Food & Drink

These are Houston's 12 Essential Restaurants

Published On 05/05/2014 Published On 05/05/2014
Karen Man
Danton’s Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen
Julie Soefer Photography
Thomas Chen Photography
Thrillist/Brooke Viggiano
Flickr/T.Tseng
Thrillist/Brooke Viggiano
Flickr/T. Tseng
Flickr/T. Tseng
Alex Gregg
Pondicheri
Thrillist/Brooke Viggiano
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1. Oxheart 1302 Nance St, Houston, TX 77002 (Downtown)

North of Downtown Houston sits Oxheart, a fine dining establishment that is luxurious in the simplicity of its American, seasonally dependent fare. Two menus are offered nightly and change frequently, never ceasing to flash ingredients you’ve never tasted (or, more often than not, heard of), but are confident will be absolutely divine, like vadouvan spices, muskmelon sorbet, mung bean pancakes, and alliums. Presentation of each dish is inspired from colors and shapes you can find in nature, an ethos also echoed in the simple preparation of ingredients – spiced, pickled, or left altogether raw. Décor is similarly lo-fi: wooden tables were crafted by a neighborhood carpenter and come fit with hideaway drawers that reveal the lot of silverware you’ll need for the meal, and in place of an esoteric art collection, walls are adorned with spray-paint graphics, the mark of a local graffiti artist.

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2. Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen 4611 Montrose , Houston, TX 77006 (Montrose)

Occupying the bottom floor of Montrose's Chelsea Market, Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen is a timeless 200-seat seafood restaurant with both a dining room and a separate oyster bar. You won't find any fast-fleeing trends in the atmosphere or the food here, just a constant after-work dinner rush and a menu full of Southern favorites. Big groups can usually be found around a platter of fresh-shucked oysters, and temptation for grilled fish or steak rarely bows out.

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3. The Hay Merchant / Underbelly 1100 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006 (Montrose)

A joint venture, The Hay Merchant and Underbelly operate separately but are attached via a butchering room that’s fit to hold a whole hog, a cow, and other large, meat-bearing animals. Hay Merchant, a craft beer bar, boasts 75 draft beers that range in style from cask-conditioned American porters to sour and funky wild ales. Underbelly, the more upscale of the two, is a restaurant and wine bar serving up juicy burgers and meats, like roasted pig’s head and smoked brisket. No matter how adventurous your palate, consider pairing your dish with one of the aged barleywines on tap.

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4. Lankford Grocery & Market 88 Dennis St, Houston, TX 77006 (Montrose)

This Houston institution on Dennis St has been in business since 1939, selling groceries to locals alongside old-fashioned tuna melts and huge burgers. Everything is made to order, so the service takes time, and you simply pay at the counter when you're finished eating. The space itself is kitschy and quaint with shaded picnic tables outside for some greasy al fresco dining.

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5. Crawfish & Noodles 11360 Bellaire Blvd Ste 990, Houston, TX 77072

Crawfish & Noodles serves up an unexpected combination of Cajun and Vietnamese food to west Houston. On the corner of a Bellaire Ave strip mall, C&N impresses with bowls of piping hot, garlic-butter-soaked crawfish alongside the likes of slow-simmered beef and pork meatball pho. This joint's also got a massive dining space with ample seating and even a dance floor, which makes it a prime spot for private parties and events for the whole family.

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6. Uchi 904 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006 (Montrose)

Located in Montrose, from acclaimed Austin Chef Tyson Cole, Uchi is Houston’s outpost of the Austin-based Japanese hot spot. The intimate, upscale restaurant is constantly bustling with sushi- and sake-craving diners, and because reservations are hard to come by, be prepared to wait for a taste of the inventive Japanese cuisine. Or, beat the crowd and arrive early for their daily Sake Social, where for an hour and a half, you can sample the highlights of the menu, accompanied by copious amounts of sake (or beer, or wine), at a fraction of the cost.

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7. The Pass & Provisions 807 Taft St, Houston, TX 77019 (Montrose)

Two-faced in the best way possible, The Pass & Provisions in Montrose offer you a choice between a more refined experience, or a more relaxed one. The Pass will serve you polished five- or eight-course tasting menus over a white table cloth, or Provisions will provide hearty pizzas, pastas, and shared bistro plates in more rustic surroundings. Some serious cocktail and wine programs push the two restaurants to the next level of insanity, as does Julia Child’s Muppet voice playing on repeat in the unisex bathroom.

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8. Killen's Steakhouse 6425 W Broadway St, Pearland, TX 77581 (Pearland)

Chef Ronnie Killen's Houston steakhouse pairs so-tender-it-falls-off-the-bone Allen Brothers USDA prime beef with sides like corn risotto and jalapeno fontina cheese. If you feel like going slightly lighter on the arteries (in preparation for dessert), opt for the crisp greens salad with walnuts, blue cheese, red onion, and apples or the delicate grilled branzino. Killen’s will end your meal off sweetly with a chocolate tart made with caramelized gingerbread crème, raspberry jelly, and toasted meringue or a caramel half-apple with mousse and maple cinnamon sponge cake. The interior of Killen’s offers, in typical steakhouse fashion, an open layout with plenty of room for white tablecloth-wreathed four-tops, which will certainly not stay white for long as you devour your dishes.

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9. Killen's BBQ 3613 Broadway St, Pearland, TX 77581 (Pearland)

Killen's BBQ is a Pearland brick-and-mortar barbecue joint born from the success of Chef Ronnie Killen's immensely popular pop-up. It delivers mouth-watering Texas-style barbecue like slabs of smoked brisket, pulled pork, and homemade sausages. Killen trained at Le Cordon Bleu and his Texas classics far exceed the Lone Star state's standards of size and taste. Be sure to desserts like banana pudding, carrot cake, and buttermilk pie.

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10. Laredo Taqueria 915 Snover St, Houston, TX 77007 (Washington)

This bright orange shack is hard to miss -- right off of Washington Ave with a line out the door as a result of their seriously delicious breakfast and lunch tacos -- get in line and prepare for some fluffy, handmade tortillas stuffed with chorizo, barbacoa, and chicharrones.

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11. Ninfa's on Navigation 2704 Navigation Blvd, Houston, TX 77003 (East End)

The fajitas at the original Tex-Mex outpost on Navigation earn their cook the title of Mexican fare experts. Alongside the fajitas, staples like mole enchiladas, Oaxacan-style pork tamales, and jalapeño-stuffed Shrimp Diablo (not to mention the head-sized frozen margaritas) take some serious culinary chops, which means these dishes go far above and beyond Houston's other Tex-Mex eateries.

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12. Pondicheri 2800 Kirby Dr, Houston, TX 77098

This Indian fusion spot in Upper Kirby serves a mix of street snacks and home-style foods all day long. The extensive menu includes a nice roster of dosas, thali sample platters, and curries, plus burgers and Mumbai-style frankie wraps. Pondicheri isn't 100% vegetarian (there are plenty of lamb and chicken dishes), but its menu is generally plant-forward. The airy space resembles an upscale cafeteria and includes a counter-serve bakery with Indian-spiced pastries and baked goods.

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13. Moon Tower Inn 3004 Canal St, Houston, TX 77003 (East End)

Awesome events like horror movie nights and growler giveaways, tons of craft brews from their wall of taps, and exotic hot dogs like a wild game sausage make Moon Tower Inn a unique and enjoyable hangout. Oh, and they have a backyard, too.