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Book Review: Houston Dining Index by Mike Riccetti

Houston Dining Index by Mike Riccetti (2013), Tempus Fugit Press.180 pages.(Author Website)

Ebook Edition: $3.99  (Buy at Amazon, and  BN)

Summary: great restaurant review book with lots of useful lists (such as restaurants near Metro Rail stops), but it is somewhat  difficult to browse by neighborhood or region.

The author is a Houston native who has been reviewing Houston restaurants for a long time.  He and I went to high school in Houston together, and I have fond memories about his taking classmates to an obscure and crazy Asian jazz restaurant where he ordered all kinds of crazy and delicious things for the table. Mike’s enthusiasism for food and fine dining is evident in his book which collects lots of information about Houston’s amazing restaurant scene. In addition to writing regular restaurant reviews for the Examiner and Houston Press, Riccetti has already written one Houston culinary guide. This volume  updates and improves upon the previous one.

The book seems to be targeted to the out-of-town traveller. He gives three dollar figures under price: average dinner cost (including 20% tip), entrée price range and average entrée price. Also, he begins by talking about restaurants in areas frequented by out-of-towners (the airports,  downtown), I have looked up about 30 restaurants I know very well and found that his reviews are succinct, fair but not overly positive and  good at capturing what is unique and interesting about the restaurant in question.  Most of the listings include its neighborhood and/or its culinary type, but this is not always done consistently.

The  excellent introduction gives an overview about Houston restaurants and trends.  This book has some incredible “extras”: a listing of local pubs and microbreweries, a review/list of Bistros (I didn’t know Houston had so many!)  a review/list of restaurants in hotels,  a listing of restaurant without walking distance of the Metrorail (! — this will be even more useful after Metrorail is expanded even further in 2014). There is a section for “restaurant rows” (small pedestrian-friendly areas full of restaurants). Perhaps the oddest section was “Seen on TV” (restaurants which were reviewed or featured on various food shows).

I like the fact that this book covers a lot of budget restaurants and that it contains a lot of lists (Late Night, Sunday Brunch, Uniquely Houston Restaurants). Its coverage of Vietnamese restaurants was  particularly good.  But it can be hard to browse the book by location. The book highlights certain areas (e.g., “West Houston — Energy Corridor and Katy”) but for the most part you have to browse by culinary type and then look at individual listings to see where they are located. Also, there was not a special section for Galleria (where I live, a common destination for visitors). There is not an index  but a section for “Location” near the end (which is useful but easy to overlook). It would have been even more  helpful for the Location section to actually link to the place in the book where the restaurant was  reviewed.  As a practical matter, you will have to use the ebook search feature to find a specific restaurant.  One tip I have is creating ebook bookmarks for the most useful sections (which I found to be “Metrorail”, “restaurant rows,” and “Locations” ) so you can access them later  more easily.

This raises question about whether restaurant books still matter in an age of Yelp and B-4-u-eat. Although raw feedback from  review  websites are great, they can overwhelm you with extraneous information  In contrast, restaurant guidebooks like this are more practical and concise and give you a better overview of what’s here. Houston has some incredible restaurants, and books like this help the visitor and  longtime residents to discover new and wonderful places.

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Disclaimer: Mike and I were high school classmates. More on Disclaimers and Reviewing

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