I need a gift certificate to a restaurant in Houston. Tell me which one.
July 22, 2010 6:32 PM   Subscribe

My sister and her husband recently moved to Houston, Texas. I'd like to get them a gift certificate a restaurant. I know nothing about Houston.

They just moved to Houston from New York and are pretty experienced eaters. I think they draw the line at organ meats, though. I'm looking for a nice-ish place, maybe no more than $100 for 2 folks to chow down. Suggestions are appreciated!
posted by GilloD to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Goode Co. Seafood or El Tiempo. Goode Co. is nicer.
posted by amber_dale at 6:38 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

We have over 10,000 restaurants. What are their favorite types of food or types of restaurants?
posted by Houstonian at 6:39 PM on July 22, 2010

$100 excluding cocktails and wine? Mark's American Cuisine is great, but depending on whether you plan to give them a certificate that would include alcohol, it might be over your price limit.
posted by halogen at 6:39 PM on July 22, 2010

Cuisine? New America, French, would be great. But really anything goes.
posted by GilloD at 6:42 PM on July 22, 2010

Look at T'afia. It's pretty awesome. No organ meats so Feast is right out. :(

If they like French food, maybe they'd like to try the moules frite at the Broken Spoke Cafe. (There's also Jeannine's.)

Seconding Houstonian: Houston, geographically speaking, is gigantic, and if they live inside the 610 loop they may never venture out and experience the delights of the rest of the city.

I'm partial to the Alief/Little Saigon/new Chinatown area. Mind you, it's my neighborhood, so I'm a bit biased, but tell them to head down Bellaire (the street, not the neighborhood) and try out Nguyen Ngo for banh mi, get late night pho at Pho Ve Dem, or Indian/Pakistani on Hilcroft. $100 would last them three or four (hearty & delicious) meals out here. That doesn't really fit your gift certificate criteria, though--I don't know if any of those places have websites and I doubt any of them offer gift certificates (hell, many of them are cash-only).

Um, returning to the question, if they like New American, I recommend T'afia. It's always fresh and interesting--usually right around $100 for two, maybe a bit more.
posted by thack3r at 6:57 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Houston is ludicrously huge. Can you narrow their geography at all?
posted by purpleclover at 7:00 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Relocated New Yorker here, and I'm seconding T'afia and Goode Co. Seafood. T'afia is better, but Goode Company Seafood is pretty darned good, too.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:02 PM on July 22, 2010

The Houston Press (our version of NY's Village Voice) does a "Best of" every year. Best of food and drinks, 2009.

They won't like Feast if they don't like organ meat. But some of these might really strike you as right. For example, bet they already miss NY pizza (not as fancy as your price range indicated, but...)

Bar Annie is nice.
posted by Houstonian at 7:04 PM on July 22, 2010

thack3r is bringing up a really good point. Houston has amazing restaurants for low prices. Frankly, I could think of a dozen must-not-miss places off the top of my head, but none of them would cost that much for two people.
posted by Houstonian at 7:08 PM on July 22, 2010

Rainbow Lodge.
posted by ericthegardener at 7:12 PM on July 22, 2010

If they like French, I'd recommend a couple places off the beaten path a little: Aura in Missouri City and Chez Nous in Humble. If anything truly goes, nthing Feast. You don't *have* to get organ meat there, there's lots of other stuff that's quite good, but do check the daily menu.
posted by Runes at 7:14 PM on July 22, 2010

Take the Houston Press "Best of" selections with a grain of salt. Neither Yia Yia Mary's nor Fadi's are worth a trip IMO, in spite of the thousands of people from Houston who will insist they're wonderful. Not if you've had the real thing in New York, they're not. They've been watered down for Texan's tastes. Phoenicia (the restaurant location, not the supermarket) is where you want to go for Mediterranean, but it's inexpensive. But oh my god, the chicken shawarma and baba ganoush are incredible.... garlic will ooze from your pores for 2 days!

But also, what Houstonian said - most of our best restaurants are relatively inexpensive, and they're generally one-off, family owned ethnic restaurants. Although the Carrabba's on South Voss (which is what north Hillcroft turns into) is very good, because that's the flagship location for the chain, and the owners are still hands-on at that location. (They had a cooking show on PBS for a while. Used to make me drool!)
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:30 PM on July 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Babin's has some awfully good Cajun food.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:35 PM on July 22, 2010

Let them know about Houston Restaurant 'Week', August 1 - August 21:
Diners will enjoy three or four course (depending on the restaurant) gourmet dinners for $35 per person (not including beverages, tax or gratuity). Participating restaurants pledge to donate $5 from each special dinner sold to the Houston Food Bank. This is a wonderful opportunity for diners to try new restaurants or re-visit old favorites while helping to fight hunger in Houston. HRW is planned by volunteers so that 100% of funds raised are donated to the Houston Food Bank.

New addition the year: Lunch! Two courses for $20 per person. Restaurants pledge to donate $3 per special lunch sold to the Houston Food Bank.
It's a great way to try new restaurants, and if I remember correctly from last year, it was always a good deal. I see several of the restaurants already mentioned are participating: Feast, Mark's, RDG + Bar Annie.

Maybe MetaFilter should make city guides; there's a lot of knowledge here.
posted by Someday Bum at 7:43 PM on July 22, 2010

Lots of good recommendations already. I'll add:
Mia Bella downtown
posted by dog food sugar at 9:14 PM on July 22, 2010

I always like Chuy's
posted by markmillard at 9:18 PM on July 22, 2010

I guess Feast has been ruled out, so I'll toss in Reef.
posted by sanko at 9:18 PM on July 22, 2010

Can I also glumly mention that Feast, while saying "aw shucks" and absentmindedly kicking the dirt in front of me in disappointment?

On the other hand, you could take another approach, building on Houston's affordable restaurant scene and rather than treat them to one meal, partially subsidize a handful of them. It could be essentially a "Taste of Houston" collection with three $35 giftcards to a couple landmarks.

You'll want to make sure to get them to a great BBQ joint, a great TexMex spot, and a great seafood spot. $35 toward any one of those dinners here would take care of well more than half of the meal.

If I were doing that for someone, I'd send them to Goode Co. for BBQ, Ninfa's for TexMex and Danton's for seafood. And I'd include mandatory dessert gift certificates with each one so that they'd have to hit Dessert Gallery, The Chocolate Bar and House of Pies.
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:34 PM on July 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also, if you want them to have an experience, you might consider sending them down to Galveston to have dinner along the ocean. It might be nice for them to get out of the urban jungle for a bit - and Galveston is only 45 minutes south.

I would recommend Gaido's (seafood), Benno's (cajun seafood) or Mario's (Italian) down here - avoid anything in the Landry's empire (which is, like, everything else).
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:39 PM on July 22, 2010

What do Houstonians think of Ousie's Table? I wanted to go there and to Feast on my Houston trip, but the swine flu got in the way :-(
posted by brujita at 11:31 PM on July 22, 2010

Our absolute faves in Houston:
Voice (!!!)
posted by cross_impact at 6:42 AM on July 23, 2010

Oh, and Ouisies is pretty nice. Especially if you like wine.
posted by cross_impact at 6:42 AM on July 23, 2010

The comments about location are spot-on. As purpleclover intimated, Houston is freaking huge. Much as I like Chez Nous it takes a very special occasion or the fact that I'm going to be up at Intergalactic anyway. And there are a ton of reasonable, hole-in-the-wall, known-primarily-to-the-neighborhood places, especially when it comes to BBQ and Tex-Mex. For example, I can't remember the last time I went to Ninfa's but I go to Eduardo's a lot. Hot Town Cool City lists a lot of these local places.
posted by Runes at 8:17 AM on July 23, 2010

I agree that that Houston Press list is pretty hit or miss. Also, while there are a lot of New American restaurants I'd recommend, the French food here is not the city's strong suit and unless they are moving to Humble, Chez Nous is really far away. (I do like Bistro Max et Julie in Montrose.) My favorite fancy restaurants that are a little closer in that others have mentioned -- Feast, Reef, T'afia (you may recognize Monica Pope, my chefcrush, from one of those top chef showdowns where the guy from Aquavit showed himself to be a total tool), and Gravitas -- they are largely New Americanish.

The ones that others haven't mentioned are in my neighborhood (The Heights) -- Textile, Glass Wall, and Stella Sola (this is my favorite restaurant because Texas-Tuscan cuisine is genius and they have wonderful, reasonable wine selections). There is also Block 17, Branchwater Tavern, and BRC that are more casual, gastropubby affairs.

Houston is the champ in terms of cheap and tasty eats that are not easily found in NYC. (These probably aren't gift certificate places, but you can pass the info along.) For Vietnamese food (which I never liked that much in NYC) -- Huynh or Vietnam Restaurant. There is next to no good Mexican food in NYC, but it's on every corner here -- Tepatitlan or Teotihuacan are both great. Nothing says welcome like a decent margarita.
posted by *s at 9:23 AM on July 23, 2010

Maybe it's too late to be useful, but here's some more information.

For completeness: Of restaurants mentioned since my last comment, Cavatore, *17, Voice, Gravitas, and Branch Water Tavern are participating in Houston Restaurant Week.

I didn't know what Bar Annie was (I don't know many Houston restaurants) or how they could call themselves the "Best Restaurant in Houston" on their website (imagine me rolling my eyes). Bar Annie used to be "the conjoined, slightly more casual brethren" of Cafe Annie, which was often rated the best restaurant in Houston (I'd document this, but again, I'm just now learning the details -- and maybe RDG + Bar Annie has already earned "Best Restaurant" on its own?). So, this looks like a good place to check out.

Also, halogen commented upstream that Mark's could be over your price limit. Let me tell you how Mark's can be ridiculously below your price limit. Stick with me, it's a little bit complicated. Do you know about restaurant.com for getting discount gift certificates? Limiting this to restaurants mentioned here, you can get gift certificates to Mark's, Danton's, Mia Bella, Aura, *17, Gravitas, Block 7 Wine Company, and Taqueria Tepatitlan. They're already steaply discounted. (There are usually extra conditions, though, like there's a mandatory gratuity, and you must spend $X beyond the discount gift certificate. You can also buy the usual kind of gift certificates, I think, and thus a second, non-discount gift certificate might meet the first one's conditions.)

Want a convenient list of all Houston restaurants on restaurant.com? Go here (found on Reddit). This last website says -- at the time of writing -- that the discount code TASTY gets you 70% off. Which means you can get $100 in gift certificates to Mark's for $12 (four $25 certificates, $3 apiece; of course, this does not include the gift certificate requirements). Also, I just got an email that said the discount code PLATE will get you 80% discount, so the gift certificates now cost you $8 instead of $12.
posted by Someday Bum at 9:49 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

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