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.