CUISINE: American Bistro
1103 Shepherd Dr. | 713.521.2239 | www.backstreetcafe.net
Mon–Thur: 11am–10pm; Fri–11am–11pm; Sat–10am–11pm; Sun–10am–9pm
As a food critic, it’s easy to praise Hugo Ortega. Since the mid-90s, he’s
been a major part of Houston’s restaurant scene. At Backstreet Café, where
he made the American dream come true by working hard, the path from
dishwasher in the early 80s to executive chef in1995 is truly remarkable.
Ortega’s food is as good as ever. He is constantly trying new recipes and
refining the old ones. My favorite among the classics: Gulf Coast beignets,
duck spring rolls, shrimp cheese grits. You can’t go wrong there.
Backstreet hasn’t featured a seasonal menu in years. We should be grateful
they are now. The Spring menu highlights two ingredients — artichokes and
crawfish. Ortega does well highlighting and combining both ingredients in
I started with the Corn Cakes. Lightly fried corn cakes were topped with
crawfish, avocado, tomatillo salsa and crema. The zesty and smoky salsa still
let the sautéed crawfish be the focus. My waiter hinted that it might make the
main menu, and I hope it does.
For a main course, I had the crawfish and artichoke risotto, a fusion dish that
I wish were available year round. The tender artichoke hearts complemented
the spicy crawfish. The risotto was that perfect al dente that makes any chef
proud. The crispy prosciutto on top provided the saltiness to bring out the
For dessert, I had a nice pinot gris. Why? Well, I failed to mention I had a
prime patio seat. One of the charms of Backstreet this time of year is the back
patio. With just enough tree cover, it is a perfect option when the springtime
weather beckons. If you’ve never dined on the patio, you need to rectify that
Overall, Backstreet Café provides a beautiful meal in a beautiful setting. Celebrate
the American dream with Hugo. I promise it is inspiring and filling.
RED LION PUB
CUISINE: British Pub
2316 Shepherd Dr. | 713.782.3030 |www.redlionhouston.com
Mon–Fri 11:30am–2am; Sat–Sun 11am–2am
In a city with a diverse restaurant scene, sometimes what we really crave is traditional comfort food that is as filling as it is delicious. Red Lion owner Craig Mallinson does just that for those who crave British pub fare. Generous portions of the classics served with a mound of English peas are where I tend to lie. I chose the Shepherd’s Pie this time. Ground lamb covered with broiled mashed potatoes and brown gravy is my favorite. My only problem? Being patient enough to allow the dish to cool below the temperature of molten lava before taking that first bite. The lamb vegetable mixture had the perfect balance of Worcestershire and thyme. A dash of HP sauce, and I might as well have been in Manchester. The Fish and Chips were equally superb. The cod fillets had a light and slightly spiced, crisp batter that manages to keep the fish tender. A homemade tartar and the vinegar to sprinkle were a perfect accompaniment.
Fortunately, for the true ex-pat, Mallinson firmly believes that a British pub must serve Indian food to be authentic. As such, Red Lion has some of the best Indian comfort food as well. From a traditional lamb vindaloo with a healthy kick to chicken tikka masala that melts in your mouth. The lamb keema is always a
great choice to take home. A traditional Gujurati style curry, the minced lamb served over basmati rice, has just enough heat without overpowering the dish. And the next morning, it was even better.
The draught selection alone makes Red Lion a destination pub. Smithwick’s, Fullers, Newcastle, Belhaven, just to name a few. A pint of the Strongbow Cider on a hot Houston day hit the spot.
With the red leather booths, and football on the TVs, anyone can feel like an ex-pat being treated to a bit of home. Come to Red Lion for the tradition. Stay for the comfort. Oh, and a pint or two.
2347 University Blvd. | 713.664.7571 | www.sud-italia.com
Mon–Fri: Lunch 11am–3pm; Mon–Tue:Dinner 5–9:30pm; Wed–Sat: Dinner 5–10pm;
Sat Brunch–11am–3pm; Sun–Closed
Making regional cuisines that are authentic is a difficult task. I recently had Southern Italian food that made me feel like I was in Puglia. Shanon Scott and his team at Sud Italia have a true Southern gem. Located in the Rice Village, Shanon’s menu is as authentic as it gets.
Sud provides a high-end Italian meal in a comfortable space. The patio (yes, I love patios this time of year) has enough seating that you can enjoy your meal without being on top of your neighbors.
Like many, Shanon took advantage of the fresh produce to create an incredible Primavera Menu. My eye was immediately drawn to the Octopus Carpaccio. Marinated, baked, then frozen before being shaved into paper thin slices, the dish was a beautiful as it was delicious. The light vinaigrette and tender octopus were unlike anything I had ever had. And will definitely have again. The paccheri pasta with shrimp and asparagus was a lighter dish than I had anticipated. The lobster base added a nice depth.
The true star though was an entrée on the main menu. Lamb chops, but not just any lamb chops. Shanon has them flown from Colorado twice a week. These aren’t
your typical lamb pops. They were substantial cuts of meat – two double bone-in chops with a red wine reduction cooked to a perfect medium rare. The best part? The price is only $36.00. Yes, $36.00. If you go for only one thing, the lamb would be it.
With a well-rounded wine list, there were plenty of options for pairing. Again, at very reasonable prices. For those who don’t have the money or time to travel to Puglia, don’t fear. You can eat at Sud Italia as if you were on the Italian coast. So, save the money and eat well. To Shanon and his team, all I can say is “grazie mille.”