I have a recurring dream. In it, I am trapped in a corner while inquisitors with burning eyes bombard me with questions: “Where’s the best chicken-fried steak in Texas?” “Where should I take my wife for our anniversary?” “What’s fun?” “What’s new?” “What’s hot?”
Come to think of it, that’s my real life. Day in and day out, I answer questions like this for somebody, somewhere. This year I decided to write down the answers. What follows is a highly subjective roundup of places I would tell you about if you called me on the phone today—what’s new and fresh,the places people are talking about. But because even I recognize that man cannot live by Chilean sea bass alone, I’ve also included the kinds of homey, traditional spots that we Texans love.
I know I’m going to catch flak for certain choices and omissions, so let me do a little preemptive self-defense. This is not a “bests” list, although some of the restaurants mentioned are terrific (for the crème de la crème, turn to page 150 and check out the starred establishments in our Restaurant Guide). And it’s not a “favorites” list, although you’ll find me eating at many of the featured places. Rather, it is a roll call of restaurants that are on my radar screen at this particular moment in time.
But enough about methodology—you must be hungry. Here’s where you should be eating right now.
Of last year’s newly hatched restaurants, which ones stand out?
The clear winner in Houston is Indika, the love child of chef-owner Anita Jaisinghani. In her imaginative hands, Indian food breaks out of its tired tikka masala-vindaloo box, despite her protest that she’s just doing dishes from her childhood. Try her cashew-cardamom lamb curry or mustard-oil-sautéed potatoes, the latter a minor miracle. First Houston runner-up: Le Mistral, where French-born chef David Denis seldom strays from the classic Gallic repertoire. He’s not exactly breaking new ground here, but there are worse things in life than a masterful French onion soup or satiny scallops in lime beurre blanc. Second Houston runner-up: Bistro Le Cep, yet another gift to Francophiles. Comfy classics like sea bass in velouté sauce and a lightly saffroned