The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Restaurants Where Service Is King
It's hard to find good help, or so the saying goes. Indeed, many of the chefs and restaurant owners I've spoken with over the years privately admit that finding good waitstaff in Houston can be a Sisyphean task: You manage to find a truly great server or two, they dazzle your diners and then -- because this is a very marketable skill we're talking about -- they're lured away to another restaurant, and your search begins anew.
Photo by Hotel de la Ville Monza "How may we do our best to ensure your dining experience is the polar opposite of Fawlty Towers today?"
But at the restaurants we're spotlighting today, the service remains consistently spectacular from visit to visit -- whether the same employees are retained or not. These restaurants run the gamut from fine dining to mom-and-pop joints and all manner of cuisines.
They have one thing in common, however: Service that makes every meal memorable. The kind of service that encourages you to return again and again just to see a favorite waiter or catch up with restaurant owners who treat you like family. The subject of this week's cafe review, L'Olivier, is an excellent example of old-school service in an updated climate -- and so are the 10 restaurants below.
The Oceanaire doesn't get much play as a foodie favorite, and that's a shame. The Galleria-housed seafood palace offers the same attentive, traditional service as Creole grande dame Brennan's or downtown steakhouse Vic & Anthony's -- all of which are usually my first picks when my parents or other beloved elders want a dignfied, pleasant, upscale dinner. Service par excellence is the standard at these spots, and they can always be relied upon to make you feel welcomed and pampered for an evening.
10. LA Crawfish
Photo by Troy Fields Counter service at LA Crawfish doesn't mean you won't receive personal attention.
A common complaint at many of the Viet-Cajun crawfish places is that service is either rude or non-existent. Just the other day, Mai Pham's profile of Crawfish & Noodles owner Trong Nguyen inspired one commenter to remark: "Decent crawfish, but terrible, inexcusable, and inexplicably bad service. Seriously the worst I've had in my entire life, anywhere in the goddamned United States of America." Pham countered with a link to a previous post, in which she'd explained why she doesn't expect good service in Asian restaurants. LA Crawfish is an exception, however, to this anecdotal rule. The young kids who run it are unfailingly friendly to each and every patron, as well as helpful to crawfish neophytes. But most importantly, they get the food out lightning fast, which ensures that even if there's a long line (which there usually is), you'll get your food post-haste after ordering.
9. King's Biergarten
Photo by Troy Fields The Sitters keep it in the family at King's Biergarten.
I've rarely seen young servers as engaged and happy as they seem to be at King's Biergarten in Pearland. And they aren't just sporting lederhosen and dirndls for show: Every one of them can explain the German menu top to bottom, although owner Johann Sitter is always on-hand should you require a description of his homeland's food directly from the man whose family recipes are used to make the restaurant's goulash, zwiebelrostbraten and more. The effect of so many nattily-attired, cheerful servers delivering enormous, heavy trays of beer and brats can make evenings here seem more like a vacation to Munich.
Although any one of the four Barnaby's locations will offer you terrific service, the original location -- tucked away in a residential area in Montrose off Fairview -- still sets the bar. Despite long waits on weekends and occasionally cramped quarters inside (especially when you're dining at Baby Barnaby's next door), the waitstaff are never anything short of charming and gracious. Between complimenting your hairstyle, telling your grandmother how glorious she looks today, recommending their favorite dishes and always getting your order exactly right, the staff always offer excellent service. Employees appear to love the place just as much; anecdotes have flown for years of high-end maître d's attempting to lure Barnaby's crew members to "greener pastures" and failing every time.