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An Eater’s Guide to Houston

Unofficial, highly-opinionated intel on Clutch City’s dining scene

Houston’s pizza scene is something to explore.
| Julie Soefer

In recent years, no city’s culinary profile has risen more quickly than Houston’s. The city is not only home to several James Beard Award-winning and nominated culinarians, but it’s also a haven to some of the largest and most thriving immigrant populations that infuse the region with unique flavors and cuisines. Still, the biggest and most diverse city in Texas is arguably one of the country’s most underrated dining destinations, and it’s just waiting to be explored. Use this as a guide to immerse yourself and taste your way through Houston’s remarkable culinary culture.

Welcome to the Land of Oil and Money

Home to the most diverse population of citizens in the country, the culinary scene in this sprawling metropolis is truly unparalleled. Once only known as the land of oil barons and excessive humidity, James Beard Award-winning chefs like Chris Shepherd, Hugo Ortega, and most recently, Jabthong Benchawan Painter, or Chef G, 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 the morning at coffee nerd David Buehrer’s Blacksmith to sip an expertly brewed cup of joe imported from Guatemala or Colombia alongside Vietnamese steak and eggs. For lunch, go to Hugo’s in Montrose for chef Hugo Ortega’s ceviches, intricately spiced mole dishes, and some of the city’s best margaritas.

Then, spend the afternoon driving down Bellaire Boulevard in Chinatown, stopping in at award-winning spot Crawfish & Noodles for a second lunch. Pre-dinner cocktails at James Beard Award-winning cocktail bar Julep or Anvil Bar & Refuge are essential, as is dinner at EaDo favorite Nancy’s Hustle, where the Nancy Cakes, its signature plate of pillowy corn cakes served with rich, creamy cultured butter and briny trout roe, are iconic. Or, make a reservation at Street to Kitchen, where Chef G is sure to serve up some unapologetic Thai dishes, including spicy drunken noodles and massaman curry.

A silver bowl filled with boiled crawfish and corn.
Viet-Cajun cuisine is a Houston signature.
Ellie Sharp/EHOU

Where to Start on Eater Houston's Best Maps

Eater Houston is the place to go for comprehensive guides to the city’s best food and drink — with everything from steak, fried chicken, and cocktails to burgers or brunch. When the sheer number of options seems overwhelming, here are some top picks that are a solid bet every single time.

Hottest Restaurants: Some of the hottest tables in Houston right now are at Little’s Oyster Bar, Pappas Restaurants’s newest establishment that serves up stellar grilled octopus, Yellowedge grouper, and other seafood dishes in the former Little Pappas Seafood House; Th Prsrv, Kemah’s newest tasting menu restaurant that takes diners on a journey through Thai and Native American cuisine and history, and the Montrose location of Betelgeuse Betelgeuse, which serves up intergalactic-themed cocktails and ironclad, pan-style pizzas with crispy edges.

Essential Restaurants: In search of succulent fajitas and saucy enchiladas? Head to Original Ninfa’s on Navigation, which, founded in 1973, is known for introducing the country to fajitas and dishing out wood-fired proteins, freshly-made tortillas, and bowls of melty queso. Bludorn offers a blend of New American-French-inspired style and Gulf Coast-heavy, with dishes like a rich and creamy sea urchin spaghetti, and comforting lobster-chicken pot pie, while Tatemó, one of Houston’s few tasting menu restaurants, offers swoon-worthy bites of Mexican cuisine with a fun and educational emphasis on masa.

A plate of soft, rolled tacos with beans, guacamole, and salsas.
Ninfa’s famed tacos are sure to satisfy.
The Original Ninfa’s/Facebook

Burgers: Burger options in Houston seem endless. While burger-chan offers flavorful patties with punchy condiments like kimchi relish and sambal mayo, Trill Burgers, co-owned by Houston music legend Bun B, serves one of the most sought-after smash burgers in the city, while Montrose mainstay Lankford Grocery & Market serves up one of Space City’s spiciest. Near the suburbs, get to Killen’s Burgers in Pearland for a ridiculously juicy brisket-chuck patty, or a Hippo Burgers location up north in the Humble area for a massive bite. In the city? Hit the drive-thru at the Burger Joint for super-thick shakes, kimchi-topped burgers, and more.

Barbecue: While it might not have the prestige of the Texas Hill Country, Houston barbecue certainly holds its own. The brisket, sausage, ribs, and more at spots like Feges BBQ, Gatlin’s, Killen’s, the Pit Room, and Spring’s Corkscrew all solidly satisfy a craving for smokey meats. Also great is Truth BBQ, a Hill Country expat that serves killer brisket alongside towering cakes for dessert, and Katy’s Brett’s Barbecue Shop, which serves up brisket enchiladas on select days of the week.

A spread from the Pit Room including brisket, sliced sausage, ribs, and traditional accompaniments on a barbecue tray.
Find barbecue platters in Houston that are worth the meat sweats.
Jenn Duncan

Brunch: Houstonians practically treat brunch like a sport. As such, there’s an abundance of cuisines and vibes that can satisfy any appetite. Visit Bosscat Kitchen & Libations for vibe dining and indulgent eats like “Fruity Pebbles” French toast and doughnut burgers; Traveler’s Table for mimosa flights and a sample of globe-trotting dishes like jerk chicken, seafood risotto, and crab samosas; or the Annie Cafe & Bar for a more elevated brunch experience on the picturesque terrace.

Fried Chicken: Houston is arguably the best city in the country for fried chicken thanks to its various takes on the crispy and comforting fried fowl. Try Himalaya’s spice-laden and skinless chicken, served with a tangy mustard sauce; Dak & Bop’s extra crunchy version of Korean fried chicken with homemade sauces; or Frenchy’s, a local staple offering yard bird to go.

Tex-Mex and Mexican: Chef Hugo Ortega’s Xochi should be a bucket list stop for anyone in the vicinity of Downtown Houston or venture East to Cochinita & Co. for top-notch tacos and a stellar cochinita pibil. In search of classic Tex-Mex? Head over to El Patio or Candente for fajitas, enchiladas, and so much more.

Seafood: Considering the city’s proximity to the Gulf, seafood is a major part of the city’s culinary fabric. Head to Gatlin’s Fins & Feathers for an ode to neighborhood fish fries and delicious gumbo, Kata Robata for top-tier raw offerings and sushi, or Goode Co. Seafood for some of the city’s best catches.

Ice Cream: Whatever the time of year, it’s probably hot enough to eat ice cream in Houston. Fat Cat Creamery, Sweet Bribery by Craft Creamery, and the somewhat elusive Underground Creamery serve up some of the city’s most reliably delicious flavors.

Pizza: Neopolitan, Detroit, or New York-style: Houston can satisfy any pizza passion. Enjoy a perfectly fired pie at the open-on-Sundays-only ORG Pizza Garden, at the trendy Gypsy Poet, Tiny Champions, or at Pizaro’s Pizza Napoletana, which has been verified by the official Vera Pizza Napoletana organization for serving “authentic” Neopolitan pies.

Family-friendly restaurants: It’s important to note that many diners in the Houston area aren’t just riding solo — but with kids in tow, which sadly rules some restaurants out entirely. However, bringing the family doesn’t mean you have to skimp on good food. Head to the Stomping Grounds to grab sandwiches made with freshly baked bread from Luloo’s Day & Night, then visit Fat Cat Creamery. People watch while browsing the diet-accommodating menu at bellagreen in City Centre. In Houston, you’ve got options.

Houston Food Neighborhoods to Know

The Heights

Arguably the hottest dining neighborhood in Houston right now, the Heights is packed with excellent restaurants. Enjoy sushi and hand rolls at Hando, or lump crabmeat fried rice and duck breast soup at the Thai restaurant Kin Dee. 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.

A spread of Thai food, sauces and cocktails.
The Heights is haven to some of the city’s best restaurants, including Thai restaurant Kin Dee.
Michael Anthony

Montrose

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 venture off to Ostia for its signature roasted chicken with a side of fried potatoes and a creamy aioli, or opt for squid ink campanelle with blue crab and feather-light tiramisu at Marmo.

Downtown

Business travelers flock to Houston’s Downtown for work, but there’s more in the city center than just power lunch destinations. When lunch rolls around, try the Oaxacan fare at Ortega’s Xochi or go for variety at Lyric Market, a buzzy food hall that’s home to 1929 Po Boy Kitchen, Bad CHX Hot Chicken, and Indian street food stall Kati Roll Wala. Looking for a swankier destination? Try steakhouses like Guard and Grace and Vic and Anthony’s, Italian restaurant Potente, or a blend of West African cuisine at Post Houston food hall’s Chopnblok. End the evening with a nightcap at a local bar like Warren’s Inn, Angel Share, or Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar & Spirits Lodge.

Midtown

Though close to Downtown, Midtown’s got a whole vibe of its own with an excellent array of restaurants to choose from. For breakfast, The Breakfast Klub is a Beyoncé-approved Houston institution and an excellent spot to score chicken and waffles or fried catfish and grits for breakfast, while Damian’s Cucina Italiana, Brennan’s of Houston (which serves up Creole cuisine), and Houston’s all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue joint Gen Korean BBQ House make engaging dinner options.

River Oaks

One of the ritzier of the notable dining neighborhoods, 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 need of something a little more casual in River Oaks? The patio at Backstreet Cafe is a perfect spot to park on nice weather days. While browsing the shops at River Oaks District, stop into Amorino Gelato for a flower-shaped frozen treat that tastes as good as it looks on Instagram.

Chinatown

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 run — don’t walk — to Crawfish & Noodles for spicy, garlicky Viet-Cajun crawfish. In search of Houston’s famously great pho? Try Pho Hung. 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.

a hand with chopsticks picks up a dumpling from a tray, atop a table at Golden Dim Sum that’s filled with dumplings, bread, and fried goodies.
Dim sum is traditionally a Saturday affair, but at many of Houston’s restaurants, dim sum can be enjoyed any time of the week.
Mai Pham

Katy Asian Town

Anchored by H-Mart, this suburban enclave is home to dozens of Asian shops and restaurants, meaning plenty of dining options and bubble tea variations await. Be sure to stop by James Beard-nominated chef Alex Au-Yeung’s flagship for Phat Eatery, which dishes out Malaysian street food and dim sum. Try the char siu and Peking duck at Chung Wang BBQ, warm bowls of pho loaded with a giant short rib at Yummy Pho and Bo Ne, and so much more.

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