The Big Chile
El Real Tex-Mex CafeAddress and Info
Sure, for another couple bucks, you can have enchiladas, and for one more, enchiladas topped with eggs. But that’s not what this list is all about. Besides, the smoky chicken-stuffed poblano, dubbed “The Big Chile," will make you forget about those enchiladas, and it probably won’t require a two-hour nap immediately after. Key word probably.
Molina’s CantinaAddress and Info
Woodlake & other locations
If you feel like shoving your face into a giant vat of queso con carne for dinner without judgment from your dining companion, get cheese enchiladas. The Tex-Mex dish comes with a thick chile gravy comforter and cheese duvet, putting you into an instant state of bliss that’ll last long after you pay the surprisingly low bill.
JINYA RamenAddress and Info
Price: $4.99 small, $7.99 regular
Sure, you could go to the ramen bar for ramen, but you could also go for a bowl of pork- or chicken-studded rice that’s as delicious as it is cheap. We should note the ramens are equally as excellent, albeit a couple of bucks over $10 when you start adding in stuff like triple the eggs.
PondicheriAddress and Info
This modern Indian street food eatery goes full service after 5pm, so take a seat and order yourself something meatless to keep things extra wallet-friendly. There’s a nice roster of dosa, but go for the Pav Bhaji. Spread the cauliflower, spicy masala, and potato concoction onto toasted pumpkin buns and delight in an upgraded version of your mom’s famous sloppy Joes.
Dolce VitaAddress and Info
This Neapolitan-style staple’s properly scorched and bubbling pies take about 90 seconds to cook. While you may want to match that time in consumption, we promise you don’t want to... unless you like burning the roof of your mouth entirely off. Then, by all means.
Banh mi bo kho
Cafe THAddress and Info
Price: $8.50 regular, $10 large
This Vietnamese beef stew is so damn good, you’ll find yourself craving it even in Houston’s hottest months (except maybe August, because that’d be insane). Bonus points: the crusty French bread you use to sop up every last bit of the deep, rich, anise-scented broth will keep coming if you ask nicely.
Christian’s TailgateAddress and Info
Midtown & other locations
Finish this beastly beef bomb and you may not be able to stand up afterward. Given the fact that you now have burger and French fry grease all over your pants, you probably shouldn’t be seen below the waist, anyway.
Name your noodles
Asia MarketAddress and Info
Now in a new, slightly bigger location, the cult favorite is pumping out the same real deal Thai staples with vigor. Chicken kee mao with flat noodles, shrimp pad thai with rice noodles, crispy pork mama pad with fried curly noodles... you name it, they have it... and it’s good. Even better, the kindness to your wallet doesn’t stop with the carby stuff -- you can burn your mouth off with intense curries or house whole-roasted fish, too.
BB's CafeAddress and Info
Montrose & other locations
Though this sloppy roast beef po-boy may be best eaten at midnight alongside the most colossal pile of fries smothered in queso and debris gravy, you can also eat the true masterpiece not at midnight. Like say, at a tasteful, sit-down supper.
CottonwoodAddress and Info
Garden Oaks/Oak Forest
The only thing that’s better than sitting at a picnic table being served beers with your dog is adding another dog to the mix... a half-pound Angus dog, smothered in chipotle aioli, and topped with cojita, pico, and crispy fried poblano strings, and served with a mountain of fries, to be exact.
Bethlehem-style half chicken
Al Aseel Grill & CafeAddress and Info
Yardbird gets a Palestinian kiss at this bare-bones cafe. You can get it fried, where each piece of seriously juicy meat comes with an impossibly crisp, sumac-dusted crust.. or Musakhan-style, where the bird is marinated, spiced, and served grilled over house-made bread drenched in oil and chicken juice. You know what? Maybe come with a $20 next time.
Tiger DenAddress and Info
From the crazy good spicy miso to the silky tonkotsu, every ramen in the lineup is $9 and under. But that’s only one reason you’ll find the place packed every weekend. Beautiful, fat-rimmed chasu (roasted pork belly), flawlessly executed Hakata-style (thin) noodles, and some of the best, most flavorful bone broth in the city are a few more.
Tortellini al burro
Giacomo'sAddress and Info
This casual Italian spot goes full service at night, plus it offers most of its freshly made pastas in half portions, keeping things in budget and tasty. Get the tortellini, little clouds stuffed with a mixture of chicken, pork, mortadella, and cheeses that come swimming in butter and more cheese, as they should.
1. El Real Tex-Mex Cafe1201 Westheimer Rd, Houston
2. Molina's Cantina4720 Washington Ave, Houston
3. Jinya Ramen Bar3201 Louisiana St Ste 105, Houston
4. Pondicheri2800 Kirby Dr, Houston
5. Dolce Vita500 Westheimer Rd, Houston
6. Cafe TH2108 Pease St, Houston
7. Christian's Tailgate Bar & Grill2820 White Oak Dr, Houston
8. Asia Market4822 Fulton St, Houston
9. BB's Cajun Cafe2710 Montrose Blvd, Houston
10. Cottonwood3422 N Shepherd Dr, Houston
11. Al Aseel Grill and Cafe8619 Richmond Ave, Houston
12. Tiger Den9889 Bellaire Blvd, Houston
13. Giacomo's cibo e vino3215 Westheimer Rd, Houston
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.
Molina's is the oldest locally owned and operated Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston, and it’s the type of establishment where diners have been regulars for decades, a place that’s witnessed more milestones and celebrations than most eateries will ever get to. Though you’ll stay for the camaraderie, you’ll undoubtedly come for the food, constructed into a menu of burritos, tacos, grilled fajitas, and signature Tex-Mex combo platters. Your first time, you’ll want to snack on the Original Jose’s Dip, chili con queso blended with spicy taco meat and served with pale, crispy tortilla chips. Also, be sure to try the Mexico City Dinner: a queso-covered fried tortilla puff; a beef taco and bean tostada; and a cheese enchilada and pork tamale topped with chili con carne. Served with rice and beans, these plates sure give you bang for your buck.
This California-based ramen chain brings its hand-made noodles and 18-hour slow-cooked pork broth to Houston's Midtown. The service is quick, the industrial space is sleek, and the ramen is just so damn good. Not to mention, it's pretty cheap.
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.
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.
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.
Christian’s Tailgate is a Midtown sports bar that serves great burgers and beer. The flavor-packed patties come in three sizes: small (1/3lb), large (1/2lb), and giant (1lb), and are stacked with your choice of toppings, like green chili, crispy bacon, onion rings, and jalapeños. The menu has a whole section dedicated to shots that range in price from the $3 vodka peach Silk Panties to a $9 Jameson and Guinness combo.
Asia Market in Northside Village is pumping out real deal Thai staples with vigor in a homey, intimate location. Chicken kee mao with flat noodles, shrimp pad thai with rice noodles, crispy pork mama pad with fried curly noodles... you name it, they have it... and it’s good. Even better, the kindness to your wallet doesn’t stop with the carby stuff -- you can burn your mouth off with intense curries or house whole-roasted fish, too.
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.
Cottonwood is a restaurant and bar that draws crowds to its home in Garden Oaks/Oak Forest with quality cocktails, craft beer, comfort food, and a massive outdoor patio. Cocktails include classics and signatures (ask about the frozen drinks), but whiskey is the spirit of choice, with primarily local and Kentucky labels on offer. Beer is at the forefront, though, with over 40 taps (two cask-conditioned), featuring a large number of local brews. The menu is appropriately tailored to the beverage offerings, with quality pub fare like frito pie, tacos, sloppy joes, and the famous Squirrel Master Burger -- stuffed with poblano peppers and topped bacon, pepper jack, jalapenos, and of course, a fried egg.
Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare is served in a casual strip-mall setting at this Woodlake/Briar Meadow cafe. Each piece of seriously juicy meat comes with an impossibly crisp, sumac-dusted crust, or Musakhan-style, where the bird is marinated, spiced, and served grilled over house-made bread drenched in oil and chicken juice.
From the crazy good spicy miso to the silky tonkotsu, every ramen in the lineup is $9 and under. But that’s only one reason you’ll find the place packed every weekend. Beautiful, fat-rimmed chasu (roasted pork belly), flawlessly executed Hakata-style (thin) noodles, and some of the best, most flavorful bone broth in the city are a few more. Tiger Den is also a great date spot with its izakaya-like setting.
This quirky, casual Italian spot in Upper Kirby serves Venetian-style small plates, counter-serve lunch and table-service dinner. Giacomo’s offers most of its freshly made pastas in half portions, keeping things in budget and tasty. Get the tortellini, little clouds stuffed with a mixture of chicken, pork, mortadella, and cheeses that come swimming in butter and more cheese, as they should.