Conventional wisdom (for many) in Houston is that the best restaurants are found ITL - Inside the Loop.

We disagree. Houston is BIG, and most of Houston is OTL (Outside the Loop.) Here are out favorite places to eat that lie in the land of dragons beyond 610:

Burns BBQ
Ciao Bello
Christie's Seafood
Hubbell & Hudson
La Baraonda
Mel's Country Cafe
Ocean Palace
Pappas Bro's Steakhouse
Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen

Who'd we miss?

Texas may not have been the most likely place for an east coast kid who grew up in the Hamptons to settle but that’s exactly what he’s doing. Chef John Tesar announced today he would open Tesar’s Modern Steak & Sustainable Seafood this August in the Woodlands.

The chef says his roots are submerged deeply in the ocean he grew up near and always will be: "I identify with the sea there so completely and it’s companionship with our modern steak concept though I look forward to opening my first eponymous restaurant in Texas. Texas and Texans have been kind to me. I lived in Dallas for three years and loved it. Came back to New York for less than three months and found I missed it," said Tesar.

Tesar, a 2009 James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef: Southwest has seen crowds gather for his fare and his commitment to sustainable food sources when he revamped the menu and restaurant into three distinct dining areas at the Mansion on Turtle Creek.

Nationally lauded restaurant critic, John Mariani wrote Chef Tesar brought "New York edge to Texas swagger," when he named the Mansion Restaurant one of Esquire’s Ten Best New Restaurants of 2008.

Since his early 20's Chef Tesar has created his own restaurants and reinvented others for some of the best chefs, hotels and resorts from New York, Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas and Dallas. "I’ve been asked many times to brand my name, but timing is everything, and this is the time. Tesar's will be a special place," Tesar commented.

Fresh from his success in Dallas, Tesar looked to investors who believed in modern gastronomy for his next adventure. "Planning this concept has been intense," Tesar says. "Plenty of investors showed interest, but I needed to find the dedicated 'sustainable' backers. We take from flora and fauna without regard to maintenance; even poisoning it with the chemicals we use to make 'earth-foods' grow. But, people care more about what they eat now and my customers are desirous of the locavore and sustainable movement," states Chef Tesar.

Tesar’s Modern Steak & Sustainable Seafood will parlay the chef’s talents with a varied menu loaded with organically grown, "green" selections using side-by-side comparisons of grass and grain-fed beef and earth-easy seafood.

"Modern Steak is not only tastier it’s healthier." opines Tesar. "I’m currently engaging ranchers who practice these newer, cleaner modern ways of raising and aging cattle. My entire menu will be 100 percent sustainable created with a zero-waste food ethics in mind. This will also include our hamburgers served at our outside burger bar."

Tesar’s will have multiple options and price points for diners including a bar lounge menu, raw bar, chef’s room and main dining room with whole fish choices. "Whole fish will be a principal part of our menu. It’s an amazing way to taste the true flavor of the sea and the quality of finfish," informs Tesar.

McCarble and Tesar say they hope this to be the first of many restaurants. "Diners are searching for modern thoughtful cuisine everywhere, and the demand is high," states Tesar.

Tilman Fertitta, the majority shareholder of Houston-based Landry's Restaurants, has announced that he has acquired a 9 percent stake in seafood restaurant chain McCormick & Schmick's. The 1,326,033 shares have a market value of approximately $3.5 million. The purchase makes Fertitta the largest shareholder in the company.

Bolivar's landmark Stingaree restaurant has reopened after being seriously damaged by Hurricane Ike. For Bolivar residents it's a sign that the area is moving back toward normalcy. For the rest of us it means that some of the best seafood on the Gulf Coast is available again, including the signature Oysters Jubilee.

Read more in The Houston Chronicle.

Houston is a great city for Mexican food. From the humble taco truck to elegant fine dining establishments, Houston has the entire spectrum of Mexican food experiences covered. And everyone has their favorites.

We've been hearing buzz about a little place way out Westheimer, Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen. So we made the trek out to see what all the fuss is about.

Sylvia's has an unassuming strip center location, in an older strip center well beyond the Beltway. But don't be fooled by the modest exterior; open the door and you're transported to the border, where the nights are hot and the food is hotter.

Sylvia Casares is the name behind Sylvia's, and she was recognized as one of the top Latino chefs working in the United States by the Spanish-language magazine Siempre Mujer. She's brought the food from her native Lower Rio Grande Valley to Houston, and created dishes that span Anglo and Mexican culture. Those who view Tex-Mex cuisine as some sort of inferior stepchild to other Mexican cuisines need only to sample Sylvia's cooking to have the attitudes adjusted.

As with most Mexican establishments, you start with chips and salsa. Sylvia's chips are fresh and warm, and the salsa is a thin, housemade and savory. We had to remind ourselves to save room for the enchiladas.

As one would guess from the name, Sylvia's specialty is enchiladas, and there is a wide range to choose from -- no less than 18 different styles.

Sylvia helpfully offers two different sampler platters, each with four different petite enchiladas. For this first visit, we selected her North of the Border sampler.

First we sampled the Refugio - a basic cheese enchilada made with blended cheddar cheeses and topped with chili gravy. It was a good enchilada; smooth and spicy with a moderate amount of heat from the gravy.

Next came the Lubbock - a ground beef enchilada with Sylvia's Signature Gravy, a meatier take on regular chili gravy. Carnivores will love this enchilada; there is plenty of beef both inside and out, and the seasonings are masterfully balanced to provide heat that does not overpower.

Cheese enchiladas and beef enchiladas are Tex-Mex staples. After this things get creative.

We dove into the Laguna Madre - fresh crab enchiladas topped with a creamy seafood sauce. This delicious enchilada was stuffed with plenty of juicy lump crab meat, and the creamy sauce had a bit of a kick to it. If you're a seafood lover, this enchilada is one you can't miss.

Finally came the most unusual enchilada - the Sarita. A vegetarian enchilada filled with a combination of calabacita (summer squash) corn, and mild cheese, topped with a light cream sauce. The fresh flavor of the vegetables combined with the rich, savory cream sauce and the result was one of the best enchiladas we can remember tasting.

Sylvia's was busy on the night we visited, but service was professional, prompt and friendly. Prices are a touch higher than one might expect for Tex-Mex dishes, but we feel that the quality more than makes up for the extra $2-3 per plate.

All in all, we think that Sylvia's is one of Houston's best Mexican restaurants, and if you've not visited, you're missing out on a meal that any lover of Mexican food will enjoy.

Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen: 12637 Westheimer Road, Houston, 77077, 281-679-8300

Many of our friends who live ITL (Inside The Loop, a Houston term for the part of town inside I-610) maintain that there's nothing OTL (Outside the Loop) worth the drive. In our experience, they couldn't be more wrong.

We'd been hearing good buzz about a small cafe that had opened in a strip center at the far northwest corner of the Woodlands, and finally got a chance to check 'em out last night.

Eden Cafe is a small family owned establishment that serves a wide variety of cuisine. They're serious about variety: They have daily specials that are based on a specific cuisine. Tex-Mex Tuesdays, Italian Wednesdays, Comfort Food Thursdays, and Seafood Fridays (the day we visited.)

I ordered one of the specials - blackened tilapia. It was a beautiful tilapia filet expertly prepared, tender, moist, and nicely spicy. The sides were ver good as well: A mild Greek salad with plenty of feta, and a scoop of sweet potato casserole, rich, earthy, and loaded with nuts.

We also sampled their chicken-fried chicken, which was superb. Very moist, hand-breaded with a light, crispy breading, it was accompanied by a grilled squash/zucchini side that was delicious.

Another winner was the Pasta Marsala. A large serving of penne pasta with plenty of grilled chicken, mushrooms, squash, and a rich marsala wine sauce.

Prices are surprisingly modest. There's nothing on the menu over $13.

The restaurant was packed on Friday night, but the service was still friendly and professional. The owner, Ulises Larramendi, was greeting guests (many of whom were obviously regulars) and making sure things were flowing smoothly.

Browsing the menu, we discovered that Eden Cafe also has a full breakfast menu on Friday and Saturday ('till 3pm on Saturday.) They're closed Sunday and Monday.

Eden Cafe is a winner. It's a comfortable, casual cafe that serves very well-executed food. It's a worn phrase, but there's really something for everyone.

For those coming from ITL, it's a bit of a hike, but we think it's worth it. There are hundreds of small, family run cafes in Houston, but we've yet to find one that offers such a wide variety of food that is so expertly prepared.

We'll be back.

Eden Cafe: 33418 Egypt Lane, Suite 16, Magnolia, 77354, 832-934-2800,

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