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East End Restaurants Take Home Five Spots on Cook’s Coveted Top 100

Once a year, the Houston Chronicle’s Alison Cook publishes her selection of Houston’s top 100 restaurants. Does it take her a whole year to visit, sample, and review Houston’s culinary scene? It must. We really don’t know how she does it, but we’re glad she does. Cook’s tour de Houston cuisine brought her to the East End where she deemed five area restaurants worthy of her list.

We’ve gone ahead and planned your lunch and dinner for the next week. You’re welcome.

Without further ado, here are Cook’s East End favorites.

33. Hyunh, 912 St. Emanuel

One of the weekend’s biggest treats is to be found at this pretty family-run dispensary of Vietnamese homestyle cooking. It’s the Saturday and Sunday steak and egg special, delivered on a hot cast-iron cow platter with a crusty French roll to sop up the peppery fish-sauced pan gravy. Add a refreshing duck salad of finely cut Napa cabbage with spicy ginger dressing and pungent rau ram leaf; or the comforting yellow coconut curry (order it spicy, with red pepper) with fried tofu or chicken.

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44. Andes Cafe, 2311 Canal, No. 104

The East End really needed David Guerrero’s feisty little all-day cafe, which is squirreled away in a bland office low-rise. Inside, bland is a dirty word. The Wiley Robertson murals radiate energy. So does Guerrero’s freewheeling pan-South-American food, much of it priced under 10 bucks. A coffee-and-juice counter sets the tone for such breakfast items as the sun-gold Machu Picchu smoothie of soursop and passion fruit, or the beguiling Venezuelan cachapa, a house-ground corn pancake with melty white cheese. Ceviches and tiraditos can dazzle at lunch and dinner.

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60. The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation, 2704 Navigation

The original home of fajitas is one of our city’s eternal verities, as unavoidable as death and taxes, but a lot more fun. Good times come in the form of compelling red and green table salsas to wolf down with thin tortilla chips, and the frozen Ninfaritas that have been augmented with welcome “build-your-own” margarita options on the updated drinks list. The fajitas seldom fail to please, and such new classics as the ingenious Fajita Burger (a torta run wild) and weekend brunch items keep the menu feeling fresh.

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72. El Tiempo Cantina

Editors Note: Cook’s list references the El Tiempo Cantina on Montrose, but you know we’re partial to Chef Laurenzo’s Navigation location.

The ever-expanding Tex-Mex empire from the Laurenzo clan, founders of Ninfa’s, is still reliable for that great Houston ritual, the Fajita Feed: this being the luxurious kind featuring butter sauce and a host of parillada add-ons, from spicy jalapeño sausage to big Gulf shrimp, baby-back ribs and quail. The salsas are stout. The frozen margaritas are lethal.

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82. Cafe Th, 2108 Pease

This low-profile EaDo dispensary of homey Vietnamese cooking draws its charm from the personality of chef/owner/maitre d’/bottlewasher/explainer Minh Nguyen, one of the most natural hosts whom I have ever watched work a floor. His food is as individual as he is, from the vivid mosaic of the autumn rice-paper rolls (bò bía) filled with sausage, jicama and herbs, to the enormously comforting bánh bôt chiên, a crisply seared turnip-and-rice-flour cake with fried eggs. Even the bánh mì are special – in particular, the one adorned with juicy little pork meatballs (xíu mai).

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And because we’re feeling neighborly…

1. Oxheart, 1302 Nance

Once again, this small and informal tasting-menu restaurant in the Warehouse District deserves to be known as Houston’s best. If anything, Justin Yu’s fervently local and seasonal cooking has become even more tightly edited and authoritative. These days, it’s less about tweezered architectural astonishments and more about deeply layered flavors and rustic bass notes. The quality of Yu’s painstakingly sourced ingredients shines through his disciplined technique, making it come alive in such dishes as the summer menu’s steamed Zephyr squash, sliced vellum-thin and coiled tight above a rough hummuslike base of charred succotash – all lifted and defined by lemony gremolata and piercing mint.

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East End Improvement Corporation (EEIC) and Wells Fargo unveiled the first of seven BCycle “Art Stations” as part of a community program to connect residents and visitors to public art and businesses in East End Houston. The unveiling ceremony included the donation of 36 bicycles and helmets to East End students in coordination with local non-profit Wellness On Wheels (WOW). 
longest-serving urban farms, Finca Tres Robles, is getting ready for some big changes in the year ahead. Umbrella organization Small Places is transitioning to a 501(c)(3) to help revamp the farm and increase its impact in serving the East End community. In the months ahead, Finca Tres Robles will be celebrating 7.5 years of work in the East End as it pauses field operations at the end of 2021 to prepare for its next chapter.

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