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Himalaya’s crispy fried chicken, topped with slices of lemon.
We double-checked. Yep, Himalaya’s fried chicken is still epic.
Bill Addison/Eater

25 Iconic Houston Dishes to Try Before You Die

Find spicy barbecue curries, huevos rancheros, and more essentials on this Space City bucket list

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

For over 180 years, Houston has been the meeting place of so many global cuisines leading ultimately to the creation of some incredible, 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 spots like Kenny and Ziggy’s Big Reubenowski, Brennan’s Shrimp Chippewa, and Hugo’s lamb barbacoa, were rotated out to make way for the never-ending list of must-haves like La Guadalupana’s enchiladas verdes and Wild Oats Korean goat and dumplings.

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

Don’t see your favorite dish on the list? Shout it in the comments.

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Triple J's Smokehouse

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Served with a generous dollop of chopped brisket and sausage, plus a choice of traditional fix-ins, including butter, cheese, sour cream, and chives, the Big J baked potato is worth every calorie. Oh, and don’t forget the garnish — a full, juicy pork rib and their housemade barbecue sauce.

Wild Oats

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Located in the Houston Farmer’s Market, Wild Oats is Underbelly Hospitality’s love letter to Texas. Their Sunday Brunch buffet features everything from bacon black bean dip to snapper with pumpkin mole, but the real highlight is when you can find the Korean goat and dumplings. Made of Korean rice cakes served with braised meat and savory gochujang sauce, this hero dish from Underbelly Hospitality is a cornerstone of Houston cuisine. 

Rainbow Lodge

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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.

Shipley Do-Nuts

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Since 1936, Shipley’s has been a Bayou City classic, and its kolaches are nothing short of iconic. Fluffy bread surrounds either sausage or ham with the option for cheese and jalapeno. Regardless of your flavor choice, bringing a dozen of these delights to a tailgate or an office break room will make you a very popular person.

Cantina Barba

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Cantina Barba's burger is straightforward and utterly delicious — whether it’s time for a late-night snack or to satisfy a lunchtime craving. The smash patty, American cheese, housemade pickles, and burger sauce join forces under two pillowy buns for $6. Pro-tip: add grilled onions for 50 cents, and if you’re feeling feisty, make it a double.

Coltivare Pizza & Garden

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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

Better Luck Tomorrow

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When visiting BLT, you’ll find great cocktails and even better bar food. Justin Yu’s party melt has been a staple food offering at the bar since its opening and for good reason. The elevated take on the classic patty melt is served with two kinds of onions, caramelized and thinly sliced raw red onions, burger sauce, crispy cheese, and two slices of buttery, crustless bread. You’ll be sad when the last bite comes.

Khoi Barbecue

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Drawing inspiration from Vietnamese roots, the team behind Khoi Barbecue created a true culinary marvel in their smoked beef rib Panang curry. Perfectly tender beef is drowned in an aromatic and perfectly spicy curry with fluffy rice. It’s a marriage of flavors you don’t want to miss. Follow them on Instagram to catch them at their next pop-up.

Bludorn

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At the corner of comfort and luxury, you’re sure to find Bludorn’s lobster pot pie. The pie will have you mesmerized as your server removes the top crust tableside to reveal a steamy interior. Featuring charred corn, roasted poblano crawfish, and lime crème fraiche, it tastes as good as it looks.

The Original Ninfa's on Navigation

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Houston is eternally indebted to Mama Ninfa for giving us the gift of beef fajitas. Perfectly marinated skirt steak accompanied by rice, beans, pico de gallo, guacamole and house-made flour tortillas are essential to Houston’s Tex-Mex scene. 

Tiny Champions

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Tiny Champion’s pineapple pizza could turn even the staunchest of pizza snobs into a fan of the highly debated topping. Thinly sliced pineapple alongside ham, jalapeno, mozzarella, and classic tomato sauce atop a delightfully chewy crust. For the sake of your health and well-being, we recommend ordering a personal side of the fancy ranch for everyone at the table, and maybe a cabbage salad to share. You won’t be sorry.

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.

La Guadalupana

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A beloved Montrose staple for everything, including breakfast tacos, tres leches, and cinnamon coffee, La Guadalupana’s hero dish is their enchiladas verdes. A favorite of the late Anthony Bourdain, a bright tomatillo sauce covers corn tortillas stuffed with chicken and comes with a side of creamy refried beans.

Roegels Barbecue Co

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Only on Thursdays can you find one of Clutch City’s best brisket sandwiches – Roegel’s beef pastrami Reuben. The cured beef is thickly sliced, paired with melty swiss cheese and the traditional toppings of sauerkraut, whole grain mustard, and Russian dressing all made in-house and lovingly squished between two buttered and griddled slices of rye bread.

The Breakfast Klub

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Very few things are worth standing in line for, especially in Houston’s mercurial weather, but the Breakfast Klub’s wings and waffles make the cut. Crunchy and expertly seasoned wings paired with a fluffy waffle make the perfect breakfast combination at this Midtown institution. 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

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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

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Named after the town of Bryan, Texas, where the Carrabba family settled when they arrived from Sicily in the 1890s, Chicken Bryan Texas is one restaurant’s most beloved offerings. A juicy grilled chicken breast topped with a puck of goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and covered in lemon-butter-wine sauce is served with a side of creamy fettuccine alfredo.

Nobie's

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At first glance, Nobie’s Nonno’s pasta is a seemingly simple dish of tagliatelle with bolognese and parmesan cheese. At first bite, however, hearts will melt, eyes will open in amazement, and bellies will grumble for more. Deeply flavorful and hearty, this dish will make you want to use the heart eyes emoji.

Picos Restaurant

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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

Local Foods - Rice Village

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Satisfying, fresh, flavorful, and addictive are all the words needed to accurately describe the Local Foods’ crunchy chicken sandwich. It’s so deeply ingrained in the Houston food scene that their Instagram April Fool’s joke announcing the retirement of the sandwich caused a wave of worry and angst.

Himalaya Restaurant

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Known as HFC (Himalaya Fried Chicken), the masala-spiced, crispy fried chicken at Himalaya is a Houston original and a must for anyone whether new to the city or a native. Remember, the “magic mustard” sauce is a mandatory accompaniment. 

Mala Sichuan Bistro

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It’s a close tie, considering the epic, top-selling spicy dan dan noodles, but the mouth-tingling mapo tofu at Mala is always worth a trip to one of its four locations. Perfectly spicy, silky, and savory, this dish will create cravings you never thought possible. Pair the tofu with an order of red oil dumplings and stir-fried green beans for the full experience. 

Crawfish & Noodles

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Viet-Cajun crawfish is as Houston as it gets. Bringing together the flavors of Vietnamese cuisine and the Cajun tradition of Louisiana boiled crawfish, the result of this unique pairing is nothing short of magical.

Pho Binh By Night

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The noodles at this Bellaire pho spot are a Houston late-night essential. Open until midnight, there’s no better way to curb a hangover than with a giant bowl of hot, aromatic broth and savory meats.

Serving both breakfast and lunch all day, Raizes brings authentic dishes from Michoacán, Mexico to Houston. Start your day off right with the huevos rancheros. Fresh-made corn tortillas and sunny side-up eggs topped with a roasted, deeply flavorful, tomato salsa make it one of the best iterations of the dish in the city.

Triple J's Smokehouse

Served with a generous dollop of chopped brisket and sausage, plus a choice of traditional fix-ins, including butter, cheese, sour cream, and chives, the Big J baked potato is worth every calorie. Oh, and don’t forget the garnish — a full, juicy pork rib and their housemade barbecue sauce.

Wild Oats

Located in the Houston Farmer’s Market, Wild Oats is Underbelly Hospitality’s love letter to Texas. Their Sunday Brunch buffet features everything from bacon black bean dip to snapper with pumpkin mole, but the real highlight is when you can find the Korean goat and dumplings. Made of Korean rice cakes served with braised meat and savory gochujang sauce, this hero dish from Underbelly Hospitality is a cornerstone of Houston cuisine. 

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.

Shipley Do-Nuts

Since 1936, Shipley’s has been a Bayou City classic, and its kolaches are nothing short of iconic. Fluffy bread surrounds either sausage or ham with the option for cheese and jalapeno. Regardless of your flavor choice, bringing a dozen of these delights to a tailgate or an office break room will make you a very popular person.

Cantina Barba

Cantina Barba's burger is straightforward and utterly delicious — whether it’s time for a late-night snack or to satisfy a lunchtime craving. The smash patty, American cheese, housemade pickles, and burger sauce join forces under two pillowy buns for $6. Pro-tip: add grilled onions for 50 cents, and if you’re feeling feisty, make it a double.

Coltivare Pizza & Garden

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

Better Luck Tomorrow

When visiting BLT, you’ll find great cocktails and even better bar food. Justin Yu’s party melt has been a staple food offering at the bar since its opening and for good reason. The elevated take on the classic patty melt is served with two kinds of onions, caramelized and thinly sliced raw red onions, burger sauce, crispy cheese, and two slices of buttery, crustless bread. You’ll be sad when the last bite comes.

Khoi Barbecue

Drawing inspiration from Vietnamese roots, the team behind Khoi Barbecue created a true culinary marvel in their smoked beef rib Panang curry. Perfectly tender beef is drowned in an aromatic and perfectly spicy curry with fluffy rice. It’s a marriage of flavors you don’t want to miss. Follow them on Instagram to catch them at their next pop-up.

Bludorn

At the corner of comfort and luxury, you’re sure to find Bludorn’s lobster pot pie. The pie will have you mesmerized as your server removes the top crust tableside to reveal a steamy interior. Featuring charred corn, roasted poblano crawfish, and lime crème fraiche, it tastes as good as it looks.

The Original Ninfa's on Navigation

Houston is eternally indebted to Mama Ninfa for giving us the gift of beef fajitas. Perfectly marinated skirt steak accompanied by rice, beans, pico de gallo, guacamole and house-made flour tortillas are essential to Houston’s Tex-Mex scene. 

Tiny Champions

Tiny Champion’s pineapple pizza could turn even the staunchest of pizza snobs into a fan of the highly debated topping. Thinly sliced pineapple alongside ham, jalapeno, mozzarella, and classic tomato sauce atop a delightfully chewy crust. For the sake of your health and well-being, we recommend ordering a personal side of the fancy ranch for everyone at the table, and maybe a cabbage salad to share. You won’t be sorry.

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.

La Guadalupana

A beloved Montrose staple for everything, including breakfast tacos, tres leches, and cinnamon coffee, La Guadalupana’s hero dish is their enchiladas verdes. A favorite of the late Anthony Bourdain, a bright tomatillo sauce covers corn tortillas stuffed with chicken and comes with a side of creamy refried beans.

Roegels Barbecue Co

Only on Thursdays can you find one of Clutch City’s best brisket sandwiches – Roegel’s beef pastrami Reuben. The cured beef is thickly sliced, paired with melty swiss cheese and the traditional toppings of sauerkraut, whole grain mustard, and Russian dressing all made in-house and lovingly squished between two buttered and griddled slices of rye bread.

The Breakfast Klub

Very few things are worth standing in line for, especially in Houston’s mercurial weather, but the Breakfast Klub’s wings and waffles make the cut. Crunchy and expertly seasoned wings paired with a fluffy waffle make the perfect breakfast combination at this Midtown institution. 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

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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

Named after the town of Bryan, Texas, where the Carrabba family settled when they arrived from Sicily in the 1890s, Chicken Bryan Texas is one restaurant’s most beloved offerings. A juicy grilled chicken breast topped with a puck of goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and covered in lemon-butter-wine sauce is served with a side of creamy fettuccine alfredo.

Nobie's

At first glance, Nobie’s Nonno’s pasta is a seemingly simple dish of tagliatelle with bolognese and parmesan cheese. At first bite, however, hearts will melt, eyes will open in amazement, and bellies will grumble for more. Deeply flavorful and hearty, this dish will make you want to use the heart eyes emoji.

Picos Restaurant

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

Local Foods - Rice Village

Satisfying, fresh, flavorful, and addictive are all the words needed to accurately describe the Local Foods’ crunchy chicken sandwich. It’s so deeply ingrained in the Houston food scene that their Instagram April Fool’s joke announcing the retirement of the sandwich caused a wave of worry and angst.

Himalaya Restaurant

Known as HFC (Himalaya Fried Chicken), the masala-spiced, crispy fried chicken at Himalaya is a Houston original and a must for anyone whether new to the city or a native. Remember, the “magic mustard” sauce is a mandatory accompaniment. 

Mala Sichuan Bistro

It’s a close tie, considering the epic, top-selling spicy dan dan noodles, but the mouth-tingling mapo tofu at Mala is always worth a trip to one of its four locations. Perfectly spicy, silky, and savory, this dish will create cravings you never thought possible. Pair the tofu with an order of red oil dumplings and stir-fried green beans for the full experience. 

Crawfish & Noodles

Viet-Cajun crawfish is as Houston as it gets. Bringing together the flavors of Vietnamese cuisine and the Cajun tradition of Louisiana boiled crawfish, the result of this unique pairing is nothing short of magical.

Pho Binh By Night

The noodles at this Bellaire pho spot are a Houston late-night essential. Open until midnight, there’s no better way to curb a hangover than with a giant bowl of hot, aromatic broth and savory meats.

Raizes

Serving both breakfast and lunch all day, Raizes brings authentic dishes from Michoacán, Mexico to Houston. Start your day off right with the huevos rancheros. Fresh-made corn tortillas and sunny side-up eggs topped with a roasted, deeply flavorful, tomato salsa make it one of the best iterations of the dish in the city.

Related Maps