I did not find 2011 terribly exciting for new cheap restaurants in Houston. I blame myself for part of that, as I rarely visited my old stomping (and chomping) grounds around Bellaire Boulevard. Chinatown has been home to the most numerous, and often the most interesting, cheap eats for about a decade now.
But, still, many of the meals I had in new restaurants, both inexpensive and moderately priced, were disappointing. This was at about a half-dozen different establishments. Maybe it was newness, and some I visited in off-hours. I don’t want call them out, as one visit, especially early in the tenure is not a fair way to judge a place. I am hoping 2012 will be better, though, at least for my perceptions.
For restaurants opening in 2011 whose entrées don’t creep past $20 for dinner, here are my favorites:
Alto Pizzeria – My recent visit to this grandly situated spot overlooking Kirby near Westheimer was a disappointment, but I have hopes for its future. Crusts were beautifully charred and crisp, but tasteless; service was friendly, but slow and rather clueless; and this pizzeria had a number of beers, but none on draft. The last fact was the most inexplicable.
Christian’s in the Heights – It’s all about the juicy, beef patty here.
El Gran Malo – More of a bar than a restaurant. And, I prefer the bar portion of it; the inventive, locally attune cocktails and a fun selection of beers limited to Texas and Mexico. With that, a lively and inviting atmosphere and a neo-Mexican menu of dishes that mostly satisfy, this is a fun and very welcome addition to the greater Heights. Great for a pre- or post-Tony’s visit without the kids.
Phoenicia downtown – The prices are higher and execution initially was not nearly of its far Westheimer location, but this is a fantastic addition to downtown, especially its expansive grocery.
Pondicheri – Something different on the Indian front, both in the food and the aesthetics, and it’s inside the Loop rather than on Hillcroft or Sugar Land.