Touted as the most diverse city in the United States, it’s no surprise that Houston has some of the best dining options in the country, and each year, Bayou City’s culinary scene comes with fresh ideas, restaurants, and ways to improve our city through the dining world. With that, it’s only right to offer some recognition, and so, the Eater Awards have returned, this year honoring the many restaurants and individuals bringing creativity, inventiveness, and just plain delicious food done right in H-Town during the past 12 months.
This year’s awards honor an ambitious new restaurant, a talented chef with a do-gooder spirit, a club that made a comeback, a clever ongoing collaboration, plus a drive-thru hot spot and a fried chicken restaurant that both exude Clutch City.
Please join us in celebrating this year’s group of winners. We can’t wait to see what they do next.
Restaurant of the Year
3 Waterway Square Place, Suite 100
This Woodlands restaurant is culinary storytelling at its finest. A first for the hospitality group Kahani Social Group, Amrina takes diners on a journey through the eyes of a fictional Indian princess and the collection of her travels around the world with acclaimed chef Jaspratap “Jassi” Bindra at the helm. The Kanpur, India native successfully leads diners through the versatility and many possibilities of Indian cuisine, providing elegance whether at the chef’s table, the swanky cocktail area that’s outfitted with plush seating, or the dimly-lit tapas bar where guests can honk a horn to move through an exclusive menu of Indian street food items like artfully plated golgappa and pav bhaji.
With caviar service and dishes like its tender ostrich kebab, its selection of Indian “holy moly” breads, comforting fusions like tandoori mac and cheese, and extravagant entrees like its pan-seared mushrooms with truffle, the whole-roasted Queens Duck, and red wine-braised lamb shank, fine dining cements itself at Amrina’s forefront.
The decor is also unmatched, with murals sprinkled throughout the expansive dining room, a Secret Garden-themed area embellished with gold and jewel tones, and luxe semi- and private dining rooms. Cocktails and desserts, too, exude the depths of Southeast Asian flavors with a masala chai marble cake and its delicate cardamom chocolate mousse that’s sealed with a 24-karat gold kiss.
Restaurateur of the Year
Chris Williams, Lucille’s
5512 La Branch Street
Though beaten out by Phoenix chef Chris Bianco for James Beard’s Outstanding Restaurateur category this year, it’s clear that Lucille’s executive chef Chris Williams is deserving of such a title in Houston’s eyes.
The chef and philanthropist has long been on a mission, not only to maintain his great-grandmother Lucille B. Smith’s legacy but to also uplift the Houston community and Texas’s Black foodways. Williams has been working hard with his nonprofit Lucille 1913 to combat food insecurity within Houston, serving more than 1 million meals since the height of the pandemic.
He’s also launched a farm in Kendletown, a historically Black town 50 miles Southwest of Houston, to feed and employ its residents, while also further sowing his diplomacy and international oats by opening a restaurant in Nova Scotia as an ode to his family and the existing African-Canadian community. All this while working on the anticipated opening of Late August in the Ion with Top Chef finalist Dawn Burrell and still maintaining an essential Houston restaurant that dishes out top-notch oxtail and hot chili biscuits, a recipe stemming from his granny who established what is billed as the first instant hot roll mix in the country.
Williams’ most recent and anticipated endeavor includes a cookbook, to be researched and written with talented Houston writer Kayla Stewart, on Black Texan’s invaluable contributions to the state and country’s cuisine, and we can’t imagine Williams will stop there.
3323 Ella Boulevard
With Houston being a sprawling city, having quality food options that are easy to pick up and go is essential, and friends and founders Cassie Ghaffar and Sandy Nguyen are offering just that with Saigon Hustle. Opened in February 2022, the Garden Oaks drive-thru has garnered attention and fanfare for allowing diners on the go to satiate themselves with flavorful Vietnamese cuisine made with fresh ingredients. Find banh mi made with bread baked fresh daily, vermicelli noodles and rice bowls, and more. And there are plans to expand. In July, the founders received $1 million in investment to open other outposts around the city.
Best Fried Chicken
Gatlin’s Fins & Feathers
302 West Crosstimbers Street
In 2022, Eater Houston made the bold claim that the city is the modern U.S. fried chicken capital, naming a slew of essential places to eat the crispy, crunchy fowl. Though plenty of OG restaurants like Himalaya and Frenchy’s fry up some of the city’s best renditions, newcomer Gatlin’s Fins & Feathers in Independence Heights is a solid offering for anyone looking to indulge in a crispy hot platter of fried chicken and fish. Helmed by pitmaster Greg Gatlin and executive chef Michelle Wallace, the restaurant offers platters of fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, soulful sides, and an undeniable Viet-Cajun fried chicken sandwich that hones in on Houston flavors. Put plainly, go try it.
810 Pacific St, Houston, TX 77006
After a four-year hiatus, this nightclub and Houston institution returned to the city’s Montrose gayborhood with more pizazz and performances. Club-goers will find redesigned bars, LED-lit private booths, and bartenders looking to fill up their drinks. But as expected, the main event is the heart of the club — the dance floor. Attendees let loose under an overhanging, 450-pound, 8-foot-tall crystal chandelier that’s spotlighted by strobe lights and ice jets.
Pudgy’s Fine Cookies and Underground Creamery
1010 N. Shepherd Drive
Cookies and ice cream just go together, so when Van Teamer and Josh Deleon began discussing moving their respective pop-up businesses — Pudgy’s Fine Cookies, and Underground Creamery — under one roof in the Heights, it was seemingly a match made in heaven. From the outside, Pudgy’s and Underground seemingly operate mostly as separate entities with the occasional collaboration, but behind the scenes, you’ll find a give-and-take synergy that lends to some of the best gooey-centered, “thick AF” cookies and most-sought-after pints of ice cream in the city — and the catch-it-if-you can drop where you can score both cookies and ice cream at the same time.