There are dueling Turkish restaurants in the Rice Village area of Houston, literally a block apart. Whats on the plate is similar in both however they differ in atmosphere. Istanbul Grill is the more casual, Pasha the more dressed up. For a work outing today we went with the more casual.
Our outing today reminded me that Turkey is on my to-do list but it keeps getting rescheduled. So many places, so little vacation.
Casual, stripped-down fun. There’s about equal indoor and covered outdoor seating; if the weather is nice and particularly if its at night, its a more lively experience to be outside. The steady stream of Rice college students seeking escape from their studies at any number of bars along this stretch of Rice Village creates a youthful energy and occasional eye candy.
I’ve been to Istanbul Grill loads of times and had almost everything on the menu. The Iskender Kebab is my hands-down favourite here but today with a group of 20 we had a fixed menu and it was not listed. I had the Lamb Kofte, which was good; highly seasoned ground lamb, shaped into a long oval, grilled then served with a rice / chickpea concoction and salad.
For the group we also had a table full of their bread, which is delicious; crispy on the out, fluffy and chewable on the in. To pair, a sampler platter of their apps, my favourite being hummus. Maybe its just the local Turkish way, but the hummus both here and Pasha has a very strong sesame flavor, so heavy on the tahini. I like it but it is distinctly different from the Lebanese/Israeli variety which tends to be heavy on the chickpea and garlic.
I simply cannot visit a Turkish restaurant without having Turkish coffee. They know how to do this well. Thick, rich grounds-in variety, which has a distinct blackberry undercurrent and comes pre-sweetened. At Istanbul Grill you can order it half-sweet or quarter-sweet, that is, if you don’t want your coffee to taste like a dessert.
Service here is always good but at lunch and dinner rush hours, particularly on a Friday, it can be spotty due to the small kitchen and often limited number of wait staff. Twice, when it has taken too long for something, they just waived some item off of my bill; always a nod to customer loyalty. It happened again today with the Turkish Coffee, they just comped it and thanked us for choosing them for our group meeting.
For lunch $8-15, for dinner $10-20; dinner portions are notably larger. This is on par or lower than neighboring Pasha. I think at Pasha you are paying for a little more for the upscale atmosphere.
In a city with surprisingly few Turkish venues, you can always depend on Istanbul Grill to be a good, and occasionally great experience, particularly if the weather is nice and you snag a table outside on a Friday or Saturday evening.
Istanbul Grill | 5613 Morningside | Houston TX 77005