Top 10 Restaurants in Memorial
The last time we rounded up the 10 best places to eat in Memorial was in 2009. CityCentre was still under construction and Memorial City Mall had just emerged from years of redevelopment to rival The Galleria as the city's best shopping center. The Memorial you see today is not the Memorial that I grew up in -- a sleepy suburb where most of the restaurants were mom-and-pop places and where the neighborhood's best bar was owned by my high school English teacher.
Photo by Joseph Holloway Memorial's newest piece of love-it-or-hate-it architecture.
But I'm not one to shun this new, vibrant Memorial either; the resurgence (or continued growth, depending upon your perspective) is something that many once-glorious Houston suburbs never get to experience. Look upon Sharpstown or Gulfgate or Alief, ye mighty, and despair. For all the moaning about the "Decepticon"-esque medical tower at Gessner and I-10 or the closure of Town & Country Mall, the restyled Memorial has been a boon to property values in the area and has brought a bevy of interesting dining options that didn't exist this far west even 10 years ago.
And although I love old-school joints like LaHa, Napoli's and Sam's Deli Diner as much as the next Memorial kid, this Top 10 list contains restaurants that can be considered among the best in the city -- not simply the most nostalgic.
Disclaimer: For the purposes of this post, Memorial is defined as north of Buffalo Bayou, west of Loop 610, east of Highway 6, and north of Katy Freeway to Westview. This area includes Spring Valley Village, Piney Point Village, Bunker Hill Village, Hedwig Village, Hilshire Village and Hunters Creek Village. Some entries are excerpted from previous Best of Houston® issues, as the reasons we awarded the restaurants such accolades still stand.
The reason I list these three places together and haven't given them individual spots on the list is because they're all grocery stores/specialty markets first and foremost. That said, these three spots are three of my go-to favorites for a quick, simple and [occasionally] healthy lunch. If you love deli-style sandwiches, you'll love these three places.
10. The Union Kitchen
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt A tall stack of pancakes at Union Kitchen.
The second location of Bellaire-based Union Kitchen is warm and inviting, with a full bar to one side and a tiered dining room to the other. You almost wouldn't recognize the revamped dining room as the former location of Chinese haunt Hunan Emperor. Union Kitchen's bar makes some excellent Bloody Marys during Sunday brunch, which are the perfect companion to a seven-layer stack of its buttery pancakes. Lunch and dinner are more scattered affairs, but the burgers -- especially the signature onion ring-topped Angus burger -- are reliably good.
9. Brenner's Steak House
Photo courtesy of Brenner's A 30-ounce Tomahawk chop and a view at Brenner's.
German immigrant Lorene Brenner and her husband, Herman, opened the first Brenner's Cafe in 1936. When their original eatery was bulldozed to make way for the Katy Freeway, the Brenners relocated to a little house with a big garden and changed the format. From the beginning, Brenner's Steakhouse has served only USDA Prime beef. The 14-table main dining room was softly illuminated by antique light fixtures, and the woodwork was installed with the kind of craftsmanship you don't see much anymore. One wall is made of flagstone with a built-in fireplace, and the opposite one is a floor-to-ceiling window looking out over the enormous garden. The charming little cottage with the excellent steaks became a favorite of Houston's new western suburban set, who were building houses along Memorial in the 1950s and 1960s. Herman Brenner died in 1976, and Lorene Brenner operated the restaurant alone for many years. When she retired, Tilman Fertitta's Landry's Restaurant Group bought the place. Fertitta spent more than $1 million to restore Brenner's to its original state. He even brought Lorene Brenner back as a consultant. In a city that routinely razes its landmarks, Brenner's revitalization is nothing short of amazing.
8. Cafe Rita
Kebobs at Cafe Rita.
This Armenian/Lebanese restaurant is a small, one-of-a-kind place run by an elderly Armenian couple, George and Rita Sarikhanian. Eating here makes you feel like you're a guest in their home -- everything is homemade and served with pride -- and there are even pictures of grandchildren stuck all over the sides of the deli case, which is stuffed to overflowing with goodies. Rita prepares traditional breakfast foul -- the ancient fava bean soup -- with lots of lemon and garlic. George and Rita always have something cooking that's not on the menu. "Taste this, we don't make it all the time, you better get some while you can," George will say, stuffing your mouth with something wonderful as you stand in line. How can you say no? Their hummus, mouhammara (red pepper spread) and falafel are excellent, and all of their kabobs -- lamb, chicken, kefta -- served hot off the grill, are scrumptious. Expect a wait at lunch.