Houston's restaurants know how to present eye-popping dishes. (Photo courtesy Uchi)
Put an East Coast foodie in Houston, and what do you get?
Lots and lots of love. A fawning Washington Post report deeming Houston one of the 10 Best Food Cities in America is the latest (and some might say greatest) example of this phenomenon. Outsiders cannot get enough of Houston’s restaurant scene.
Whether this is a case of low expectations being exceeded triggering great praise, or simple, sustained excellence does not really matter. It’s priceless publicity either way. “Houston, you have a problem. Your food scene deserves more love,” Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema writes.
OK, we’ll have to forgive the oh-so-tired play off the NASA space center line. The Post’s love for Houston restaurants is that strong. It goes as far as declaring that, “Every eater who cares about creative cooking and innovative restaurants needs to make a trip to the fourth-largest city in the country.”
Encouragingly, Sietsema begins with Helen Greek Food and Wine, which our James Brock touted several months ago. Not so encouragingly, Sietsema holds Tony’s up as the “old-guard restaurant,” not recognizing the new energy that chef Kate McLean has brought or the constant, seamless updating Tony Vallone pulls off.
Underbelly chef Chris Shepherd — the unofficial ambassador of Houston food — makes a predictable starring appearance. Killen’s Barbecue (which even America’s football fans know about after its J.J. Watt-spurred appearance on HBO’s Hard Knocks) and Houston’s Vietnamese restaurants also draw major Washington Post love.
If you know Houston food, you’re not going to really learn anything new from this fawning piece. Instead, it’s about seeing the Bayou City put up there with America’s great restaurant cities.
“New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Orleans and Chicago were obvious inclusions from the start, as were Philadelphia, Charleston and Portland (Oregon). But Houston? Of the dozens of reader suggestions I’ve fielded since the launch of my cross-country tour, not one has flagged Space City, best known as the home of NASA,” Sietsema writes.
Still, Houston makes his 10 Best Food Cities in America list. Sometimes, it’s good to be the unexpected underdog.