This year’s CultureMap Tastemaker Awards coverage begins with the nominees for Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year. To be eligible, nominees should be open for lunch and dinner at least six days per week.
Beyond that baseline, these restaurants set themselves apart by being welcoming to a diverse array of diners. Fittingly for Houston, they represent a diverse array of influences, covering Texas staples like barbecue and Tex-Mex as well as Filipino and Thai.
Casual, relatively affordable, and able to serve a range of dining preferences, particularly vegan and vegetarian, they’re ready to serve when diners need them. That’s why our judges panel of restaurant industry pros selected them for this category.
Who will win? Find out May 25 at the Tastemaker Awards party. We’ll dine on bites from this year’s nominated restaurants before emcee Bun B reveals the winners. Buy tickets now.
Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine
Few restaurants serve their neighborhoods of Montrose and Garden Oaks better than this casual Mediterranean restaurant. Aladdin’s diverse selection of meats, vegetables, and sides means that most people, vegans and vegetarians included, will find something satisfying to eat at an affordable price. It also stays open on holidays, providing an alternative to marked up menus or forced family gatherings.
As this cafe prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary next month, this nomination provides an opportunity to celebrate its many accomplishments: one of Houston’s oldest coffee shops, a cornerstone of the transformation of lower Westheimer into a restaurant row, and, under the direction of chef AJ Ede, the home of one of Houston’s best cheeseburgers. Beyond serving tasty food and refreshing drinks, Brasil serves as a neighborhood gathering spot by hosting film screenings, art shows, and other happenings.
Click Virtual Food Hall
Some may be surprised to see a ghost kitchen concept listed among brick and mortar restaurants, but chef Gabe Medina’s diverse offerings are worthy of praise. The chef brings experience from both high-profile Houston restaurants like Soma and Aqui and a stint at Tokyo’s acclaimed Narisawa (a two-star Michelin restaurant that regularly appears on the World’s 50 Best list) to Click’s fare, which helps explain why both the Japanese and Filipino dishes are so compelling. Click’s partnerships with Burger Chan and Craft Pita allow it to help other entrepreneurs grow their businesses without the expense of opening additional locations. The Rice Military hub boasts a wide delivery range, making it a favorite in the area.
Since 2012, Ana Beaven and Charlie McDaniel’s bistro has brought the flavors of Mexico City to Montrose. The bright, open dining room, decorated with a lively mural by Ana’s sister Cecilia, remains a comfortable place to dine. Picking favorites from the diverse menu is difficult, but any meal at Cuchara should include some of the dishes that utilize its housemade masa like the pork belly gorditas or the beef-and-cheese-topped Tostaditas del Ajusco.
This food truck-turned-restaurant operates at a couple of different levels. At lunch, diners can sit down to tacos — including the award-winning barbacoa — or sandwiches. Chef-owner Tony Luhrman shows more creativity at dinner, which is when he combines locally-sourced ingredients with a diverse array of influences to serve more complex fare. El Topo is fun at brunch, too, with an appealing array of housemade pastries and seasonal agua frescas.
Earning a spot in the Texas Monthly top 50 cemented this Spring Branch restaurant’s barbecue bona fides, but diners who only visit for the expertly smoked brisket and ribs will have missed what sets Feges apart. Over a dozen sides, everything from french fries and cole slaw to spicy Korean greens and Moroccan carrots, and compelling salads mean that vegetarians will find plenty to like. A kids play area makes the restaurant family friendly, while co-owner Erin Smith’s smart wine list makes it equally compelling for grown ups.
Kenny & Ziggy’s
A recent move to a bigger, better location has reminded many Houstonians how much they appreciate Ziggy Gruber’s Jewish deli and restaurant. From sky-high sandwiches to blintzes to burgers to hearty entrees like the signature Romanian chicken fricassee, no other restaurant in Houston executes as broad a menu with as much consistency. While regulars would have said dayenu if Gruber had merely recreated the original in a new spot, the deli man went above and beyond by adding an old fashioned soda fountain and a cocktail bar to his offerings.
The Original Ninfa’s
Feeding generations of Houstonians fajitas, enchiladas, and queso would more than earn it a spot among our nominees, but chef Alex Padilla keeps things interesting with a rotating mix of specials that utilize the restaurant’s wood-burning oven and grill. While the focus will always be on Tex-Mex, Padilla also serves more traditional Mexican like cochinita pibil, carnitas, and street-style pastor tacos. Bar director Ángel Belman has brought new life to the cocktail program with creative drinks that might tempt people away from their beloved Ninfaritas.
Street to Kitchen
Chef Benchawan Painter, known to friends and diners as “Chef G,” uses locally sourced ingredients to serve “unapologetically Thai” fare at this East End restaurant that shares a building with a gas station convenience store. Weekday lunch service features staples like pad Thai (available with shrimp or vegan-friendly mushroom) and a sinus-clearing pork larb. At dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, Painter showcases her creativity with one-off specials that can’t be missed. Warm service by Painter’s husband Graham adds to the welcoming atmosphere.