Houston Travel Guide: Where to Eat, Drink, and Stay in the Bayou City

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    by Kathleen Culliton with Will Blunt
    Will Blunt
    March 2011

    The Houston dining scene may be one of the country’s best kept secrets. Nestled between expanses of prairie and the Gulf, Houston manages to be both isolated and international. The booming economy draws culinary talents from around the world in search of a growing market where they can make their mark. Houston’s strong relationship with New Orleans has fostered classic Cajun cuisine, and a new influx of Vietnamese émigrés has changed the way Houston looks at street food.



    But even in the midst of this diversity, Houston chefs excel at remaining true to their own voices, which are always, in some way, deeply Houstonian. Their isolation from the national culinary community means that these chefs don’t go chasing trends. Whether it’s local provisions or personal experiences, chefs draw inspiration from the character of the city.



    While in Houston, we tasted a wide range of cuisines, from Creole to Asian-fusion, and ate at the full spectrum of restaurants, from roadside joints to fine dining. And while there are definitely facets of the scene that we missed, we left the city with a full stomach and few regrets. Houston made an impression on us that will be long lasting—and we’ll definitely be coming back.


    EAT

    Backstreet Café

    1103 South Shepherd Drive
    River Oaks
    Houston, TX 77019
    (713) 521-2239
    www.backstreetcafe.net
    Hours: Mon-Thurs 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat 11 am-11pm; Sun 10am-9pm

    One of two restaurants from Chef Hugo Ortega, Backstreet Café is an established neighborhood favorite, featuring upscale, approachable American food. While Ortega and his brother, Pastry Chef Ruben Ortega, head the team in the kitchen, 2011 Houston Rising Star Sommelier Sean Beck assures the front-of-house atmosphere reflects the food’s elegance without pretension. A pleasant place to eat any time of year, the dimly lit dining room is as warm in the winter as the spacious terrace is sunny in the summer.

    Recommended:
  • Hash of Slow-roasted Lamb Shoulder, Fingerling Potatoes, Piquillo Peppers, Blackened Eggplant, Brussels Sprouts, Olives, and Tart Gremolata
  • Goat Cheesecake with Kumquats

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    Benjy’s on Washington

    5922 Washington Avenue
    Washington
    Houston, TX 77007
    (713) 868-1131
    www.benjys.com
    Hours: Mon 11am-9pm; Tues-Thurs 11am-10pm; Fri 11am-11pm; Sat 5pm-11pm; Sun 11am-9pm

    Benjy’s menu offers an eclectic array of Southern comfort and fresh, pan-Asian cuisine. The expansive restaurant has a lively atmosphere, and Chef Mike Potowski keeps the place packed. Potowski works magic with proteins and produce alike; Quinoa Risotto with Farro, Oyster Mushrooms, Winter Squash, and Vadouvan Pumpkin Seeds is a must-try for vegetarians, but it could easily tempt the most entrenched carnivore. Pastry Chef Armando Ramirez admirably balances classic comfort with innovation, melding savory flavors, such as bourbon, bacon, and beer, into cult favorites like the Seven-layer Banana Cake.

    Recommended:
  • House-cured Red Snapper Hamachi, Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit, and Spicy Wasabi Greens
  • Quinoa Risotto, Farro, Oyster Mushrooms, Winter Squash, and Vadouvan Pumpkin Seeds
  • Seven-layer Banana Cake, Cream Cheese Icing, House-made Bourbon Walnut Ice Cream, and Caramelized Banana Flambée with Amaretto

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    Bistro Alex at Hotel Sorella

    800 West Sam Houston Parkway North
    Spring Branch
    Houston, Texas 77042
    (713) 827-3545
    www.bistroalex.com
    Hours: Mon-Thurs 11:30am-2pm, 6pm-9pm; Fri-Sat 6pm-10pm; Sun 10:30am-2pm, 6pm-9pm

    Among a bevy of Brennan’s family restaurants in Houston, Bistro Alex marries Latin flavors with Creole cuisine. Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez comes to Houston by way of Puerto Rico, and he's at his best when drawing from traditional Puerto Rican street food and elevating it to the upscale hotel setting at Bistro Alex. Shrimp and Tasso Pinchos, the chef’s play on Puerto Rican kebabs, are paired with a spicy, Nola-style hot sauce butter, the heat of which dances with sweet, refreshing pineapple slaw.

    Recommended:
  • Shrimp and Tasso Pinchos, Jicama Slaw, Pepper Gastrique, and Hot Sauce Beurre Blanc
  • Crispy Whole Red Snapper, Local Texas Citrus, Saffron Buttered Blue Crab, and Chimichurri Sauce

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    Bootsie's

    112 Commerce Street
    Tomball, TX 77375
    (281) 516-9699
    www.bootsiescafe.wordpress.com
    Hours: Wed 11am-3 pm, 6pm-9pm; Thurs-Sun 11am-3 pm, 6pm-10pm

    Bootsie's is the national culinary destination where 2011 Houston Rising Star Chef-owner Randy Rucker is making waves. The one-room café is sparsely decorated, classic rock plays over the sound system, and the daily changing menu features thoughtful dishes that express the bounty of Houston and the Gulf. Rucker regularly forages along the Texas coast and in the woods of Tomball, so his cuisine never gets tired. And 2011 Houston Rising Star Pastry Chef Chris Leung’s polished desserts work as a fluid continuum of Rucker’s experiential menu. Seasonally inspired and masterfully crafted, Leung doesn’t shy away from local flavors. Hay ice cream has a satisfying earthiness and artistic flair that typifies Bootsie’s style.

    Recommended:
  • "Pastiche" Salad of Shaved Winter Vegetables, Roots, Stems, and Foraged Greens
  • Roasted Texas Carrot and Ruby Red Grapefruit Mousse, Grapefruit Marmalade, Hay Sherbet, Candied Sesame Seeds, Clove Meringue, and Miso Foam

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    Branch Water Tavern

    510 Shepherd
    Rice Military
    Houston, TX 77007
    (713) 863-7777
    www.branchwatertavern.com
    Hours: Tues-Wed 11am-12am; Thurs 1pm-12am; Fri 11am-2am; Sat 5pm-2am; Sun 11am-10 pm

    2011 Houston Rising Star Chef David Grossman brings his New York aesthetic to a sleek yet homey Texas-style tavern. Branch Water Tavern’s menu is New American with character and bravado. Dishes like Chicken Fried Oysters are perfectly executed and plated with an artistry that surpasses anything chicken-fried we’ve seen. Grossman cleverly tenderizes Cervena venison leg by removing the tendons and cooking it sous vide, transforming the tough cut and making it approachable, and he brings such heightened techniques to every dish, all the while keeping his food honest and all-American.

    Recommended:
  • Roasted Cervena Venison, Sweet Potato-Brussels Sprout Hash, Bacon Confit, and Pomegranate Jus
  • Chicken Fried Oysters, Celery Root Slaw with Buttermilk Dressing, Frank's Red Hot Sauce, and Celery Greens

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    Canopy

    3939 Montrose Boulevard, # C
    Houston, TX 77006
    (713) 528-6848
    www.canopyhouston.com
    Hours: Mon 7am-3pm, 5pm-9pm; Tues-Thurs 7am-3pm, 5pm-10pm; Fri 7am-3pm, 5pm-10:30pm; Sat 9am-3pm, 5pm-10:30pm; Sun 9am-3pm, 5pm-9pm

    Claire Smith has been at the apex of the Houston food scene for more than 15 years. And while the atmosphere at her restaurant, Canopy, is casual and airy, with high ceilings and a clean color palate, a closer look will uncover a well-oiled machine of a restaurant. There is nothing Canopy doesn’t do: the restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and brunch every day. Smith and her staff cater; they bake their own breads and prepare their own pastry. The menu is well balanced, showcasing home cooking with pristine flavors and modern touches. Canopy is a restaurant where 10 finicky eaters could order exactly what they want and leave satisfied.

    Recommended:
  • Lamb Stew with Orange and Sage, Crispy Polenta, and Sautéed Spinach-Almond-Parsley Piccata
  • Chocolate Hazelnut Tart with Chocolate Cream, Nutella Sorbet, Hazelnut Praline, and Nutty Caramel
  • Banana Frosted Bread Pudding, Salted Dolce de Leche, Bruléed Bananas, Chocolate Ice Cream,and Cocoa Tuile

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    Catalan Food and Wine

    5555 Washington Avenue, Suite A
    Houston, Texas 77007
    (713) 426-4260
    www.catalanfoodandwine.com
    Hours: Tues-Thurs 11am-4pm, 5pm-10pm; Fri 11am-4pm, 5pm-11pm; Sat 5pm-11pm; Sun 5pm-9pm

    This chef-driven restaurant is at the pinnacle of Houston dining and embodies everything that makes Houstonians proud of their city’s dining culture. The décor at Catalan combines Spanish chic with Houston grandeur, and the resulting atmosphere is luxurious without being stuffy. While 2011 Rising Star Chef Chris Shepherd originally envisioned the menu as a taste of his favorite Catalan cuisine, today it has matured into a genre of its own. Shepherd, who lives and breathes food, matches his elevated culinary awareness to the Houstonian palate; sometimes satiating, and other times educating.

    Recommended:
  • Jamaican Curried Goat Pies, Cucumber-Tomato-Pickled Banana Pepper Salad, and Green Onion Emulsion
  • Berkshire Pork Belly with Steen's Syrup (Or Candied Pork Butt)

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    Cinq at La Colombe d'Or

    3410 Montrose Boulevard
    Montrose
    Houston, TX 77006
    (713) 524-7999
    www.lacolombedor.com
    Hours: Mon-Fri: 11:30am-2pm, 6pm-10pm; Sat-Sun 6pm-10pm

    2011 Houston Rising Star Jeramie Robison prepares continental cuisine with New Orleans flair at this cozy, grand hotel restaurant. Balancing his vision with Cinq tradition, Robison exhibits the skill that a lifetime on the line can offer. Dining at Cinq is a mature culinary experience, the kind that leaves diners craving Cognac and a cigar. Robison masterfully balances classic cuisine and local tastes. Dishes like Butter Poached Lobster have an air of European refinement and at the same time cater to the Houston comfort-food palate.

    Recommended:
  • Braised Australian Short Ribs, Corn Velouté, Red Wine Cabbage, Mushroom Ragoût, and Port Syrup
  • Butter Poached Lobster, Fine Caper Herb Butter, Cornichons, Tarragon, Parsley, White Asparagus, and Lobster Foam

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    Dessert Gallery Bakery and Cafe

    3600 Kirby Drive, Suite D
    Upper Kirby
    Houston, TX 77098
    (713) 522-9999
    www.dessertgallery.com
    Hours: Mon-Thurs 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat 11am-12am; Sun 12pm-10pm

    To understand the Houston sweet tooth, all you need to do is sample Pastry Chef Sara Brook’s cakes and cookies at Dessert Gallery Bakery and Café. Brook draws from traditional childhood comfort foods for desserts that possess the power, she says, to reduce diners to tears. Houstonian diners veer definitively toward Brook’s indulgent mixture of the familiar and decadent.

    Recommended:
  • Mexican Style Classic Trés Leches Cake

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    Feast

    219 Westheimer Road
    Montrose
    Houston, TX 77006
    (713) 529-7788
    sites.google.com/site/feasthouston/
    Hours: Wed-Thurs 5 pm-10 pm; Fri-Sat 11am-10pm; Sun-Mon 5pm-9pm

    Chef-owners Richard Knight and James Silk and Co-owner Meagan Silk have created an experience as close to a British roadside tavern as can be found south of the Mason-Dixon line. It would be easy, in championing the bold and hearty pub grub of Feast, to hype dishes like Tongue and Testicles or Bubble and Squeak—dishes that don’t push the boundaries of Houston’s comfort zone so much as shove them off the side of a cliff. But these food-dare dishes aren’t all that draws diners to Feast. The chefs' head-to-tail philosophy inspires two menus; one with classic pub fare and one with more exploratory realms of food.

    Recommended:
  • House-made Chorizo Stuffed Duck Neck, Tomato-Rosemary White Navy Beans, Sautéed Kale, and Anchovies
  • Panade: Baked Cheddar Soup with Seasonal Wild Mushrooms, Thyme, Mace, and Croutons

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    Goode Company Barbecue

    5109 Kirby Drive
    Upper Kirby
    Houston, TX 77098
    (713) 522-2530
    www.goodecompany.com
    Hours: Mon-Sun 11am-10pm

    What trip to Houston would be complete without a taste of barbecue? Goode Company Barbecue delivers classic Houston barbecue that's spicy with intense mesquite flavors. The restaurant chain has many permutations, including a seafood restaurant and burger joint, but only at the original can you stand in a cafeteria line and watch the cooks on the line slosh mesquite sauce over spare ribs and plop egg salad onto your plate with an ice-cream scoop. And if the weather is right, an outdoor patio is set with picnic tables for diners to soak up sun and sop up sauce.

    Recommended:
  • Beef Brisket Sandwich on Jalapeno Bread with Jalapeno Peppers

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    Haven

    2502 Algerian Way
    Upper Kirby
    Houston, Texas 77098
    (713) 581-6101
    www.havenhouston.com
    Hours: Mon-Thurs 11am-10 pm; Fri 11am-11pm; Sat 5:30pm-11pm

    The Haven space reflects the garden-fresh, Texas-centric cuisine perfected by the restaurant’s Owner and 2011 Rising Star Community Chef Randy Evans. A vegetable patch runs alongside the restaurant, where Evans grows vegetables and herbs that he incorporates into his seasonal menu. And while hearty, country-style food tends to weigh a person down, Evans' cuisine has the necessary touch of acidity to keep the richness in balance. A beautiful outdoor terrace awaits Haven diners when the weather is right, and Jack and Mexican Coke Floats are available year-round to keep things cool.

    Recommended:
  • Country Fried Chicken Livers, Buttermilk Biscuits, and Andouille Sausage Gravy
  • Gumbo Z'Herbs

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    Hugo's

    88 Middle Street
    Portland
    Portland, ME 04101
    (207) 774-8538
    www.hugos.net
    Hours: Mon-Sat 5:30pm-9:30pm

    Formerly a Rob Evans institution, and now helmed by Eventide Oyster Co. Chefs Andrew Taylor and Michael Wiley, Hugo’s has been setting the bar for fine dining in Portland’s restaurant scene for a long time. The menu is technique and ingredient driven with infusions of Asian flavor here and there that freshen up and revitalize ingredients like swordfish or veal breast. Hugo’s kitchen, shared with Eventide Oyster Co,.and with the help of Arlin Smith, the general manager, is continuing to be a beacon for the possibilities of cuisine in coastal New England. Most of Hugo’s space is taken up the kitchen, where there’s counter seating. There are also comfy banquettes and tables in the dining areas with dark colors, copper, and leather—like dining in a captain’s cabin.

    Recommended:
  • Lobster Sashimi, Sea Bean, Daikon, Nori Vinaigrette, Frozen Ramp Purée, Ginger Scallion Sauce, and Fried Garlic
  • Blue Fin Toro, Black Sesame Purée, Gold Tomatoes, Pickled Peppers, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, and Chermoula Oil

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    Kata Robata

    3600 Kirby Drive
    Upper Kirby
    Houston, TX 77098
    (713) 526-8858
    www.katarobata.com
    Hours: Mon-Thu 11:30am-3 pm, 4pm-10:30pm; Fri 11:30am-3 pm, 4pm-11pm; Sat 12pm-11pm; Sun 12pm-10pm

    2011 Houston Rising Star Sushi Chef Manabu “Hori” Horiuchi and 2011 Houston Rising Star Chef Seth Siegel-Gardner pair up to produce a world-class menu at chef hangout Kata Robata, where sleek furnishings evoke Japan, and the open kitchen provides endless entertainment. Watching Horiuchi fillet an entire eel sourced from Japan whets the appetite for sushi. And Siegel-Gardner plates hot dishes—with Japanese heritage and a touch of European influence—with floral touches and eye-catching color palates.

    Recommended:
  • Uni Chawan Mushi: Traditional Egg Custard with Shrimp, Chicken, Sea Urchin, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Dashi
  • Australian Short Ribs with Broccoli Purée, Toasted Nori Yogurt, Kaeshi Sauce, and Wasabi Vinaigrette

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    Le Mistral

    1400 Eldridge Parkway
    Eldridge
    Houston, TX 77077
    (832) 379-8322
    www.lemistralhouston.com
    Hours: Mon-Thurs 11am-10pm; Fri 11am-11pm; Sat 5:30pm-11pm

    Chef Davide Denis serves well executed French cuisine rooted in his upbringing in Provence. The closely packed tables give Le Mistral a lively feel, while low lights and soft music evoke Parisian haute restaurants. Diners in search of a closer look at Denis at work can reserve the chef’s table, tucked in a private dining room with a double-sided window to the kitchen. Denis’ younger brother, Sommelier Sylvain Denis, pairs lesser known regional French wines to match the caliber of the authentic and elegant menu of Le Mistral.

    Recommended:
  • Striped Bass Wrapped in Parma Prosciutto, Black Bean Étouffée, and Smoked Tomato Beurre Blanc
  • Slowly Roasted Rack of Australian Lamb, Ginger Lamb Juice, Candied Baby Vegetables, and Scalloped Potato Gratin

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    Monarch Restaurant & Lounge at Hotel Zaza

    5701 Main Street
    Museum District
    Houston, TX 77005
    (713) 527-1800
    www.hotelzazahouston.com/trendy-houston-restaurants.php
    Hours: Mon-Sun 6:30am-2am

    Chef Adam West comes to Houston by way of Dallas hot spot Dragonfly. As Hotel Zaza works to amp up the vibe of Houston’s sleepily elegant museum district, the Monarch Restaurant & Lounge menu experienced a renovation, courtesy of West’s young blood and bright ideas. West focuses on New American cuisine that spans from poolside sliders to foie gras, and he pairs scallops with butternut squash, baby beets, and swiss chard for a plate with a broad range of colors, textures, and flavors. This menu appeals to the Monarch crowd—the young, vibrant, and beautiful. It’s easy to forget that this darkly lit restaurant belongs to a hotel.

    Recommended:
  • Pan-roasted Sea Scallops, Butternut Squash Purée, Roasted Baby Beets, Swiss Chard, Frisée Salad, and Apple Cider Reduction
  • Pan-roasted Duck Breast, Foie Gras Braised Red Cabbage, Black Pepper Gnocchi, and Blackberry Port Reduction

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    Olivette at The Houstonian Hotel, Club, & Spa

    111 North Post Oak Lane
    Houston, TX 77024
    (713) 680-2626
    www.houstonian.com/Olivette.aspx
    Hours: Mon-Thurs 6:30am-3pm; 5pm-10pm; Sat-Sun 7am-3pm; 5pm-10pm

    Olivette boasts modern American cuisine with Mediterranean accents. The restaurant’s warm hues and lavish décor are matched by beautiful views of the surrounding gardens. A fast-paced open kitchen gives diners a window into the process behind Chef Jeffrey Everts’ expansive menu, and Pastry Chef Catherine Rodriguez adds a nuance of decadence to the menu with her subtle flavors and eye-catching desserts.

    Recommended:
  • Steak Tartare on a Himalayan Salt Block, Fried Quail Egg, Whole Grain Mustard Aïoli, White Anchovies, Caper Berries, Shallot Jam, Watercress, and Parmesan Cheese Toasts
  • Valrhona Chocolate and Caramel Nomawaka with Caramel Ganache, Devil’s Food Cake, Hazelnut Ice Cream, Caramelized Hazelnuts, Valrhona Chocolate, and Hazelnut Tuile

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    Quattro at Four Seasons Hotel Houston

    1300 Lamar Street
    Downtown
    Houston, TX 77010
    (713) 650-1300
    www.fourseasons.com/houston/dining/quattro
    Hours: Mon-Fri 6:30am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-10pm; Sat-Sun 7am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-10pm

    Quattro brings a slice of Piedmont to downtown Houston. The new executive chef, Maurizio Ferrarese, embraces the traditions of Italian cooking with his ingredient-driven menu, focusing on locally sourced ingredients. His dinner menu highlights the four main courses in an Italian meal: antipasti, paste, secondi, and dolce, and he prepares each simply and expertly. Ferrarese's perfected technique shines in his pasta dishes. Notoriously finicky risottos are served at their peak temperature and texture, each one a mosaic of flavor. Sommelier Kate Bourne pairs both Old and New World wines with the classic menu, preferring to build her list through intuition rather than tradition.

    Recommended:
  • Australian Lamb Ravioli with Lentil Ragoût and Parmesan Fondue
  • Risotto Con Asparagi e Granchio: Arborio Risotto, Green Asparagus, and Crab Meat

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    RDG + Bar Annie

    1800 Post Oak Boulevard
    The Galleria
    Houston, TX 77056
    (713) 840-1111
    www.rdgbarannie.com
    Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30am-10 pm; Sat 6pm-10:30pm; Sun 5pm-9pm

    RDG + Bar Annie is the next evolution of Chef Robert Del Grande’s legendary Café Annie. Located on Post Oak Boulevard, Houston’s main road for luxe shopping (and all things extravagant), the new restaurant remains loyal to the Tex-Mex cuisine that made Del Grande famous. With vast windows overlooking Post Oak and the addition of an outside terrace, RDG + Bar Annie is a seductive haven from the hustle and bustle, with equally seductive lunch, brunch, and dinner menus.

    Recommended:
  • Fresh-canned Smoked Oysters, Smoked Chile Olive Oil, and Adobo
  • Coffee-roasted Filet of Beef, Steak Sauce, and Grilled Onions

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    Reef

    2600 Travis Street
    Midtown
    Houston, TX 77006
    (713) 526-8282
    www.reefhouston.com
    Hours: Mon-Thurs 11am-10pm; Fri 11am-11pm; Sat 5pm-11pm

    2011 Houston Rising Star Restaurateur and Chef Bryan Caswell honed his culinary skills in waterside hot spots in New York, Hong Kong, Barcelona, and the Bahamas. Caswell's Reef embodies this experience, as well as his passion for fresh Gulf seafood and a lifetime of fishing. Reef's menu features lesser known breeds of fish—tilefish, triggerfish, wahoo, cobia, and Rockport-caught tripletail. And a market-style fish room provides a front-row seat for diners to watch Caswell create his signature dishes.

    Recommended:
  • Roasted Grouper, Braised Collard Greens, and Pecan-Shallot Cracklins
  • Sea Bream, Charred Chili Shrimp Salad with Kumquats, House-cured Bacon, and Radish Dashi Consommé

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    Ristorante Cavour at the Hotel Granduca

    1080 Uptown Park Boulevard
    The Galleria
    Houston, TX 77056
    (713) 418-1000
    www.granducahouston.com/houston-dining/ristorante-cavour
    Hours: Mon-Fri: 6:30am-10:30am, 11:30am-2pm, 6pm-10pm; Sat 7am-11am, 6pm-10pm; Sun: 11am-2pm, 2 pm-5:30 pm

    Chef Renato di Pirro’s cuisine is classic Northern Italian with playful twists. In keeping with the Old-World Tuscan feel, Ristorante Cavour is cozy and intimate with warm colors, flickering candlelight, and soft music in the background. Diners are encouraged to mangia al Italia with three courses: antipasti, primi, and secondi. The Terrina di Fegato (foie gras) is paired with toasted panettone for a fresh interpretation of a classic standard. Ristorante Cavour is the signature restaurant for the elegant Hotel Granduca in uptown Houston, and it’s already a neighborhood favorite.

    Recommended:
  • Terrina di Fegato Grasso al Passito di Pantelleria, con Panettone e Spuma di Mele: Terrine of Foie Gras, Pannettone, and Apple Mousse
  • Filetto di Manzo Piedmontese ai Frutti di Bosco con Asparagi e Finferli Sott'olio: Piedmont Filet of Beef, Fruits of the Forrest, Asparagus, Chanterelle Mushrooms, and Olive Oil

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    Shade

    250 West 19th Street
    The Heights
    Houston, Texas 77008
    (713) 863-7500
    www.shadeheights.com
    Hours: Mon 11am-9 pm; Tues-Thurs 11am-10pm; Fri 11am-10:30pm; Sat 10am-10:30pm; Sun 10am-9pm

    Shade is modern neighborhood restaurant owned by Chef Claire Smith of Canopy. While Smith (wo)mans the helm at her Montrose restaurant, Executive Chef Gregg Beebe heads the kitchen here, preparing fresh and light café cuisine. Serving lunch and dinner seven days week, and brunch on weekends, the restaurant’s seasonal menu is creative, affordable, and appealing. Shade’s décor is contemporary and inviting, with a busy bar, expansive dining room, and comfortable outdoor seating.

    Recommended:
  • Ahi Poke: Diced Hawaiian Tuna, Sea Salt, Onions, Sesame-Soy-Seaweed Salad, and Wasabi-Oil-Mustard-Soy Dressing
  • Chimichurri-marinated Leg of Lamb, House-made Lamb Sausage, Grilled Asparagus, Cumin-scented Butternut Squash, Leek Risotto, and Rosemary Jus

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    Stella Sola

    1001 Studewood Street
    The Heights
    Houston, TX 77008
    (713) 880-1001
    www.stellasolahouston.com
    Hours: Tues-Thurs 5pm-10pm; Fri-Sat Dinner 5pm-11pm; Sun 11am-3pm, 5pm-9pm

    As chef de cuisine at 2011 Houston Rising Star Restaurateur Bryan Caswell’s Stella Sola, Chef Justin Basye approaches cuisine from foraging to fork. His cooking style is built on a keen awareness of seasonality, a commitment to sourcing local products, and the adventure in using a multitude of cooking techniques—from curing and smoking to braising and sous vide. Basye also enhances the Stella Sola menu with his adept hand at curing. House-made pepperoni appears grated in the stellar Gulf Snapper Crudo, adding a fresh saltiness and pleasantly gritty texture.

    Recommended:
  • Gulf Snapper Crudo with Marinated Fennel, Radishes, Pickled Red Onion, Grated Pepperoni, and Foam of Cara Cara Orange, Meyer Lemon, and Lime
  • Grilled Texas Ox Heart, Caramelized Cauliflower, Capers, Pine Nuts, Paprika Butter, and Garlic

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    Soma Sushi

    4820 Washington Avenue
    Rice Military
    Houston, TX 77007
    (713) 861-2726
    www.somasushi.com
    Hours: Mon-Wed 11:30am-11pm; Thurs-Fri 11:30am-12am; Sat 12pm-12am; Sun 12pm-10pm

    The talented culinary pair at Soma Sushi, Chef Jason Hauck and Sushi Chef David Kim, presents elegant sushi and fresh Franco-Japanese cuisine. Soma Sushi stands out as one of the premier sushi destinations for Houstonians. The clean flavor profiles that Huack injects into his complex fusion dishes, such as Apple-smoked Pork, Fuji Apple, Kimchi, and Micro Red Mustard Greens, exhibit the chef's honed craftsmanship. Lack of pretension makes Soma Sushi a sophisticated but, most definitely, approachable restaurant.

    Recommended:
  • Apple-smoked Pork, Fuji Apple, Kimchi, and Micro Red Mustard Greens
  • Handmade Traditional Ramen Noodles, Gulf Coast Shrimp, Jumbo Lump Crab, Miso, and Broth

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    t’afia

    3701 Travis Street
    Midtown
    Houston, TX 77002
    (713) 524-6922
    www.tafia.com
    Hours: Tues-Thurs 5:30pm-10pm; Fri 11:30am-1pm, 5:30pm-11pm; Sat: 5:30pm-11pm

    This restaurant’s slang-hip name is derived from the Cajun word “ratafia,” which comes from a toast equivalent of "to your health." Health certainly is the operative word for Chef Monica Pope, who practically created the locavore scene in this carnivore-centric city. Besides offering a refreshingly vegetarian-friendly menu, the restaurant hosts a weekly farmers’ market, and “The Green Plum Kitchen,” where Chef Pope teaches local foodies how to prepare and preserve fresh produce. Pope’s, t’afia is a movement just as much as it is a restaurant. Even so, the atmosphere is cozy without sacrificing chic, cool without losing comfort, and satisfying without piling on piety.

    Recommended:
  • Medjool Dates with Chorizo, Bacon, and Chermoula
  • Balsamic Vinegar-cured Lamb Cheeks, Peppers and Onions, Coconut, and Gomashio

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    Tiny Boxwoods

    3614 West Alabama Street
    River Oaks
    Houston, TX 77027
    (713) 622-4224
    www.thompsonhanson.com

    The setting of Tiny Boxwoods is exceptional. Buried in the urban jungle of Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood, the nursery and café features a stylish dining room with bouquets of fresh flowers, a chalkboard with the daily specials, a sleek bar, and enormous windows overlooking the patio and garden. What you cannot see is any of the surrounding concrete sprawl—Tiny Boxwoods is an oasis. While the savory dishes focus on simple California-style spa cuisine, the desserts are exceptionally decadent. 2011 Houston Rising Star Chef Vanarin Kuch brings the influence of French haute cuisine, which he mastered at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Bank, to his daring, contemporary desserts.

    Recommended:
  • Sangria Poached Pears with Goat Cheese Mousse, Grand Cru Gruyère Reserve and Wisconsin Hook’s 10-Year Cheddar Shards, Sangria Reduction, and Pineapple-Sage Sorbet
  • Earl Grey Molten Cake, Mexican Vanilla Ice Cream, and Earl Grey Streusel

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    Tony’s Restaurant

    3755 Richmond Avenue
    West Loop
    Houston, TX 77046
    (713) 622-6778
    www.tonyshouston.com
    Hours: Mon-Thurs 11am-10pm; Fri 11am-12am; Sat 6pm-12am

    Old school Tony's caters to the elite of Houston diners, most of whom arrive in their Jaguars or Mercedes. The traditional Italian-American menu features Gulf seafood, local prime beef and veal, and a constantly changing array of nightly specials. This restaurant is a Houston institution, and its classic menu is matched by Tony's impressive wine collection and Pastry Chef Jami Kling’s contemporary desserts.

    Recommended:
  • Apple Persoda with Caramel Balsamic Dressing

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    TQLA

    4601 Washington Avenue, Suite 130
    Rice Military
    Houston, TX 77007
    (281) 501-3237
    www.tqlahouston.com
    Hours: Mon-Wed 11am-10pm; Thurs-Sat 11am-12am; Sun 11am-10pm

    TQLA celebrates the heritage and flavors of Southwestern and coastal Mexican cuisine by combining fresh ingredients with a modern, vibrant atmosphere. The bar at TQLA sets the tone as a late-night hot spot, and the menu is designed to complement the spirit to which the restaurant pays homage. Chef Tommy Birdwell’s dishes, like Blue Corn-fried Oysters with Chorizo Cream Sauce, are hearty and decadent, made to anchor a boozy night out.

    Recommended:
  • Blue Corn-fried Oysters, Chorizo Cream Sauce
  • Wild Mushroom Tamale, Wild Mushroom Goat Cheese Filling, Mushroom Cream, Roasted Corn, and Sundried Tomato Salsa

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    Voice at The Hotel ICON

    220 Main Street
    Downtown
    Houston, TX 77002
    (832) 667-4470
    www.hotelicon.com/voice-restaurant
    Hours: Mon-Thurs 7am-10am, 5:30-10pm; Fri 5:30pm-11pm; Sat 7am-10am, 5:30pm-11pm; Sun 7am-12pm

    The eclectic menu from Chef Greg Lowry offers diners autonomy and choice within the chef’s extensive culinary range. Tasting menus match the luxurious and contemporary setting and Lowry’s expressive style. Voice offers diners the options of a quick bite or an extravagant, drawn-out meal, and the restaurant’s location is perfect for pre- or post-theater dining. Guided by the principles of sustainability, the majority of ingredients are sourced from within a 150-mile radius. The menu also features impressive charcuterie from Chef Adam Garcia.

    Recommended:
  • Chile-braised Chicken, Chinese Steamed Buns, Napa Cabbage, Cotija, Pickled Carrots, and Refried White Beans
  • Scallops, Crusted Pumpkin Seed, Butternut Squash Polenta, Cocoa Streusel, Brussels Sprout Leaves, and Chipotle Gastrique
  • Oil-poached Bluenose, 36-hour Berkshire Pork Belly, Creamy Forest Mushrooms, Pickled Green and White Asparagus, and Chorizo Powder

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    Zelko Bistro

    705 East 11th Street
    The Heights
    Houston, TX 77008
    (713) 880-8691
    www.zelkobistro.com
    Hours: Tues-Fri 11am-10pm; Sat 11am-10pm; Sun 10am-9pm

    From vintage soda pop to house-made preserves and seasonal local fare, every aspect of Zelko Bistro’s farm-to-table comfort cuisine reflects 2011 Rising Star Sustainability Chef Jamie Zelko's passion for sustainable dining. This miniature bistro, located in a restored 1920s bungalow, is full of personal touches from Zelko. The bar is paneled with recycled barn wood and lit by antique Ball jars. The bistro’s garden is plush with fresh herbs, and the eco-friendly mentality follows through in onsite preserving and recycling facilities. Dishes like Zelko’s Sautéed Shrimp showcase the local ingredients that inspire Zelko's cuisine, which she offers at recession-friendly prices.

    Recommended:
  • Sautéed Shrimp, White Cheddar Polenta, and Sweet Soy Agave Nectar
  • Saint Arnold Root Beer Braised Short Ribs, Seasonal Greens, Cheddar Polenta, and Fried Leeks

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    DRINK

    Anvil Bar & Refuge

    1424 Westheimer Road
    Montrose
    Houston, TX 77006
    (713) 523-1622
    www.anvilhouston.com
    Hours: Mon-Sun 4pm-2am

    Anvil Bar & Refuge is owned and operated by self-proclaimed “cocktail freaks” Bobby Heugel, Kevin Floyd, and Steve Flippo. Heugel, StarChefs.com’s 2011 Houston Rising Star Mixologist, is recognized nationwide for his traditionally constructed, spirit-forward drinks made with fresh ingredients—including house-made bitters, sodas, infusions, and liqueurs. For the spirits-shy, Anvil features an always-changing selection of 13 hard-to-score beers on tap, including a cask beer, of mostly American micro-brews. But Anvil is a cocktail spot not to be missed. Heugel and company might be serious about their spirits, but approachability is key at this warm and casual bar, meaning even those out there who are mixology-disinclined can easily score an incredible cocktail, a warm smile, and probably a bit of take-home bartender's savvy.

    Recommended:
  • Anvil Paloma
  • The Brave: Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal, Hacienda del Sotol Plata, Averna Amaro, Grand Marnier, Angostura Bitters, and Orange Peel

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    Bar at Branch Water Tavern

    510 Shepherd Drive
    Houston, TX 77007
    (713) 863-7777
    www.branchwatertavern.com
    Hours: Tues-Wed 11am-12am; Thu 1am-12am; Fri 11am-2am; Sat 5pm-2am; Sun 11am-10pm

    Mixologist Alba Huerta, who also can be found at Grand Prize Bar, delivers vibrant cocktails as envisioned by past Bar Manager Ryan Rouse, with spirits, seasonal produce, and a keen, playful hand at flavor-building. The Paris to Punjab cocktail carries herbal notes of St. Germain on top of citrus and tart cranberry; the Black and Tan combines the bite of ginger beer and rich rye whiskey with fresh flavors of blackberry, mint, and lime. This kind of highly approachable precision and highly drinkable versatility carries through the entire Branch Water beverage program. Paired with an excellently constructed wine list from Sommelier Evan Turner, the bar at Branch Water Tavern has something to offer every variety of drinker.

    Recommended:
  • Paris to Punjab: St. Germain, Lemon Juice, Buddha's Hand Citron Vodka, and Cranberry Juice
  • Black and Tan: Blackberries, Mint, Lime Juice, Rye Whiskey, and Ginger Beer

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    Bar at Kata Robata

    3600 Kirby Drive
    Houston, TX 77098
    (713) 526-8858
    www.katarobata.com
    Hours: Mon-Thurs 11:30am-3pm, 4pm-10:30pm; Fri 11:30am-3 pm, 4pm-11pm; Sat 12pm-11pm; Sun 12pm-10pm

    The dark and subdued setting of Kata Robata needs a sophisticated bar with a cocktail to match, and Mixologist Josh Martinez does not fail to deliver. If Martinez brings technological innovation to the bar with his sous vide-infused spirits, he's still a bartender's bartender (with a modern sense for efficiency). His cocktails are flavor forward with strong respect for spirits. The Pumpkin Spice Dram is a wintry treat, with aromas of ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. With cocktails like this on the menu, and Martinez's imagination at the helm, we're guessing standing at the bar isn't the typical consolation to waiting diners, but an enviable experience all its own.

    Recommended:
  • Pumpkin Spice Dram: Pumpkin-infused Overholt Rye Whiskey, Canton Ginger, Nutmeg, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, and Ginger Ale

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    Bar at Soma Sushi

    4820 Washington Avenue
    Houston , TX 77007
    (713) 861-2726
    www.somasushi.com
    Hours: Mon-Wed 11:30am-12am; Thurs-Fri 11:30am-1am; Sat 12pm-1am; Sun 12pm-10pm

    Beverage director James Watkins takes great pride in his knowledge of all things alcoholic, and he works closely with Chef Jason Hauck to build a spirits program that complements the restaurant’s eclectic Japanese-French fusion fare. The relaxed bar is a good match for the upscale casual, youthful vibe at the restaurant, and Watkins crafts cocktails with attention to detail and a lively palate. The chili-infused Bloody Buddy actually has a following (mostly heat-addicted Houstonians, though we recommend to it to anyone within 100 miles), and the restaurant offers an impressive sake menu for which Watkins proves an adept source of knowledge.

    Recommended:
  • Infusion Aviation: Yuzu Infused Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, Rothman & Winter Crème de Violette, Terra Spice Morello Cherry Extract, and Edible Orchid Garnish
  • Bloody Buddy: Chili Pepper-infused Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Celery Flag Garnish

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    Bar at TQLA

    4601 Washington Avenue, Suite #130
    Houston, TX 77007
    (281) 501-3237
    www.tqlahouston.com
    Hours: Mon-Wed 11am-10pm; Thurs-Sat 11am-12am; Sun 11am-10pm

    Tequilier Scott Lindsey considers the spirits menu at TQLA in much the same way a sommelier would view his or her wine list. He designed it to be approachable and refined, to work with the restaurant’s menu, and stand on its own for tequila-lovers like himself. Lindsey and the staff draw from TQLA's vast selection of tequilas to make infusions, fresh-fruit margaritas, and cocktails, among them an authentic, seriously refreshing Paloma. A variety of tequilas are on tap at the bar, hyper-cooled to 5ºF, and the tequila and margarita flights are both educational and dangerously enjoyable. If you manage to remember a night at the bar of TQLA, chances are you’ve probably learned a lot.

    Recommended:
  • Buscadores Tequila

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    Beaver’s Ice House

    2310 Decatur Street
    The Heights
    Houston , TX 77007
    (713) 864-2328
    www.beavershouston.com
    Hours: Tues-Thurs 11am-10pm; Fri 11am-12am; Sat 12pm-12am; Sun 11am-10pm

    Beaver’s is the kind of laidback, roadside restaurant and bar that Houston prides itself on. Mixologist Claire Sprouse has a wry bar-side manner, and her menu is easy to enjoy without skimping on creativity. It’s not unusual to find people wandering into Beaver’s early in the afternoon for a “Stiff on the Beach” or a cold beer. And with typical, and infectious, local pride, the beer menu is sourced entirely from Texas and features a comprehensive list—from pale ales to stouts. Although we didn’t get a chance to try the food at Beaver’s, rumor has it that Chef Jonathan Jones has put together an excellent menu of locally sourced pub grub to down alongside your cocktail or brew. As if we needed another reason to visit.

    Recommended:
  • Stiff on the Beach: Rye Whiskey, Passion Fruit Syrup, Campari, Angostura Bitters, Bittermens Tiki Bitters, and Orange Peel

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    Grand Prize Bar

    1010 Banks Street
    Montrose
    Houston, TX 77006
    (713) 526-4566

    Hours: Mon-Sun 4pm-2am

    With drinks and grub from Mixologist Alba Huerta and Chefs Richard Knight and James Silk housed under one roof off Montrose boulevard, Grand Prize Bar is a difficult spot to leave. Beyond the vittles newly available from Feast chefs Knight and Silk, Huerta’s fun, well-priced drinks draw a loyal following. And it doesn't hurt that there are pool tables, live music, and an outdoor patio for entertainment. It might be tucked into a tiny house, but Grand Prize deserves all the swagger of its name.

    Recommended:
  • Bee's Knees: Gin, Blackberries, and Honey Syrup
  • Mezcalero: Mezcal, Pear, Lemon, and Cayenne Pepper

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    Voice Lounge at Hotel ICON

    220 Main Street
    Houston, TX 77002
    (713) 224-4266
    www.hotelicon.com/voice-restaurant/houston-restaurant-lounge.php
    Hours: Mon-Fri 2:30pm-12am; Sat 2:30pm-1am; Sun 2:30pm-10pm

    The Voice Lounge at the Hotel Icon is a hospitality triple threat: breakfast buffet in the morning, sports bar during the day, and elegant lounge at night. The space easily adapts to all three, as it’s centrally located in the hotel lobby, where guests can come and go as they please. What isn’t at first glance apparent is the quality of the cocktail program, designed by Mixologist Rebecca Eggleston. Her drinks are built with an adept hand, and a modern mixologist's emphasis on integrity, with sodas and fruit juices prepared in house. The Herbal Remedy, a strong cocktail with a gin kick and the bite of fresh cilantro, exemplifies exactly what Eggleston does best: fresh, interesting, highly drinkable drinks.

    Recommended:
  • Herbal Remedy: Lemongrass Jave Nero Infused Vodka, Muddled Cilantro, Pineapple Juice, and Ginger Beer

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    STAY

    Four Seasons Hotel Houston

    1300 Lamar Street
    Houston, TX 77010
    (713) 650-1300
    www.fourseasons.com/houston
    Rooms start at $275

    Located in the heart of downtown, the Four Seasons Hotel Houston is an expansive hotel with the sort of state-of-the-art facilities and lavish amenities business travelers and families can enjoy. Kid-friendly touches like mini-me bathrobes, complimentary milk and cookies, and babysitting services will keep little Jimmy happy while you enjoy some well-deserved grown-up time at the roof-top pool to end all pools, with its spectacular city views and a fully stocked bar for R&R starved parents. It might be family friendly, but it’s still a downtown hot spot with an elegant Italian hotel restaurant Quattro (see the EAT chapter of our guide for more on this).


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    Hotel Granduca

    1080 Uptown Park Boulevard
    Houston, TX 77056
    (713) 418-1000
    www.granducahouston.com
    Rooms start at $270

    This luxury boutique hotel recalls an Italian palazzo, with its sumptuous brocaded rooms in autumnal colors. And it’s not just a pretty face. Located in Post Oak, Houston’s choice shopping district, Hotel Granduca offers all the necessary comforts for an H-town tourist. Sizeable suites come with a full kitchen that’s likely to remain untouched once you venture to one of the city’s most iconic restaurants only a stone’s throw (or even an elevator ride) away. Not that you have to leave the hotel for a good time—travelers and Houstonians alike flock to the hotel restaurant, Ristorante Cavour, and the intimate bar often hosts local musicians. There’s also a gym, should you be feeling virtuous.


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    Hotel ICON

    220 Main Street
    Houston, TX 77002
    (713) 224-4266
    www.hotelicon.com
    Rooms start at $135

    An excellent choice for the young professional traveler, this hotel offers cozy guest rooms full of character, as well as extended stay suites. The hotel is as comfortable as it is functional, and as convenient as it is charming. Yes, the gym has cardio and weight machines, but they're a vibrant fire engine red. Yes, there is immediate access to Houston’s legal and business districts, but there’s also a lively lounge that showcases an inspired cocktail menu, and Voice, the eclectic hotel restaurant with Chef Greg Lowry at the helm, buzzes with activity.


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    Hotel Sorella

    800 West Sam Houston Parkway North, Building 9
    Houston, TX 77024
    (713) 973-1600
    www.hotelsorella-citycentre.com
    Rooms start at $133

    Hotel Sorella is an understated oasis in the heart of Houston's CITYCENTRE shopping development, boasting sleek design … not to mention great perks like complimentary continental breakfast, available every morning in a lobby that boasts beautiful views of the gardens beyond the hotel. With modern accommodations for over 200, the hotel offers its guests spacious and sleekly designed rooms and suites, sophisticated onsite dining at Bistro Alex and Bistro Bar, a pool, a meeting and event space, and a luxe spa and fitness center.


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    Hotel Zaza-Houston

    5701 Main Street
    Houston, TX 77005
    (713) 526-1991
    www.hotelzazahouston.com
    Rooms start at $179

    Hotel Zaza is located in the serene Museum District of downtown Houston, giving art buffs easy access to the impressive Museum of Fine Arts among other cultural hubs. Within the walls of the hotel are a host of amenities including a spa, fitness center, and the trendy Monarch restaurant. Guestrooms are sexy—with pop art on the walls and wild animal print furniture that bring a touch of chic. But they’re also plush (and practical) with high-speed internet and down comforters. It’s one of the hottest spots in Houston, constantly buzzing and consistently delivering exceptional service.


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    Houstonian Hotel, Club, & Spa

    111 North Post Oak Lane
    Houston, TX 77024
    (713) 680-2626
    www.houstonian.com

    The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa sits on an 18-acre wooded oasis right in the heart of the city. Combining first-class comfort with casual elegance and attentive, personalized service, this classic Houston hotel is kitted out for the most discerning visitor. And it’s pretty darned lavish—the grandeur of this palatial hotel is equaled only by the 125,000 square foot fitness facility, where walking from one side to the other could be considered a workout. All this luxury draws a thriving business in high-end weddings. With a gargantuan kiddie Centre Pompidou-like climbing complex in the spa, we suspect you won’t see much of your kids while you’re here.


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    La Colombe d'Or

    3410 Montrose Boulevard
    Houston, TX 77006
    (713) 524-7999
    www.lacolombedor.com
    Rooms start at $295

    La Colombe d'Or is one of the most singular hotels in Houston. While many hotels in the city cater to the bigger-is-better crowd, this luxury hotel is one of the smallest in the world. The main building is a mansion that houses five spacious one-bedroom suites, some featuring sitting areas and dining rooms. And across the street sit the Villas at the Court of Colombe with one- or two-bedroom suites with separate living areas and kitchens. The hotel is optimally located for tourists, minutes away from some of the city's best museums and attractions. And for the culinary minded, Cinq at La Colombe d'Or is perfect fit for this luxurious and intimate hotel.


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