Food & Drink

50 Things to Eat in Houston Before You Die

Published On 08/26/2015 Published On 08/26/2015
Julie Soefer/The Hay Merchant

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).

Killen's BBQ

1. Beef ribs

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.

Paula Murphy/Kata Robata

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.

The Pass & Provisions

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.
 

6. CFBS

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.

Roost

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

9. Carpet Baggers

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.

Tiger Den

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.

Blacksmith

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.
 

13. Elote

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.

BB’s Cafe/Facebook

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.
 

15. Porkobucco

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.

Flickr/Eric S.

16. Cajun crawfish

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.

Coltivare

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.

Uchi Houston

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.

Flickr/T. Tseng

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.

Kimberly Park/Bernie’s Burger Bus

24. The Detention burger

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.

Houston Burger Masters

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.

Flickr/T.Tseng

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.
 

Courtesy of Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

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

32. Lechón

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.

Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood

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.
 

35. Kolache/Klobasnek

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.

the breakfast klub

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.

Goode Co. Seafood

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

40. Dim sum

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.

Molina’s Cantina

41. Queso

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.

Flickr/T.Tseng

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.

The Chocolate Bar

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

46. Prime beef brisket

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.

El Real Tex-Mex

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.

The Original Ninfa's

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.

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

This Pearland brick-and-mortar barbecue joint, born from the success of Chef Ronnie Killen's immensely popular pop-up, delivers mouth-watering 'cue like slabs of smoked brisket, pulled pork, and homemade sausages. Killen has training at Le Cordon Bleu and does the BBQ classics in a way that exceeds Texas standards of size and taste. Try some of the more unexpected menu items, like brisket tamales or fried chicken.

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2. Kata Robata 3600 Kirby Dr, Houston, TX 77098

At Kata Robata, Chef Manabu Horiuchi offers up delicious sushi and other Japanese delights, including Texas quail robata, complete with a quail egg skewer; as well as a glorious 72hr slow-cooked Kobe beef skewer.

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3. 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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4. 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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5. Triple A Restaurant 2526 Airline Dr, Houston, TX 77009 (The Greater Heights)

This Greater Heights diner serves classics like chicken fried steak, fried chicken, fried shrimp, fried flounder, fried mushrooms...we're seeing a trend.

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6. Beaver's 2310 Decatur St, Houston, TX 77007

Although this Sixth Ward BBQ spot offers top notch ribs and brisket, it has two main attractions: the first is a smoky queso (made with smoked asadero cheese, green chillis, and pico de gallo), while the second is a bacon omelette biscuit: an expertly crafted cheese omelette stacked with copious amounts of bacon and sausage with a chipotle honey and cream gravy blanket. Other menu items include Southern-style fare like fried pickles, barbacoa empanadas, and creative mac 'n' cheese.

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7. Roost 1972 Fairview St, Houston, TX 77019 (Montrose)

Roost is small and cozy, with New American style dishes with many ingredients from local farms. Their fried cauliflower has become famous and helped make the little bistro so popular with locals.

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8. Cafe TH 2108 Pease St, Houston, TX 77003

This Vietnamese eatery is packed for lunch because of its banh mi sandwiches and for dinner because of its banh mi bo tho, a beef stew that's so damn good you'll crave it even during Houston's hottest months. The aforementioned dishes, plus phos, curries, and vermicelli bowls, have given Cafe TH a cult following, even among the vegetarian crowd. Located in a strip mall, the tiny spot is BYOB and a great place for a cheap, casual, and hella good dinner.

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9. B&B Butchers 1814 Washington Ave, Houston, TX 77007 (Washington)

With a front house butcher shop, native NY owner, and handsome interior complete with exposed brick, this steakhouse oozes the kind of old-school charm that feels like a classic Big Apple restaurant. Of course, the in-house dry-aged USDA Prime and Texas Wagyu served in cuts larger than your head feel 100% Texas. If you’re looking for something more casual, the butcher shop Italian-style subs are top notch and there's weekend brunch to unwine at. Plus, there’s a superbly stacked wine list at this upscale butchery and steakhouse.

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10. Bismillah Cafe 5696 Hillcroft St, Houston, TX 77036

This no-frills strip center haunt is located just off Hillcroft & 69 in Sharpstown and serves up Indian and Pakistani food. On the chaat house side of the operation, traditional samosa and aloo chana sit alongside more Americanized numbers. For intensely flavored beef nihari, rich curries and sizzling sole tandoori, head two doors down to the dual concept’s home-style restaurant.

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11. Tiger Den 9889 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77036

Tiger Den is making waves for a style of ramen most commonly seen in the city of Fukuoka with housemade noodles that are thinner, firmer, and straighter than most. But there's also a huge, delicious selection of yakitori with special glazes, marinades, oils and seasonings.

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12. Blacksmith 1018 Westheimer, Houston, TX 77006

In a space that formerly housed Houston's most iconic gay bar, Blacksmith sets itself apart from the rest of the Houston coffee scene thanks to its all-star cast of city veterans, including the roaster of Greenway Coffee and the guys behind Beard-lauded establishments Anvil and Underbelly. Be sure to pair your java with scratch-made biscuits with a side of creme fraiche and marmalade.

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13. BB's Cajun Cafe 2710 Montrose Blvd, Houston, TX 77006 (Montrose)

This Cajun eatery in Montrose is a neighborhood staple serving up Texas and New Orleans cuisine in a laid back atmosphere. Get your hands on Cajun classics like ettouffe and crawfish boils in addition to full loaded po-boys. All of the food is pretty gut-busting, so bring some friends to go in on shareable apps like loaded fries. BB's is open late, making it the perfect stop after a night out.

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14. Brooklyn Athletic Club 601 Richmond Ave, Houston, TX 77006

It doesn't get better than outdoor games, Bloody Marys with bacon, and American comfort classics, which is why Brooklyn Athletic Club remains a neighborhood favorite.

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15. Boil House 606 E 11th St, Houston, TX 77008 (The Greater Heights)

Boil House serves real-deal Cajun crawfish in season only, and owns its Louisiana roots -- the LSU flag out front proves that. You'll forgive this offense, however, once you get your hands on some of their crawfish, sausage, and boudin egg rolls.

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16. Dak & Bop 1801 Binz St Ste 120, Houston, TX 77004

Twice-fried, seriously crisp Korean fried chicken is the name of the game at this Park Binz spot. Co-owner Jason Cho trained under NYC’s Mad For Chicken before opening up this shop (which is a separate entity but shares some recipes). The chicken’s good plain, but we suggest getting it smothered in soy-garlic or hot-and-spicy sauce.

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17. Coltivare Pizza & Garden 3320 White Oak Dr, Houston, TX 77007

From Revival Market's Ryan Pera & Morgan Weber, Coltivare is a seasonally-inspired eatery that puts a fresh spin on traditional Italian foodstuffs. Think small plates & charcuterie, whole-roasted fish, pastas, and wood-fired pies. The kitchen picks every bit of fruit, veg, and greenery straight from its 3,000sqft garden. They don’t take reservations, so you’ll need to elbow your way to the bar and sip on a few of Weber’s classically inspired tinctures while you wait for your table.

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

Originally an Austin joint, Uchi is a sleek, modern Japanese spot in Montrose that'll hook you up with fresh, delicious sushi and sashimi, unique tasting plates, and an outstanding wine and sake selection. Even sushi traditionalists will be tempted by the razor sharp cuts with funky, outside-the-box adornments. If you’re having trouble deciding, go for the 10-course chef’s tasting.

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19. Brennan's of Houston 3300 Smith St, Houston, TX 77006 (Midtown)

This upscale resto is an offshoot of The Commander's Palace in NOLA (but has no relation to Brennan's of NOLA) and originally opened in 1967. The Texas-creole menu turtle soup, roast oysters, shrimp & orka gumbo, gulf fish pontchartrain, and honey roast duck.

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20. 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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21. 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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22. Backstreet Café 1103 S Shepherd Dr, Houston, TX 77019 (Montrose)

Backstreet serves up American eats in a '30s style converted house with garden seating. The menus are constantly being updated to reflect the freshest seasonal flavors, and they feature Southern, Hispanic and Asian cuisine. During brunch hours, an advance reservation is an advisable (if not required) move for this happening spot.

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23. Caracol 2200 Post Oak Blvd Ste 160, Houston, TX 77056 (Uptown)

This glassy, sleek eatery in Midtown serves up seafood-centered Mexican fare including starters like salsa-topped oysters and headlining shrimp tacos and pan seared daily catches. Frequent happy hours, only at the bar, get you plenty of liquored up treats with salted rims and leafy garnishes like the Cuba Moderna with rum aged over 12 years.

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24. Dolce Vita 500 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006 (Montrose)

This Westheimer powerhouse from Chef Marco Wiles introduced the beauty of wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas to Houstonians. DV's wood-burning oven doles out perfectly bubbling and scorched pies (they only take 90 seconds to cook) in simple flavor combinations. The menu also includes tapas-like small plates categorized by meat, vegetable, and fish. Tack on a thoughtful Italian wine list and this place is a total winner.

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25. Pappas Bros. Steakhouse 5839 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77057

The Pappas are local legends, and at the top of their bona fide empire is this quintessential Texas steakhouse. Its steaks can’t be rivaled, thanks to superior cuts of beef, in-house butchery, and an intense 28-day dry-aging process (also completed in-house). The result is finely marbled, nutty, and rich USDA prime steaks that you can slice like butter. The retro-posh décor, private booths, and pampering service feel old-school cool and romantic.

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26. 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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27. Hugo's 1600 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006 (Montrose)

At this Montrose hotspot, authentic Mexican cuisine is served up in a chic venue. On Sundays, this ‘trose heavy-hitter boasts a no joke, authentic Mexican brunch buffet. Fill and refill your plate with all the chilaquiles, carnitas, tamales, braised brisket, chorizo ancho chiles, ceviche, tres leches, and churros with Mexican hot chocolate that your plate can hold.

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28. Reef 2600 Travis St, Houston, TX 77006 (Midtown)

This spot bounces around on lists of the best seafood restaurants in the US, and for good reason. Jumbo Crab Cakes, Crispy Skin Snapper, and Red Fish on the Half-Shell are all favorites, which along with their 400 label wine list makes this a definite winner.

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29. 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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30. The Original Kolache Shoppe 5404 Telephone Rd, Houston, TX 77087

Just outside The Loop in Golfcrest, The OG of Kolache shops, this mom & pop spot has been serving the Czech pastry since 1970. The Original Kolache Shoppe offers a much wider selection of flavors than you're used to at the donut shop next to your house; options range from breakfast style (stuffed with sausage, bacon or ham with egg, cheese and jalepeno) to sweet (cream cheese meets fruit, chocolate or cinnamon) to savory (polish sausage, brisket, chicken).

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31. The Breakfast Klub 3711 Travis St, Houston, TX 77002

This Fourth Ward breakfast spot has some of the best fried chicken in Houston. They even give you the option of fried catfish (and waffles OR GRITS!). Plus, every once in a while there is a clown that makes you balloon animals while you wait in line. Real talk.

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32. Max's Wine Dive Quarry 340 E Basse Rd, San Antonio, TX 78209 (Alamo Heights)

Max's may call itself a dive, but its far from being one. With over fifty wines and gourmet takes on classic american comfort food (chicken and waffles among them), the combinations may seem strange but make for a unique experience. Consider checking out brunch or even their Summer Happy Hours.

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33. Public Services Wine & Whisky 202 Travis St, Houston, TX 77002 (Downtown)

Housed in the old Cotton Exchange building, Public Services Wine & Whisky is doing its due diligence, providing Downtown Houston with options abound in each category, as its name boasts. The whiskey list covers its ground -- Scotland, America, Japan, Ireland, Spain, and even India are represented. (The Scotland selection is strong, and is broken down by region. Do yourself a favor, and spend some time tasting through it.) The wine list is no different, with everything from Sherry and other fortified dessert wines, to sparkling, whites, roses, and reds, Old World and New World alike. Other libations live here, as well, like brandy, absinthe, and Amari, and house cocktails, beer, and cider. And finally, they offer a small selection of bar snacks available to abet in your tasting journey, wherever it may take you.

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34. Fung's Kitchen 7320 SW Fwy 115, Houston, TX 77074

This Sharpstown spot owned and operated my master chef Hoi Fung has become synonymous with good dim sum and authentic Hong Kong-style fare. The steamed dumplings, buns, pan-fried rolls, puffs, sticky sweet cakes and (best of all) the meats are perfectly spiced. The wide selection of seafood including shrimp, cuttlefish, king crab, lobster and squid are plucked fresh out of their live aquarium with your order.

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35. 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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36. Brasserie 19 1962 W Gray St, Houston, TX 77019 (River Oaks)

Brassiere 19 is true to its roots, serving French classics like Croque Monsieur, steak tartare, and creme brulee. The best part about this trendy River Oaks date spot, besides the excellent French press coffee, badass champagne selection and stellar fare, is that you can feel like you’re brunching in Paris without having to deal with actual French people.

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37. Corkscrew BBQ 26608 Keith Street, Spring, TX 77380 (The Woodlands)

This BBQ joint started out operating from a trailer-truck and ran out of food around 2pm or 3pm every day. Due to such high demand, Corkscrew eventually went brick-and-mortar and are still just as popular, if not more so, among Houston's (and Texas') BBQ aficionados. Whether you're planning on destroying their oak-smoked brisket, blistered ribs, or spicy pork sausage, show up early or prepare for a wait (long lines start forming around 9 or 10am because they only cook enough food for the restaurant's capacity).

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38. El Real Tex-Mex Cafe 1201 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006 (Montrose)

Located in the refurbished Tower Theater building in Houston's Montrose neighborhood, El Real serves vintage Tex-Mex. That means fresh lard is rendered in house, tortillas are handmade, and chili powder is ground fresh from lightly toasted anchos and cumin seeds. The most popular order is the signature three-cheese enchiladas in chili con carne sauce with a fried egg on top, but the tacos, whose shells are cooked to puffy perfection à la San Antonio, are a must-try.

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39. Barbecue Inn 116 W Crosstimbers Rd, Houston, TX 77018

Barbecue Inn's menu has been mastered for over nearly 70 years, by tweaking and perfecting their family recipes. Their fried chicken is out of this world, and it’s not even the best thing on the menu! People drive in from all over just to enjoy their fried shrimp! With either pick, you are going to enjoy a homemade batter so crispy and tasty that it will be hard to go home and tell granny that hers still the best.

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40. 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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41. Bernie’s Burger Bus Stop 5407 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77401

Some of Houston's best burgers and fries come straight out of a big yellow school bus, otherwise known as the kitchen of Bernie's Burger Bus. Bernie's still has waiters and seating though, not to mention milkshakes, wines, and beers on tap. The gourmet burgers, all of which have school-themed names like "The Principal" and "Homeroom," are constructed from a blend of house-ground black Angus beef and served on locally-baked buns. Add in homemade condiments and you've got the best school lunch ever.

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