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Alison Cook's Top 100 Restaurants - Annual Compilation in The Houston Chronicle

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The Chronicle just released Alison Cook's 2016 Top 100 restaurants list.  

It's been a couple years since I've been to her number 1, Oxheart...I need to get back.  

As a Heights resident, I was pleased to see 4 of our neighborhood places in the top 25 (Bernadines, Coltivare, Hunky Dory, and Foreign Correspondents).  Looking good in the neighborhood (and well done to the Treadsack team).

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6 hours ago, BarrelAged said:

Assuming the link works, here's the list in map form.

This is fantastic. Welcome! And thanks.

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On 1/1/2019 at 12:14 AM, DonRocks said:

"Alison Cook's Top 100 Restaurants - 2018" on houstonchronicle.com

It would be interesting if someone compared additions, deletions, and changes between 2016 and 2018.

To Houston residents: How credible is Ms. Cook as a restaurant critic?

First off, I think Alison Cook is a fine food critic. She displays a deep knowledge of how Houston has evolved over the years, and (I think) tries to balance old and new in her rankings.  Of course, we can all find something to criticize, and other knowledgable Houston critics like Culture Map's Eric Sandler certainly have.

Houston's food scene moves quickly...7 of the top 25 restaurants in 2016 have either closed or undergone major conceptual changes (1 out of the 2018 Top 10 has already closed).  The demise of the shockingly badly run Treadsack Restaurant Group took out 3 of the top 25 (Bernadine's, Hunky Dory, & Foreign Correspondents).  

Even with those changes, the faces behind the top cadre of restaurants has stayed fairly stable.  2016's #1 Oxheart has been successfully transformed by chef Justin You to 2018's #2 Theodore Rex. Chef Hugo Ortega's flagship Hugo's has dropped down from #2 to #13, but his rightfully acclaimed Xochi is the new #1. Chef Chris Shepherd shuttered his #12 restaurant, the beloved pan-everything Underbelly (which is now the steak-centric Georgia James), shifting the cultural ADHD of Underbelly to a smaller space across the street, moving up to #8 in the process.

2 deserving restaurants broke into the top 10 this year from lower spaces in 2016: The Heights' Locavore/Italian-ish stalwart Coltivare and Houston's finest sushi restaurant, Kata Robata.  

Now, let us gripe:

I understand the impetus behind including a barbecue restaurant in the Top 10 in Houston.  Chef Ronnie Killen's Killen's BBQ has been a mainstay on her list (he has a total of 3 on the 2018 list).  I think, though, that with the recent opening of his 5th restaurant (Killen's TMX), people ought to start looking very closely at the consistency of the food at his flagship. Now, I have been blown away each and every time I've been there, but I can say the same of a place like Corkscrew in Spring, whose owners/pitmasters do not have to split their focus between several restaurants.  I'm also very partial to Pinkerton's in the Heights as a brick and mortar, and the hot newcomer trailer, Willow's.

Equally as important as barbecue to the Houstonian diet is Vietnamese, and although there are 7 at least partially Vietnamese places on the list, none has risen to the top.  I would eat at Crawfish and Noodles over most other restaurants any day of the week, and it has earned its position in the pantheon of essential Houston restaurants.  I defy you to eat a meal at Nam Giao and not fall head over heels in love with Vietnamese food.  Ditto for the pho at Les Noodle.

Shepherd's Underbelly sequel, UB Preserv, is great, with a fun "Tour of Houston" tasting menu, but pound for pound, his latest incarnation as a Mediterranean in the One Fifth space is the better restaurant. I'm shocked it wasn't listed at all in the top 100.

I think there is room to push up quirky, neighborhoody restaurants like Nancy's Hustle (#24), Better Luck Tomorrow (not listed), and Nobie's (not listed) into the upper ranks.  The last 2 are most definitely better restaurants than places like Bernie's Burger Bus or the sadly flagging Neapolitan pizza at Pizaro's.  

Ms. Cook has a love for Roost, in Montrose, but my visit was way, way less than revelatory.  And I don't think it was due to poor execution, or chef's night off.  I just think it's one of those longstanding places that is being graded on a curve for sentimental reasons. Put the much fresher and exciting Riel in its place.

I was glad to see Kata Robata move up, but I think there's room for Zen Izakaya on the list for its authentic and very nicely executed menu, including excellent and varied sushi.

I'm sure I'll think of other things as time goes on, but this is just a start.

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