Houston has more than 11,000 restaurants, and trying to work though all of them is just unfair to your doctor. So to help, we’ve compiled a list of the finest spokesmen in each culinary category, from greasy-spoon burger spots to upscale French. Whatever you're craving, here's where to get it...
Best American: Pax Americana
What you’re getting: Roasted bone marrow
This year-old progressive American kitchen has drawn a steady crowd since day one. Chef Adam Dorris’ locally and seasonally inspired menu constantly changes, but look out for small plates and entrees like soft-scrambled duck eggs topped with cured salmon on toast, roasted bone marrow dripping with bacon dressing, and pull-apart Berkshire pork ribs with caramelized fish sauce, chile, and black garlic.
Best Chinese: Mala Sichuan
What you’re getting: Mala beef & water-boiled fish
Run by husband-and-wife team Cori Xiong and Heng Chen, this Asiatown fan-favorite changed the way Houston looks at Chinese food. And with its first ITL location opening earlier this year, both inner and outer loopers can fill their guts with the authentic Sichuan-style eats. Daring crews will love the stupid-hot duck tongue and pork intestine glass noodles, while more basic bros can get down with dan dan noodles and peppercorn beef (which, FYI, will also be stupid hot).
Best French: Etoile Cuisine et Bar
What you’re getting: Coq au vin
Under the watchful eye of chef and owner Philippe Verpiand, this Uptown Park eatery has become Houston’s go-to for trustworthy (and crazy-good) French fare. Get modernized takes on staples like the ruby-red coq au vin and superior duck à l’orange with silken butternut squash mousseline.
Best Italian: Coltivare
What you’re getting: Cacio e pepe (spaghetti with Parmigiano & black pepper)
Old-school Italiano gets a refresh with the garden-inspired eats from this Italian kitchen -- the resto pulls fresh herbs and produce straight from its 3,000sqft urban garden. Bring the whole squad so you can share plates of garum-infused mussels soaked up with hot-from-the-oven focaccia, superb renditions of classic pastas, and wood-fired pies topped with charcuterie made in-house at sibling eatery Revival Market.
Best Japanese: Uchi
What you’re getting: The Chef’s Tasting
This offshoot of Austin’s Uchi + Uchiko has hands down the most inspired, consistently immaculate take on Japanese food in Houston. Get razor-sharp cuts of sushi and sashimi next to melt-in-your-mouth pork belly tataki, oak-grilled escolar, and playfully sweet and smoky machi cure (which loyal followers have dubbed “Japanese nachos”). Get the Chef’s Tasting to experience all kinds of brain-stopping deliciousness.
Best Korean: Dosi Restaurant & Soju Bar
What you’re getting: Pork shank ssam
This newly conceptualized eatery zones in on bold and user-friendly Korean street eats. Rehab-worthy twice-fried sticky wings, dressed up kimchi fried rice, and blisteringly crisp pork shank ssam are just some of the things you’ll be smashing alongside soju, the Korean version of vodka.
Best Thai: Asia Market
What you’re getting: Pork larb
Widely regarded as the city’s finest (and cheapest) real-deal Thai in the city, this longtime Heights haunt has stopped operations at the tiny Cavalcade market and is finishing up the last touches on its bigger, newer spot five minutes down the road. You can expect the standalone restaurant to have the same unfussy and bliss-inducing eats -- think intensely hot curries and lime-marinated pork larb -- but this time, with an expanded repertoire.
Best Indian: Indika
What you’re getting: Fried okra masala & shrimp rangoon
Before sister restaurant Pondicheri, there was this Montrose staple from chef-owner Anita Jaisinghani. The 14-year-old spot spiced up its menu with some fusion street food a few years back, but the elegant vibe and thoughtful wine list remained to keep things classy. Relish in the flavors of the Southeast and Deep South with fried okra masala, sop incendiary curries with pistachio apricot naan, and finish with a chai-spiced dark bread pudding.
Best Mediterranean: Aladdin Mediterranean Cuisine
What you’re getting: Aladdin’s Platter
Houstonians flock to this Montrose staple, where a beautiful Mediterranean spread awaits you as soon as you walk in the door. Get on the cafeteria-style line and load up on spicy hummus and creamy baba ghanoush, Lebanese mashed potatoes, and fall-off-the-bone lamb shank -- all of which you’ll scoop up with warm, freshly baked pita. And some hot sauce. Don’t forget the hot sauce.
Best Mexican: Hugo’s
What you’re getting: The Sunday brunch buffet
This Houston institution from legendary chef Hugo Ortega dishes out authentic and vibrant interior Mexican cuisine that will knock your holey socks off. On another note, it may be time for some new socks, bro. Pro tip: go during Sunday brunch so you can fill and refill your plate with all the budin de maiz, chilaquiles, tamales, ceviches and salsas, carnitas, chile rellenos, and pan dulce that you can comfortably take down.
Best Spanish: BCN Taste & Tradition
What you’re getting: Chuletón a la brasa (grilled bone-in ribeye) & frites with foie gras
Though still fresh to the scene, this fine-dining Spanish restaurant comes packed with serious culinary chops. First, an elBulli-trained chef at the helm. Next, hard-to-score-elsewhere things like jamón ibérico de Bellota, anchovies from the Cantabrian Sea, and house-made foie gras terrine. Finally, a beautifully curated wine list and desserts like crispy phyllo dough stuffed with Catalán vanilla brûlée.
Best Vietnamese: Saigon Pagoloc
What you’re getting: Bò 7 món (beef seven ways)
You’ll likely find all the tables hovering over hot pots and sizzling skillets at this bright and stark Vietnamese joint. That’s because -- in addition to whole-roasted fish and shrimp spring rolls -- everyone’s eating the bò 7 món , or beef seven ways, which starts with sliced tenderloin cooked in a mouth-puckering vinegar broth and moves through things like beef meatballs and sausage before finishing off with rich beef noodle soup.
Best steakhouse: B&B Butchers & Restaurant
What you’re getting: Carpet Bagger on the half shell and bone-in ribeye
This fresh-out-the-gates butcher shop and upscale resto doesn’t mess around when it comes to meat. You’ll find the glorious meat case stacked with dry-aged meats and bespoke cuts, but it’s the fine Gearhart Ranch Wagyu and dry-aged USDA Prime coming out of the kitchen that really pack the house. Get Wagyu carpaccio and a voluptuous Chateaubriand for two alongside impossibly good steakhouse sides. And don’t miss the Carpet Bagger appetizer -- the breakout star of the menu is a mix of Buffalo-style fried oysters on the half shell, B&B’s thick-cut bacon, melted blue cheese, and tender filet.
Best burger joint: Hubcap Grill
What you’re getting: The Hubcap Decker
All three locations of this beefed-up powerhouse draw a steady burger-loving crowd. That’s thanks to the excellent house-made buns; hand-formed, juice-dripping patties; and toppings that both the burger purist and wild child can get behind (we’re talking everything from bacon and BBQ sauce to chunky peanut butter and Cheetos). Whatever you do, go hungry.
Best vegan/vegetarian: Green Seed Vegan
What you’re getting: Illy cheesesteak
This plant-based cafe and juice bar pumps out bistro-style sandwiches and raw sides that will have you forgetting about meat (at the very least, momentarily). Get hand-cut dill fries to stuff inside loaded veggie burgers and portobello mushroom “cheesesteaks,” dip crispy cauliflower nuggets in hot sauce, and go full beast-mode on a protein-packed kale and quinoa bowl.
Best diner: Tel-Wink Grill
What you're getting: Start slow with two-egg and jalapeño sausage plates and triple stacks before easing into things like five-napkin patty melts and a colossal CFS nearly suffocating under a blanket of creamy gravy.
If you like your diner food cheap, greasy as hell (as it should be), and with no frills, Tel-Wink is the kind of place you should get better acquainted with.
Best barbecue: Killen’s Barbecue
What you’re getting: Beef ribs
Last year, Chef Ronnie Killen set out to make foodstuffs that rivaled the reigning kings of Texas ‘Q. It seems to be working. Slabs of smoke-kissed ribs, fiery sausage, and masterfully rendered, fat-melting brisket -- which get pumped out at over 2,000lbs per day -- have garnered the BBQ spot both local and national attention. Don’t miss the Brontosaurus-sized beef ribs, country-style fried chicken, and old-fashioned baked beans.
Best Tex-Mex: The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation
What you’re getting: Skirt steak fajitas
This OG of fajitas (we’re serious, Mama Ninfa is said to have launched the national fajita craze) has a cult following thanks to seriously stiff frozen margs, mouth-tingling chef’s specials, and by-the-pound, absurdly awesome fajitas that get served with handmade flour tortillas and all that other good stuff. It’s exactly what Tex-Mex should be -- and probably even a little bit more.
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1. Pax Americana4319 Montrose Blvd, Houston
2. Mala Sichuan Bistro9348 Bellaire Blvd, Houston
3. Étoile Cuisine et Bar1101-11 Uptown Park Blvd, Houston
4. Coltivare Pizza & Garden3320 White Oak Dr, Houston
5. Uchi904 Westheimer Rd, Houston
6. Dosi Restaurant & Soju Bar2802 S Shepherd Dr, Houston
7. Asia Market Thai Lao Food1010 West Cavalcade St Unit D, Houston
8. Indika516 Westheimer Rd, Houston
9. Aladdin's Mediterranean Cuisine912 Westheimer Rd, Houston
10. Hugo's1600 Westheimer Rd, Houston
11. BCN Taste & Tradition4210 Roseland St, Houston
12. Saigon Pagolac9600 Bellaire Blvd #119, Houston
13. B&B Butchers1814 Washington Ave, Houston
14. Hubcap Grill1133 W 19th St, Houston
15. Green Seed Vegan4320 Almeda Rd, Houston
16. Tel-Wink Grill4318 Telephone Rd, Houston
17. Killen's BBQ3613 Broadway St, Pearland
18. Ninfa's on Navigation2704 Navigation Blvd, Houston
Small plates and high-concept cocktails are the name of the game at this progressive, modern American restaurant in Montrose. The menu constantly changes, but expect a selection of shareables and large plates with a seasonal influence. Their all-American, small producer wine list represents many European varietals and the beer and cocktails lists are equally well-curated. The restaurant usually feels full but service is noticeably attentive.
Inner-loopers can also get their fill of authentic, Szechuan-style Chinese thanks to the second location of this Chinatown cult classic. Prepare yourself (and your mouth) for tongue-scorching, intense flavors in the form of water-boiled beef and pot-roasted fish, all swimming with chiles and Sichuan peppercorns. Our advice: bring friends and get adventurous.
This Uptown restaurant is the place to get quality, authentic, French cuisine in Houston. They offer modern takes on classic dishes like ruby-red coq au vin and duck à l’orange.
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.
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.
Children aren’t “recommended” after 7 at this modern eatery. And we’re totally cool with that; because we plan on going “Gangnam Style” on some soju – the slightly sweet, rice-based spirit that is like the Korean version of vodka – all night long. Take it down with shareable plates of wagyu beef jerky, pork belly street dumplings, and hot and sweet gochujang-glazed fried chicken.
This spot is serving real-deal Thai food at incredible prices in Northside Village. Their menu includes super hot spicy curries, sticky rice with mango, and lime-marinated meats.
Chef-Owner Anita Jaisinghani opened this spot more than a decade ago, and since then it's become a staple in the Montrose community. The menu has been updated over the years to include street-food inspired dishes and local ingredients, but the classic Indian flavors have stayed the same. You'll find lots of vegetarian dishes in the form of progressive Indian eats, like saffron-laced red beet soup, sweet potato samosa chaat, cashew masala stuffed egg plant, and black bean biryani.
Aladdin offers up a delicious hybrid of Greek and Mediterranean food, including lamb kabobs that are meltingly tender. It's not just kabobs that keep Houstonians pouring into this Montrose cafeteria-style spot, though -- there's also fall-off-the-bone lamb shank, and it's BYOB. You'll be greeted by a colorful Mediterranean spread when you enter, which includes plenty of meatless dishes that'll more than satisfy the vegetarians in your group, such as spicy hummus and cream baba ghanoush, tabouli, and falafel.
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.
When a fine dining restaurant with an El Bulli-trained chef opens the first Spanish fine dining restaurant in Houston, people take notice. And for good reason. Taking in the artwork of BCN’s (short for Barcelona) intimate 54-seat (plus another 10 at the bar) space is just the start of your epic dining experience. Get a few small plates, we’d go for boquerones, clams con sofrito de tomate, and some jamón ibérico de Bellota, a cured ham that is hard to score elsewhere in town. Of course, you’ll need to save room for the lobster bouillabaisse, 16 oz bone-in ribeye and frites, and rum raisin Catalán brûlée, too.
This Chinatown spot's Vietnamese cuisine is authentic, with hot pot, skillets, and whole roasted fish all included on the menu. The local favorite is the bò 7 món, or beef seven ways.
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.
Hubcap Grill, which has a couple of locations across Texas, is known for its burgers and sandwiches. When faced with one of its incredibly juicy, crispy seared patties, the logical next step is to get another. The counter-serve also pours craft beer, which you order at the window before taking your food out to the massive, colorful patio. The space features games like ping pong and horseshoes so you can burn off all that grease to the tune of the outdoor jukebox.
This vegan (sometimes raw) restaurant is located right in the Museum District, and is serving up scrumptious and unique dishes that are so filling you won't even notice the lack of meat in your bistro-style sandwich or kale & quinoa bowl. It also boasts hand-cut dill fries you can stuff inside loaded veggie burgers and portobello mushroom “cheesesteaks,” plus crispy cauliflower nuggets that are perfect for dipping in hot sauce.
Dmitri and Peggy Bokos brought their restaurant industry knowledge with them from Chicago, and Tel-Wink is now a legendary fixture on Telephone Road.
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.
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.