In recent years, no city’s culinary profile has risen more quickly than Houston’s. Home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, and the birthplace of Beyoncé, the biggest city in Texas is still one of the country’s most underrated dining destinations. Use this as a guide to the city’s unbelievably diverse, incredibly vibrant culinary culture.
Welcome to the Land of Oil and Money
A sprawling metropolis home to the most diverse population of citizens in the country, Houston’s culinary scene is truly unparalleled. Once only known as the land of oil barons and excessive humidity, James Beard Award-winning chefs like Chris Shepherd and Hugo Ortega have drawn eyes from across the country to Houston’s restaurants.
If you have a day to take a deep dive into the city’s restaurant scene, start off the morning at coffee nerd David Buehrer’s Blacksmith to sip an expertly brewed cup of joe alongside Vietnamese steak and eggs. For lunch, head to Montrose for chef Hugo Ortega’s ceviches, intricately spiced mole dishes, and some of the city’s best margaritas at Hugo’s.
Then, spend the afternoon driving down Bellaire Boulevard in Chinatown, stopping in at award-winning spots like Crawfish & Noodles and Blood Bros. Barbecue for a late second lunch. Pre-dinner cocktails at Anvil Bar & Refuge are an absolute must, as is dinner at EaDo favorite Nancy’s Hustle, where squid ink linguine in fermented chile butter and beef and butter dumplings await.
Where to Start on Eater Houston’s Best Maps
As you may know, Eater Houston puts together comprehensive guides to the city's best food and drink — whether in search of Houston’s fried chicken, cocktails, burgers, or brunch. If starving and overwhelmed by the sheer number of options, here are some top picks that are a solid bet every single time.
Hottest Restaurant: The hottest table in Houston right now is at March, chef Felipe Riccio’s tasting-menu-only restaurant in Montrose. With a focus on the Mediterranean and a truly luxe dining experience, it’s absolutely worth the splurge.
Essential Restaurant: In search of succulent fajitas and saucy enchiladas? Head to the Original Ninfa’s on Navigation, open in Houston since 1973, for proteins grilled over a wood fire, freshly-made tortillas, and a bowl of cheesy, melty queso.
Burgers: There is no shortage of burgers in Houston. Head to Lankford Grocery, a cash-only spot that serves up one of Space City’s spiciest burgers. If near the suburbs, get thee to Killen’s Burgers in Pearland for a ridiculously juicy brisket-chuck patty, or hit the drive-thru at the Burger Joint for super-thick shakes, kimchi-topped burgers, and more.
Barbecue: It doesn’t have the prestige of Texas’ Hill Country, but Houston barbecue can certainly hold its own. The brisket, sausage, ribs, and more at spots like Feges BBQ, Gatlin’s, Killen’s, and Spring’s Corkscrew are all solid enough to satisfy a craving for smoke. Also great is Truth BBQ, a Hill Country expat that serves killer brisket alongside towering cakes for dessert.
Tex-Mex & Mexican: Hailed as one of the country’s best new restaurants, Chef Hugo Ortega’s Xochi is a must for anyone in the vicinity of Downtown Houston. In search of classic Tex-Mex? Get thee to Teotihuacán Mexican Cafe for fajitas, enchiladas, and so much more.
Houston Food ‘Hoods to Know
Arguably the hottest dining neighborhood in Houston right now, the Heights is packed with excellent restaurants. Enjoy Italian fare straight from the garden at Coltivare, or head to Harold’s for cast iron-fried chicken and gumbo. If it’s happy hour, check out Eight Row Flint’s massive patio, complete with plenty of booze (like barrel-aged whiskey and frozen gin and tonic) and tacos.
Home to some of Houston’s most well-known restaurants, Montrose is a veritable dining paradise. Start the day with pastries from Common Bond and coffee from Blacksmith, then head to Hugo’s for enchiladas, ceviche, and (of course) margaritas at lunch. Before dinner, enjoy expertly-mixed martinis and Manhattans at the vaunted Anvil Bar & Refuge, then head into chef Chris Shepherd’s world at Georgia James, a decidedly decadent steakhouse inspired by the first iteration of his rotating restaurant One Fifth, also in Montrose.
Business travelers flock to Houston’s Downtown for work, but there’s more in the city center than just power lunch destinations. For breakfast, The Breakfast Klub is a Beyoncé-approved Houston institution, and an excellent spot to score chicken & waffles for breakfast. When lunch rolls around, the Oaxacan fare at Chef Hugo Ortega’s Xochi is a must.
One of the ritzier notable dining ‘hoods, River Oaks is home to some of Houston’s flashiest eateries. Drop a big chunk of change on an even bigger hunk of meat at Steak 48, or belly up to the oyster bar at Chef Ford Fry’s State of Grace. In River Oaks and in need of something a little more casual? The patio at Backstreet Cafe is a perfect spot to park and work for a few hours. While browsing the shops, stop into Amorino Gelato for a flower-shaped frozen treat that tastes as good as it looks on Instagram.
It might be named after a shopping mall, but the food in Houston’s Galleria area is decidedly better than food court fare. Modern Indian restaurant Musaafer serves a wide-ranging menu that stuns every single time, while Etoile Cuisine Et Bar offers undeniable French plates de résistance, like a lemon-saffron asparagus risotto with shrimp and a wild boar ragout Bolognese.
More aptly described as “Asiatown,” this neighborhood along Bellaire Boulevard can pretty much satisfy any culinary itch. Dig into authentic Sichuan cuisine from James Beard-nominated eatery Mala Sichuan Bistro, or head to Crawfish & Noodles for spicy, garlicky Viet-Cajun crawfish. In search of Houston’s famously great pho? Try Pho Hung or Pho Binh by Night. Thai, Japanese, Uyghur, Korean, and fusion options are also on offer, which means that it’s probably good to dedicate a full day to exploring everything Chinatown has to offer.
Houston Glossary of Terms
Vietnamese Iced Coffee — A potent blend of Vietnamese dark roast drip coffee and sweetened condensed milk. Houston’s favorite way to start the morning.
Kolache — Made with a yeast dough and filled in the center with jams, cream cheese, poppy seeds, and other sweet fillings, this sweet pastry was brought to Texas by Czech immigrants in the mid-1800s. Today, kolaches are essential Texas breakfast fare and are now served in a more savory fashion, with fillings like sausage, egg and bacon, boudin, and even brisket. The klobasnek, typically stuffed with sausage or ground meat, is noted as the kolache’s savory cousin.
Viet-Cajun Crawfish — A fusion of two of Houston’s most prominent cuisines, Gulf seafood and Vietnamese. Instead of the traditional crawfish boil, these mudbugs are tossed in ginger, lemongrass, garlic, and plenty of heat.
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