First off, don’t judge. The fourth most populous city in the United States is home to more than 10,000 restaurants. You heard that right. So picking a list of where to eat in Houston is no easy task, especially since they seem to offer the best fare of every ethnicity from here to Vietnam (and everywhere in between, of course).
But after much research (it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it) and speaking with a few Houstonians, we’ve made up a list we’re comfortable won’t disappoint. It isn’t complete by far, but it’s a small sampling of some of the best dining experiences Houston has to offer. Pull up a chair, grab a fork and your favorite brew, and dive into where to eat in Houston.
- Oxheart A creation of husband and wife duo Justin Yu and Karen Man, Oxheart’s six-course meals have become such a Houston fave, reservations are booked weeks in advance.Throw all of your fine dining expectations out the door when entering this unassuming, modern-industrial establishment in the Warehouse District. Then sit back and let Chef Justin Yu blow you away with a six-course meal you haven’t likely had anywhere else. This is Oxheart.
Yu honed his skills around the globe before he, along with his wife Karen Man (baker extraordinaire), opened up Oxheart in the historic Erie City Iron Works building in March 2012. Ever since, Yu has made a name for himself in Houston for his out-of-the-box vegetable fusings made with top-notch regional produce, meat, and the Gulf’s finest catch. While the two-menu choice changes constantly, expect such culinary creations as mung bean pancakes or tilefish with squash, a basil-seaweed broth, and preserved fruit.
- Good Dog Houston Good Dog Houston, a former food truck favorite, opened their brick and mortar in the fall of 2013Like many a Houstonian brick-and-mortar fave, Good Dog Houston dished up their first dog from a food truck. Since opening up their restaurant in the Heights in the fall of 2013, they’ve continued to dish out their classics like the Ol’ Zapata (with the coveted jalapeno relish), while making room for future favorites such as the Good Fella Dog. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
- The Original Ninfa’s on NavigationThe Original Ninfa’s on Navigation has been a Houstonian favorite since 1973, when opened by “Mama Ninfa,” Ninfa LaurenzoAsk any Houstonian, and they’ll confirm the fajita craze started right here, thanks to founder Ninfa Laurenzo. This is where (supposedly) chargrilled steak was first stuffed into a handmade tortilla way back in 1973. And although Mama Ninfa passed away in 2001, her spirit lives on at Ninfa’s on Navigation, with her Tacos al Carbon and special green sauce.
In 2006 Executive Chef Alex Padilla dove back into the kitchen that influenced his culinary career. Padilla’s mother worked for Mama Ninfa after his family moved to Houston from Honduras when he was sixteen. Padilla has brought back the quality of food that long-time customers remember from the restaurant’s early days, while at the same time establishing his own kitchen. Diners can expect to see the traditional favorites from Mama Ninfa, along with Padilla’s twists on Tex-Mex fare. Check the chef’s specials for availability of the Tacos de Pulpo Cazuelita—build-your-own octopus tacos.
- UnderbellyUnderbelly has received national attention for its innovative use of local ingredients, being named by Time as one of the places to eat before Armageddon (photo courtesy of Underbelly)Chef Chris Shepherd invites diners to experience his story through Houston’s food culture, heavily influenced by the Mexican, Vietnamese, Korean, and other ethnicities that have laid roots down in Houston. Encouraging patrons to dive into the “underbelly” of what’s cooking in Houston, Shepherd introduces his customers not just to the farmers and growers behind what they eat at his establishment, but also to other quality restaurants serving up the best Houston has to offer.
Fresh is key at Underbelly, so the menu changes daily. Only whole animals are brought in, cut in the full-on butcher shop in the back of the restaurant. The freshness of the ingredients combined with artfully melded cultural tastes create a dining experience worthy of Time’s List of Places to Eat Before the Armageddon (they made it to the list before opening night). We agree. In that case, we’ll take both the pork belly pastrami with thousand island and the Korean braised goat and dumplings.
- Taste of TexasThe walls of Taste of Texas, known as the museum, are covered with artifacts from Texas’s rich history. Just ask co-owner Nina Hindee—she frequently gives history lessons and tours to Houston fourth-graders. (Photo courtesy of Taste of Texas)This iconic steakhouse has been serving up certified Angus beef in Houston since 1977. Family-owned and operated, Taste of Texas reminds diners that steaks are always bigger in Texas and that quality should only get better with age. Specifically thirty-eight years.
A lot of steakhouses lose their flair when overloading a menu. The owners of Taste of Texas, Edd and Nina Hendee, understand focusing on “what you do, do it right.” Which is why they hand-cut their own steaks, and they cut ’em right—thick. No wimpy steaks here. While they do offer other options, beef is by far the menu highlight. In fact, they didn’t feel their chicken fried steak was up to par, so they retired it altogether. At some places, there’s just no room for a slab of meat that doesn’t cut it (pun intended).
- Pondicheri The second restaurant for Chef-owner Anita Jaisinghani, Pondicheri was nominated for two James Beard awards within its first year.There aren’t many places to get Indian food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but Chef-owner Anita Jaisinghani made that dream happen when she opened Pondicheri back in March 2011. Already a seasoned restauranteur as owner of the upscale Indika, Jaisinghani was quickly recognized for her hard work with two James Beard nominations within Pondicheri’s first operating year.
Jaisinghani created a menu fit for any budget. The “Famous Five” on the breakfast menu offers five dishes all priced right at five dollars. Try the Hopper, a crisp coconut, chia seed, and rice shell filled with masala eggs, kerala sauce, and a peanut-coconut salad. Lunch and dinner are still affordable for the Houston dining scene, and the past year Jaisinghani opened the Bake Lab upstairs. The snacks and goods created are a pleasant accompaniment to nearly everything Pondicheri cooks up.
- Tofu VillageA popular spot in China Town, Tofu Village’s decor is a sort of Korean-Hollywood, featuring the faces of Korean movie stars and singersDon’t let the name fool you. At Tofu Village there’s plenty of meat being cooked up, and the Korean BBQ is some of the best in Houston.
Noted by the Houston Press for both their Korean BBQ and pancakes, this China Town favorite, clad in a sort of Korean-Hollywood decor, also brings back regulars for their soon tofu (fresh tofu). And by far the most popular way to taste this Korean favorite is in one of Tofu Village’s many soup offerings. The bold flavoring of the extra spicy broth compliments the mild, soft tofu if you can handle some heat.
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