Big Tastes in Houston

Discover these fabulous restaurants in the snazzy Montrose district.
Morgan Murphy

Aries
A true Texas restaurant, Aries defies all the bad clichés that residents of the Lone Star State are probably tired of hearing. Dare I say it? This restaurant is small. I ate at a small table. The portions were small. Even my waiter looked small. Yet if you want big Texas flavor, come here. Sure, the decor is glittery and posh. Yes, starched linens and a swank bar attract wealthy local hipsters. Ignore all that. You've come for the food--and if you've been wise and brought a date, spouse, or client for a special dinner, splurge here on the six-course chef's tasting menu. The price ranges from $70 to $90, depending on the menu's components. My dinner began with a vegetable salad dressed in a light, tangy Champagne vinaigrette. The roasted Texas quail course (pictured) knocked my boots off: A truffle mousseline (think of a darker, richer hollandaise) transported the dish from simply creative to absolutely divine. Sample the amaretto Napoleon for a sinful dessert. 4315 Montrose Blvd.; (713) 526-4404. Dinner entrées: $20-$3

Mark's American Cuisine
I've walked down the aisle of about six former churches that now give sanctuary to restaurants. Most have an awkward atmosphere that makes me feel vaguely sacrilegious. Not Mark's. The artfully lit ceiling, the savvy use of curtains, and faux finish on the walls--all of it combines masterfully for an intimate, rich setting. Really though, I'd be happy to eat chef Mark Cox's fare from a corner hot dog stand. Try the Kentucky bourbon-glazed pork tenderloin with molasses, yams, and a ginger-apple compote ($19.25). The sweet and smoky glaze atop the salty pork was so good I almost let fly a few words totally inappropriate for a church setting. Finish with their Coffee Toffee Tart, a soft dessert of coffee-cream mousse and fudge atop a crumbly pecan crust. The whole affair is drizzled in caramel and chocolate--enough to make you say, "Amen!" 1658 Westheimer Road; (713)523-3800. Dinner entrées: $19.25-$42.95.

Hugo's
The giant Rolls-Royce Phantom pulling into the parking lot was the first signal that Hugo's would be upscale Mexican cuisine. The sweeping restaurant's Spanish-castle style seconded that notion. Large wooden tables and iron chandeliers give Hugo's the feel of a mission church. The $12.95 tacos sealed the impression. Braced for a snooty, overpriced fiasco, I was pleasantly surprised by the freshness of every dish. The chile relleno, for instance, wasn't some overstuffed, shriveled green mush. The poblano pepper held a crisp bite and combined with succulent roasted chicken and asadero cheese, made a great meal at $15. The wine list includes vintages from Oregon to Spain at prices in the $25-to-$45 range. 1600 Westheimer Road; (713) 524-7744. Dinner entrées: $14 to $29.

Don't-Miss-Bargain
There weren't any Rolls-Royces parked outside the old Amtrak dining car when I visited Goode Co. Texas Seafood Restaurant. Sure, the joint is humble. But go for one dish--Campechana De Mariscos (shrimp and crab Mexican seafood cocktails). Served in a sundae glass with a side of fresh chips, this tangy appetizer has an almost creamy quality that complements the bite of its fresh lime juice. Huge chunks of crab and shrimp make the ceviches well worth their $9.75 price tags. 2621 Westpark Drive; (713) 523-7154. Appetizers: $10-$22.

This article is from the June 2005 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.