A lonely fire flickers in the night, punctuating the vast expanse of Brazil’s southern plains. A spitted side of Nelore beef roasts over the flames; from that famed beast and this timeless fireside scene, Nelore takes its name, recipes, and spirit.
Nelore’s chefs draw inspiration from the gauchos of South America, piling plates high with carvings of 16 spit-roasted meats. The spirit of the southern plains remains alive and well in the dining room, where wrought-iron chandeliers and a dark hardwood floor evoke rustic elegance as a warm breeze filters in through the front doors. Veggies, fine cheeses, and pastas fill more than 40 basins at the salad bar, whose glistening glass protects the trays from grazing cattle and errant horseshoe tosses.
If the “Tortoise and the Hare” taught us anything, it’s that slow and steady wins the race. And at Tony's Barbecue & Steak House, slow and steady cooking has ordinary dinners beat with pork ribs and brisket that spend a good 12 hours sizzling over South Texas hickory. The barbecue meals are joined by hearty steaks, smoked ham and turkey plates, and quail dinners. Many of the menu items are cooked with one of founder Antonio Ruiz's secret recipes for dirty rice, barbecue sauce, and pork and brisket rubs. Before opening the first Tony’s Barbecue in Baytown, Ruiz spent 15 years developing his craft at a local barbecue restaurant in Houston.
Samba Grille is a South American steak house and churrascaria, featuring an a la carte lunch menu and Rodizio-style dinner service. The midday crowd includes power lunchers, bustling shoppers, and escapees from the Island of Misfit Toys—share with them a quick bite of gazpacho ($8 for a bowl) or the Samba salad with tuna (mesclun, fried artichokes, tomatoes, sweet red onions, and hearts of palm in tamarind dressing, $16). Or opt for a heartier lunch of South American center-cut tenderloin with chimichuri sauce, sweet plantains, and seasonal grilled vegetables ($20). Come dinnertime, the space comes alive with a parade of churrascaria ($40) and the spirits of the mysterious coyotes that built Houston. Although a-la-carte dishes such as cashew-crusted chicken breast ($20) and red snapper with jumbo shrimp and lump crab ($34) are available, Rodizio serving is the true highlight of dinner. Be the master of your meal as you heap your plate with family-style dishes of assorted vegetables and signal servers to bring on the fire-roasted rotisserie meats.
Frank's Chop House has menus full of soulful offerings at both lunch and dinner, allowing the taste buds to nestle into flavors as familiar and enveloping as a well-worn beanbag chair. Do Frank proud with a lunchtime pork chop and potato, green beans, and a tomato salad ($15.95), or have the local favorite, a chicken-fried steak ($15.95). To start a dinner right, have a jumbo lump crab cake ($12) or ahi-tuna tartare ($15). Then dive into some home cookin' with fare such as the Chop House burger and fries ($12) or a fried gulf-shrimp and oyster platter ($24). Comfort food isn't complete without a side of green beans or mac ’n’ cheese ($7 each).
The chef at White Oak Kitchen + Drinks—which opened in the Galleria Mall in April 2011—plucks fresh rosemary, oregano, mint, and basil from an herb garden he's cultivated on the roof, mixing them into a spread of contemporary dishes with international influences. He lightly breads calamari in panko breadcrumbs, adding a spicy sriracha aioli for some kick, and pan-sears mahi-mahi with grilled shrimp and a sweet red-bell-pepper coulis. Classic, southern-style crispy chicken gets extra flavor from Hungarian paprika and a creamy side of macaroni and cheese. For dessert, the s'mores bread pudding inspires stories of hard-won paranormal-investigation merit badges with toasted marshmallows and a graham-cracker crust drizzled with chocolate sauce. Staffers also serve up freshly baked pastries or farm-fresh eggs for breakfast.
The private dining area hosts up to 30 party guests in front of a 50-inch flat-screen HD television, and business-meeting presenters can place their laptops in a docking station to project a slideshow or a deadlocked game of solitaire. The restaurant's wood walls add texture and warmth to the ambience, as do the framed cross-sections of tree-trunk rings.
A swanky ambiance defined by an elegant decor, including stained-oak mouldings and maroon drapes, complements the high-caliber steakhouse cuisine served at Post Oak Grill. The Houston bistro has been around for 23 years, so it just got out of college. The restaurant’s chef, Polo Becerra, pairs bold flavors in starters such as duck-confit crepes with blackberry sauce and melted gorgonzola. For a main course, he might grill Gulf Coast red snapper or cook a center-cut steak and augment its juiciness by adding a port-wine-and-fig reduction. Chef Becerra and his team can even bring their culinary services to homes and offices with their catering.
At a jade-green bar, servers pour a long list of international wines. Nearby, a pianist tickles the ivories during happy hour. On Thursday–Saturday evening, musicians perform classic songs or melodic readings of the newspaper fine-arts section.