Top 10 Restaurants in Midtown

Categories: Top 10

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Photo by Elaine Mesker-Garcia
Midtown is also home to extensive, beautiful, highly technical works of local graffiti artists like Weah.
Although Midtown may be more well-known for its bars and late-night clubs, there isn't a shortage of good food to be found -- even if the neighborhood is steadily losing many of the Vietnamese restaurants that once saturated the area.

In keeping with Midtown's current incarnation as the drinking-out capital of the city, much of the best food can be found in its pubs: Community Bar and Saint Dane both host wildly popular steak nights, while the Midtown Drinkery is where you'll find Chef Bob (coincidentally, formerly of Community Bar) cooking up a storm on Thursday nights.

Leon's Lounge offers some of the best empanadas you'll find in town (and, yes, they're homemade) while its neighbor across McGowen -- craft beer bar Mongoose versus Cobra -- has an excellent selection of sandwiches, sausages, cheeses and other grub (with healthier options on the way). Its sister bar, 13 Celsius, is even more notable for its own sandwiches, with meat and cheeses sliced to order. And Coaches Pub offers one of the more respectable pub burgers in town, a burger that's a steal at lunch.

And although it's not a restaurant, Spec's Deli also makes some of our favorite sandwiches in the city. Grab one at lunch and browse through the small but fascinating grocery section in the downtown liquor warehouse for some interesting side items and drinks to take back to the office with you.

But there's more to Midtown's food offerings than just pub grub.

Disclaimer: For the purposes of this post, Midtown is defined as south of I-45 (the Pierce Elevated), west of Highway 288, north of Highway 59 and east of Bagby. For a map of the area, visit the Midtown Houston website.

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Photo by Troy Fields
An open-faced meatloaf sandwich and signature punch at Natchee's.
Honorable mention: Natachee's Supper 'n Punch

Nearly half of this list is located on what we like to call "The Best Block in Houston," a.k.a. the strip of land housing the Continental Club and Big Top as well as some of the best, most unique restaurants in the neighborhood. First up is Natachee's Supper 'n Punch, which one housed its own horse -- Lacy -- in the attached, grassy side yard until health inspectors told her to giddy-up and go. While sad, it made more room for the crowds that spill out of Natachee's in the evenings and the kids who play in its large sandbox area. The earnestly down-home joint on Main Street serves food your Southern mother might have made -- including an all-day breakfast -- but the menu really shines when you go for the basics: chicken-fried steak, meatloaf sandwiches and the pork 'n cheezy burger with thick strips of real bacon. The sweet potato pie and peach cobbler are must-haves, too.

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Photo by Troy Fields
Pho tai, crispy egg rolls and cafe sua da at Kim Tai.
10. Kim Tai

While it certainly looks sketchy from the outside, this family-run Vietnamese diner represents the best of Midtown's recent past with its solid pho, spring rolls and bun with crispy egg rolls and chargrilled pork. In keeping with the changing area, Kim Tai also offers diner classics like cheeseburgers, chicken-fried steak sandwiches and (like Natachee's) breakfast all day long. The egg rolls are hard to beat, and the iced Vietnamese coffee will make sure you don't fall asleep at work after a pho lunch, but the best bet here is the addictive ban bot chien that's topped with green onions and crispy fried garlic. The bright lights from Mongoose versus Cobra and Leon's Lounge a few feet away have hopefully helped raise Kim Tai's profile, as it's as deserving of the same praise (if not more) that's heaped on Mai's, Van Loc, Pho Saigon or any other Vietnamese joint in Midtown.

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Lines stack up for lunch each day at Les Givral's for its signature banh mi sandwiches.
9. Les Givral's

Les Givral's has one of the most confusing names and one of the most confusing back stories of any restaurant in Houston. It's named after Givrals, a bakery in Paris which opened a branch in Saigon during the middle of the 19th century and became a fixture in the city. When one of the Givral Cafes was closed two years ago, Saigonese mourned its loss. No one quite knows when or why the apostrophe was incorporated into our own Les Givral's when it opened here, but the Les Givral's at 2704 Milam is one of the few remnants of the glut of banh mi shops "Little Saigon" held not 10 years ago. Half the banh mi shops Robb Walsh visited in his 2001 "Desperately Seeking Sandwiches" story are now gone, and this Les Givral's is actually the reincarnation of a Givral's Sandwich Shop that was originally run by Nga Chung before it was taken over by Staci Le's family in 2001. Le now runs the Les Givral's on Congress, but it's the little sandwich shop on Milam that still draws the biggest and most loyal crowds for one thing and one thing only: banh mi. And don't be fooled by imitations: Les Givral's Kahve on Washington pales in comparison to the original.

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Photo by Troy Fields
Bullfighting depictions and other Spanish scenes decorate Majorca's walls.
8. Majorca

What makes the tapas at Majorca interesting is that they're more strongly influenced by North Africa than at any other tapas bar in town, and this twist works to its advantage by giving Majorca a little added edge. Chef Hicham Nafaa's extensive menu includes typical Spanish classics like paella, albóndigas (fat, filling meatballs that are best enjoyed with a fried egg on top) and gambas con arroz (prawns with rice). The merguez lamb that features in many dishes is wonderful, especially when tucked into a crusty sandwich and the delicious, cinnamon-spiced, house-made sangria is so good, you'll want to go ahead and order a pitcher and down it with friends on the patio fronting Midtown's busiest street. On weekends, Majorca offers no-cover live flamenco music and Sunday brunch here is also one of the best values in town: an all-you-can eat Spanish/Mediterranean spread with bottomless mimosas for just $14.95.


Location Info

Spec's Deli

2410 Smith, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Natachee's Supper 'n Punch

3622 Main St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Kim Tai

2602 Fannin St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Les Givral's Sandwich & Cafe

2704 Milam St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Majorca

207 W. Gray, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Tacos A Go-Go

3704 Main St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

the breakfast klub

3711 Travis St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Ibiza

2450 Louisiana, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Charivari Restaurant

2521 Bagby St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Reef

2600 Travis St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Brennan's of Houston

3300 Smith, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Sparrow Bar + Cookshop

3701 Travis St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

My Voice Nation Help
16 comments
paval
paval topcommenter

Since I work in the bigger midtown area, I appreciate the list, it gives me some additional ideas. Also that Majorca is not really in the boundaries was obvious to me, but that whole stretch of Gray almost till taft still sees itself as part of Midtown. Junction bar for example.

Reef is indeed one of the big ones in Midtown and so is Sparrow.

On Charivari i have a comment i had posted a long time ago in a Chronicle article. What makes a restaurant German?

a) The fact that they serve German food?

b) that the owners are German?

c)Or that a restaurant calls itself German?

d)Or the general perception of the people?

If a) what is really german food. Hamburgers supposedly came from a dish prepared by immigrants from Hamburg, Germany. So are hamburgers German food? The same is to say about CFS which is a bastardized version of Wiener Schnitzel, which itself is not a German but an Austrian dish

b) The owner of Le Peep is I believe german, as the owners of Charivari, and so is Michaels Burger Place in Galveston and I am sure a lot more places. Are those German restaurants?

c) Olive Garden calls itself the Italian Restaurants. If you would ask an Italian he would never let them qualify as the first. For some people they do not even qualify as the second.

d) probably the most important of characterizations. To continue beating on OG: When I came to the US OG was seen by my hosts as an Italian Restaurant. I believe in the last seven years the perception of what Italian restaurant is may have improved a tad. But the same is valid for Le Madeleine which due to its name is seen as french by many, but having lived many years in France I do not find anything French in it.

 

To me a restaurant should mostly be qualified according to a combination of 35% of c) and 30% of d) and a) and 5% b).

Nationality should not matter almost at all, since I would never deny even a Chinese to be able to cook German food if he assimilated the cooking culture, techniques, ingredients knowledge and a lot of practice.

Perception is important but sometimes the mass errs. Specially if the mass is confronted to a new concept. I remember when "Feast" opened to hear and read it defined as "British", "pork", etc. Nowadays the definition of "from nose to tail" has gained hold and is generally accepted and used.

The kind of food served is important, but how many Americans can define exactly what New-American means? And what happens with all the fusion confusion trends. I recently saw a Venezuelan who cooks Italian and since he lives in Houston calls his restaurant Gulf Coast-Italian-Continental.

The way how a restaurant sees itself seems hence to be the most defining factor. That's why Arturo defines his restaurant this way, and I believe most people should be able to get an idea of what he serves in a Gulf Coast-Italian-Continental as difficult as that name may come off one's tongue.

 

 

nate
nate

Tacos a go go?  Really?  Sigh.

BP88
BP88

You've been such a stickler on the other lists about restaurants being in the boundaries. Majorca doesn't quite fit the definition of Midtown you've given. It's a block and a half west of Bagby.

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

"Expect to wait about 90 minutes on a good day" 

 

Breakfast Klub loses me here, its Chicken and Waffles with a mural of Obama people, not a museum opening......

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

I've had two misadventures with Reef. First visit--when I still drove limos--while dropping a party there, we had beer bottles thrown at us from the roof bar. After 45 minutes, my party called for a pick up. Even though they had reservations, they waited and waited but no table. Years later, after reading how great this place is, I took my Mrs. for our monthly night out. We had reservations, we were early, and NO ONE WAS THERE. Still these CHILDREN left us standing at the door like MoMos while they caught up on gossip. We went to Brennan's where the PROFESSIONAL host remembered my name and graciously seated us without reservations.

Jenandtonic
Jenandtonic

Natachees is so uneven. They do some stuff ok, but I had to give up after about half a dozen bad meals there (I was in denial). I've had the meatloaf pictured and it was inedibly salty, and their CFS is chewy and stringy. No thanks. Good call on Sparrow Bar though. Those shiitake dumplings are astonishingly delicious.

jeffbalke
jeffbalke

I'd pick Cali over Les Givral's myself, but otherwise, good list.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt editor

 @BP88 True, true, but I think it's safe to place that whole little area there within the Midtown boundaries. I should have perhaps pushed the boundaries west a bit more, but even the Midtown District admits that those boundaries (which are theirs) are a bit rough.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @texmex01 It's not something I'm going to do every weekend, but every once in a while it's fun to grab a couple of friends and some coffee, then wait it out together while you all catch up. The wings are grits are worth the wait -- just not all the time.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editor

 @jeffbalke I go back and forth between Cali and LG. And then there's poor Thien An. I hope they reopen again soon.

BP88
BP88

 @kshilcutt  @texmex01 The wait isn't nearly that bad if you can make it on a weekday. In fact, I've walked right up around 9 am or so. The wait is usually less than 15 minutes at lunchtime. I've never even tried to go on a Saturday

jkellymassey
jkellymassey

 @kshilcutt  @jeffbalke WHAT?!?! Thien An is closed? That is the best Vietnamese food in the area hands down, without driving out to Bellaire.

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