It goes without saying that there are hundreds of dining options downtown. Some are little more than lobby kiosks offering fresh coffee and marginal muffins. Others are fine dining rooms that compete with anything in tony River Oaks or the smart addresses on Post Oak Boulevard.
Here are dining suggestions when you’re in the mood for:
A relaxing cup of joe: Ben’s Beans
This locally owned, extremely laid-back coffee shop/art gallery serves a full line of caffeinated beverages (salted caramel latte, anyone?), as well as breakfast sandwiches, soups, panini and pastries. Live entertainment many nights.
1302 Dallas, 713-654-8856
A spot of breakfast: Ziggy's Bar & Grill
This Main Street spot gets a bit of a late start for breakfast — 8 a.m. — but we appreciate that it is locally owned. Try the sweet potato hash with garlic-spiked turkey or have a couple of orange ginger buttermilk pancakes. Ask about the daily breakfast specials that frequently are less than $3 and include coffee.
702 Main, 713-527-8588
A burger: Hubcap Burger Grill
Is there anything more to be said about the little burger joint that conquered Houston? Try one of the crazy combinations — Frito Pie Burger, the Triple Heart Clogger and the Greek Burger — that ooze goodness. There’s often a wait so pack your patience — and cash. There’s an ATM on site for plastic devotees.
1111 Prairie, 713-223-5885
A pizza: Bombay Pizza Co.
This Indian/Italian fusion pizzeria offers a dozen specialty pizzas, as well-customized pies. We’re fans of the Sonu Rita with its cilantro-mint chutney and combination of saag paneer and mozzarella. It doesn’t hurt that the staff is super friendly and there are nice happy hour deals.
914 Main, 713-654-4444
A cheap meal: Les Givral Kahve
This counter-service restaurant is a brilliant choice for those days when you’re counting pennies. There’s nothing on the menu more than $8. And for less than $4, you enjoy a light lunch like roast pork sandwich or shrimp and pork spring rolls served with smooth peanut sauce. Feel like a splurge, try the pho (soup) with round eye steak and meatballs. At six bucks and some change, it’s a great deal for often-pricey downtown.
801 Congress, 713-547-0444
A healthful meal: Georgia's Market
In addition to soups, sandwiches and salads, this downtown newcomer offers a steamtable of ready-to-serve, organic dishes such as stuffed peppers, chicken cacciatore and Albondigas. The light-filled dining area offers great people-watching on Main Street, or retreat to the cozy wine cellar where organic beers and wine are served.
420 Main, 713-225-0990
A first date: Hearsay Gastro Lounge
Housed in 77002’s second-oldest building, this may be the prettiest space in downtown. Hearsay features a large menu of shareable small plates and sandwiches, as well as pricey entrees. Hand-crafted cocktails and live music create a party atmosphere, even on a Wednesday night.
218 Travis, 713-225-8079
A serious date: Samba Grille
This South American restaurant — home of suckling pork and sweet and spicy scallops — has stolen hearts with its attractive dining room, enthusiastic wine service and sophisticated menu. Go and be seduced.
530 Texas, 713-343-1180
A last date: Zydeco Louisiana Diner
For 25 years, this family-owned cafeteria-style diner has been serving up some of the city’s best Cajun fare. Don’t miss the étouffée. As for the place to break up, it’s so crowded at lunchtime, your soon-to-be ex wouldn’t dare make a scene. Half of the diners appear to be officers of the law.
1119 Pease, 713-759-2001
Late-night dining with your drinking buddies: Frank's Pizza
Good pizza by the slice or a whole pie is available when you need it. Frank’s is open till 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays making the post-party scene one to be experienced (with a slice of pepperoni pie, of course).
417 Travis, 713-225-5656
A steak: Vic & Anthony's
Downtown has several good traditional steakhouses, including Strip House, III Forks, Shula’s, Spencer’s and Morton’s. We’re fans of this homegrown chophouse. The service can’t be beat, and the scene is amazingly unpretentious. The veal chop is the stuff of carnivore dreams.
1510 Texas, 713-228-1111
A food court: Shops at Houston Center
If you can’t find anything of interest in this large, third-floor food court, well, then you’re just not hungry. Sure, there are plenty of chains represented, but you’ll also find some homegrown kitchens: Otto’s, Salata, Treebeards and Thai Basil. And be warned (or challenged): Doozo’s Dumplings is home of the Soup Nazi’s doppelganger.
A surprise: Cafe Luz
You never know who will be in the kitchen at this laid-back cafe that fronts the commercial cooking spaces of Kitchen Incubator. Coming this month, Sybarite Pig will begin offering its “craft beer and grub,” in addition to the usual lineup of artisan sodas, coffee and pastries.
907 Franklin, 281-912-3589
An experience: Irma’s
Irma Galvan’s legendary downtown lunch spot is known for her comforting Mexican sauces and stews, her gracious hospitality and her homemade lemonade. Sit down in the dining room and your likely to bump elbows with judges, City Council members and other movers-and-shakers.
22 N. Chenevert, 713-222-0767
A wine bar: MKT Bar
This industrial chic wine bar is part of Phoenicia Specialty Foods’ downtown market. During the day, office workers take advantage of the market’s large prepared-foods section and then use the wine bar for indoor picnics. In the afternoon, it becomes a buzzy full-service cafe with an eclectic menu of small plates and boutique wines. Live music many nights and food and drink specials nightly.
1001 Austin, 832-360-2222
A dive bar: Warren's
This is the place you stop after work for “just one drink” and, suddenly, it’s last call. The bartenders treat strangers like family, the drinks are brain-numbingly strong (and cheap) and the juke box is filled with old-school gems. Oh, Warren’s, we love you.
307 Travis, 713-247-1812
A neighborhood bar: Sunny’s Bar
In the middle of all these skyscrapers is this Cheers-esque watering hole. With owner Sunny tending bar, drinks are strong and cheap, and Jell-O shots are passed around like candy. The clientele is a wonderful mix of suits and hard hats.
902 Capitol, 713-224-3200
A sports bar:The Flying Saucer
Regulars at this popular bar — part of a national chain — are known as beer knurds. Their goal: make their way through at least 200 of the brews on the menu. It’s worth a visit just to see the pub’s lengthy — hiccup — tap wall. The pub food is better than it has to be.
705 Main, 713-228-9472
A whiskey bar: Reserve 101
Reserve 101 is to whiskey what Flying Saucer is to beer. The bar is lined with more than 100 whiskeys and, trust us, the bartenders are well-versed in the traits and histories of every bottle. Reserve’s location near Discovery Green, House of Blues and the Toyota Center means it draws a crowd as diverse as its whiskey selection.
1201 Caroline, 713-655-7101
A pub:: Shay McElroy's Irish Pub
There’s a bigger Irish pub directly across Main Street, but we love this little spot with its cozy seating, comfortable patio and efficient bar staff. Damn good Reuben sandwich, to boot.
909 Texas, 713-223-2444