Heights and the Washington corridor are two of Houston's most energized entertainment/dining districts. Here are restaurants we recommend:
Branch Water Tavern: We like that the bar is separated naturally from the sexy dining room. When you’re in the lounge, you can celebrate that skillfully conceived cocktail. Then later in the dining room, you can concentrate on what’s coming out of the open kitchen: chicken fried oysters, foie gras-stuffed quail and roasted beef short rib.
510 Shepherd, 713-863-7777
Gatlin's BBQ: You can’t leave Texas without tasting some barbecue. This family-owned shack has become a go-to spot in Houston for smoke lovers. Lines can be long, but rest assured it’s worth the wait.
1221 W. 19th, 281-804-4555
Beaver's Ice House: This idiosyncratic take on icehouse serves some seriously kick-ass meats -- smoked brisket, pork ribs and buffalo meatloaf -- and plenty of non-carnivore options such as a vegan black bean chili and a creamy tomato-topped mac and cheese. Behind the bar are some of the city’s top mixologists concocting cocktails with a chef’s eye for flavor. Awesome patio.
2310 Decatur St., 713-864-2328
Cadillac Bar: We’re going to be honest, Houstonians don’t go to the venerable Cadillac for the enchiladas. They go to party. Keep your food expectations low and the margaritas coming and we can guarantee a good time.
1802 Shepherd Dr., 713-862-2020
Laurenzo's Prime Rib: The handsome dining room in this clubby but comfortable restaurant is decorated with framed sports memorabilia (and the good stuff not just gimme junk). The menu is dominated by manly fare: prime rib (check out the carving station just past the hostess stand), marinated rib eyes, burgers with bacon and chiles and racks of pork ribs.
4412 Washington, 713-880-5111
Laredo Taqueria: It’s creaky. Shambling. Maniacally funky. And at noon there’s a line out the door. That’s because this none-too-welcoming joint turns out some of the best blue-collar tacos in town. Specify corn or flour tortillas, then choose seasoned squash, no-fuss griddled fajita tips, nopalitos or whatever looks good on the steam table. Breakfast rocks, too. Cash only.
915 Snover St., 713-861-7279
Molina's : In the vast salsa sea of Tex-Mex joints in Houston, venerable Molina’s gets bonus points for atmosphere. The palapa-covered patio is especially appealing. Try the grilled fajitas or the chili, a hearty dish that has been been comforting Houstonians since 1941.
4720 Washington Ave., 713-862-0013
TQLA: The Southwestern-inspired food at this striking restaurant is instantly familiar but nothing like what you’ll find at most “Mexican” restaurant in town. Things we love: the pineapple table salsa, the crawfish corncakes and the margarita flights. That’s right. Margarita flights. How else to explain its 150-plus selection of tequila?
4601 Washington, 281-501-3237
This story originally was pubbed March 5, 2011; it was updated April 26, 2012.