50 Things to Eat in Houston Before You Die

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
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)
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
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)  
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)
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
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)
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
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)
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)
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
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
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
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
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)
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

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
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)
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)
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)
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)
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
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
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.


32. Lechón

Hugo’s (address and info)
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)
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)
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
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)
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)
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)
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
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

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
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
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
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.