The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Bistros

Categories: Top 10

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Photo by Sanggi
Houston's bistros are much more modern -- and far less French.
How do you define a bistro?

If you're going to stick to the traditional Parisian definition, a bistro (or bistrot) is a small, tidy restaurant that serves inexpensive wine and simple dishes in a modest price range. Those dishes are traditionally French "comfort food" recipes like coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon and steak-frites.

In a modern American city, the concept of a bistro goes beyond its Gallic roots but still -- I think -- stays true to form even if it's not serving remotely French food. I consider a bistro in Houston to be a small, unpretentious restaurant -- usually of the neighborhood restaurant variety -- serving hearty, simple food and a selection of alcoholic beverages.

For this reason, I couldn't consider more upscale French restaurants such as L'Olivier, Aura or Philippe -- places which draw audiences from all over the city, as opposed to the restaurant's immediate area. Nor could I consider too-casual spots that don't offer alcohol or a menu beyond a few sandwiches and pastries.

Bistros occupy a necessary middle ground between these two ends of a spectrum as a restaurant that offers a charming atmosphere and a thoughtful food and wine/beer selection with mid-range prices.

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Photo by Troy Fields
10. Zelko Bistro

This cozy converted house on 11th Street couldn't be more at home in the Heights, where most residents walk or bike to this neighborhood favorite. Owners Jamie and Dalia Zelko keep it local -- with both their customers and the food. Produce, meat and fish are sourced locally when possible, while the restaurant even has its own beehives. Yes, the honey is for sale. Zelko also employs a very price-friendly wine list that allows for a bottle to be shared at even the most moderate of dinners.


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Photo by Troy Fields
9. Arturo Boada Cuisine

In a sleepy side street in the Memorial Villages, Arturo Boada Cuisine is alive with the energy of a European bistro. Chef and owner Arturo Boada is a constant presence there, turning out his signature dishes such as a creamy, tangy camarones henesy y hamaca - shrimp over plantains in a sauce - and Italian pizzas with Spanish ingredients on top, like a carnitas pizza topped with asadero cheese and cilantro. The wine list is occasionally pricey but worth it; you'll want to split a bottle just to stay all night in the cozy space.


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Photo by Mai Pham
8. Mockingbird Bistro

This Montrose/River Oaks mainstay has the classic bistro menu and look down pat, with a beautiful mahogany bar that nearly spans the length of the restaurant. Mockingbird Bistro is a perfect place to enjoy a big fat steak with french fries and an earthy Rhône red wine or a hamburger and a cold beer, but chef John Sheely has other surprises up his sleeve, like a foie gras "club sandwich" with duck breast.

Location Info

Roost

1972 Fairview St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Bistro Des Amis

2347 University Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Giacomo's Cibo e Vino

3215 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Nosh Bistro - CLOSED

3983 Kirby Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Bistro Provence

13616 Memorial Dr., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Plonk Beer & Wine Bistro

1214 W. 43rd St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Canopy

3939 Montrose, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Shade

250 W. 19th St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Mockingbird Bistro Wine Bar

1985 Welch St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Arturo Boada Cuisine

6510 Del Monte Dr., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Zelko Bistro

705 E. 11th St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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15 comments
David Rosas Jr.
David Rosas Jr.

Seems like a great list sans the moderate prices you quote at the beginning of your article.

badfish
badfish

Sad to see Cafe Rabelais didn't make the list.

gustafsonD
gustafsonD

I would add L'Olivier and some others, Poscol maybe. I mean if you include places like Mockingbird Bistro, which largely entertains older, suburban folks from the Memorial Villages, how could you pass on L'Olivier and Poscol? Both are more rooted in the neighborhood. Hell, so is Cuchara for that matter if you want to go outside the Francophile traditiion.

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

Surprised you didn't mention the interesting history of the word bistro.

FRL713
FRL713

La Tapatia (Chimney Rock) serves as my local bistro with a great staff and consistently useful food/drink.  Shandy's Cafe in Rice Military is another spot that comes to mind.

Melia Hughes
Melia Hughes

I think I've only tried half of them, and that's not nearly enough. The ones I have tried have all been great, but that's some camera magic to make Zelko look almost roomy. That is one of the tightest dining rooms in town!

Kyle King
Kyle King

Zelko, Shade, and Canopy have served me some great food. Now to try the others! :)

Tina Marie
Tina Marie

nope, don't know how these became "Best"

Dragana Arezina Harris
Dragana Arezina Harris

Kris Bistro - delicious food, great service, pleasant ambiance, reasonable prices.

Michael Myers
Michael Myers

"Unpretentious" may not be the right word for a few of these. Zelko has great food, but that floor... the servers stomp on the floor back and forth during the entire meal and shake the table.

kipsook
kipsook

@gustafsonD  I'd say several of these places on the list consider themselves 'destination restaurants' where people would brave snowstorms and traffic to eat with them. Agree with your point about Mockingbird and the older sports-coat set. Good list overall!

piscosour
piscosour

@Jay Francis Surprised you're not telling us now, Jay. That's not like you.

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