clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Himalaya’s crispy fried chicken, topped with slices of lemon.
We double-checked. Yep, Himalaya’s fried chicken is still epic.
Bill Addison/Eater

19 Iconic Houston Dishes to Try Before You Die

Find sizzling fajitas, loaded barbecue baked potatoes, and more essentials on this Space City dining bucket list

View as Map
We double-checked. Yep, Himalaya’s fried chicken is still epic.
| Bill Addison/Eater

For both natives and transplants alike, Houston has an incredible culinary history that is just begging to be explored. In its 180-plus years of existence, Houston's chefs and restaurant owners have blended a variety of global cuisines and thrown in their own unique touches to produce some truly iconic dishes.

But what are Houston's most iconic dishes? With so many excellent cuisines and restaurants to choose from, it's hard to narrow down a list of the city's definitive dishes. That said, some plates, like the crispy fried shrimp tails served up at Christie's Seafood since 1917, tamales from Alamo’s, Ostia’s roasted lemon-herb chicken, and Triple J’s Big J loaded barbecue baked potato should be on any Houstonian's bucket list.

Whether in need of an excellent place to start exploring Houston's culinary culture or just need a refresher of some old favorites, these iconic dishes are definitely worth a try.

Read More
Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.
If you book a reservation through an Eater link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics policy.

Alamo Tamales & Taco

Copy Link

Sure, he best tamales you’ve ever had have likely been made in a friend or family member’s kitchen, but these are the next best thing. Though the machine-made tamales are cheaper, spring for the handmade pork tamales for that homemade flavor. If pork is not your thing, you can’t go wrong with the chicken, beef, or turkey variety. Don’t forget the salsa.

Triple J's Smokehouse

Copy Link

The $15 Big J baked potato at this barbecue smokehouse is worth every penny. Expect a Texas-sized mound of chopped brisket and sausage, plus a choice of fix-ins, including butter, cheese, sour cream, and chives — and a full, juicy rib as a garnish. The housemade barbecue sauce only makes it better.

Rainbow Lodge

Copy Link

In addition to its namesake ingredient, Rainbow Lodge's rich and hearty bowl of smoked duck gumbo features Andouille sausage and is topped with wild rice pilaf for a multi-textured off-the-charts savory indulgence.

Coltivare Pizza & Garden

Copy Link

This deceptively simple bowl of steaming noodles dressed with freshly cracked tellicherry peppercorns, parmesan, and olive oil has received national acclaim and a devoted following of locals who are happy to wait for a table just to get their hands on this cacio e pepe.

a fork digging into a bowl of Coltivare’s pasta.
Coltivare’s signature spaghetti dish seems simple until you get a taste.
Andrea Weir

The Original Ninfa's on Navigation

Copy Link

The home of sizzling plates of fajitas, Ninfa's is a must-stop for any Tex-Mex enthusiast. The beef skirt steak is perfectly marinated, and unique protein add-ons like quail and chorizo seriously amp up this typical Tex-Mex offering.

Baked chicken in itself doesn’t always sound quite iconic, but the reputation of this half-lemon roasted chicken at this Montrose restaurant certainly proceeds itself, thanks to its silky herb-loaded juices, tenderness no matter the piece, and a baked lemon waiting to be squeezed all over. Pair it with the crispy potatoes, served with a side of velvety homemade aioli, and you’ve got yourself a meal you’ll want to order again.

Niko Niko's

Copy Link

Gyros aren't unique to Houston, but Niko Niko's creates the city's most classic version of this popular handheld sandwich. A flavor-packed and juicy combination of chopped lamb and beef seasoned generously and served in a warm, soft pita with tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce.

Brennan's of Houston

Copy Link

Brennan's Shrimp Chippewa brings dinner and a show via succulent shrimp sautéed in Cognac tableside, then served with sun-dried tomatoes and a hearty mound of stone ground grits spiked with goat cheese.

Kenny & Ziggy's Deli

Copy Link

Should you find yourself in need of a burger capable of feeding a family of four, get to Kenny & Ziggy's for the Big Reubowski. Pat LaFrieda brisket and short rib combine to make an ideal burger patty, then it's all topped off with a massive pile of housemade corned beef, sauerkraut, and copious amounts of Russian dressing.

Kenny & Ziggy’s Big Reubowski sandwich, topped with cheese, and served with a side of fries.
Up for a challenge? Try Kenny & Ziggy’s Big Reubowski.
Paula Murphy

Pretty much anything on the menu at James Beard Award-winning chef Hugo Ortega's namesake eatery is an excellent choice, but the lamb barbacoa is truly a Houston icon. Marinated with chiles, garlic, and avocado leaves, this perfectly spiced protein is the definition of tender.

Hugo’s lamb barbacoa wrapped in leaves and served with sauce, with a side of tomatoes, onions, and cilantro.
Hugo’s lamb barbacoa is a must-try.
Paula Murphy

Rudi Lechner's German Restaurant

Copy Link

Hot and crispy pan-fried breaded veal cutlet is served alongside Austrian potatoes and choice red cabbage or sauerkraut. Live music and a beer hall vibe only add to the charm.

The Breakfast Klub

Copy Link

If you know The Breakfast Klub, you know what’s all the rave. The well-seasoned wings and waffles combination, which is topped with strawberries and powder sugar, and served with a side of syrup, is worth the wait at this Midtown breakfast haven. Whether that’s more iconic than the “katfish” and grits? We’ll leave that up to you to decide.

The Breakfast Klub’s chicken and waffles with strawberries.
It bears repeating — The Breakfast Klub’s wings and waffles are iconic.
The Breakfast Klub

Christie's Seafood & Steaks

Copy Link

Christie’s has been serving Gulf favorites to locals since 1917 and the fried shrimp paired with remoulade sauce is a must-try. The traditional sauce is prepared using homemade mayonnaise and garlic until it’s smooth and decadent.

Carrabba's - The Original on Kirby

Copy Link

Rich and creamy homemade Alfredo sauce coats fresh fettuccini, the only pasta made from scratch in house, along with sautéed mushrooms, scallions and shrimp to create the Pasta Weesie. A never-ending basket of Slow Dough goodies is perfect for sopping up every last drop of sauce.

Picos Restaurant

Copy Link

For this classic take on pollo en mole negro Oaxaqueño, a chicken quarter is drenched in Oaxacan-style thick, dark, rich black mole – the result of an 8-10 hour cooking process involving an extensive list of ingredients – and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Serve with rice, refried black beans, and lots of tortillas.

Pico’s chicken quarter covered in mole and paired with a side of rice.
Mole negro is the way to go when dining at Picos.
Ellie Sharp

Himalaya Restaurant

Copy Link

A Houston original, the crispy, spicy fried chicken packed with Indian flavors at Himalaya is a must for any out-of-town visitor. Don’t forget the tangy “magic mustard” sauce for dipping.

Himalaya’s crispy fried chicken, topped with slices of lemon.
Himalaya’s fried chicken, a riff off of Kentucky Fried Chicken, is a must-try when in Houston.
Bill Addison/Eater

Mala Sichuan Bistro

Copy Link

The mouth-tingling fare at Mala is always worth the drive to Chinatown, but the mapo tofu is the kind of dish that incites a craving weeks after eating it. An order of stir-fried green beans and red oil cucumbers rounds out a truly perfect meal.

Crawfish & Noodles

Copy Link

Viet-Cajun crawfish is a uniquely Houston dish, one that shines at Crawfish & Noodles. The bugs here are bathed in a spicy, buttery, garlicky sauce with hints of lemongrass that make them a bit more nuanced than the average crawfish. Pair with a bowl of noodles on the side for the full C&N experience.

Pho Binh By Night

Copy Link

A favorite of local chefs and drinkers everywhere, the late-night noodles at this Bellaire pho spot are an essential Houston hangover prevention tool. Pho Binh By Night is open until midnight, just enough time to slurp up a bowl after a night on the town.

Alamo Tamales & Taco

Sure, he best tamales you’ve ever had have likely been made in a friend or family member’s kitchen, but these are the next best thing. Though the machine-made tamales are cheaper, spring for the handmade pork tamales for that homemade flavor. If pork is not your thing, you can’t go wrong with the chicken, beef, or turkey variety. Don’t forget the salsa.

Triple J's Smokehouse

The $15 Big J baked potato at this barbecue smokehouse is worth every penny. Expect a Texas-sized mound of chopped brisket and sausage, plus a choice of fix-ins, including butter, cheese, sour cream, and chives — and a full, juicy rib as a garnish. The housemade barbecue sauce only makes it better.

Rainbow Lodge

In addition to its namesake ingredient, Rainbow Lodge's rich and hearty bowl of smoked duck gumbo features Andouille sausage and is topped with wild rice pilaf for a multi-textured off-the-charts savory indulgence.

Coltivare Pizza & Garden

a fork digging into a bowl of Coltivare’s pasta.
Coltivare’s signature spaghetti dish seems simple until you get a taste.
Andrea Weir

This deceptively simple bowl of steaming noodles dressed with freshly cracked tellicherry peppercorns, parmesan, and olive oil has received national acclaim and a devoted following of locals who are happy to wait for a table just to get their hands on this cacio e pepe.

a fork digging into a bowl of Coltivare’s pasta.
Coltivare’s signature spaghetti dish seems simple until you get a taste.
Andrea Weir

The Original Ninfa's on Navigation

The home of sizzling plates of fajitas, Ninfa's is a must-stop for any Tex-Mex enthusiast. The beef skirt steak is perfectly marinated, and unique protein add-ons like quail and chorizo seriously amp up this typical Tex-Mex offering.

Ostia

Baked chicken in itself doesn’t always sound quite iconic, but the reputation of this half-lemon roasted chicken at this Montrose restaurant certainly proceeds itself, thanks to its silky herb-loaded juices, tenderness no matter the piece, and a baked lemon waiting to be squeezed all over. Pair it with the crispy potatoes, served with a side of velvety homemade aioli, and you’ve got yourself a meal you’ll want to order again.

Niko Niko's

Gyros aren't unique to Houston, but Niko Niko's creates the city's most classic version of this popular handheld sandwich. A flavor-packed and juicy combination of chopped lamb and beef seasoned generously and served in a warm, soft pita with tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce.

Brennan's of Houston

Brennan's Shrimp Chippewa brings dinner and a show via succulent shrimp sautéed in Cognac tableside, then served with sun-dried tomatoes and a hearty mound of stone ground grits spiked with goat cheese.

Kenny & Ziggy's Deli

Kenny & Ziggy’s Big Reubowski sandwich, topped with cheese, and served with a side of fries.
Up for a challenge? Try Kenny & Ziggy’s Big Reubowski.
Paula Murphy

Should you find yourself in need of a burger capable of feeding a family of four, get to Kenny & Ziggy's for the Big Reubowski. Pat LaFrieda brisket and short rib combine to make an ideal burger patty, then it's all topped off with a massive pile of housemade corned beef, sauerkraut, and copious amounts of Russian dressing.

Kenny & Ziggy’s Big Reubowski sandwich, topped with cheese, and served with a side of fries.
Up for a challenge? Try Kenny & Ziggy’s Big Reubowski.
Paula Murphy

Hugo's

Hugo’s lamb barbacoa wrapped in leaves and served with sauce, with a side of tomatoes, onions, and cilantro.
Hugo’s lamb barbacoa is a must-try.
Paula Murphy

Pretty much anything on the menu at James Beard Award-winning chef Hugo Ortega's namesake eatery is an excellent choice, but the lamb barbacoa is truly a Houston icon. Marinated with chiles, garlic, and avocado leaves, this perfectly spiced protein is the definition of tender.

Hugo’s lamb barbacoa wrapped in leaves and served with sauce, with a side of tomatoes, onions, and cilantro.
Hugo’s lamb barbacoa is a must-try.
Paula Murphy

Rudi Lechner's German Restaurant

Hot and crispy pan-fried breaded veal cutlet is served alongside Austrian potatoes and choice red cabbage or sauerkraut. Live music and a beer hall vibe only add to the charm.

The Breakfast Klub

The Breakfast Klub’s chicken and waffles with strawberries.
It bears repeating — The Breakfast Klub’s wings and waffles are iconic.
The Breakfast Klub

If you know The Breakfast Klub, you know what’s all the rave. The well-seasoned wings and waffles combination, which is topped with strawberries and powder sugar, and served with a side of syrup, is worth the wait at this Midtown breakfast haven. Whether that’s more iconic than the “katfish” and grits? We’ll leave that up to you to decide.

The Breakfast Klub’s chicken and waffles with strawberries.
It bears repeating — The Breakfast Klub’s wings and waffles are iconic.
The Breakfast Klub

Christie's Seafood & Steaks

Christie’s has been serving Gulf favorites to locals since 1917 and the fried shrimp paired with remoulade sauce is a must-try. The traditional sauce is prepared using homemade mayonnaise and garlic until it’s smooth and decadent.

Carrabba's - The Original on Kirby

Rich and creamy homemade Alfredo sauce coats fresh fettuccini, the only pasta made from scratch in house, along with sautéed mushrooms, scallions and shrimp to create the Pasta Weesie. A never-ending basket of Slow Dough goodies is perfect for sopping up every last drop of sauce.

Picos Restaurant

Pico’s chicken quarter covered in mole and paired with a side of rice.
Mole negro is the way to go when dining at Picos.
Ellie Sharp

For this classic take on pollo en mole negro Oaxaqueño, a chicken quarter is drenched in Oaxacan-style thick, dark, rich black mole – the result of an 8-10 hour cooking process involving an extensive list of ingredients – and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Serve with rice, refried black beans, and lots of tortillas.

Pico’s chicken quarter covered in mole and paired with a side of rice.
Mole negro is the way to go when dining at Picos.
Ellie Sharp

Related Maps

Himalaya Restaurant

Himalaya’s crispy fried chicken, topped with slices of lemon.
Himalaya’s fried chicken, a riff off of Kentucky Fried Chicken, is a must-try when in Houston.
Bill Addison/Eater

A Houston original, the crispy, spicy fried chicken packed with Indian flavors at Himalaya is a must for any out-of-town visitor. Don’t forget the tangy “magic mustard” sauce for dipping.

Himalaya’s crispy fried chicken, topped with slices of lemon.
Himalaya’s fried chicken, a riff off of Kentucky Fried Chicken, is a must-try when in Houston.
Bill Addison/Eater

Mala Sichuan Bistro

The mouth-tingling fare at Mala is always worth the drive to Chinatown, but the mapo tofu is the kind of dish that incites a craving weeks after eating it. An order of stir-fried green beans and red oil cucumbers rounds out a truly perfect meal.

Crawfish & Noodles

Viet-Cajun crawfish is a uniquely Houston dish, one that shines at Crawfish & Noodles. The bugs here are bathed in a spicy, buttery, garlicky sauce with hints of lemongrass that make them a bit more nuanced than the average crawfish. Pair with a bowl of noodles on the side for the full C&N experience.

Pho Binh By Night

A favorite of local chefs and drinkers everywhere, the late-night noodles at this Bellaire pho spot are an essential Houston hangover prevention tool. Pho Binh By Night is open until midnight, just enough time to slurp up a bowl after a night on the town.

Related Maps