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A spread of mezze and kebabs from Kriti Kitchen.
Kriti Kitchen in West U is one of the city’s best kept secrets.
Ajna Jai

Houston’s Most Underrated Restaurants

In a foodie-rich city, it’s easy to fly under the radar, but it’s high time these restaurants get the attention they deserve

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Kriti Kitchen in West U is one of the city’s best kept secrets.
| Ajna Jai

In a city like Houston where restaurant openings, closings, and chef announcements occur constantly and contemporaneously, it’s easy for some restaurants to get lost in the fray. While what’s hot and new plays a significant part of the city’s growing culinary landscape, many tried-and-true restaurants deserve just as much of the spotlight. The city is filled with decades-old institutions that continue to maintain stellar food and service, as well as newer chef-led cafes that have harmoniously blended into their surrounding communities.

Explore top-tier Japanese cuisine from a skilled chef in Bellaire, fresh Greek fare in West U, traditional Persian eats in Rice Village, or a family-friendly weekend brunch in the ‘burbs. Consider this list of Houston’s 12 most underrated restaurants that deliver good eats and a compelling dining experience.

Got a restaurant that you think should be included in this list? Shout it out in the comments.

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Plonk! Bistro & Wine Cellar

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This restaurant and wine bar, located in a longstanding Garden Oaks-area retail strip mall, remains a favorite among GOOF residents after more than a decade. Lauded barbecue chef Erin Feges once helmed the kitchen, but chef Kala Dunn has since taken over, enticing guests with pizzas prepared in the restaurant’s stone hearth and creating dishes like 72-hour short rib and poached halibut in a white wine cream sauce.

Local Table

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Sometimes confused with Local Foods, this fast-growing local restaurant chain has five outposts in Houston, in Garden Oaks, Cypress, Katy, the Woodlands, and Fulshear, and deserves praise for having its own distinct charm. Its relaxed family-friendly atmosphere is a major draw, as is the quality farm to table menu, which incorporates many local meat and produce purveyors, and an impressive weekend brunch. Its all-day hours, seven days a week, make it the quintessential neighborhood gem.

La Hacienda

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This decades-old restaurant that mimics a traditional Mexican hacienda is located in the Heights, but it’s set apart from the hustle and bustle of the area’s more sceney bars and eateries. Its menu boasts classic comfort eats like grilled steak nachos, a variety of meat and cheese enchiladas, and combination fajitas. The dining room is bedecked with rows of colorful flags and features a small nook where fresh tortillas are made, giving diners a festive environment in which to dine, day and night.

KP's Kitchen

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After spending years working within Benjy Levit’s Local Foods and Benjy’s concepts, Kerry Pauly launched his own venture coined KP’s Kitchen, and it’s quickly garnered a cult following for its quality food and service. Hidden in plain sight, the restaurant is tucked in one of the many retail strips that dot both sides of the freeway in Memorial. It can be hard to miss when you’re zooming down I-10, but after a single visit, you’ll want to keep it in your rotation. Along with a robust wine list, highlights of the menu include comfort eats like baby back ribs, a hot chicken sandwich on a brioche bun, and grilled redfish.

Soma Sushi

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Like Kata Robata and the newly opened Katami, Soma Sushi is an establishment within Houston’s acclaimed Azuma Group. While you may not see famed chef Manabu “Hori” Horiuchi behind the counter, the restaurant itself maintains the same level of service and quality of fish that the Azuma Group holds standard. After being open more than a decade, it may not feel as scene-y as its sister restaurants, but it’s just as reliable for a sushi sampler, a piping hot bowl of ramen, or simply a bottle of sake at the bar.

Lucio's

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Perhaps having high-profile neighbors like Bludorn, and Pass and Provisions before that, has caused Lucio’s to get lost in the fray at times, but the restaurant deserves a shoutout for being charming in its own right. A longstanding BYOB policy allows guests to uncork something special of their own, and pair it with an elegant menu of dishes like steamed clams, sea scallops with risotto, filet mignon, and creme brulee.

Ojo de Agua

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New to River Oaks District, Ojo de Agua was one of the hottest openings of summer 2023. Lauded for its all-day menu, loaded acai bowls, coffee program, and tropical wine-fueled cocktails, the restaurant has since elevated its bar to incorporate spirits like vodka, rum, and mezcal into drinks like the mezcalina or the acai daiquiri, plus offers extended its hours to include a full-service dinner menu. At dinner, the focus is on traditional Mexican cuisine, with features like red ceviche, hearty with shrimp and octopus; birria tacos made with slow-cooked birria ribeye; and mahi mahi a la talla, a dish native to the city of Acapulco.

Kriti Kitchen

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Kriti Kitchen quietly opened in the Weslayan Plaza Shopping Center at the start of the year, but has been steadily gaining momentum among Houston diners for its fresh menu of Greek fare and convenient grab-and-go prepared meals. Chef-owner Mary Cuclis worked at Michelin-starred Bo Innovation in Hong Kong and honed her chops at Pondicheri here in town, but her vision for the menu at Kriti Kitchen is inspired by her own Greek roots. During the restaurant’s exclusive monthly dinner series, guests are given the opportunity to journey through a multi-course dinner prepared by Cuclis, paired with a selection of Greek wines.

Kasra Persian Grill

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Kasra has long been considered among the best Persian restaurants in the city, and after opening its first inner loop location in Rice Village this year, it has more than proven its staying power. The menu leans into traditional offerings like whipped feta and warm eggplant dip, plus mains like chicken and beef skewer plates, and seafood kebabs with dill and fava bean rice. Pair your meal with a glass of doogh, a yogurt-based beverage with mit, for a refreshing finish.

Davis Street at Hermann Park

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It’s been years since the lights went dark at Mark Holley’s namesake restaurant in Midtown, but the chef is still making his mark in Houston at Davis Street at Hermann Park. The restaurant takes a graceful approach to Southern cooking, with items like New Orleans-style charbroiled oysters, crispy shrimp with Thai chili sauce, cornish hen, and kimchi collard greens. Plus, its central Hermann Park locale makes it a convenient stop before or after a visit to one of the area’s many museums.

Aya Sushi

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Houston has had an influx of new sushi restaurants open in the last year, making it a challenge to keep up, but take note that Aya Sushi in Bellaire is a lesser known standout among them. Helmed by chef Yoshi Katsuyama, a veteran of Uchi Houston, the restaurant’s omakase is especially noteworthy, with plates like the A4 shabu shabu; and the kuruma ebi, a sushi grade tiger prawn from Kumamoto. The experience is complemented by Katsuyama’s vivacious personality and expert techniques that give new meaning to the phrase “dinner and a show.”

Good Vibes

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In recent years, Pearland may have been put on the map by famed chef Ronnie Killen’s various restaurants, but it’s home to plenty of others that are just as worth drive, including Good Vibes Coastal Kitchen. The lively hangout boasts more than 30 beers on tap, a rotating burger of the week, and live music on the weekends. As a bonus, it features an entire menu devoted to crawfish when mudbug season hits.

Plonk! Bistro & Wine Cellar

This restaurant and wine bar, located in a longstanding Garden Oaks-area retail strip mall, remains a favorite among GOOF residents after more than a decade. Lauded barbecue chef Erin Feges once helmed the kitchen, but chef Kala Dunn has since taken over, enticing guests with pizzas prepared in the restaurant’s stone hearth and creating dishes like 72-hour short rib and poached halibut in a white wine cream sauce.

Local Table

Sometimes confused with Local Foods, this fast-growing local restaurant chain has five outposts in Houston, in Garden Oaks, Cypress, Katy, the Woodlands, and Fulshear, and deserves praise for having its own distinct charm. Its relaxed family-friendly atmosphere is a major draw, as is the quality farm to table menu, which incorporates many local meat and produce purveyors, and an impressive weekend brunch. Its all-day hours, seven days a week, make it the quintessential neighborhood gem.

La Hacienda

This decades-old restaurant that mimics a traditional Mexican hacienda is located in the Heights, but it’s set apart from the hustle and bustle of the area’s more sceney bars and eateries. Its menu boasts classic comfort eats like grilled steak nachos, a variety of meat and cheese enchiladas, and combination fajitas. The dining room is bedecked with rows of colorful flags and features a small nook where fresh tortillas are made, giving diners a festive environment in which to dine, day and night.

KP's Kitchen

After spending years working within Benjy Levit’s Local Foods and Benjy’s concepts, Kerry Pauly launched his own venture coined KP’s Kitchen, and it’s quickly garnered a cult following for its quality food and service. Hidden in plain sight, the restaurant is tucked in one of the many retail strips that dot both sides of the freeway in Memorial. It can be hard to miss when you’re zooming down I-10, but after a single visit, you’ll want to keep it in your rotation. Along with a robust wine list, highlights of the menu include comfort eats like baby back ribs, a hot chicken sandwich on a brioche bun, and grilled redfish.

Soma Sushi

Like Kata Robata and the newly opened Katami, Soma Sushi is an establishment within Houston’s acclaimed Azuma Group. While you may not see famed chef Manabu “Hori” Horiuchi behind the counter, the restaurant itself maintains the same level of service and quality of fish that the Azuma Group holds standard. After being open more than a decade, it may not feel as scene-y as its sister restaurants, but it’s just as reliable for a sushi sampler, a piping hot bowl of ramen, or simply a bottle of sake at the bar.

Lucio's

Perhaps having high-profile neighbors like Bludorn, and Pass and Provisions before that, has caused Lucio’s to get lost in the fray at times, but the restaurant deserves a shoutout for being charming in its own right. A longstanding BYOB policy allows guests to uncork something special of their own, and pair it with an elegant menu of dishes like steamed clams, sea scallops with risotto, filet mignon, and creme brulee.

Ojo de Agua

New to River Oaks District, Ojo de Agua was one of the hottest openings of summer 2023. Lauded for its all-day menu, loaded acai bowls, coffee program, and tropical wine-fueled cocktails, the restaurant has since elevated its bar to incorporate spirits like vodka, rum, and mezcal into drinks like the mezcalina or the acai daiquiri, plus offers extended its hours to include a full-service dinner menu. At dinner, the focus is on traditional Mexican cuisine, with features like red ceviche, hearty with shrimp and octopus; birria tacos made with slow-cooked birria ribeye; and mahi mahi a la talla, a dish native to the city of Acapulco.

Kriti Kitchen

Kriti Kitchen quietly opened in the Weslayan Plaza Shopping Center at the start of the year, but has been steadily gaining momentum among Houston diners for its fresh menu of Greek fare and convenient grab-and-go prepared meals. Chef-owner Mary Cuclis worked at Michelin-starred Bo Innovation in Hong Kong and honed her chops at Pondicheri here in town, but her vision for the menu at Kriti Kitchen is inspired by her own Greek roots. During the restaurant’s exclusive monthly dinner series, guests are given the opportunity to journey through a multi-course dinner prepared by Cuclis, paired with a selection of Greek wines.

Kasra Persian Grill

Kasra has long been considered among the best Persian restaurants in the city, and after opening its first inner loop location in Rice Village this year, it has more than proven its staying power. The menu leans into traditional offerings like whipped feta and warm eggplant dip, plus mains like chicken and beef skewer plates, and seafood kebabs with dill and fava bean rice. Pair your meal with a glass of doogh, a yogurt-based beverage with mit, for a refreshing finish.

Davis Street at Hermann Park

It’s been years since the lights went dark at Mark Holley’s namesake restaurant in Midtown, but the chef is still making his mark in Houston at Davis Street at Hermann Park. The restaurant takes a graceful approach to Southern cooking, with items like New Orleans-style charbroiled oysters, crispy shrimp with Thai chili sauce, cornish hen, and kimchi collard greens. Plus, its central Hermann Park locale makes it a convenient stop before or after a visit to one of the area’s many museums.

Aya Sushi

Houston has had an influx of new sushi restaurants open in the last year, making it a challenge to keep up, but take note that Aya Sushi in Bellaire is a lesser known standout among them. Helmed by chef Yoshi Katsuyama, a veteran of Uchi Houston, the restaurant’s omakase is especially noteworthy, with plates like the A4 shabu shabu; and the kuruma ebi, a sushi grade tiger prawn from Kumamoto. The experience is complemented by Katsuyama’s vivacious personality and expert techniques that give new meaning to the phrase “dinner and a show.”

Good Vibes

In recent years, Pearland may have been put on the map by famed chef Ronnie Killen’s various restaurants, but it’s home to plenty of others that are just as worth drive, including Good Vibes Coastal Kitchen. The lively hangout boasts more than 30 beers on tap, a rotating burger of the week, and live music on the weekends. As a bonus, it features an entire menu devoted to crawfish when mudbug season hits.

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