As 2010 draws to a close, it's time for us to look back at this remarkable year, and recognize the people, places, and things that we'll most fondly remember.
Trend of the Year
Burgers, burgers, burgers. The humble hamburger represents a full-fledged trend in the Houston dining scene. Always a popular choice, we've seen it elevated to new heights by both fine dining establishments and neighborhood joints. It seems that every other new restaurant features a signature burger, and the result is that diners can enjoy a superb meal for an amazingly modest tariff.
Opening of the Year
Caffe Bello. Tony Vallone has been the master of fine dining in Houston for decades, and many an eyebrow was raised when he announced plans to open a restaurant in Montrose. This was not the playground of his usual crowd, but Tony, son Jeff, and savvy young partner Scott Sulma quickly charmed the denizens of Montrose with their spin on modern Italian cuisine, including the tasty, thin-crust pizzas that left all the critics swooning.
Honorable Mentions: Samba Grille, The Burger Guys, Cinq.
Burger of the Year
Hubcap Decker at Hubcap Grill. This category was a tough one in 2010 - we sampled dozens of fantastic burgers, and didn't even work our way to the end the list of places we wanted to try. But one burger stood out for us among all the rest - Ricky Craig's superlative Hubcap Decker, perhaps the finest incarnation of a traditional double cheeseburger we've ever encountered.
Honorable Mentions: Samba Grille Burger, Bleu Cheese Burger at Hubble & Hudson Kitchen, Beaver Burger
Foodie of the Year
Dr. Ricky. Anyone following the Houston food scene knows that Houston has no shortage of people who are willing to share their experiences and opinions about food and dining. But we think that Dr. Ricky goes above and beyond, and educates his audience with every post. His knowledge of food is vast, and we had the pleasure of dining with him and learning that the man is just as insightful and interesting in person as he is online.
Honorable Mentions: Robb Walsh, J.C. Reid, Nishta Mehra
Critic of the Year
Katharine Shilcutt. When Robb Walsh stepped down as critic for the Houston Press, a vacuum was formed, and we were very curious to find out who would fill it. Enter Katharine Shilcutt, a popular local blogger and foodie who had recently started making great contributions to the Press's Eating Our Words blog. Shilcutt had big shoes to fill, but her engaging writing style, quick wit, and genuine love of exploring new places made her the right choice for the Press.
Honorable Mentions: Alison Cook, Sarah Rufca
Restaurateur of the Year
Bryan Caswell. We've watched Bryan Caswell expand his sphere of influnce from the kitchen of Hotel Icon to the living rooms of foodies across America. Along the way, he's opened what many consider to be the best seafood restaurant in the United States (REEF), an outstanding slider joint (Little Bigs), and a unique spin on Texas Italian cuisine (Stella Sola). Between all this he had a chance to represent Houston on The Next Iron Chef, and explain to up-and-coming cooks why they need to work in a Waffle House. Next up? Opening a classic Tex-Mex place in Montrose with Robb Walsh. After that, we expect a run for the Governor's Mansion.
Honorable Mentions: Monica Pope, Jeff Vallone, Cary Attar
Chef of the Year
Cesar Rodriguez. Houston is a town with a lot of churrascarias. But one, Samba Grille, stands above them, with an impressive slate of composed dishes alongside the savory grilled meats. Chef Rodriguez has brought his years of experience (with both the Vallone and Cordua organizations) to this new restaurant, and right out of the gate the new kitchen was firing on all cylinders. We attended the soft opening, and can't remember a new organization ever executing so well. The result was that after being open for only a month, Samba was on every critic's short list for 2010, and deservedly so. From unique soups to a top-notch burger, the kitchen at Samba Grill delivers, thanks to Chef Rodriguez's watchful eye at the helm.
Honorable Mentions: L.J. Wiley, Jeramie Robison, Austin Simmons, Bryan Caswell
Restaurant of the Year
Hubcap Grill. There are tens of thousands of restaurants in Houston, and the safe choice would be one of the city's superb fine dining establishments. But to us, Hubcap Grill sums up what a great restaurant is all about: A superlative product delivered with vision and passion, making its guests very happy. A tiny location in the shadow of the tall buildings downtown, Hubcap Grill has become Houston's go-to spot for great burgers, due to the hard work and brilliant insight of Ricky Craig, the chef and proprietor. Ricky's approach to designing a burger is as meticulous as the work of any Cordon Bleu-trained chef, and the results speak for themselves: Hoardes of satisfied guests, and a list of accolades including three coveted stars from Alison Cook. We concur with the esteemed Ms. Cook; Hubcap Grill has succeeded, and is among the very best restaurants to be found in the city.
Honorable Mentions: Samba Grille, RDG+Bar Annie, Chez Roux