3201 Louisiana. Of all the business lunch options near downtown, Artisans is one of the best and its $20 Houston Restaurant Weeks lunch menuleaves no excuse not to give the elegant meals a try. Get off to a meaty start with the gâteau de gigot d'agneau braisé, or braised leg of lamb glazed in a sauce with roasted tomatoes. Alongside are ideal accompaniments of mashed potatoes and English peas with mint. Finish with le dôme au chocolat à l'orange sanguine, one of Artisans' typically elegant desserts, with blood orange-tinged dark chocolate mousse, raspberry sorbet and a finishing touch of Kahlúa liqueur sauce. 

Shade, 250 West 19th. This Heights eatery has a new, lovely look thanks to a recent remodel and a new chef, Kenten Marin, in the kitchen. With three courses, the $20 Houston Restaurant Weeks lunch is a great deal. Start with roasted cauliflower accented with lemon brown butter and sea salt mixed with a touch of sage before diving into a hearty six-ounce portion of agave-glazed pork belly with grilled pineapple and scallion slaw. As for the wrap-up, a slice of rich coconut cream pie sounds like Southern seduction on a plate.

$20 Brunch  

 Brennan’s of Houston, 3300 Smith. We recently put together a list of the best brunches in Houston, and diners will be able to try our top pick for only $20. Brunch is available at Brennan’s of Houston on both Saturdays and Sundays (although the roving jazz band, as shown in the video above, plays only on Sundays). Start with a cup of either the famous snapping turtle soup with a splash of sherry or the duck and collard green gumbo with toasted garlic “jazzmen rice” before moving on to meaty Southern beef grillades with grits made creamier than usual with goat cheese. Check out all the restaurant's Houston Restaurant Weeks meal offerings online. 

 51Fifteen, 5115 Westheimer

At the end of last April, 51Fifteen in the Galleria revealed the results of its big remodeling and expansion effort, and itsHouston Restaurant Weeks brunch offerings seem like an ideal opportunity to take a gander at the new space. The elegant options include grilled shiitake mushroom and roasted tomato salad with frisée, mache greens and goat cheese, dressed in smoked onion vinaigrette. The frittata with grilled chicken and roasted tomatoes sounds like a great follow-up act.

$25 Dinner

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, 114 Vintage Park or 531 South Mason, Katy

For only $25, visitors to the Vintage Park and Katy Alamo Drafthouse locations get not only a three-course meal during a movie but a free ticket to come back and see another movie in the future. The menu is like upscale pub fare. Start with truffled, herb-spiced parmesan buttered popcorn (popcorn is a requirement for movies, right?), then really get to work on satisfying hunger with the “Another Cow Burger.” It sports a hefty, seven-ounce Angus beef patty and, as if that isn’t enough, is also topped with warm pastrami, cheddar and sauerkraut. It even comes with french fries. A boozy shake is a soothing ending, and the spiking options include Maker’s Mark bourbon and 512 Pecan Porter beer.

El Tiempo Annex, 322 Westheimer. All Houston El Tiempo locations are offering three-course dinners for only $25, but the big “annex” at Westheimer and Taft has the most ambitious menu. Entrée choices include half a pound offajitas al carbon, and among the unusual meat options are sweetbreads and ahi tuna. Of course, beef, chicken and pork fajitas are available as well. A tempting appetizer choice is the chicharrón topped with chipotle aioli, and it would be a shame to pass up the “chocobanana,” a deep-fried, banana-stuffed turnover, for dessert. Updated, 7/27/2016, 1:27 p.m.: After some checking, a representative for El Tiempo found out that the Navigation location also offers the sweetbread and ahi tuna fajitas.

$35 Dinner

Andes Café, 2311 Canal. Chef David Guerrero’s casual, east-of-downtown diner is ready to take visitors on a trip all around South America with its Houston Restaurant Weeks offerings. Start in Ecuador with the conchas asadas, or hard-to-find grilled Ecuadorian black clams brightened with pickled onions, tomatoes, lime juice and sea salt. Next, dive into Colombia with the bandeja paisa, decadent grilled steak sausage, rice, beans,chicharrón, avocado, corn bread and sweet plantain. It’s luxuriously topped with an egg, too. End the mini-vacation withsuspiro limeño (“Sigh of Lima”) from Peru, a milky, comforting custard topped with port wine and whipped cream.

Bramble, 2231 South Voss. How can any self-respecting meat eater turn down a menu that starts with an appetizer called “Our Country Ham”? It’s accompanied by watermelon jelly, pickled mustard seeds and grilled sourdough. Proceed from there to a reasonable, four-ounce portion of cornmeal-crusted redfish with a salad of charcoal-blistered corn, charred onions and preserved tomatoes alongside. Bramble is one of the few restaurants serving big slices of cake from Jodycakes, and while the flavor combinations are subject to change, there are no bad choices. Other menu options are available online. 

Weights + Measures, 2808 Caroline. Dinner at Weights + Measures is always a fine time, and even more so when a multi-course meal is only $35. The potted swordfish sounds like an appetizer full of complementary textures and flavors, with shaved purple onion, preserved lemon, cress, sabayon (a light, egg-based mousse) and crusty sesame-semolina bread on the side. If that’s the “surf,” then the six ounces of wood-grilled lamb rib chops is most definitely the turf. The entrée comes with asparagus and mashed, truffled new potatoes. After the lamb, minty ice cream alongside flourless chocolate cake, also infused with mint, sounds like the ideal closer.

$45 Dinner

Vic & Anthony’s, 1510 Texas. Houston Restaurant Weeks is one of the most economical ways to experience quintessential downtown steakhouse Vic & Anthony’s. It’s a little disappointing not to see a small version of the legendary crab cake among the appetizer offerings, but the lobster bisque, finished with cognac, is among the best in Houston. The six-ounce filet mignon with mashed Yukon gold potatoes and haricots verts seems the most fitting entrée choice. As for dessert, what could better complete such a decadent meal than croissant bread pudding with dulce de leche ice cream and bourbon sauce? Updated 7/27/2016, 10:08 a.m.: Concept chef Carlos Rodriguez notes that this is also the first year that Vic & Anthony's is offering Houston Restaurant Weeks meals during its weekday lunch hours. 

Peska Seafood Culture, 1700 Post Oak. Seafood lovers will be in heaven with Peska Seafood Culture’s Houston Restaurant Week offerings. Take, for example, the lime-juice-marinated shrimp aguachile on a crunchy tostada accented withserrano pepper, cucumber, red onion and hot sauce. (If you don’t take it, we will.) Move on to the unique "onion ash”-crusted tuna with citrus soy, radish and baby zucchini for an entrée. The housemade doughnuts are sure to be a comforting wrap-up after the ambitious culinary tour of the sea.

Houston Restaurant Weeks Splurges

While many diners look forward to the reasonably priced, multi-course dinners that benefit a good cause, Houston Restaurant Weeks also offers some easy opportunities for guided, decadent experiences. Here are a few great picks for people who are ready to splurge on the little extras that make life so sweet.

Backstreet Cafe, 1103 South Shepherd. As was the case last year, Backstreet Cafe (as well as other Tracy Vaught-Hugo Ortega restaurants Hugo's and Caracol) has focused on not just the food for Houston Restaurant Weeks but the drinks as well. There are several three-course, $35 menus, most of which were developed to go with a particular type of beverage, including red wine, white wine, beer or cocktails. There’s a pairing recommendation for each course. Of course, the pairing cost is not included in the meal price, so that's what makes this a splurge because these really should be experienced. Just one example is the white wine menu that begins with an appetizer of summer mussels sautéed in a base of vermouth, Aperol amaro and white wine with lemon, onions, garlic, ginger, Texas peaches and a side of toasted bread. The suggested pairing is the 2015 Telmo “Basa” Rueda Verdejo from Spain. The follow-ups of large seared scallops over lemongrass risotto with red curry carrot reduction and a dessert of pineapple turnovers have their own white wine pairing suggestions.

Tony’s, 3755 Richmond. Of all the restaurants participating in Houston Restaurant Weeks this year, Tony’s is the one with the most luxurious upgrades. For the appetizer course, while it would be hard to turn away the Cannelloni ’65 (one of our picks for the 10 best dishes of 2015), the Italian summer truffles shaved on top of either pasta or risotto tableside is mighty tempting. That luxury costs an additional $19. The tonno crudo, or fresh ahi tuna with avocado and soy lime vinaigrette, is only an extra five bucks. Diners who want a beautiful steak might ante up an extra $12 for the center cut prime truffled fillet of beef with silky whipped potatoes. The famed chocolate or Grand Marnier-infused soufflés add $8 to the check. There are three different wines by the bottle specially selected to accompany the grand meal as well that range from $38 to $95.

"Go Healthy Houston" Meals

Feeling guilty after those splurges? As part of the Go Healthy Houston initiative, there are also several healthy menus that do not include fried foods and that provide three servings of fruits and vegetables among all courses combined. Dessert is either fruit or is not included (generally in favor of an additional savory course, so being healthy doesn’t mean being shorted). Here are two Houston restaurants where dinner sounds so tasty, guests might totally forget it’s good for them.

Indika, 516 Westheimer. The healthy starter at Indika is something fans of chef Anita Jaisinghani would love anyway: the spinach potato cake chaat with warmchole (saucy chickpeas with traditional Indian spices), heirloom tomatoes and cumin yogurt. From here, conscientious diners can choose either the chickpeachilla, a fermented chickpea crepe stuffed with chayote squash, avocado and eggplant pickle, or four ounces of coriander crusted tuna salad with radicchio, arugula, pickled grapes and avocado. Finally, satisfy a sweet tooth with a sampling of local and seasonal fruits. Check out the full range of Indika's Houston Restaurant Weeks dishes online. 

Sud Italia, 2347 University. Italian food is known for its starchy risotto and pasta, but many traditional dishes are as guilt-free as they are enjoyable. Seven of the ten items on Sud Italia’s Houston Restaurant Weeks menu qualify as part of a Go Healthy Houston meal. Dinner is three courses, and all choices are of the savory kind. A sample dinner: begin with the in-house smoked salmon paired with fresh asparagus and dill-caper dressing before moving on to rigatoni alla norma, or pasta tossed in stewed tomato sauce with diced eggplant and ricotta salata (fresh ricotta cheese). A hearty wrap-up would be the grilled tenderloin adorned in porcini mushroom sauce with fresh vegetables and roasted potatoes alongside.