The neighborhood restaurant of the year category i 2023 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards recognizes restaurants that are almost always there for their customers – meaning they serve both lunch and dinner and are open at least six days a week.
These minimum requirements allow us to recognize a diverse group of businesses. From a vegetarian-friendly barbecue restaurant to a staple of Houston’s South Asian community, our nominees serve food from around the world. Their stories also vary dramatically. While most have opened in recent years, another celebrates its 25th anniversary in April.
They are united by their casual atmospheres, relatively affordable prices and flexible menus that cater to many cravings, including vegan and vegetarian. They are also friendly and welcoming, which is why they are staples in their respective neighborhoods.
Who will win? Find out on April 13 at our Tastemaker Awards ceremony. Dine on bites from this year’s nominees, sip cocktails from our sponsors, and witness as we reveal the winners. Buy your tickets before they sell out.
Aga’s Restaurant & Catering
If the only criteria for this award were customers served, Agas would dominate almost every other restaurant in Houston. Not only is the huge dining room almost constantly full, the endless parade of to-go orders serves as yet another demonstration of its popularity. It is difficult to choose favorite dishes from the huge menu. Building a meal around goat chops and other Pakistani barbecue dishes is always a good idea. Don’t overlook the goat curries, especially the Peshawari karahi and white karahi. Ease the burn with a mango lassi.
Give credit to Raffi Nasr and her Peruvian mother Claudia for some impressive performances. Not only did they establish Craft Pita as a staple of Lebanese cuisine in the midst of the pandemic, the restaurant gained enough of a following to open a second location in West U. Credit for its success starts with family recipes that used quality local ingredients, and the savvy use of products from high-quality local vendors like Phenicia and Michael’s Cookie Jar. Olive oil from the family’s own groves links the restaurant to its Lebanese roots.
For more than 10 years, Ana Beaven and her team of female chefs have given Montrose a taste of Mexico City. From the selection of corn-based dishes—everything from pork gorditas to a huiitlacoche tamal—to menu staples like ceviche and mole verde, diners rely on Cuchara for flavorful, well-executed meals. A strong selection of agave-based cocktails offers plenty of pairing options, and the lively terrace fills up in good weather. No wonder the restaurant expanded into the adjacent Max’s Wine Dive space and spun off a breakfast-oriented sister concept (more on that in our Best New Restaurant roundup).
d’Alba artisan kitchen
Located in Garden Oaks and Midtown, this restaurant has the flexibility to feed the whole family for a weekday dinner and a weekend date night destination. At Garden Oaks, children play while parents sip craft cocktails or a glass of wine. In Midtown, friends share spinach artichoke dip, prosciutto pizza or the signature balloon bread. Both locations are united by their expansive patios, warm service and a flexible menu that covers a wide range of cravings.
Chefs Shiva and Rick Di Virgilio, the pair behind Midtown’s Oporto Fooding House, have created another compelling dining experience with this Portuguese-Indian restaurant in the MKT development. The bright, open dining room and a patio facing the Heights Hike and Bike Trail provide a comfortable setting. With a selection of vegetarian and meaty dishes, diners will find enough options for almost any desire. Highlights include crab pani puri, three chilli paneer and masala lamb chops. House-made breads, including kulen naan and sweet potato kulcha, enhance any meal. Combine them with selections from the wine list or a range of creative cocktails.
A business that began as a pop-up at bars like Grand Prize and Johnny’s Gold Brick has evolved into a fixture at the Urban Harvest farmers market and a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Sawyer Yards. Chef Elaine Won and her daughters, Ashley Lai and Amiley Lai, sell more than just dumplings — not that the well-seasoned chunks of pork, chicken or vegetables aren’t among the best in Houston (they are) — but the menu also includes bona fide wontons -soup, Chinese barbecue pork, chili garlic noodles and more. Regardless of the dish, the use of family recipes and classic techniques ensures that people will want to eat again and again.
This barbecue restaurant has been a major contributor to Spring Branch’s status as one of the city’s hottest neighborhoods for new restaurants. Not only did the smoked meat earn it a spot on Texas Monthly’s list of the state’s 50 best barbecue dishes, but the vegetable sides—everything from loaded mashed potatoes and dirty rice to Moroccan-spiced carrots and the signature Korean braised vegetables—offer compelling choices for all but the most hardcore carnivores . Even non-barbecue eaters will find a great burger, fried chicken and salads. A children’s play area keeps youngsters entertained while parents taste selections from the well-chosen wine list.
With the Montrose staple nearing the end of its 25th anniversary, this renomination as our 2018 Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year winner serves as recognition for its consistent excellence. The homemade pastas range from the sheer comfort of spaghetti and meatballs to the unapologetically spicy bucatini amatriciana. Paulie’s shrimp BLT serves as a simple retort to anyone who thinks Houston restaurants don’t make good sandwiches, and the salads keep health-conscious diners happy. A smart, well-chosen wine list – no surprise from the owner of Camerata – and the signature iced shortbread cakes further enhance the experience.
Goodnight Hospitality’s European comfort food restaurant works hard to charm its customers. From the stylish design (those terrazzo floors!) to the glass of sparkling lambrusco served to all adults, the restaurant does a lot to make people happy. Anything made with dough, especially Focaccia de Recco and wood-fired pizzas, is always a good place to start. The massive wood-fired grill is put to use in other compelling ways, adding some char to blistered green beans, a proper browning of pork chops and a crispy crust to Basque cheesecake. Not only does the wine list offer plenty of pairing options, but a few foolproof cocktails allow even non-drinkers to find a favorite sip.