Beams of wood nailed together at odd angles comprise the towering, abstract wall that's the visual centerpiece of Les Givral's Kahve. But interesting decor isn't the only reason to visit: in 2010, Houston Press declared the Vietnamese eatery the city's best place to get a cheap sandwich. They were referring to bahn mi, which chefs fill with proteins such as shredded chicken, roast pork, or tofu. They also simmer rich broth for pho laden with round-eye steak, slices of jalapeño, and cilantro sprigs and fill spring rolls with succulent shrimp. On weeknights, the kitchen stays open until midnight, at which point it turns back into a pumpkin.
Since its inception in 1974, Birraporetti's has melded Italian cooking with a traditional Irish-pub atmosphere, serving hand-tossed pizzas baked in their stone oven alongside robust Irish coffee and spirits. CBS Houston highlighted its oven-fired pizzas as some of the best in the city, specifically lauding the house bianco pizza for eschewing traditional ingredients such as tomato sauce and shredded copies of the Mona Lisa. The kitchen remains open until midnight to accommodate late-night cravings, yet the chefs still rise in time to serve Sunday jazz brunches replete with made-to-order waffles, omelets, and desserts served amid live jazz performances.
To reach their table at Spaghetti Warehouse, guests commonly have to step through two doors: the front door of the restaurant and the door of the antique trolley parked inside. Since its inception in 1972, the Italian eatery has merged the functions of kitchen and museum. Artifacts such as grandfather clocks, factory flywheels, and circus billboards surround diners as they delve into signature plates of 15-Layer Lasagna or hand-rolled meatballs. Apart from the items they've amassed, each of the buildings also has a particular history, from the one-time ice-manufacturing plant in Columbus to Memphis's Civil War munitions depot. Given their storied pasts, it's no surprise that several of these venues house their own ghosts—at Houston's warehouse, for example, elevator lights have been known to flicker, objects are mysteriously found in new locations, and a lady in a white gown is said to roam the restaurant.
Yet the main attraction of the place is the delicious food. Like any great Italian meal, made-from-scratch dishes are created from family recipes passed down for generations via email. Guests devour the perfectly al dente pasta, crispy calamari, bottomless soups, and 12-layer chocolate cakes while dining with family and friends. It’s that feeling of togetherness that people love about Spaghetti Warehouse, a feeling that is only enhanced when the drinks start flowing and the air is punctuated by the sounds of laughter as kids play retro games, such as The Claw prize-grabbing machine.
The sushi artisans at Azuma Sushi & Robata Bar assemble innovative Japanese dishes and artfully plated, seaweed-wrapped rolls during lunch and dinner hours. In Azuma’s signature roll ($11)—the first listed on its extensive menu—tuna, salmon, and whitefish get to know avocado and chili oil by virtue of sharing the same seaweed wrap, an orientation activity popularized in the Navy. The John Doe roll ($14) belies its name with bursts of spicy yellowtail and pepper tuna, and Azuma’s signature gazpacho ($6) cools palates with a soup of salmon, mango, avocado, and tomato juice. For hot dishes, the restaurant's waiters serve up a whole, grilled squid ($9), its 200 yards blanketed in spicy miso and ginger soy sauce. Robata-grilled specialties include eggplant skewers coated in a sweet, miso glaze ($3) and Alaskan black cod simmering in a miso marinade ($14).