Prior to Covid-19, I spent every other week in Houston, TX and over the years I have come to know great food is part of visiting the city. Here are 5 must-try restaurants in Houston, TX.
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Restaurants in Houston
I spent a great deal of time in the last 36 months (just two visits, however, since April) in Houston, including this last week. These are some of the absolute must-try restaurants in Houston from someone who knows the city well.
It’s no secret that restaurants are struggling right now. The ever-changing environment, diminished demand, and concern from the public have put many Houston restaurants in a tough position. It’s important that we support them during this time when possible.
The smell of warm tortillas, both baked and fried are what Lupe Tortilla is known for. The Tex-Mex join is a local chain with spots all over the city. They make their own tortillas in-house and it makes all the difference.
Tex-Mex is an institution in Texas and Lupe Tortilla offers reasonable prices, plenty of locations, and delivers on its promise for fresh food. They offer brunch, a full bar, and standard lunch and dinner, but whatever you order you must have the tortillas.
Just north of Houston in Spring, TX, Corkscrew is one of those epic BBQ pits where if you aren’t there early, there may not be any left at all. The doors open at 11 AM at Corkscrew and whether you’re hungry yet or not, I recommend arriving at least 15 minutes prior to open.
Texas BBQ is nothing short of art. From the selection of wood (is white oak better than hickory?) to serving style, barbeque may trade in casual but Corkscrew is serious about its process and its food.
For all of Corkscrew’s strengths, the sausage is a hard pass, but make sure to order the “Moist Brisket” (top left) which is melt-in-your-mouth. Sides are just as important as the meat (don’t let anyone tell you differently), so do not leave without ordering potato salad (pureed to perfection) nor the cobbler – if they still have some when you arrive.
Corkscrew BBQ is only open Thursday-Sunday 11 am – 4 pm, because when you’re as good as they are, why not?
Perry’s Steakhouse is a local legend for good reason. The miniature chain’s signature entree is its Pork Chop and it might be the best I have ever had anywhere in the world. It’s known as the “seven finger” pork chop as it is measured by how tall it stands as cut by a butcher, seven fingers end-to-end from the chopping block.
This six-inch tall pork chop is actually three different cuts including: the loin, ribs, and eyelash cut. The lunch portion is a five finger cut. Seasoned perfectly, the staff will cut the chop for you tableside. It includes seasoned butter over the top, a slice of lime, mashed potatoes, and a ramekin of applesauce.
The steakhouse is of the white-linen variety. The rest of the menu delivers Prime cuts as well, but the chop is just so terribly tempting that I rarely order anything else. While the chop can be expennsive for dinner, on Wednesdays and Fridays, the lunch portion is just $15 – an absolute steal.
Good luck getting a table.
And just for good measure, here’s that beautiful chop carved in front of you with a step-by-step guide.
In the JP Morgan Chase building in the heart of downtown Houston, Finn Hall is part of a wave of new food halls that offer smaller restaurants an upscale environment to vet their concepts. Some of the best and most innovative food is featured at Finn Hall.
Restaurants like Lit Chicken offer the best-fried chicken west of Alabama, but it’s not all southern comfort food at Finn Hall. Modern takes on classics serve everything from Banh Mi sandwiches to Fully-loaded Baked Potato pizza. I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw foie gras sliders from enterprising new chefs.
If you’re visiting Houston on business, pop in over lunch for something completely different.
A donut shop? Well, no. Technically it’s a do-nut shop, at least according to the signage at Shipley. They could call it whatever they want and they’d still have an adoring crowd.
They have just about every kind of do-nut (why not spell it that way) but the showstopper is a fresh, hot, glazed, and raised do-nut. I don’t know how they do it, but fresh out of the oven – and only if eaten instantly – it will completely disintegrate in your mouth. It’s the greediest thing you might do all day.
If they don’t have some that are hot right out of the oven, wait for the next batch. This is common practice and the staff expects it.
When I first arrive in Houston, I race to Shipley Do-Nuts, but more often than not, I order a sausage and cheese kolache. There is an interesting history of Texas and its affection toward a Czech breakfast pastry.
While it’s actually a Klobasnek, the savory sausage and cheese roll is an unhealthy but terribly satisfying way to start your day. This is not fine dining, but the quality of the dough and the simplicity of the roll is fantastic.
Nancy’s Hustle is a candiate for a Michelin-star. Home to a James Beard award-winner, the creativity on the menu runs the gamut and pushes boundaries. Among the highlights, the Houston Chronicle was dazzled by a cheesecake with black pepper honey as a take on cacio e pepe.
Nancy’s Hustle is one of those places that tries for casual but demands serious, experienced foodies. Its playful menu is designed to be clever and cheeky but don’t take it for granted.
In the warehouse district, Houston hotspot, Theodore Rex is a must-try location from the owners of Nancy’s Hustle. That restaurant (focused on clever pan-Asian food) is transitioning to Little Foot though there is little information about the opening. No doubt it will be legendary as well.
Crawfish boils are a tradition in Lousiana and many Texans have celebrated the tradition either in their neighboring state or by Cajuns that bring the tradition to the Lonestar State. In one of the great tragedies in all of culinary history, crawfish boils just have not transferred to the restaurant scene in the same way that other great cookouts have.
Buster’s Crawfish (three locations in the Houston area and one in Fort Worth) serves up crawfish boils “Coonass” style (the term for a hard-working, blue-collar Cajun.) On plastic platters at picnic tables, this Louisiana favorite cuisine is hard to find at restaurants and usually is more of a backyard tradition.
What distinguishes Buster’s crawfish from others is in the water. While inspiration comes from the Creole Gulf coast, its locally-sourced crawfish are raised in higher quality water. In the ultimate farm-to-table concept, the crawfish farmer is the owner of Buster’s ensuring end-to-end quality driven by himself or farm hands live from Lousiana.
Other Must-try Restaurants in Houston
As readers have pointed out, there are simply too many good places to eat in the city for every taste. From modern small plates to classic Italian, bread pudding, dim sum, chicken and waffles, or pork belly the city has so many good choices. Here are some that didn’t make the list but are still well worth your time and attention:
- State of Grace (River Oaks)
- Ninfa’s (on Navigation)
- B&B Butchers
- The Pit Room
- Kata Robata
- BCN Taste & Tradition
One special note. Ethnic communities around Houston have created some of the most diverse cuisine choices for US cities. I often visit a number of Asian countries so I have been less inclined to explore Houston’s vibrant Chinatown for fear of being disappointed, but according to many, it is the stuff of legend.
Houston is one of the largest cities in the United States and its palette has matured substantially in recent years. These are not every great restaurant in Houston – there are others. I am certain at least a few experienced visitors and residents will have their own to add to the list and by all means, they should. However, these are the seven that I consider to be “must-try” and sure to deliver a quality experience by every guest.
What do you think? Have you tried some on this list? What would you add to your list of must-try restaurants in Houston, Texas?
Lupe Tortillas’ chili is the best. Most underrated dish. It’s a chain place but still very good. For real Tex Mex, it’s best found in the small hole-in-the-wall. Cheese enchilada plate rice and beans! Can’t go wrong.
Crazy not to see any Chinatown/Vietnamese restaurants. Crawfish & Noodles would be a good candidate to add to the list. It is James Beard nominated and featured on David Chang’s Ugly Delicious.
Plenty of good BBQ spots to try. To me, Pit Room rates among the best.
There’s always room for a second post and another trip…
I know most people have quibbles with such lists so here’s mine – both Lupe Tortilla and Perry’s are fairly large chains so, if you miss out on getting your fix of either restaurant while in Houston, you can simply do so in San Antonio or Dallas for Lupe Tortilla or in Alabama/Florida/Tennessee/Illinois/Colorado for Perry’s. The city has plenty of non-chain Tex-Mex and steak restaurants, thankfully.
Bonus for the Shiply Do-nuts, though, as it truly is a local establishment.
Houston is a fantastic dining city. I lived there for a bit in 2009 and 2010 and was bowled over. Tex mex is outstanding of course. I did like Lupe Tortilla but preferred el tiempo cantina on Richmond and the original Ninfa’s on Navigation. Lots of great ethnic food all over the city. Vietnamese and Chinese were exceptional. I remember an outrageous Chinese dim sum place in the Bellaire area abd tons of hole in the wall soup dumpling places. Kolaches were a Houston tradition. Loved them. I haven’t been for awhile but I’d love to get back and enjoy it. Houston really surprised me as a city- it’s my favorite in Texas
Start the search for a local eatery sipping a craft cocktail at Anvil Bar & Refuge. Let me know your opinion of the Ramos Gin Fizz.
The original Lupe Tortillas in far west Houston (318 Stafford St, Houston, TX 77079) is the best! It’s a separate owner from the chain version and you can tell. I’ve been going there since the 80’s. Also, Taste of Texas is a pretty legendary local steak house near that Lupe’s.
Born and raised in Houston, but have not lived there for 25 years. Regarding Shirley’s agree. I have met several displaced Houstonians in different states and all lament the lack of Shirley’s. However, Shirley’s does franchise. O have never had a bad donut at a Houston store, but on rare occasions I have outside Houston.
Original Carrabbas on Kirby
Food is one of the few things Houston does better than Dallas. You owe it to yourself next time to head down to Hillcroft and 59 (Southwest Freeway) and try one of the many hole-in-the-wall Indian joints in Little India. My brother also swears by Kanomwan for Thai food over by UH (he calls the owner the “grumpy old Thai guy”).
I am going to nitpick and correct you on one thing, though. The sausage and cheese roll is NOT a kolache. That term is used exclusively for fruit and/or cream cheese-filled pastries. The correct term for the sausage roll is “pigs in a blanket”. If you want the real deal as far as kolaches go, you’ll have to drive a few hours to West or Ennis. It is worth every penny you’ll spend on gas, guaranteed.
It is absolutely not a pig in a blanket, that uses a completely different type of dough.
If you really want to get technical, it’s a klobásník. And while someone in Czechia might not recognize it as a kolache, we’re talking about Texas, where anything made with koláč dough is a kolache.
I lived in Houston, in the NASA area, and ate at Cafe Mediterraneo every chance I had. It is the real deal and one of the only things I miss on a regular basis. I still mark it as one of my favorites. If you are anywhere nearby, you won’t find much better, and the prices are so reasonable you can buy whatever your pleasure. There’s a market too. This is making me want to book a flight to Hobby, dangit! https://www.mediterraneomarket.com/
Everyone knows the best BBQ in Houston is two and a half hours up 290 in Austin. If you’re not eating BBQ in Central Texas, you may as well be eating it in Dallas.
Hyunh is a fantastic Vietnamese restaurant just east of downtown. BYOB.
As a local, I’ll say this list is pretty solid, but really barely scratches the surface of the incredible depth of the Houston restaurant scene, honed from being where cultures mix – originally South + West + Mexico, but later from everywhere including Asian – plus the lack of zoning allowing absolute hypercompetition: good won’t cut it here, a restaurant better be great if it wants to survive. That Darwinian evolution has honed the scene over decades to where it’s finally getting the acknowledgment it deserves, like from GQ: https://www.gq.com/story/houston-restaurants-capital-of-southern-cool
Jerry: That might have been true ten years ago, but Houston’s bbq scene has accelerated and caught up very rapidly, with two on the Texas Monthly Top Ten list (Tejas BBQ in addition to Corkscrew mentioned here), plus Killen’s, Pinkerton, Truth, and many others, including my personal favorite: Pit Room, with all the flavor (including the best brisket taco or sandwich you’ll ever eat) but without the insane lines of someplace like Franklins or Snows in Austin.
Two extremely generic chain establishments on a list of 7 must-try restaurants in Houston?? I dunno…something tells me you didn’t go to Bellaire (Chinatown) or Hillcroft (Little India)…
I’d rather support small family/independent restaurants. They are struggling and don’t get enough support (through marketing or loans) as major generic chains do.
-Auntie Chang’s Dumplings (cool selection of dumplings)
-Morfi Argentino (Amazing flaky and light empanadas, homemade, very friendly)
-Tex Chick (casual, tasty)
-La Fendee (Mediterranean. I like the chicken kebab)