On the Texas Gulf Coast, seafood is a way of life. The industry provides hundreds of thousands of jobs for fishers in Texas and beyond and generates millions of dollars in revenue for businesses of all kinds across the region. Even though it doesn’t have the shimmering reputation of the East or West coasts, the Third Coast boasts an enviable seafood bounty.
At restaurants in Houston and beyond, “Gulf caught” is used on menus as a badge of honor. It’s a point of pride for Houston establishments like Eugene’s and UB Preserv, and Pier 6 in San Leon to support the region’s fishing industry, just as it is for diners to eat local catches. From redfish to char-grilled oysters and freshly fried tilefish, here’s everything you need to know about the Texas Gulf Coast’s most popular proteins — and where to find them.
What to know: A prize for both fishers and diners, redfish (also known as red drum) is arguably the Gulf’s most recognizable fish. It was popularized in the 1980s by Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme, whose beloved blackened redfish spurred a national trend that resulted in severe overfishing of the species throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Since, the wild population has rebounded and some fisheries have begun farming redfish.
Which means that diners once again can enjoy its gentle flavor and flaky texture in dishes like redfish on the half-shell. In this classic Gulf dish, the tender redfish flesh is served atop its grilled (or roasted) skin and slathered in lemon butter or other sauces.
Where to find it: At Brennan’s of Houston, find grilled Gulf red fish served on the half-shell with olive and roasted garlic tapenade, caramelized lemon, and hearty vegetables.
What to know: Common throughout the Gulf of Mexico, red snapper is light in flavor and big on visual appeal, especially when presented whole-roasted. It’s served broadly at Houston’s finest seafood establishments, and is the perfect canvas for rich spices and fiery chiles. Take note, though — some environmental groups have raised concerns about the sustainability of snapper fisheries in the Gulf.
Where to find it: Chef Chris Shepherd’s UB Preserv serves a seriously stunning whole-roasted snapper that’s garnished with green curry, tons of chiles, and citrus-infused calamansi brown butter.
What to know: It’s got a weird name and some seriously strange teeth, but sheepshead boasts a light flavor that’s reminiscent of shellfish, which makes sense considering what these Gulf dwellers eat. A popular sport fish in the spring, sheepshead is also farmed commercially throughout the Gulf.
Where to find it: It can be a little challenging to find sheepshead on Houston menus, but it’s not uncommon as a “catch of the day” at Galveston restaurants like Fisherman’s Wharf.
What to know: Fished in Galveston and beyond in the Gulf of Mexico, gulf grouper is known for being especially and tender. Its flaky flesh is perfect for fish tacos, pan searing, and lots of spices.
Where to find it: At Pier 6 Seafood in San Leon, chef Joe Cervantez pan-sears grouper and serves it with a charred tomato and coconut sauce, fingerling potatoes, roasted cauliflower, and broccolini.
What to know: A large, hearty Gulf sport fish with buttery flavor and a firm texture, cobia is excellent served raw in a sushi or ceviche preparation or pan-seared to perfection. While much of the cobia served in the United States is farm-raised, the Gulf of Mexico boasts a strong population of the species year-round.
Where to find it: Score sushi-grade cobia at beloved seafood market Champions Seafood, then head home and eat it sashimi-style: thinly sliced, and brushed lightly with soy sauce.
What to know: Arguably the most popular seafood offering from the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf shrimp are known for being large in size, not-too-fishy in flavor, and seriously fresh. There are three different species of shrimp native to the Gulf — the common brown and white shrimp, and super-sweet pink shrimp — and you’ll find them all on Houston menus at various points throughout the year.
Where to find it: Everywhere. Score a basket of deep-fried Gulf shrimp served with tartar sauce and french fries at Goode Company Seafood, or pair them with top-notch scallops and corn chowder at the Annie.
What to know: A common target for both sport and commercial fishers, flounder is abundant in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s also a popular local catch on restaurant menus, thanks to its low fat content, mild flavor, and light texture.
Where to find it: Head to iconic Galveston seafood restaurant Fisherman’s Wharf for a delicate flounder filet that’s breaded with panko and served with angel hair pasta, garlic, tomatoes, and fresh basil.
What to know: Known for their comparatively large size and meaty texture, oysters are the real seafood star of the Gulf. Some snobbish oyster eaters may prefer those bivalves sourced from the East and West coasts, but Houstonians know that there’s a perfect simplicity in sitting outside with an oyster knife and sack of freshly caught oysters from Galveston Bay. Gulf oysters also lack the punch of salinity associated with East Coast oysters, which are caught in colder waters, making them perfect for deep-frying and piling atop a seafood platter or po’ boy.
Where to find them: Gulf oysters are abundant on Houston seafood restaurant menus. Find them grilled Rockefeller-style at 104-year-old institution Christie’s, or wrapped with shrimp and bacon and served with garlic remoulade at Eugene’s Gulf Coast Cuisine. Prefer raw oysters? Head to Captain Tom’s on FM 1960 for a bounty of affordable bivalves.
What to know: While not particularly common on Houston restaurant menus, tilefish frequently pops up as a market special at the city’s finer seafood restaurants. Golden tilefish is especially prized for its large size, sweet flavor, and firm, flaky flesh.
Where to find it: When visiting Galveston, head to Katie’s Seafood Market for a take-and-cook tilefish dish that is totally customizable. Diners can choose between blackened, lemon pepper, and chimichurri marinades, paired with Gulf shrimp.
What to know: They may not have the fame of Maryland’s blue crabs, but Gulf crab is a decidedly worthy catch. The Gulf’s warm waters make an excellent breeding ground for blue crab, which are fished heavily throughout the region’s waters, especially in Louisiana.
Where to find it: For a thoroughly Houston take on blue crab, head to Crawfish and Noodles in Asiatown for steamed blue crabs slathered in Cajun seasoning, tamarind sauce, or salt and pepper.