OK, so, here's the bad news: unless you've literally never eaten gluten, you’re going to die one day. But guess what? Before that, you’re going to live! And to help you make the most of this crazy thing called life, we’ve compiled a list of 50 local eats to experience before the end. Here's everything you need to eat before you die/leave town (which, given some of the stuff on this list, might be equal odds).
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Killen’s Barbecue (address and info) Pearland Chef Ronnie Killen pulled off a culinary coup d'etat when he entered the Texas BBQ scene, smokers blazin’. That’s largely thanks to these smoked-kissed, unctuous, brontosaurus-sized beef short ribs, which have drawn a steady crowd since day one. Pro tip: eat them family-style, as the big ones are up to 2lbs a pop.
2. Omakase chef tasting and sake pairing
Kata Robata (address and info) Upper Kirby Go big or go home. Trusting Chef Manabu Horiuchi (aka Hori-san) to guide you through razor-sharp cuts of sashimi and intricately balanced sushi isn’t the only way to dine at Kata, but it is the best way to dine at Kata.
3. Morning Thali
Pondicheri (address and info) Upper Kirby Jammed with spiced, sweet, and tart things like beef keema, carrot paratha, saffron yogurt, and fried egg, this traditional Indian variety plate is the mother of all breakfasts.
4. Cresta di gallo
The Pass & Provisions (address and info) Montrose Fact: this seriously good “cock’s comb” pasta -- boasting earthy hen of the woods, roasted yeast, and a rich, frothy Parmesan cream sauce -- will make you consider licking the bowl in public.
5. Chicken-fried steak
Triple A Restaurant (address and info) Greater Heights Hit this no-frills diner for a crisp and craggily, white gravy-smothered CFS that’ll remind you why you live in Texas. AND if you get it at breakfast, you can eat it with fried eggs, grits, and buttery homemade biscuits, too.
Beaver’s (address and info) Washington What’s better than a chicken-fried steak? A chicken-fried steak with BACON. The old-school Texas classic gets an upgrade with a genius bacon and mushroom gravy that also just happens to be smothered over the steak’s mashed potato accompaniment.
7. The Famous Fried Cauliflower
Roost (address and info) Montrose You’ll find farm-fresh and seasonally inspired small plates taking turns on the menu at this Montrose heavy hitter. But the crispy fried cauliflower -- drizzled with miso dressing and with a dancing bonito-flake topper -- has earned a permanent spot. Get it and see why.
8. Banh mi bo kho
Cafe TH (address and info) EaDo When it’s cold outside (so like, November through January), nothing warms the soul like chef and owner Minh Nguyen’s Vietnamese beef stew. You’ll need a few loafs of crusty French bread to sop up every last bit of the deep, rich, anise-scented broth.
B&B Butchers & Restaurant (address and info) Washington The upscale butchery and steakhouse may be new to the scene, but it came out the gates with a bang thanks to its high-roller, dry-aged cuts of beef and superbly stacked wine list. Get whatever steak tickles your fancy, but do start with these crazy-good Cajun fried oysters on the half shell. They come complete with caramelized filet mignon tips, house slab bacon, and creamy bleu cheese.
10. 10-spice wings
Bismillah Restaurant and Café (address and info) Sharpstown Test your heat tolerance with these firecracker wings, made with owner Inam Moghul’s signature 10-spice Pakistani blend. The levels can be adjusted as you please, but now’s not the time to be a wimp.
11. Tonkotsu ramen
Tiger Den (address and info) Sharpstown You’ll want to taste all the ramen at this stealthy-good Asiatown haunt, but start with this sturdy house favorite -- made with a velvety and boldly flavored pork bone broth -- if you’re a first-timer.
12. Scratch square biscuit sandwich
Blacksmith (address and info) Montrose Biscuits don’t get better than the buttery, crumbly, scratch-made varietals from this Montrose coffee shop. That is, until you load them with a juicy butcher’s sausage patty, melted cheddar, and yolk-up egg.
Any street vendor that has it Various locations If you’ve never had cotija- and ancho-mayo-drizzled roasted corn -- either served on the stick or in a cup -- you’re not a Houstonian. Hit up authentic Mexican food trucks and stands like Tacos Mayra or Tampico Refresqueria to get the classic street food done right.
14. Tex-Cajun fries
BB’s Cafe (address and info) Multiple locations Formerly known as Tex-Cajun Virgin fries, these shoestring fries hit the table swimming in a chile con queso, and roast beef gravy pool. They are basically a Cajun version of poutine that you want in your fat mouth at all hours of the day. Good thing the Montrose location is open 24/7.
Brooklyn Athletic Club (address and info) Montrose/Museum District This riff on a classic osso buco tags in a massive, melt-off-the-bone-tender pork shank for the usual veal. Served with a potato bacon and pecan hash, you may need to work that meat coma off with some backyard bocce.
Boil House (address and info) Heights You’ll find picnic tables and classic Cajun crawfish at this open-in-season-only mudbug shack. The boil is so ridiculously good, we can even forgive the LSU flag out front. Get them extra spicy... and throw in some boiled sausage and boudin egg rolls while you’re at it.
17. Korean fried chicken
Dak & Bop (address and info) Museum District Twice-fried and gorgeously crisp, these Korean-style chicken wings are best coated in D&B’s addicting house soy-garlic or even more addicting hot-and-spicy sauce. Or, screw it -- just ask for a mix of both.
18. Cacio e pepe
Coltivare Pizza & Garden (address and info) Heights This classic pasta has been a clear house favorite since the restaurant’s inception. Slurp up the cracked black pepper and Parmigiano spaghetti to witness the beauty of simplicity while simultaneously avoiding the shame stare from your girlfriend. Just close your eyes and keep slurping.
19. Korean braised goat & dumplings
Underbelly (address and info) Montrose Only in Mutt City can a homestyle, gochujang-laced goat and dumpling dish be considered a Houston classic. Share it along with a few other plates to understand at Chef Chris Shepherd’s iconic restaurant.
20. Crispy Brussels sprouts
Uchi (address and info) Montrose We already know you’re downing every bit of sushi and sashimi you can get your grubby little hands on at this Austin import turned Houston institution. But you’ll want these crispy fried Brussels sprouts as an added bonus. The deeply caramelized cabbages pack a punch of flavor thanks to a toss-in of sweet chili, fish sauce, and lemon.
21. Turtle soup
Brennan’s of Houston (address and info) Midtown You don’t have to go to the Crescent City to get the silkiest, richest turtle soup in the South; the Houston offshoot of NOLA’s Commander’s Palace serves up the the Creole-spiced, alligator snapping turtle-packed, sherry-spiked stew right in Midtown.
22. Vietnamese crawfish
Crawfish & Noodles (address and info) Alief The only thing that can potentially be better than Cajun-spiced crawdads are the garlic-butter soaked kind found all throughout Asiatown. Though plenty of places do them now, Crawfish & Noodles' seriously good, paper-towel-required version remains sturdy as ever.
23. Egg & chorizo breakfast taco
Anywhere Various locations The breakfast taco is a standard here in Houston, so we encourage everyone to try them anywhere and everywhere that will serve hungover people. But if you’re looking for a head start, try these 13 spots.
Bernie’s Burger Bus (address and info) Bellaire How we made it nearly halfway through this list without a burger, we’ll never know. Get things started with this double-stacked heart-clogger, made with two cheddar-smothered Angus burgers, tipsy onions, house mustard, mayo and ketchup, and two bacon grilled cheeses for buns, naturally.
25. The Sticky Burger
Hubcap Grill (address and info) Downtown/Heights/Kemah Ricky Craig’s hand-formed and hard-seared burgers have made quite the name for themselves (as evidenced by Hubcap’s three successful locations). While all of them are pretty excellent, this sticky-sweet crunchy peanut butter-, bacon-, and cheese-topped number is a fat kid’s dream on steroids.
26. The Firehouse burger
Lankford Grocery (address and info) Montrose OK, one more burger. And we saved the hottest for last. Make sure you get a tall glass of something cold when you attempt to take down this beef bomb, which comes stacked with jalapeños and absolutely dripping in cayenne butter AND habanero sauce... because Texas.
27. Shrimp & grits
Backstreet Cafe (address and info) River Oaks Plump, briny Texas Gulf shrimp and stone-ground cheese grits really up the ante on this Southern staple. And with a blanket of Creole cream gravy and crispy fried leeks, it looks like Backstreet just went all in.
28. Ostiones asados
Caracol (address and info) Galleria Gulf oysters on the half shell are good enough as is, but when this coastal-Mexican eatery wood-roasts them, then tops them with a man-sized dollop of chipotle butter, the microphone has officially dropped.
29. Vongole pizza
Dolce Vita Pizzeria & Enoteca (address and info) Montrose Every pie coming scorched and bubbling out of Dolce Vita’s 900-degree wood-burning oven is sexy as hell. But this buttery, cheesy, and briny clam-, garlic- and, cherry tomato-topped number takes top honors.
30. Dry-aged bone-in ribeye
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse (address and info) Galleria When a 22oz steak is dry-aged in house for at least 28 days, is gloriously marbled, and cuts like butter, it deserves to be worshipped. What are you waiting for? Go worship it.
31. Crispy pig
The Hay Merchant (address and info) Montrose At this eatery, you’ll find two of your new favorite bar snacks: deep-fried sweet & spicy pig ears and a roasted half a pig's head, split down the middle and served with kimchi, pickled veg, and warm tortillas. Get both.
Hugo’s (address and info) Montrose Eating the achiote-rubbed braised suckling pig at Hugo’s is a religious experience. Take yourself to church by wrapping the tender, succulent meat and crispy skin inside hot and fresh tortillas and packing in some fiery habanero salsa.
33. Redfish on the half shell
Reef (address and info) Midtown Chef Bryan Caswell’s restaurant isn’t lauded as one of the best seafood restaurants in the US without reason. His buttery, flaky Texas-style redfish --grilled to a crisp and served with skin (and scales) on -- is a huge part of that reason. The fact that the filet comes with a giant block of breaded and deep-fried mac & cheese doesn’t hurt things either.
34. Seafood gumbo
Danton’s Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen (address and info) Midtown The gumbo roux here is no-joke dark, meaning it’s no-joke rich and no-joke complex, too. Get a cup loaded with bits of Gulf shrimp, oysters, and buttery crab, then throw in some fluffy white rice and hot sauce because you know how to live.
The Original Kolache Shoppe (address and info) Gulfgate/Pine Valley You’ll find a ton of imitators around town, but no place is as good at the king of Czech pastries as this OG shoppe on Telephone. Filled with amazing stuff like jalapeño sausage, roast beef, and sweet cream cheese, plan ahead and buy more for later.
36. Katfish & grits
the breakfast klub (address and info) Midtown You may think tbk’s notoriously good chicken wings are the way to go (and OK, they are), but you’ll also want to get a slab of its big and crunchy-as-hell fried catfish filet, served appropriately with butter-loaded grits, butter-loaded eggs, and butter-loaded Texas toast.
37. Jake Cakes & Wings
MAX's Wine Dive (address and info) Washington Wings and waffles are taken to a new level at MAX's, where the bird gets soaked in jalapeño buttermilk for 36 hours before being fried low and slow, and the waffles are actually Southern-style griddle cakes packed with corn and diced peppers. Drizzle on real-ass maple syrup if you want to reach nirvana.
38. Campechana de Mariscos
Goode Co. Seafood (address and info) Westpark/Katy When it’s hot out (or pretty much always), the only thing to cool you down is this jumbo Mexican-style seafood cocktail, packed with fresh shrimp and blue crab, plus pico, fire-roasted Anaheims, and diced avocados.
39. Warm Bologney
Public Services Wine & Whisky (address and info) Downtown This is not the kind of stuff your mom used to pack between two slices of white bread. Chef Justin Yu (of Oxheart fame) oversees the food program at this wine and whisky bar, meaning its house-made bologna is cut with lean pork, offal, coriander, black pepper, and garlic before being smoked and served alongside a smoky cheddar cream cheese. Oh, and Ritz crackers (it is still bologna).
Fung’s Kitchen (address and info) Sharpstown You haven’t lived until you’ve done some dim some at Fung’s. The Hong Kong-style experience is known as the best in town thanks to a steady stream of steamed dumplings and buns, pan-fried rolls and puffs, and sticky-sweet cakes and jellies, all of which are stuffed and studded with house-made pastes, spiced meats, and fresh seafood straight from the restaurant’s live aquarium.
EVERYWHERE Various locations If you’ve lived in Houston and somehow have not eaten any queso, you actually may be dead. While nearly any molten cheese dip is good molten cheese dip, we’ll start you off with these faves.
42. Chicharrones taco
Laredo Taqueria (address and info) Washington See that line out the door? It’s because everybody wants this taqueria’s fluffy, handmade tortillas stuffed with crispy and fatty fried pig skins. EVERYBODY.
43. Tres leches
Américas/Churrascos (address and info) Multiple locations Yes, those are three kinds of milk inside your giant slice of cake. That’s why it’s so super moist, bro. These Latin American sibling eateries make their tres leches fresh every day. One or two bites of the uber-sweet stuff is probably enough, but who are we kidding -- you’re finishing the whole thing.
44. Uncle Daryl’s Chocolate Cake
The Chocolate Bar (address and info) Rice Village/River Oaks Not to be outdone by milk, Uncle Daryl’s cake stars about a bajillion different kinds of chocolate. For starters, there’s the four layers of fluffy chocolate cake with chocolate mousse, toffee bits, and chocolate chips studded throughout. Next, there’s the decadent chocolate buttercream spread all around. And because they really want you to be heart healthy, the whole thing is drizzled with a bitter dark chocolate ganache (because dark chocolate is good for you, ya?).
45. Lazy Lane Frites
Brasserie 19 (address and info) River Oaks This off-menu specialty is like French fries for rich people. That’s because the resto takes bistro-style shoestring frites, tosses them in an au poivre gravy, dusts them with Parm, and tops them with a heaping mound of FOIE GRAS.
CorkScrew BBQ (address and info) Spring If there was ever a good reason to leave the loop, it’s this magical dry-rubbed and oak-smoked beef. With a silky, perfectly rendered cap and crusty, blackened bark, CorkScrew’s brisket is one of the finest BBQ specimens in Houston.
47. Perry’s Famous Pork Chop
Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille (address and info) Multiple locations This seven-finger prime-cut chop is slow roasted and smoked to an off-the-charts level of caramelized awesomeness before being topped with a serious chunk of herb-garlic butter. It’s then carved into a rib, loin, and eye of the chop right before your eyes. This is one threesome you definitely want to get in on.
48. Cheese enchiladas
El Real Tex-Mex (address and info) Montrose This vintage Tex-Mex spot renders fresh lard in-house. The swine swag makes its way right into scratch-made tortillas, which then get stuffed with cheese, smothered with deep red chile con carne, and topped with more cheese because LIVING IN HOUSTON IS SO COOL. Add a fried egg to experience next level-type euphoria.
49. Fried chicken
Barbecue Inn (address and info) Independence Heights You’ll need to wait 30 minutes to get a taste of the most glorious fried chicken in town. The Houston institution has been frying the crackling, greasy-in-the-best-way birds since 1942. Trust us when we say it will be worth the wait.
50. Beef fajitas
Ninfa’s on Navigation (address and info) East End You know we couldn’t close this list out without the dish that put Houston Tex-Mex on the map. Made with outside skirt steak and served searingly hot (as is tradition), “Mama” Ninfa’s fajitas can’t be outdone. One sizzling comal and you really can die happy.
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Brooke Viggiano is a writer residing in Houston, Texas. About her work: people have said they were “cringing it was so unfunny”; that “whoever wrote this is an idiot”; and that “this is okay.” Follow her occasional musings on Twitter.