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Heights (& Downtown & Kemah)
With burger shacks in Downtown, Kemah, and the Heights, chef and owner Ricky Craig has been deemed a demi-god of all things beef. Hit any location of the powerhouse grill to get hand-formed, juice-dripping patties stacked inside excellent house-made buns. Toppings will please both the burger purist and wild child, with prime choices ranging from ‘shrooms and jalapeño to Craig’s magnum opus, the grilled weiner, bacon, chili & cheese-stacked Quadruple Heart Clogger.
Memorial (& Montrose)
Neapolitan-style pizzaiolo Bill Hutchinson, who is already killing it with a duo of VPN-certified, wood-burning pizza joints, recently announced plans for a third location. This time, in addition to the piping hot thin-crust pies scorched in a 900+ degree oven, they’ll be firing up pan-crusted Detroit-style and crispy New York-style pies. For now, hit one of the two counter-service spots to share blistered pies topped with spicy soppressata and sweet caramelized peppers to enjoy a surprisingly awesome BYOB date night.
Bellaire (& other locations)
Houston’s most beloved purveyors of pho have grown their mini empire to seven shops, covering all the bases with the late night Pho Binh By Night and an expanded menu at the newest Heights location. In a city with a Vietnamese community that is so on point, these guys manage to stay relevant with a friendly, fast-casual vibe and seriously good, rich and fatty beef broth. To experience all the bliss, you’ll want to tack on silky bone marrow and crusty banh mi, too.
Rice Village (& Upper Kirby & Tanglewood)
With a trio of successful shops, this fresh-faced mini chain puts the emphasis on local, as you can clearly see by the lineup of local farms and artisan shops repped on the menus. Get a lineup of sandwiches (which can also be turned into salads upon request because #glutenintolerance is a thing, you guys) packed with heavenly stuff like truffled egg salad or the best nut-crusted chicken in America. A roundup of seasonally inspired sides and local wines and suds only add to the charm.
Third Ward (& other locations)
Since opening the original Scott St location in 1969, this fried chicken chain has become a bonafide empire. The homegrown superstar has plans to grow to over 500 national franchise locations in the next 10 years, which is downright impressive. As is their fried chicken. You’re not a real life Houstonian until you’ve had a Creole-spiced three piece & biscuit combo complete with dirty rice and a jalapeño accoutrement.
Heights (& other locations)
It didn’t take long for Houstonians to welcome this Austin import with queso-covered open arms. Now with an eight-pack of locations from Webster to the Woodlands, Torchy’s draws fans in with big, bold tacos injected with a bit of hipster serum. Like the Trailer Park, a fried chicken and poblano number that you can make “trashy” by swapping out the lettuce for green chile queso; or the Independent, in which hand-battered Portobellos get an queso fresco, avocado, and ancho aioli treatment. Load up as you please, and don’t miss the off-the-cob street corn.
Washington (& other locations)
This home-team taqueria puts a Cuban spin on traditional tacos with ingredients like mojo sauce, ropa vieja, and fried plantain. But the chain’s awesomeness goes way beyond tacos. Switch things up by ordering a full rotisserie chicken, which comes juicy and spiced with a side of tortillas to stuff the meat in. At breakfast, you’ll want the Egg Cuban, packed with black beans and plantains, and the Chorizo & Egg, complete with a refried bean slather. A standout horchata-infused iced coffee will help wash things down nicely.
Rice Village/West U (& Memorial & Jersey Village)
Sure you can wait two hours at Killen’s and have #OmgBestBarbecueEVER, but you can save time popping into this quality hometown chain. The line moves just as fast as the guy slicing the moist, mesquite-smoked brisket in front of your eyes, so you can be in and out of there as fast as you can take down a three-meat plate with brisket, jalapeño sausage, pork ribs, baked beans, and potato salad.
Westchase (& Northside & Southwest)
If you don’t know the terms “crack sauce" and “loud pack,” you’ve been doing Houston wrong and we feel bad for you. But that’s OK, because it’s not too late to get acquainted with the Lotus Seafood staples, especially since there are three locales at which you can do so. Each is a one-stop-shop for any seafood you could possibly desire, from fried lobster, smothered shrimp, and buttery crab legs to Cajun-style crawfish boils and massive seafood platters with catfish fillets and fried oysters. Oh, and that “loud pack” that you’re getting with extra “crack sauce?” That’d be shrimp and crawfish fried rice with extra spice packed with more shrimp and creamy garlic butter sauce.
1. Hubcap Grill1133 W 19th St, Houston
2. Pizaro's Pizza Napoletana1000 W Gray St, Houston
3. Pho Binh12148 Bellaire Blvd, Houston
4. Local Foods2424 Dunstan Rd, Houston
5. Frenchy's3919 Scott St, Houston
6. Torchy's Tacos350 W 19th St, Houston
7. El Rey Taqueria910 Shepherd Dr, Houston
8. Goode Company Seafood2621 Westpark Dr, Houston
9. Lotus Seafood Market8550 S Braeswood Blvd, Houston
Hubcap Grill, which has a couple of locations across Texas, is known for its burgers and sandwiches. When faced with one of its incredibly juicy, crispy seared patties, the logical next step is to get another. The counter-serve also pours craft beer, which you order at the window before taking your food out to the massive, colorful patio. The space features games like ping pong and horseshoes so you can burn off all that grease to the tune of the outdoor jukebox.
The second location of Houston’s best pizza joint slings hot and blistered Neapolitan-style pies inside the Loop. This Montrose branch has the same casual charm of the first (counter ordering, BYOB service), but it also has an 80-seat dining room, host seating, and two colossal wood-fired ovens. Count on fast service, since the pizzas only take about 90 seconds to crisp in the 900+ degree heat of their oven.
You'll find these pho joins dotted all over the city, but this location near Westchase is the only one open late, specifically until 3am on Friday and Saturday (the perfect landing spot after a bar crawl). The menu's full of standard pho options, but you won't even need to look at it, for there are only three little words that need be said here. Bone. Marrow. Pho. The flavorful broth and noodle soak the flavor of the baked bone marrow right up, and the Vietnamese spice gives it an edge you don't normally get in a pho bowl.
The wide-open, retro aesthetic of this Southampton deli sets the stage for sandwiches crafted with the same TLC that Texans have been accustomed to for generations. Each sandwich purchase nets you two sides, which they swap out based on what’s available or in-season. There's lineup of local farms and artisan shops repped on the menus for reference, and you can pair your food with local beer and wine, as well.
This Houston chain is the real Southerner's answer to tired fried chicken brands that just don't even try anymore. Founded by a New Orleans native, Frenchy's serves up spicy fried chicken and other Creole staples like jambalaya, gumbo, and collard greens, and it proves that good food and fast food aren't mutually exclusive. Go big with a family sized box full of ten pieces of breast, wings, and thigh meat. Whether or not you choose to share it is up to you.
There is no wrong time of the day to be eating tacos. This Austin-based chain with locations all over Houston and the state proves that with its menu chock full of bold options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Spice things up by coming here instead of your regular Tex Mex haunt for tacos like the Trailer Park (with fried chicken and green chiles), The Independent (with hand-battered portobello mushrooms), and the Mr. Orange (blackened salmon) for only a few bucks and a few minutes.
This Houston mini-chain offers the usual Mexican dishes like burritos and enchiladas, as well Cuban favorites like ropa vieja and Cubanos. But the chain’s awesomeness goes way beyond tacos. Switch things up by ordering a full rotisserie chicken, which comes juicy and spiced with a side of tortillas to stuff the meat in. The space offers a bar area as well, so you can enjoy a draft while order thirds of the tortas and beef fajita tacos.
Built into a tin railroad car that reveals a seating area set up railroad-style, Goode Company Seafood offers a dining experience that is fresh, seafood-based, and charmingly novel. The staff is knowledgable -- as they should be with all the original seafood concoctions served up here -- and while a dinner wait is a near-constant, the line moves just as fast as the guy slicing the moist, mesquite-smoked brisket in front of your eyes, so you can be in and out of there as fast as you can take down a three-meat plate with brisket, jalapeño sausage, pork ribs, baked beans, and potato salad.
Westchase's Lotus Seafood Market is a one-stop-shop for any seafood you could possibly desire. Fresh from the sea, the menu items here are practically endless and include simple fried rice plates to massive seafood platters with catfish fillets and fried oysters between (all served to go in styrofoam boxes so don't expect to hang around for long). You can unexpectedly find some really good chicken wings at this spot, too, but it'd be a mockery to eat those when you've got fried lobster with Louisiana fried rice waiting for you.