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A bright beet salad plated on a table at MFAH’s Le Jardinier.
Whether looking for dishes that are bright and fun or hearty and comforting, Houston’s essential restaurants have it all.
Alex Montoya

The 38 Essential Houston Restaurants

A guide to the city’s best eats, from elegant French dishes to big beef ribs, and everything in between

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Whether looking for dishes that are bright and fun or hearty and comforting, Houston’s essential restaurants have it all.
| Alex Montoya

The saying goes that one can travel the world without leaving Houston. The sheer diversity of the city, which is home to some of the largest immigrant populations in the country, means its culinary scene is a true smorgasbord of cuisines and flavors, and ensuring that you experience it all can be a daunting task.

That’s where the Eater 38 comes in. This map is intended to answer the eternal question of where you should dine in Clutch City, and highlights the vital restaurants that make up its beating heart. But a constantly evolving dining scene also means this list can’t stay the same. Each quarter, Eater Houston updates the 38 to better reflect the changes — and mainstays — in its tapestry. For the winter season, Ninfa’s, Pier 6, and Tris have been swapped out to make way for noteworthy additions like Jun, Le Jardinier, and Street to Kitchen.

Without further ado, go forth and explore Houston’s most compelling tacos, juiciest brisket, and classic Viet-Cajun cuisine.

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Amrina was crowned Eater Houston’s Restaurant of the Year in 2022, and for good reason. The modern Indian restaurant is helmed by chef Jaspratap “Jassi” Bindra, a Chopped champion who was named one of the “World’s Best Indian Chefs,” by the Hindustan Times. Bindra takes a playful and whimsical approach to the menu with dishes like A5 wagyu grilled on white charcoal and finished with housemade spice butter and masala chai marble cake. Cocktails, presented in unique vessels, are just as imaginative.

A lamb shank on a bed of potatoes with a hand adding sauce to the plate.
Red wine braised lamb shank is given a saucy finish at Amrina.
Max Otter Productions

Gatlin's Fins & Feathers

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An homage to the fish fries and food-fueled celebrations in Houston’s historic Independence Heights neighborhood, Gatlin’s Fins & Feathers — the second restaurant by pitmaster Greg Gatlin — is a must when it comes to fried chicken and seafood. Create a crispy spread with its selection of combos and sides, like red beans and rice and collard greens, or go for its saucy and spicy Viet-Cajun chicken sandwich, topped with basil cole slaw and pickles. Whatever you do, leave room for a smoky, heartwarming bowl of gumbo.

Pitmaster Greg Franklin holds a plate of a Viet-Cajun chicken sandwich topped with slaw.
Gatlin’s Fins & Feathers offers some of the best of fried fish and chicken.
Becca Wright

Tatemó

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Award-winning chef Emmanuel Chavez showcases the beauty and breadth of masa in this reservation-only, multi-course tasting menu restaurant. Though the lineup of dishes constantly changes, diners can find masa-fueled bites like ceviche topped with Tiger Milk made with corn, the fan-favorite quesadilla, and a dessert made with masa cakes and an airy corn mousse, offering a whole new appreciation and perspective of Mexican cuisine. Go for the more casual, first-come, first-serve atmosphere on Sunday brunch, where cheesy quesadillas, masa pancakes, and specials crafted from its weekly tasting menu are highlights. Don’t forget to take home an order of handmade tortillas, made with thoughtfully sourced masa and ingredients, but warning: they sell out fast.

Two quesadillas accompanied with three ramekins of sauces at Houston’s Tatemó.
The quesadilla thankfully makes an appearance in Tatemó’s tasting menu and its Sunday brunch service.
Brittany Britto Garley

Proud Houston chef and Top Chef: Houston alumna Evelyn Garcia displays her Mexican and Salvadorian heritage and her passion for Southeast Asian food at this Heights restaurant, which has captivated diners with its sharable dishes that pack fun punches of flavor. Diners (and servers) rave about the housemade pickles, the lamb curry; the oysters topped with mignonette and fermented mango, and carrots, served with salsa matcha, Salvadorian cheese, and a quail egg. The fried chicken here is already a legend. Served crispy and piping hot, it’s bursting with spice and umami flavor thanks to the incorporation of a funky shrimp paste, ginger, thai chili, and a sprinkle of fresh herbs.

Squable

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This Heights restaurant offers a strong selection of sharable small plates leading into showstopping mains. Opt for a cold start, with the chicken liver pâté with melon jam and focaccia, or opt for a warm plate like the cornmeal-battered and fried fish and roasted summer corn served with pickled peach. Then dig into an entree like the roast chicken or the famed French cheeseburger smothered in raclette cheese, which can be selfishly devoured on one’s own.

The Blind Goat

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MasterChef winner and James Beard Award nom Christine Ha has brought her modern Vietnamese restaurant — formerly a food stall within Bravery Chef Hall — to the burgeoning Spring Branch neighborhood. She draws inspiration from her childhood and family favorites with dishes like the whole roasted turmeric fish and Mom’s egg rolls packed with pork and shrimp and the tender curry goat served with a toasted baguette to sop up all the flavor. Ha’s famed dessert, the rubbish apple pie a la mode, is also on the menu.

Feges BBQ Spring Branch

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The menu at Feges BBQ goes beyond barbecue staples like brisket, boudin, and pulled pork. Here, you’ll find fancier sides like Moroccan-spiced carrots, spiced cracklins, and pimento mac and cheese; sumptuous sandwiches and wings; plus, a wide selection of adult beverages, including wine and $10 frozen margaritas. The restaurant is praised for its whole hog, but venture in early — it sells out fast and often.

A tattooed arm holding out a whole hog platter.
Feges BBQ is one of the few Houston barbecue joints to perfect whole hog.
Julie Soefer

Phat Eatery

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Helmed by James Beard Award-nominated chef Alex Au-Yeung, Phat’s focus on Malaysian street food staples like roti canai and satay skewers have helped establish this restaurant as a must-try dining destination. Trendy, yet casual and affordable, diners should prepare to order a slew of signature dishes, like its big and juicy curry-sauced crawfish, addictive shrimp dumplings, and house favorites like sizzling black pepper beef and Hainanese chicken with a trio of sauces for dipping.

Phat Eatery’s sizzling beef with black pepper.
Phat Eatery’s sizzling beef and beef rendang are staples.
Chuck Cook

Da Gama

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Operated by hospitality veterans Shiva Patel and Rick DiVirgilio of Oporto and the now shuttered Queen Vic, Da Gama harmoniously melds the flavors of Portuguese and Indian cuisines in a chic and modern setting. In addition to traditions like chili paneer, samosas, and pani puri, the menu intrigues with plates like arroz do campo, a Portuguese-style paella, and Mediterranean black mussels in curry. As a bonus, Da Gama has many plant-based plates.

Truth BBQ

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With juicy whole-hog roasts, smoked boudin, fatty brisket, and Saturday-only beef ribs that quickly sell out, it’s no surprise Truth BBQ has been billed as one of the top barbecue spots in the state. Evolved from a small shack in Brenham, Truth’s fancier second location in the Heights serves competition-level barbecue with a backyard flair. Visitors can delight in complements like corn pudding, tater tot casserole, and delectable cakes crafted by Botello’s mother, Janel, and Truth’s head baker Laquita Wilkins.

Theodore Rex

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The building in the gritty Warehouse District which once housed Justin Yu’s lauded restaurant Oxheart, is now home to Theodore Rex, a casual but sophisticated restaurant where the chef’s capabilities remain on display. Expect to be wowed, first by the look of dishes like soured pork sausage with cucumber, tomato toast, and sweet melted onions in buttermilk, then by their pure flavors. The restaurant has also recently renovated its menu, replacing half of it with vegan and vegetarian dishes where vegetables shine like its pink lady apples that are poached in Valdespino dry sherry and topped with shredded Parmigiano-reggiano, and its smoked and braised greens served in a rich “likker” with beans.

Étoile Cuisine et Bar

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Under the direction of chef Philippe Verpiand, a visit to this Uptown hideaway is like an escape to a charming bistro in the French countryside. Find traditional interpretations of classic dishes like escargot, foie gras, and coq au vin, alongside a hefty selection of fine French wines.

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

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The old-world atmosphere at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, which has locations Downtown and the Galleria area, is a major draw for Houstonians looking for a traditional steakhouse experience. The spotlight is on in-house dry-aged beef here, with standouts like its 22-ounce bone-in rib-eye and a 16-ounce New York strip. Complement your meal with classic steakhouse sides like potatoes au gratin, onion rings, and creamed spinach.

A ribeye on a plate with a knife.
You can’t go wrong with a rib-eye at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse.
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

Houston’s Mexican food scene would not be complete without James Beard Award-winning chef Hugo Ortega, who has explored the cuisine time and time again with his restaurants Hugo’s, Caracol, and Urbe. At Xochi, Ortega puts the spotlight on the Oaxaca region, with menu highlights like the mole flight, memelas served with roasted pork rib and tomatillo-avocado sauce, and plenty of cocktails fueled by agave-based spirits.

Tacos de Chicharron crispy pork belly, blue corn tortilla, refritos, pickled red onion, salsa martajada.
Oaxacan cuisine is the name of the game at Xochi.
Bill Addison/Eater

Street to Kitchen

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After a brief hiatus, James Beard Award-winning chef Benchawan Jabthong Painter and Graham Painter, the duo behind Street Kitchen, return — this time, with their dream location in the Plant in Second Ward. Expect the same “unapologetically” Thai classics, like its Massaman curry and the shrimp Pad Thai — served this time, on an all-day menu, plus specials dreamed up daily by chef G and a host of cocktails and boozy frozen Thai Iced Teas on tap — all in its new electrifying, neon-lit digs.

A bowl of Street to Kitchen’s Massaman curry, which is loaded with pumpkin, chicken, scallions, and cashews.
Street to Kitchen is back, bigger and better with more Thai dishes, cocktails, and funky wine pairings.
Brittany Britto Garley

Helmed by chef Travis McShane, who honed his chops at Barbuto in New York City, Ostia puts farm-to-table Mediterranean fare at the forefront. The roasted chicken with salsa verde has a cult following, but pastas made with seasonal bounty and pizzas cooked in a custom-built Nobile brick oven should not be overlooked. Take to the greenhouse-style Garden Room or patio, and linger over cocktails like the gin-powered Peninsula.

Ostia’s pizza bianco topped with mushroom.
Ostia’s coveted pizza is served during lunch and brunch only.
Michael Anthony

Turner's

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Many worthy restaurants fall under the Berg Hospitality umbrella, including B&B Butchers and Restaurant, the Annie Cafe & Bar, and Trattoria Sofia, but Turner’s is in a league of its own for its dramatic dining room, live entertainment, and high level of service. This moody, white tablecloth restaurant on Post Oak is perfect for date night or a weekday splurge, thanks to dishes like artichoke soup and buttermilk fried quail, as well as solid raw bar options. Caviar service is on offer for those who are really looking to ball out, while wagyu filet Rossini and roasted branzino with baby bok choy serve as excellent entree choices.

A lobster shell revealing lobster meat in the center on a tray of ice.
Splurge on Turner’s extravagant lobster cocktail.
Jenn Duncan

Nancy's Hustle

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Harnessing a variety of flavors, this cozy East Downtown gem, which is recently received a James Beard Award nomination for Outstanding Wine Program, draws in Houston crowds with its laid-back vibe and intriguing cuisine. The famous griddled Nancy cakes, served with butter and briny trout roe are a must-try, as is the cheeseburger, which strays from tradition and is served on a brioche English muffin in lieu of a bun.

Nancy Hustle’s Nancy cakes, plated with butter, trout roe, and chives.
Post Oak restaurant Nancy Hustle wows with signature dishes like the Nancy cakes, which are complemented with a cultured butter, smoked trout, roe, and chives.
Mai Pham

Chef Ryan Lachaine draws inspiration from his Ukrainian heritage and French-Canadian upbringing in Manitoba to produce the many worthy offerings at this lively Montrose restaurant. Happy hour packs on the fun with a classy riff on McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish, while the dinner menu boast fusions that are just as exciting, including truffle and caviar pierogis, kimchi carbonara, and melt-in-your-mouth butter sliders.

Chef Felipe Riccio’s reservation-only tasting menu restaurant is set on providing an experience that transports diners to different regions of the Mediterranean. A specific area is spotlighted for a few months at a time, and then the restaurant closes to regroup and relaunch with a new focus after a brief hiatus. Previously, March captivated diners with the cuisines of Greece, and most recently highlighted the flavors of Sicily, with 6- and 9-course tastings.

Crusted amberjack served with a sauce and vegetable side dish.
March ushers in a new menu inspired by Sicily.
Zachary Horst

Musaafer

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With its breathtaking design and opulent decor and furnishings, Musaafer is a restaurant that you have to see to believe. Made up of various dining rooms, including a room coined the Sheesh Mahal — or palace of mirrors — built with more than 220,000 mirrors, the restaurant truly transports diners to majestic India as they dine. The menu takes a modern approach to Indian cuisine, showcasing dishes in an artful way and reflecting the foods and flavors of the country’s 29 states.

The Sheesh Mahal room with blue banquettes and mirrored walls.
Dining in Musaafer’s grand Sheesh Mahal is a true experience.
Julie Soefer

The Breakfast Klub

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Don’t let the line out the door intimidate you — With a stamp of approval from Beyonce and more than 20 years in the culinary game, the Breakfast Klub has more than earned its keep as a Houston institution. This legendary Midtown restaurant serves up staples like its iconic and flavorful chicken and Belgian waffles, delivering the perfect balance of sweet and salty, plus crispy catfish and grits, cheesy breakfast sandwiches, and more, all with a jazzy backdrop.

The Breakfast Klub’s chicken and waffles with strawberries.
You can’t mention The Breakfast Klub without noting its wings and waffles.
The Breakfast Klub

Hidden Omakase

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Houston’s popular trend of speakeasies and omakase combine at this 14-seat restaurant, which is shrouded in an Uptown strip mall. Led by Uchi veteran Chef Niki Vongthong, chefs will take you on a multi-course adventure with delicate creations with fresh fish being the focus. In the mood for a similar concept but with a different vibe? Visit its sister restaurants — Sushi by Hidden, a 30-minute speakeasy omakase restaurant in Rice Village, or the newly opened Norigami, a neon-lit hand roll restaurant with a secret bar.

Four slices of nigiri sit on a tray at Hidden Omakase.
Indulge in sushi at the secret spot that is Hidden Omakase.
Jenn Duncan

Nobie's

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Inspired by the owner’s grandmother, this Montrose restaurant takes on a homey feel in a former bungalow that aims to serve comforting dishes with culinary flair to a vinyl soundtrack. A fluctuating menu here keeps things interesting, but expect dishes like super-fresh raw oysters, pull-apart milk bread with smoked trout roe, and Nonno’s pasta — a stellar tagliatelle bolognese that, thankfully, isn’t going anywhere.

Kata Robata

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Chef Manabu “Hori” Horiuchi cooks up a constantly changing menu with fresh fish flown in almost daily from Japan, making way for delicious sushi, including maki rolls and an impeccable omakase experience. But with Kata Robata’s name being a shortened reference to fireside cooking, the restaurant is also sure to incorporate the hot side of things, with grilled meats cooked on the robata, and dishes like lobster and crab ramen, fried green tomatoes with kimchi aioli, and uni chawanmushi, a tender egg custard that packs a briny punch. Though some may argue that the miso lobster mac and cheese doesn’t belong at a Japanese restaurant, it’s a must-try.

Sashimi and maki at Kata Robata.
With catches flown in almost daily, Kata Robata’s menu boasts fresh sashimi and maki rolls, and other dishes packed full of flavor.
Kata Robata/Facebook

Taste of Nigeria

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With an extensive menu boasting everything from meat pies and moi moi to pepper soups, this seat-yourself restaurant is the perfect place to stop in to get your fix of Nigerian cuisine without distraction. Entrees like ogbono, ground mango seeds with tilapia or chicken, or the suya platter with jollof rice make this a go-to for Houston’s largest West African immigrant community.

Mo' Better Brews

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With dishes like peach cobbler pancakes, flatbread pizzas, and the fan-favorite chik’n fried shrooms and grits drizzled with hot honey syrup or “Trill’’ remoulade sauce, this vegan breakfast restaurant boasts a vibe that attracts locals and visitors alike, including famous H-Town native Lizzo. Get a cup of coffee and peruse the vinyl collection for the perfect soundtrack to take home.

Cochinita & co.

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This East End cafe and restaurant is a beautiful showing of Mexican cuisine, with tender and spice-loaded cochinita pibil, served on a platter with sides or in taco form, dishes like tamales and roasted chicken with mole negro, and flavorful salad, grain, or rice bowls, served with fiery proteins like roasted beats and grilled pineapple shrimp. Diners can often be seen scurrying in for Cochinita’s breakfast, too, where chilaquiles and loaded breakfast tacos are available only until 11 a.m. Fortunately, the fruity agua frescas and coffee drinks are an all-day affair.

A bowl of chilaquiles topped with a fried egg, avocado, and green onion at Cochinita & Co.
Diners are known to double-back at Cochinita & Co. for breakfast and lunch.
Brittany Britto Garley

Le Jardinier

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Find beautiful, Michelin star- and exhibit-worthy dishes at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s fine dining restaurant. Chef de cuisine Felipe Botero creates an inventive menu that displays seasonal fruits, vegetables, and herbs and locally sourced meats and seafood that are pleasing to both the eye and palate, including the Culinary Canvas, a bright beet salad made with green apple, avocado, and horseradish, and a show-stopped spiced duck. Looking for something quicker? Try the restaurant’s recently debuted bar bites menu, which features smoked salmon dip with purple potato chips and its decadent lamb burger topped with date jam, plus an extensive cocktail and mocktail menu.

Lucille's

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Led by executive chef Chris Williams and chef Khang Hoang, the family-run restaurant pays homage to Williams’ great-grandmother while harnessing flavors of the South. Lucille’s revived recipes have resulted in delectable classics like cheesy chili biscuits, baked macaroni and cheese, braised oxtails, and fish caught straight from the Gulf, that is masterfully fried, roasted, or blackened depending on the dish. The fried chicken and the oxtail tamales — a spin on a Texas favorite — are true highlights.

Lucille’s chili biscuits on a plate.
Lucille’s chili biscuits are an iconic dish that hints at just some of Houston’s history.
Antonio Diaz

Navy Blue

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Chef Aaron Bludorn and his team follow up the dining mainstay that is Bludorn with this Rice Village restaurant. New York chef Jerrod Zifchak steers the menu, offering creative seafood dishes, including a crawfish risotto, a solid spaghetti vongole, and a variety of fish preparations, including a blackened red snapper served with aji amarillo and a moist filet Ora King Salmon, served with beets, labneh, and a pine nut Gremolata. Find paella, served on Mondays and Tuesdays this fall, which feeds two to three people for $65, and a festive Yacht Rock-themed Sunday brunch with cocktails, lobster rolls, and more.

A branzino filet served over a puree and topped with dill and cucumbers.
Navy Blue offers a fresh and innovative take on seafood.
Caroline Fontenot

From the team behind Doris Metropolitan and Badolina Bakery, Hamsa is a modern Israeli restaurant located in the heart of Rice Village. Watch as fluffy housemade pita emerges often from the kitchen’s brick oven, and pair it with one of two kinds of hummus, squash tahini, baba ganoush, and about a half-dozen other dishes. If you’re having a hard time deciding what to order, the Yala Yala tasting experience boasts generous portions of the menu’s greatest hits and is well worth the loot.

Hummus in a decorative blue bowl with pita bread.
Fresh hummus with warm pita bread is just the beginning at Hamsa.
Kirsten Gilliam

Mala Sichuan Bistro

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With five Houston area locations, including outposts in Katy, Sugar Land, and the newest in the Heights, Mala is a pioneer when it comes to flavorful Sichuan cuisine in Houston. With its co-owner Cori Xiong hailing from Chengdu, a town in the Sichuan province, the restaurant harnesses hometown flavors in its top sellers like spicy dan dan noodles, the saucy mapo tofu, red oil dumplings, and green tea and bacon fried rice.

Blood Bros. BBQ

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Founded by three Alief natives, this Bellaire smokehouse combines Asian flavors and Central Texas-style barbecue in a way that is undeniable to the tastebuds. Stay for the brisket, fall-off-the-bone ribs, togarashi smoked chicken, brisket fried rice, and pork belly burnt ends — and consider ordering in bulk to take some home for later. Advance orders require a minimum of five pounds of meat, and must be placed 48 hours in advance via Blood Bros’s website. The specials, which rotate daily, are also a fun way to spice things up.

Hands hold up a smoked rib on top of a banh mi sandwich at Blood Bros BBQ.
Blood Bros. BBQ offers an exciting twist on Houston barbecue on the daily.
Joey Garcia

Pho Dien

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One of the city’s essential pho destinations, the broth at this Asiatown spot is simmered for at least 12 hours, making it rich, fragrant, and dare we say, healing. Opt for the full experience with a traditional combination bowl of beef soup, which comes with rare steak, flank, tendon, tripe, and meatball, or modify your protein as you see fit with 17 different varieties. Be sure to pair it with a Vietnamese coffee or salty soda lemonade for the full experience.

A bowl of Pho Dien’s brisket pho, complete with onions and jalapenos.
When in search of a soothing meal, Pho Dien in Asiatownis a go-to spot, offering up pho with broths that have been simmering for hours.
Pho Dien

Crawfish & Noodles

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Viet-Cajun crawfish is a distinctly Houston dish, and there’s no better place to find it than this James Beard Award-nominated spot in Asiatown. Big, juicy mudbugs are tossed in a spicy, buttery, garlicky sauce that will have even skeptical crawfish newbies coming back for more. Though crawfish is the most obvious order, other dishes, including the basil fried rice, pho, and fried seafood options, including the salt-pepper crab are worthy options. If you can’t make it out to Asiatown, try the restaurant’s new outpost in the Heights.

Afrikiko

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Whether Nigeria or Ghana makes the best jollof rice is up for debate, but this beloved Ghanaian restaurant, located off of Bissonnet Street and the Southwest Freeway, makes a strong case. Enjoy classics like goat pepper soup, beef stew, egusi soup, and cassava in a casual, convivial atmosphere.

Fried fish and soup at Afrikiko.
Ghanian restaurant Afrikiko serves the spices and flavors of West Africa.
Esra Erol/Eater

Helen's Kitchen

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Helen’s, the self-proclaimed “best Jamaican food in Houston,” serves up dishes like oxtails, curried goat, jerk wings, roti, and, the national dish of Jamaica, ackee and saltfish. They also offer a wide variety of tropical drinks including both sorrel and Jamaican soda.

Amrina

Amrina was crowned Eater Houston’s Restaurant of the Year in 2022, and for good reason. The modern Indian restaurant is helmed by chef Jaspratap “Jassi” Bindra, a Chopped champion who was named one of the “World’s Best Indian Chefs,” by the Hindustan Times. Bindra takes a playful and whimsical approach to the menu with dishes like A5 wagyu grilled on white charcoal and finished with housemade spice butter and masala chai marble cake. Cocktails, presented in unique vessels, are just as imaginative.