In recent years, no city’s culinary profile has risen more quickly than Houston’s. The city is not only home to James Beard Award-winning culinarians and the most recent Top Chef installment, but it’s also a haven to some of the largest and most vibrant 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 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 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 spots like Crawfish & Noodles and Blood Bros. Barbecue for a late, 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 squid ink linguine in fermented chile butter and beef and butter dumplings await.
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 pitmaster Greg Gatlin’s newest venture in Independence Heights, Gatlin’s Fins & Feathers, where fried chicken, fish, and gumbo abound; Dinette, a new modern Vietnamese restaurant in the Heights; Hamsa, a new Israeli restaurant by the owners of Doris Metropolitan; and Amrina, a new upscale and contemporary Indian restaurant in the Woodlands are also making waves throughout the region.
Essential Restaurants: In search of succulent fajitas and saucy enchiladas? Head to Candente for its stellar brisket enchiladas, or the 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. For some Southern soulful dishes like braised oxtail and chili biscuits, head to Lucille’s, and some intriguing, upscale spins on fast-food classics at Riel.
Burgers: Burger options in Houston seem endless. While burger-chan offers flavorful patties with punchy condiments like kimchi relish and sambal mayo, Lankford Grocery & Market (a cash-only spot) serves up one of Space City’s spiciest burgers. 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 Texas Hill Country, Houston barbecue certainly holds its own. The brisket, sausage, ribs, and more at spots like Feges BBQ, Gatlin’s, Killen’s, 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.
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 indulgent eats like “Fruity Pebbles” French toast and doughnut burgers, or Traveler’s Table for a sample of globe-trotting dishes like jerk chicken, seafood risotto, and crab samosas.
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 N 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. In search of classic Tex-Mex? Head over to Teotihuacán Mexican Cafe for fajitas, enchiladas, and so much more.
Tacos: The city wouldn’t be what it is without its delicious array of tacos. Devour cheesy quesadilla tacos de fajita from the cash-only El Taconazo taco truck using the hood of your car as a table. Jam out with an al pastor at the Boombox Taco truck at Axelrad on Tuesdays, or stop by Brothers Tacos House, considered the city’s taco Mecca.
Banh Mi: With Houston boasting one of the largest Vietnamese populations in the country, it’s no surprise that the city offers some most brag-worthy banh mi options — often for under $10. Go-to hot spots include Cali Sandwich & Pho, Roostar, and Saigon Hustle, which offers some of the freshest sandwiches and rice bowls through its drive-thru.
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 Seafood Company for some of the best catches in the city.
Steak Nights: With various steakhouses serving up the best cuts, there’s no shortage of options, but locals know that some of the best steaks are served during weeknights at local bars and restaurants, like Monkey’s Tail, Cottonwood, and Better Luck Tomorrow.
Vegetarian: Houston is surely big on its meats, but the city also knows how to do vegetarian food well. Stop by local Third Ward institution green seed vegan for sandwiches, like the robust grilled mushroom Illy cheeseteak, or indulge in a vegan barbecue at the Houston Sauce Pit food truck, which cooks up barbecue stuffed potatoes, vegan sausages, and more. Tex-Mex joint Cascabel, which serves up a melty potato-based queso and bistec chimichangas, is also a must-try.
Margaritas: Tex-Mex and margaritas go hand in hand, and there’s an abundance of agave-based drinks to keep you buzzing every day of the week. For frozen or on the rocks, head to Flora for its simple yet refreshing rendition of the margarita — using only fresh lime juice, agave, tequila, and a cricket salt rim — or get festive with more flavors at Eight Row Flint, which serves a mangorita rimmed with tajin.
Wine: When wine is what you want, know that Houston has a bevy of top-notch wine bars and wineries that are helping put Texas’ wine scene on the map. For an educational tasting, opt for the reservations-only Nice Winery, which hosts sit-down classes. Go for brunch and sommelier-picked flights at Trez, or opt to sample and pour your own glass at Roots, the city’s first “self-automated” wine bar.
Beer: The local beer scene has grown exponentially in Houston in recent years, which means that there are plenty of spots for drinkers to enjoy local brews. Find a well-selected assortment (and excellent bar fare) at Houston’s finest, Saint Arnold. Those specifically in search of sours will find a trip north to Humble’s Ingenius Brewing Co. worth it.
Halal Cuisine: With over 70,000 Muslims living in the region, Houston is home to one of the largest Islamic communities in the South, which means a plethora of wonderful halal offerings. Devour halal meats smoked Texas-style at Chuckwagon BBQ in Katy, tacos at Taco Fuego, and freshly baked bread and Lebanese-styled pizza at Cedars Bakery.
Pizza: Neopolitan, Detroit, or New York-style: Houston can satisfy any pizza passion. Enjoy a perfectly fired pie in the garden at Coltivare, at the trendy Gypsy Poet, or at Pizaro’s Pizza Napoletana, which has been verified by the official Vera Pizza Napoletana organization for serving “authentic” Neopolitan pies.
Houston Food Neighborhoods to Know
Arguably the hottest dining neighborhood in Houston right now, the Heights is packed with excellent restaurants. Enjoy sushi and hand rolls at Handos, or lump crabmeat fried rice and duck breast soup at 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.
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.
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 Bravery Chef Hall, a chef-led food court that’s home to Margaux’s Oyster Bar, Kokoro Sushi, and modern Vietnamese gastro-pub the Blind Goat. 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.
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.
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 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 and 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 run — don’t walk — 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.
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.
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, Czech immigrants brought this sweet pastry to Texas 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, Vietnamese and Cajun, with an emphasis on Gulf seafood. Instead of the traditional crawfish boil, these mudbugs are tossed in ginger, lemongrass, garlic, and plenty of heat.
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