Houston is quantifiably the most diverse city in the United States, with a full 1.6 million residents hailing from a different country. Of those immigrants, Mexicans account for 30 percent of the population. As the Mexican population in Houston continues to grow, so does the diversity of the city’s cuisine.
As a result, Houston’s dining scene is replete with restaurants serving excellent iterations of classic dishes from all over Mexico’s varied and diverse culinary history. From Baja California to Oaxaca, here’s where to find Houston’s finest takes on the regional cuisines of Mexico.
Fish tacos at Cabo Baja Tacos & Burritos
Fish tacos are beloved in the coastal region of the Mexican state of Baja California. In this restaurant’s version, there’s not a hint of grease on the crispy seafood. The fillet is so large, it almost escapes the tortilla, which has been made to order. Refreshing cilantro and a crunchy cabbage slaw conspire with creamy chipotle sauce to make a well-balanced bite of the seaside. There are also chocolate- and caramel-filled churros for dessert.
4520 Washington Ave., 281-974-5371
Comida corrida at Cuchara
In some CDMX neighborhoods, the signs are everywhere. “Comida Corrida,” which means “food on the run,” is a package meal of multiple courses, served quickly and inexpensively. Just such a meal is $7.99 at Taqueria DF in Spring Branch, but the better move are the more upscale $15 offerings at Cuchara. Three courses might include one of owner Ana Beavan’s fruit-spiked salads or a soup, a choice of entree (think enchiladas verdes, quesadillas, or stew) and a dessert, perhaps rice pudding, alongside all-you-can-drink aguas frescas.
214 Fairview St., 713-942-0000
Trompo at Los Meros Tacos y Su Trompo Tribalero
Houston is full of people from Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo León, but the best trompo — the spit-roasted chunks of pork also known as al pastor — in town is off the beaten path in Northwest Houston. The expanse of Veterans Memorial Drive is clogged with great Mexican food trucks, but this covered stand in a supermarket parking lot is a worthy landmark. For folks who grew up in Monterrey, the crisp-edged, chile-rubbed pork will bring them right back home. It’s available in a quesadilla, a torta, or $1 tacos.
13572 Hwy. 249, 832-628-4161
San Luis Potosí
Enchiladas Potosinas at Taqueria el Campesino
The creation myth attached to enchiladas potosinas varies, but the common thread is a protagonist who brings home cornmeal that’s been cross-contaminated with chile powder at the mill.
The happy ending? Red, slightly spicy tortillas. Here, the chubby homemade corn rounds are dipped in chile sauce for the same effect, then folded in half, taco-style, rather than rolled like the enchiladas more common in the United States. They’re filled with a swipe of refried beans and queso fresco, then topped with a pounded-thin portion of salty steak. Potato-carrot hash and a salad enhanced with slices of avocado complete the plate for a meal that’s almost impossible to find outside of the San Luis Potosí region.
7710 Bellaire Blvd., 713-777-8889
Tlayudas at Xochi
In Oaxaca, diners are most likely to encounter tlayudas at sidewalk stands where a woman or group of women assemble a variety of toppings on a toasted tortilla. There might even be somewhere to sit down. Things are more formal at Hugo Ortega’s upscale Oaxacan gem inside the Marriott Marquis. Here, lunchtime brings four varieties, including one topped with skirt steak and rubbed with hot-and-tangy adobo Oaxaqueño on a bed of refried black beans and Oaxacan string cheese. A superficial layer of colorful shaved veggies and herbs makes the outsized blue-corn tortilla visually appealing as well.
1777 Walker St., 713-400-3330
Cochinita pibil at Fonda Santa Rosa
Though Merida on Navigation Boulevard is the city’s only Yucatecan restaurant, the famous banana-leaf-wrapped, pit-roasted pork dish is closest to those served on the peninsula. At this airy spot, David Reyes serves up an iteration of the ancient Mayan preparation that’s bright with sweet-and-sour orange. Achiote, a favorite ingredient in the Yucatan, gives the pork its trademark reddish hue. Bright-pink pickled onions contribute an unexpected hint of heat.
9908 Beechnut St., 713-777-7474
Huachinango Veracruzana at Tampico Seafood Restaurant
If diners aren’t in the mood to fight with a red snapper’s pin bones, they can get the same recipe using fillets instead of whole fish, or with shrimp instead. Either way, the dish is a marriage of Veracruz’s Gulf Coast resources and flavors brought by the conquistadors, enjoyed more by tourists in the region than locals. At this two-pronged Houston chain, tomato sauce serves as the base for the Mediterranean-inflected dish of olives, bay leaves, bell peppers, and onions over sizzling seafood.
Locations at 2115 Airline Drive and 10125 North Freeway
Torta ahogada at Guadalajara’s Deli
“Deli” may be a bit of a misnomer for this Guadalajaran specialist. It is casual, but the cuisine exceeds the expected tortas and huaraches with regional dishes like carne en su jugo, steamed tacos de canasta, and this hard-to-find street food. Eating a sandwich that’s been drenched in chile sauce is far from elegant, but few things are more satisfying than crunching into a still-crusty bolillo roll containing well-braised chunks of pork and bright, crunchy red onions.
6303 Irvington Blvd., 346-226-5302
Barbacoa de borrego en salsa verde at El Hidalguense
The city of Houston bans El Hidalguense from cooking whole lambs in an outdoor pit in the traditional style, but everything else is done more or less according to tradition, albeit in extra-large ovens to accommodate the animals. The traditional barbacoa de borrego is served with consomme and cactus salad, but even better are the melting strands of pulled lamb coated in tangy tomatillo sauce for extra heat. The plate comes with tortillas made to order in the partially open kitchen. Diners can also roll the meat into tacos with freshly chopped cilantro, onion, and a squeeze of lime.
6917 Long Point Rd., 713-680-1071
Fried sushi at Culichi Town
It’s a relatively recent invention, but Sinaloan sushi is a genre unto itself. Though the state is coastal and most of California-based chain Culichi Town’s dishes are seafood-centric (including a ceviche tostada topped with Hot Cheetos), rolls originating from the city of Culiacán are more dependent on cheese and the fryer than fish, which doesn’t appear in every roll. The Guerrero Roll, named for Ronald Guerrero, the California chef who created it, combines slices of beef and chicken, as well as bacon crumbles, woven with avocado and cream cheese and encircled with sticky rice in a battered jacket.
11901 Aldine Westfield Rd., 832-672-8715