From half-pound Angus burgers to fish tacos, every item on H-Town Bar & Grill’s menu is made to-order. Regionally influenced grub sits atop tables like an edible map of North America, charting a course from the Aloha burger’s grilled ham and pineapple to the El Diablo burger’s roasted jalapeños and chipotle mayo. Flat-screen TVs line the spacious eatery, where barkeeps man a full-service bar, doling out domestic and imported brews and house wines to help wash down barbecue chicken sandwiches and steak caesar salads. Guests can also reserve the casual space for private events or sneak into someone else’s party dressed as a philly cheesesteak to blend in with the surrounding environs.
Inside Original Napoli Italian Restaurant by Papa Zack's bustling kitchen, a team of talented chefs craft house-made pasta before dousing noodles in meat, marinara, alfredo, and clam sauces. This kitchen architects the eatery's "what," but the staff's "how" involves constant, family-friendly friendliness. The culinary experts give chicken the royal treatment, dressing it up in a variety of dishes, including marsala, piccata, parmigiana, and rollatini. Sandwiches and pizza in two crusts round out the Italian-centric menu. The catering leg of the business feeds multicourse meals for at least 10 people or 5 people saving half their meal for their fallout shelter.
Enlivened by the sounds of DJs, live comedy, and MCs, the interior of Zanzibar Houston buzzes on a nightly basis. The kitchen churns out an array of finger foods, including suya, a type of shish kebab, until midnight. Buzzing bass beats punctuate the clatter of players breaking racks of billiards balls amid zebra-print chairs and low leather couches. Ice jingles at the full bar with the sound of two xylophonists getting in a fender bender, and a projection screen blossoms colorfully, drawing eyes away from the bustling dance floor.
After 20 years in Houston's culinary scene, Monica Pope was in need of a change. In 2012, she reinvented her signature restaurant t'afia to create Sparrow Bar + Cookshop. The name makes a statement not only because it highlights the lineup of spirited beverages (think quirky, organic-gin cocktails and a wine list that includes Texas sakes), but also because it revives the medieval concept of a cookshop: a communal food stop where travelers and the locals who lacked their own kitchens once gathered. For Monica, the term conjured a rustic, uncaged mentality that she reflects each day in her restaurant’s industrial-yet-cozy environs and on the daily changing, localvore menus that have been profiled by publications such as Eater.
When she's not leading in-house cooking classes, Monica is busy innovating in the kitchen. Her seasonal dishes include apps such as watermelon-radish salad and chili-peanut and black bean soup (which the menu invites you to share…or not) and entrees such as a lamb cutlet with saffron-sherry aioli or a date-covered Gulf red snapper that celebrate American, Mediterranean, and Asian flavors. The menu’s one constant, a portobello or longhorn burger, welcomes customization with ingredients such as beet chutney and crushed avocado or the chef's signature written in red-curry catsup.
Servers dressed in blue-suede boots and handmade-leather welding aprons ferry these dishes through an environment that Alison Cook characterized as exuding a "raw industrial warmth" in her Houston Chronicle review. Pope's attention to "keen visual detail” has produced an exposed-brick space in which metal ceiling girders and oxidized pizza-pan lanterns hang over custom laminated-wood chairs at black metal tables. Antique columns hold up a communal table made from a thick slab of salvaged wood around which private dining parties gather.
As an international jazz club, Cafe 4212 Jazz Bar & Grill treats guests to a rotating lineup of blues singers as well as a seasonal menu of eclectic and classic dishes. Cafe 4212’s chefs use fresh and locally grown ingredients when available to crafts hors d'oeuvres such as fruit kebabs and Jamaican-style meat patties as well as entrees of praline-pecan ham and Cajun shrimp. Diners can also sip international wines, imported and microbrewed beers, specialty cocktails, and martinis.
Jazz performances on weekend nights and during Sunday brunch send patrons heading for Cafe 4212’s dance floor. Walls ornamented with red and gold hues pop against the restaurant’s ivory-clothed tables and tan leather couches, and a large outdoor patio supplies a romantic setting for couples to take in some fresh air or scream at passing airplanes.
J. Black's Feel Good Kitchen and Lounge wants you to feel great about your food and dining experience, from offering natural, hormone-free beef to easy-to-share menu items. Chefs pile ingredients like gorgonzola cheese and sriracha aioli on top of wagyu beef sliders, and shared plates hold crab cakes, beef nachos, or lamb chops. Waiters ferry artisanal pizzas such as the spicy barbecue pulled pork to diners, whether they're seated on the wraparound patio or at the centerpiece bar inside, watching bartenders pop open bottles of wine and mix creative cocktails. Throughout their meals, customers can admire J. Black's collection of artwork, which changes periodically as the restaurant showcases new local artists.