Where to take out-of-town guests
When the holidays roll around, I can always count on one thing: A friend or neighbor will ask for recommendations on where to take out-of-town guests. Sure, I could suggest trendy spots like Oxheart (1302 Nance) or Uchi (904 Westheimer) for mind-bending, experimental cooking. But I rarely do. Instead, I like to introduce visitors to restaurants and chefs long on local history. The first one that always comes to mind is Robert Del Grande, who practices his alchemy at RDG + Bar Annie (1800 Post Oak Blvd.).
Houston boasts many star chefs. Notable is gregarious Underbelly chef-owner Chris Shepherd, who garnered the 2014 James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest. Del Grande was the sole holder of that title for more than a decade for his role in launching the Southwestern Cuisine movement in the mid-’80s, and his creativity has attracted such culinary luminaries as Diana Kennedy and Wolfgang Puck.
I asked Del Grande where he takes his out-of-town guests. He replied, “If you’re not from here, what is this town known for? Well, to start, barbecue.” He recalled his first visit to the original Goode Company Barbeque (5109 Kirby). “It’s still fun,” he says. A fajita favorite remains El Tiempo Cantina (multiple locations). Here you can pay homage to Ninfa Laurenzo, who put tacos al carbon and Tex-Mex on the map.
The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation (2704 Navigation Blvd.) encapsulates old Houston, and the tacos al carbon remain delicious even though the Laurenzos have moved on. Son Roland and grandson Domenic honored their beloved matriarch by opening an El Tiempo at 2814 Navigation. It’s a gorgeous, 8,400-square-foot tribute adorned with hand-painted portraits of the Laurenzo clan.
Other places to take visitors? Hugo’s (1600 Westheimer) successfully introduced Houstonians to fried grasshoppers and interior Mexican cooking. In the late ’80s, Michael Cordua helped kick off a national craze for South American, grilled, chimichurri-marinated steak, fried plantains and tres leches at his Churrascos (five locations). And chef-owner Anita Jaisinghani redefined modern Indian at Indika (516 Westheimer) and Pondicheri (2800 Kirby, suite B132).
Dai Huynh is a James Beard food-journalism award winner and longtime restaurant writer. Her visits to restaurants in our Buzz Dining Guide were anonymous, and she paid for her meals to maintain objectivity. We’d love your thoughts too. Write to email@example.com with your own dining opinions and suggestions. Also, you can contribute in the Comments section below.
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