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
Killen's BBQ
Paula Murphy/Kata Robata
The Pass & Provisions
B&B Butchers & Restaurant
Tiger Den
BB’s Cafe/Facebook
Flickr/Eric S.
Uchi Houston
Flickr/T. Tseng
Kimberly Park/Bernie’s Burger Bus
Houston Burger Masters
Courtesy of Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood
the breakfast klub
Goode Co. Seafood
Fung’s Kitchen
Molina’s Cantina
The Chocolate Bar
Corkscrew BBQ
El Real Tex-Mex
The Original Ninfa's
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1. Killen's BBQ 3613 Broadway St, Pearland, TX 77581

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

Kata Robata is Houston’s preeminent sushi and Japanese tapas restaurant, featuring a signature menu from Executive Chef Manabu “Hori” Horiuchu. On offer is a creative array of Japanese fare inflected with French flavors, evident in dishes like foie gras and duck chawanmushi -- a Japanese-style egg custard -- and miso lobster mac and cheese. The menu’s crown jewel is its 72-hour slow-cooked Texas Kobe beef skewer, which is impeccably succulent and tender. Finally, you’ll want to take advantage of Kata Robata’s sushi offerings; create endless permutations of seafood like spicy chopped scallop, New Zealand king salmon, fatty tuna, and others.

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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

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

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

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

You can’t get more Texas than in-house dry-aged USDA Prime and Texas Wagyu served in cuts larger than your head. Or a chicken-fried pork chop with sausage. Or a Carpet Bagger on the Half Shell, a filet with bacon, blue cheese, and a fried oyster on top, all housed in an oyster shell. Fill up on all this and a couple of superb cocktails, like the Blood Orange Sky or the French Diplomat at Houston’s B&B Butchers & Restaurants, a butcher shop-steakhouse hybrid in the Sixth Ward. While we suggest hunkering down at a table in the elegant, exposed brick dining room, the antsy among you will head to the deli counter, where you can grab the same delicious meats, either by the pound or stacked in a sandwich.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At this Montrose hotspot, authentic Mexican cuisine is served up in a 1925 building designed by Joseph Finger, the same architect responsible for Houston’s City Hall. Chef tktktkkt’s menu is centered on traditional regional dishes, like lime-cured snapper ceviche with cherry tomatoes, cilantro, cucumber, jalapeno, and olives, bacon-wrapped quail stuffed with chorizo, tomatillo salsa, butternut squash, ayocote beans, and quinoa, and sautéed shrimp in garlic and lime-infused oil with chipotle pepper, arroz blanco, and nopales salad. The real gem at Hugo’s, though, is the Sunday brunch, where you can fill and refill your plate with all the chilaquiles, carnitas, tamales, braised brisket, chorizo ancho chiles, ceviche, tres leches, and Mexican hot chocolate churros that your heart desires.

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28. Reef 2600 Travis St, Houston, TX 77006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Ă  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

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.