By Jim Ayres

A few of my favorite things
Looking back on 2016, I’m compiling a list of everything wonderful that I ate and (mostly) told you about last year.1-lees

2016 saw a nationwide fried chicken revolution. Gourmet versions popped up every week! In Houston, I loved the “three day” fried chicken at Lee’s Fried Chicken and Donuts. A three-day process (brine, buttermilk, seasoning and frying) ensures the chicken is full of tangy flavor. Together with Lee’s Bacon Jalapeño Cream Gravy, it’s a rich, crispy, tangy chicken I’ve eaten many times.
I tried to complete a yearlong burger moratorium in 2016. It didn’t last, of course. I eventually told you about the best burgers in Bellaire, as well as a couple of new arrivals from rival cities. But my fa2-mias_cheeseburgervorite burger of all is at Mia’s Table. Starting with a cloudlike challah bun, the fresh, crunchy veggies, the just right seasoning on the just thick enough patty and the cheddar cheese make a truly classic burger.

People watching at North Italia was one of my favorite dining pastimes last year. If you gofor pasta, my favorite there is the Strozzapreti in a dish of grilled chicken breast, roasted mushrooms, spinach, pine nuts and a light Parmesan cream sauce. But another pasta tugged my heart, as well. At Nundini, Radiatori con Salsiccia e Pesto di Pistacchi e Mandorle features rich fennel sweet sausage in a pesto (made from pistachios and almonds) that creeps into every crevice on the plate.

I’ve had plenty of sandwiches in my lifetime, but none have been as decadent as the Lobster Roll3-north_italia at State of Grace. It’s small, the size of a Russet potato, but so rich, so impeccably fresh, so immensely satisfying that I don’t want it any bigger. The accompanying fries with house-made Béarnaise keep adding to the luxury.

Like pork chops? Perry’s Famous Pork Chop was magnificent. Measuring “seven fingers high” and carved tableside, you get three ribs, an equivalent amount of loin, and a bit of the belly. It’s all roasted, smoked and caramelized to utter tenderness. It fills an entire platter. You can’t eat it all in one sitting, but you wish you could, so juicy is the meat, so velvety sweet its cloak.

7-caracolFor seafood, I eschewed shrimp and grilled filets in favor of Caracol’s small plates menu. Uncooked is just about the only way I can stomach tuna, and Tostadas de Atún was remarkably fresh, with leeks and a sour orange mayonnaise as accompaniments. But if the tuna energized me, then the Lobster Tamales (Tamal de Langosta) lulled me into dreamland. The loosely formed masa held lush sautéed lobster, nothing else, although the accompanying sauce made these the richest tamales I’ve ever had.

And finally, my favorite brunch of 2016 had to be at Eloise Nichols Grill & Liquors. I started with a lovely Wedge Salad with hot pink pickled onions, sturdy hou6-perrys_porkchopse bacon, hard-boiled egg, and spicy peanuts mingled with a pungent green goddess. My Buttermilk Biscuit Benedict came with Texas pulled pork and pickled green tomatoes.

How good does all of that sound? May 2017 be even better!

Lee’s Fried Chicken & Donuts, (713)

Mia’s Table, (713) 522-6427

North Italia, (281) 605-4030

Nundini Chef’s Table, (713) 861-6331

State of Grace, (832) 942-5080

Perry’s, (832) 358-9000 (Memorial City location)

Caracol, (713) 622-9996,

Eloise Nichols Grill & Liquors, (713) 554-0136,