Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Washington Avenue: Bizarro Heights

Washington Avenue: Bizarro Heights

For better or worse, Washington Avenue now provides all the elements that the Heights traditionally could not: trendy bars, restaurants, and large apartment complexes. Please see the table below.

Bizarro Heights

The Heights

No trees

Lots of trees

Bar after trendy bar for miles

Two barstools at Textile

Liquor store next to a school (the chutzpah!)

What’s a liquor store?

Street after street of three story townhomes

Vehement opposition to any demolition

The explosive growth along Washington can be partly attributed to the support from the neighboring Heights area. The Heights has benefitted, but clearly there have been negatives associated with this brisk development along Washington.

What’s your take?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Tia Maria's

For some reason, Tia Maria’s gets no love. Why is that? Located where Mangum, Dacoma, and US290 all converge, Tia Maria’s has been serving decent Tex Mex cuisine for at least 20 years. Force me to categorize even further, Tia Maria’s falls squarely in the category I refer to as “goopy Mexican.” Enchiladas smothered in cheese, Queso with pickled Jalapenos, Quesadillas stuffed with lots of cheese. Add to that cold beers and cement thick Margaritas and you have a template for classic, no fuss Tex Mex.

If this all sounds strangely familiar, you must be a Tony’s Mexican fan. Located just a few short miles from Tia Maria’s, Tony’s Mexican has the same blueprint: Add one part comfort food cheese enchiladas, one part stupid strong margaritas… boom, lines out the door and waits aplenty.

I’m not here to be a hater, but rather to provide perspective. There are many styles of Mexican and Tex Mex available in the Heights area. On Airline, Tampico and Connies serve fantastic Mexican seafood, while Teotihuacan excels at an amazing variety of Parillada dishes. Tony’s has built a loyal following on their cheese enchiladas alone.

Up the road at Tia Maria’s, the cheese enchiladas hold their own. Stuffed with an unsophisticated gooey cheese, smothered in chili gravy and topped with even more cheese, these are Houston’s answer to a cheez whiz covered Philly Steak and Cheese.

Second half of the Acapulco special: Cheese enchiladas, tamal, rice, and beans

Monday, March 23, 2009

Teotihuacan Mexican Cafe (Breakfast)

Sometime last week, one of the Houston Chowhounds asked on Twitter: If you had to pick one Tex Mex restaurant in Houston for one night, which would it be? I answered the original Ninfas on Navigation, but Café Teotihuacan was my 1a.

Much has been written about Teotihuacan (or ta-HOO’-a-HOO’-a as we lovingly call it) that it almost seems redundant to mention. The corn tortillas, the bargain parilladas… all are worth the attention they have received.

9 out of 10 times I find myself at Teotihuacan, it is breakfast time. In fact, last September, just 14 short hours before Hurricane Ike would strike, there we were. Teotihuacan was eerily quiet that morning, not surprising as it wasn't a Kroger with its shelves picked clean or I-45 to Dallas. The world was about to end, and I wanted me some eggs and corn tortillas!

Oh man those corn tortillas rock the house, and this just in, they go just as well with their breakfast dishes. For some reason I have yet to figure out, breakfast at Teotihuacan doesn’t get any press. The prices are ridiculously low and the portion sizes have returned (thankfully!) to their previously unmanageable size. For the last year or so, I have noticed some subtle changes for the worse: prices have inched slightly higher, the dining room (and outside seating areas) has become more crowded, portion sizes and quality was down. Last Saturday, I was glad to see a return to form.

"Dear corn tortilla, I love you."

Service can be an issue, which might explain the drop in quality. Hopefully the major issues have been recently addressed, but you should be advised that the service can be curt and the wait for food can seem unusually long. Make sure to ask for the red salsa before your breakfast arrives, or you may be consuming lukewarm eggs several minutes later.

Bonus: For those looking for a more authentic experience, Teotihuacan also serves Menudo for breakfast.


1511 Airline Dr
(713) 426-4420‎
8AM-10PM 7 Days

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Beer/Wine Find

I was at Fiesta Liquor (Shepherd just south of 610) on Saturday and spotted this crazy deal: $3.99 for a large bottle of Stone IPA or Arrogant Bastard Ale. The manager informed me that the $3.99 price was the regular price, they just felt like spotlighting it a bit more. Both beers are fantastic, but I think the Stone IPA is the more food friendly choice. An IPA would make the perfect complement to a spicy Indian curry. As we have no Indian restaurants in Northwest Houston, how about the Duck Pineapple Curry dish at Thai Lanna (18th and the West Loop, BYOB!)? The dish is listed as mild, but I'm sure they can add some more spice to it if you ask.

Collina's Italian Cafe

So many options for my first restaurant post… why choose Collina’s? Their printed menu and website list about a half dozen critical quotations, all dated over a decade ago. Not a good sign. I admit Collina’s is a questionable choice, but follow me for one minute.

Centrally located in the Heights? Check! (19th Street, does not get more central Heights than that)

BYOB? Yes, oh yes.

Packed? Most definitely.

It would be more than a stretch to call Collina’s a great restaurant. Despite this “glowing” assessment, Collina’s has a special place in my heart. Not for the pastas, which tend to be the smothered in tomato sauce classics so common on “traditional” American/Italian restaurants. Not for the 1.5 crowd, which tend to overrun the place on the weekends. And certainly not for the service, which is criminally overstretched.

They had me with that artichoke.

Stuffed artichoke to be exact. The stuffed artichoke served at Collina’s isn’t haute cuisine, but it is the definition of comfort food for me. For those that have read Sara Roahen’s Gumbo Tales (highest recommendation for those who love the city and cuisine of New Orleans), you already know the effort required to construct this dish. Breadcrumbs, herbs and a ton of olive oil are slammed into the crevices of half an artichoke, which is then broiled and served bubbling.

Obviously the artichokes are prepared beforehand; this is a dish that can’t be made to order. Eating this whacky pinecone is another challenge. The outer leaves are scraped between your front teeth, leaving most of it to waste. The inner portion can be eaten whole: slightly tart and just the perfect texture. Unfortunately, I wish it was consistently as good as I described. Occasionally, the cooking process is rushed and the breadcrumbs taste like the boxed variety.

As for the rest of the dishes, the specials are usually skip-worthy. The pizzas are above average, especially if you stick to the simpler versions on the menu. Avoid the small pizzas as the dough thickness ratio is way off.

If you’re in the mood for something a little different, head to Collina’s and get the artichoke. Artichoke is famous for messing up every wine that gets served, so perhaps jug wine IS the best choice.


502 W. 19th st.

Mon - Thu 11am - 10pm
Fri - Sat 11am - 11pm
Sun 4pm - 9pm

Feed the Heights Manifesto

For too long, the Heights has been negligent in providing its residents (and surrounding city) with good quality dining options. This blog is my open attempt to influence the restaurant scene in the Heights.

Part of the problem with the Heights as a restaurant destination is its status as a dry neighborhood. Typically, restaurants make a significant percentage of their profits on booze. No booze = no profit. Hogwash. Other cities (like Philadelphia and Chicago) have more BYOB places and prove it can be done.

On the upper end, the opening of Textile and the recent of Rainbow Lodge prove that the Heights is improving. Bedford, the Glass Wall, and Shade only strengthen the argument that the fine dining establishments can not only make it in the Heights, they can thrive. Shade has been turning out top quality fare for years.

Houston is filled with great, moderately priced restaurants, a segment that is woefully underrepresented in the Heights. That’s where we all come in. The more types of restaurants that succeed, the more we have a case for filling in the gaps. We must celebrate, praise and support those establishments that get things RIGHT. Conversely, we must fairly criticize establishments that insult us (overtly or covertly), lack vision, or lack a simple business plan. For too long, our culinary options have been diluted by individuals and corporations that attempt to satisfy the lowest common denominator. We can do better. We must do better. Feed the Heights, we’re hungry!