By John Egan

Want to dine in what GQ magazine touts as "America's next great food city"? Then prepare to whet your appetite in Houston.

"Houston is our fourth-largest city in population," famed restaurant critic Alan Richman proclaims in GQ's March 2015 issue, "but in food it's poised to move into the top three."

In dishing about Houston's eating environment, Richman singles out three restaurants: Oxheart, a tasting-menu spot featuring American-style meat, fish and vegetables; Uchi, which puts a contemporary spin on sushi and other Japanese fare; and Underbelly, which boasts a diverse menu of homegrown food.

"Houston has so many cultural, geographical and culinary advantages," Richman says, "it's a wonder the food took this long to get great."

He adds: "Houston is not like anywhere else, not even the rest of Texas. It's in eating range of Louisiana, right on the Gulf of Mexico, not far from the Deep South. It's got outsiders moving in: Vietnamese, South and Central Americans."

Naturally, the folks at Underbelly agree with Richman's assessment.

"We firmly believe there is no more intriguing city in this country to eat in than Houston," Underbelly says on its website. "The ongoing influx of countless cultures with centuries of bountiful farming, ranching and fishing is unparalleled. It's not just about remarkable food-it's a story taking shape right before us that will continue to define this restaurant and those that call this city home."

In heaping praise on the local cuisine scene, Richman also names two area eateries to GQ's list of the 25 Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2015: Pax Americana in Houston, ranked No. 5, and Killen's Barbecue in Pearland, ranked No. 10. Both restaurants opened in 2014.

Here's what Richman serves up about Pax Americana:

"Pax Americana is a throwback to a vanishing time when young chefs were discovered in their kitchens, not on television. You eat here for two reasons: to taste Adam Dorris' somewhat American-but distinctively personal-cooking and to see the glowing painting of Chairman Mao by Andy Warhol on the dining-room wall."

In his Pax Americana review, Richman highlights several dishes:

●    Local swordfish.
●    Creamy goat ricotta with slices of acorn squash.
●    Eggs in a skillet with greens, Thai chiles and scallion-kimchi aioli.
●    Beef tartare "like no other."

Richman expresses equal enthusiasm about Killen's Barbecue.

"I couldn't decide: Was Ronnie Killen's plate rib merely the single greatest piece of barbecue of my entire life, or was it the most magnificent piece of beef ever cooked at any time in history?" he writes.

Richman also raves about Killen's chuck rib, bone-on pork belly, pork-laced pinto beans, crunchy creamed corn, coleslaw and soft white bread.

"Everything is first-rate at Killen's," Richman says.

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