Let’s be real: Houston is not the sexiest city in the country. It’s big, it’s spread out, and just doesn’t have a strong visual identity. But! But. The food scene. Man, Houston has become a great food city in the last decade or so, and that makes sense: it has a huge, extremely diverse population with a low cost of living. Here are 8 of our favorite spots we can’t skip when we’re in town.
One of the biggest names in Houston’s food scene is Hugo Ortega, the chef/owner behind five of the cities most loved restaurants. Four of those focus on his Mexican background, and our favorite for a unique meal is Xochi, focused on the flavors of Oaxaca. The dishes are complex, and many feature the moles and other sauces the Oaxacan region is famous for. Hell, there’s an entire mole section of the menu!
Photos courtesy of Xochi.
We debated about putting this one—not because it isn’t good, but because 1) it’s out of the way and 2) it’s on everyone’s lists. Still...when you think of Texas, you think of BBQ, and Killen’s does it right. The long lines are a testament to this, and the menu isn’t just your run-of-the-mill smokehouse. Sure, there’s beef ribs, brisket, and pulled pork, but it also embraces Houston’s unique population. There are boudin balls, Korean sticky ribs, Tex-Mex delights, and even steak. It’s got something for everyone, and that’s why everyone goes.
Photo courtesy of Killen's BBQ
If you love Hokkaido uni, Hokkaido scallops, and chu-toro (medium fatty tuna), book a reservation at Kata Robata as soon as you plan your trip. You can order à la carte, but we recommend big ballin’ it and going for sushi Chef Manabu “Hori” Horiuchi’s premium omakase tasting menu. Like any good sushi destination, the menu changes based on what is seasonal and available, but you won’t be disappointed—especially by some of chef Hori’s inventive dishes, like his foie gras and duck chawanmushi.
We’re over new restaurants with tons of hype. Give us the places that have withstood the test of time—we want five years or so of people loving what you do. Pondicheri checks those boxes. This Indian restaurant is open all day and, honestly, we wish we didn’t have to leave. Starting your day off with a saag paneer omelet or keema and eggs just feels right. The lunch menu features curry bowls, thali sets, sandwiches, and more, and dinner adds some amazing share plates, like a slow-cooked oxtail with cardamom and ginger.
Photo courtesy of Pondicheri
Maybe the name sounds familiar to you...which makes sense if you’ve watched David Chang’s Netflix show, Ugly Delicious (and if you haven’t, go do that now). Crawfish and Noodles represents a relatively unknown culinary mash-up that’s specific to Houston: Viet-Cajun cuisine. Skip the Vietnamese side of the menu and head straight into the Viet-Cajun spiced seafood. Shrimp! Crawfish! Clams! Crabs! Whether you get them spicy, salt & pepper style, or just plain regular, you’re going to love it. Just make sure to wash your hands when you’re done.
Photo courtesy of Crawfish and Noodles.
Coltivare is another one of those restaurants you’ll see on a lot of other lists because, well, it’s just a great restaurant. It’s traditional Italian-meets-the-Gulf Coast, serving up dishes everyone loves. Their pizzas are always a solid choice, the pasta will never let you down (get the fettuccine Nero with shrimp and spicy nduja sausage), and their entrees are consistently great. The vibe is one that works for a friend’s night out, dining out with the family, or a romantic date night.
Photo courtesy of Coltivare
You go to Les Ba’Get because you respect and love the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. These sandwiches are ridiculously good—you just pick a filling, ranging from lemongrass grilled pork to coconut basil shrimp to oak smoked brisket (Texas, y’all) and go to town on that bad boy. We’d argue the banh mi is the best sandwich on Earth. Especially when you get it with a side of their homemade shrimp chips and a fried sunny side up egg.
Okay, this is not a restaurant, but we just can’t pick the best pho spot in a city full of amazing pho. There are too many options! And they’re all so good! This is the best pho’king city in the country. Some of our favorites are Pho Saigon, Pho Ga Dakao, Pho Dien, and the list goes on and on. Wherever you end up will probably be better than anything you’ve found in the US.