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...
Montrose/Museum District 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.
Chinatown/Montrose 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).
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.
Heights 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.
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.
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.
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.
Montrose 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.
Montrose 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.
Montrose 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.
Montrose 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.
Chinatown 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.
Washington 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.
Downtown/Heights/Kemah 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.
Museum District 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.
Gulfgate/Pine Valley 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.
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.
East End 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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