Restaurantes

The Best Restaurants in Houston

There’s a lot more to this Southern city than Tex-Mex and barbecue.

24/5/2024
22 minutos de lectura
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Houston once had a reputation as a city with few dining options unless you wanted steak, barbecue, or Tex-Mex. By the time I moved in July 2022 to the fourth most populous city in America, this wasn’t the case. Over the years, an influx of Vietnamese, West African, Middle Eastern, Mexican, and even vegan restaurants have opened up all over the sprawling city — and forever changed the dining scene.

Now the sheer number of restaurants and diversity of cuisines in Houston rivals any major U.S. city. You can start your day with satisfying breakfast tacos, go all out on cheesy Lebanese flatbreads and shawarma fries for lunch, and end the night feasting on delicious Indian dishes. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here are the best restaurants in Houston.


Amrina

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Chef Jesse Bindra cooks not only some of the best Indian food in Houston, which there’s no shortage of, but also some of the most creative. Think biryani with jackfruit and Sichuan-tinged eggplant with fried spinach and pickled cabbage.This Woodlands fine-dining restaurant also specializes in simple, home-style cooking, and it shines on the delivery menu. An at-home feast should include the above dishes, plus chile-spiked prawns, hearty goat curries, and garbanzo bean curry (Bonus: It’s vegetarian).

Badolina Bakery

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It’s tempting to order everything on the menu of this stylish little bakery in Rice Village. That’s because the sweet and savory bakes are satisfying as a meal on their own. Badolina excels at laminated pastries like the special dulce de leche crioche (a croissant-brioche mashup available only on Sundays) as well as savory bites like shakshuka focaccia topped with a boiled egg. Add an extra sweet or savory baked good to snack on later; my go-tos are the cardamom bun and the quiche.

Burger Bodega

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This playful recreation of a New York City bodega doesn’t just have an excellent chopped cheese and fries but perhaps the city’s best smashburger. Owner Abbas Dhanani and his team at the Washington Avenue spot have mastered the double-double cheeseburger: The patty is thinner than a pancake, with lacy, crisp edges, and comes draped with American cheese, grilled onions, and a mayo-based secret sauce all tucked onto a soft potato bun. Wash it all down with the mango lassi or Vietnamese coffee milkshake.

ChopnBlok

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West African cuisine should have a higher profile in a city like Houston, which has the largest Nigerian population in the U.S. It’s slowly changing with Post Food Hall’s ChopnBlok, where Nigerian American owner Ope Amosu offers a familiar combo of rice, protein, and vegetables. Don’t call it fast casual, however. Amosu introduces Nigerian flavors in a thoughtful and delicious way, and you can taste that in bowls like the Golden: a comforting serving of smoky jollof rice, stewed plantains, Brussels sprouts, and roasted cauliflower.

Craft Pita

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Houston is a city of mash-ups (see: Viet-Cajun, Tex-Mex), and the beauty of this city’s specific brand of culinary collaboration is on display at Craft Pita, which has locations in Briargrove and West University. Chef and owner Rafael Nasr approaches Mediterranean food in a modern way, resulting in dishes like Lebanese tacos brimming with rotisserie chicken, shawarma fries, and “pitadillas,” shredded rotisserie chicken with a few different cheeses stuffed into manaeesh, the Lebanese flatbread. And with refreshing fattoush salads and an array of mezze (labneh, hummus, babaganoush), Craft Pita can easily fit into your regular lunch or dinner rotation.

Crawfish Cafe Heights

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There is nothing like Viet-Cajun food in Houston, and this favorite, with outposts in Asiatown and the Heights, is one of the best places to eat. You’ll find lobster, littleneck clams, king crab legs, and mussels on the menu year round, but it’s crawfish that’s a must when in season between March until early June. They’re seasoned in nearly a dozen flavors, but the original Cajun seasoning is spicy and garlicky (though if you’re looking for something new, try the Thai basil). The work it takes to crack open the shellfish and suck out of the meat is worth it, just be sure to ask for a bib and gloves.

Cuchara

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Houston is home to plenty of taco trucks and taquerias, but few capture the distinctly cool Mexico City vibe that this Montrose favorite does so well. And perhaps that explains why it can be difficult to nab a table during peak hours, but thankfully delivery is just as good. Order the masa cakes topped with refried black beans, thick crema, white cheese, and burnt-pepper-skin salsa as well as the tacos chelo, and crunchy potato taquitos. The latter comes with a side of green salsa, which speaks to how Texans love some heat.

Da Gama

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Chicken tikka and flaky samosas for takeout hits the spot on any given night, but finding Indian dishes with Portuguese influences is not so easy. At this M-K-T Heights restaurant, you can feast on beef mishkaki, East-African-style skewers of beef tenderloin grilled over wood; a satisfying Goan fisherman’s curry;  and fofos de bacalhau, salted cod and potato croquettes served with an oregano chutney. But what makes Da Gama endlessly fascinating (and delicious) is where the restaurant weaves in flavors and techniques from further afield, like masala hummus and sourdough naan (which you should double-up on to mop up any last bits of curry).

El Tiempo Cantina

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This family-owned restaurant chain always comes up in the neverending debate on where to find the best Tex-Mex in Houston. Many judge a great Tex-Mex spot based on its fajitas, and El Tiempo is always near the top. You’ll get why when you sink into the tender beef and chicken combo paired with perfectly charred onions and jalapeños and all folded into a warm tortilla. Be sure to order the chile con queso.

Fadi’s Eatery

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This Mediterranean staple, which has locations in the centrally located Museum District and a few suburban neighborhoods, has a wide-ranging delivery menu that rivals its sprawling buffet. You can’t go wrong ordering grilled kabobs — try a trio of chargrilled chicken, beef, and shrimp — complemented with fresh tabbouleh and an extensive mezze selection. But my strategy for ordering? Get a few spreads such as labneh and hummus, at least one salad, a protein, and always leave room for the knafeh, which you should reheat for 30 seconds in the microwave before pouring on the rose-tinged syrup.

Goode Company Seafood

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Campechana is synonymous with Goode Company Seafood. The Mexican-style seafood cocktail blending pico de gallo with locally sourced seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is the calling card of this restaurant with locations in Memorial and Upper Kirby. This is generally where you want to go all out on seafood: Order platters of fried oysters and hearty bowls of gumbo filled with tender shrimp and crab. There’s another requisite order to end your meal: a just-sweet-enough slice of pecan pie.

Hamsa

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This favorite in Rice Village tops the best Mediterranean restaurant list for its use of quality ingredients in classic and more modern takes on Levantine cuisine. I always order “The Whole Shebang” — a spread of salatim that may include squash tahini, squash harissa, and pickled veggies, among others — because ordering just hummus or babaganoush is never enough. If you’re feeding a crowd, the sticky lamb spare ribs and whole grilled branzino crowned with a fennel salad are great for sharing.

Karahi Boys

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Named after the deep wok-like pots used in Pakistani cooking, this popular Sugar Land spot has a deep menu, ranging from grilled meats to vegetarian-friendly chana daal. My go-to’s are the palak paneer, Kashmiri-style spinach gently cooked in milk and cream, and goat karah, meltingly tender stewed meat with tomatoes and green chiles. The portions are generous, which makes Karahi Boys ideal for large groups, but I never seem to have trouble finishing up my leftovers.

Kolache Shoppe

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Czech-style kolaches are essential Texas food, up there with barbecue and Tex-Mex dishes. Since 1970, this Houston mini chain with outposts in the Heights and Downtown has won over locals with its savory and sweet kolaches. Savory kolache, which is technically called a klobasniky, is available for breakfast — get the sausage, egg, and cheese — but any variety stuffed with kielbasa and cheese is a winner. I always add on a sweet kolache, usually a fruit-filled one like apricot or strawberry — and keep an eye on the occasional specials, including collaborations with local restaurants.

Kokoro

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Each week seems to welcome another sushi restaurant to Houston, but this counter tucked inside Downtown’s Bravery Chef Hall is worth seeking out. Chefs Patrick Pham and Daniel Lee trained at the renown Uchi before venturing out on their own. At Kokoro, they serve everything from Maguro crudo to Wagyu toast. The chefs honor traditional Japanese techniques that emphasize simplicity but also add some Texas touches like finishing bluefin tuna maki with habanero aioli and serving chimichurri with slices of grilled toast topped with Wagyu tartare.

Lankford’s

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The eternal charm of this Midtown grocery store that’s been in operation since 1937 is its all-American burgers. A thick grilled patty comes adorned with cheddar cheese and a strip of bacon, a nostalgic reprieve from the dainty-sized smashburgers so popular today. Must-orders at Lankford’s also include onion rings, tater tots, and brisket-topped fries, plus iconic Southern dishes like biscuits, sausage, and gravy.

Los Tios

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This beloved Tex-Mex chain with five locations stretching from Memorial to Sugar Land should be properly enjoyed with cheesy enchilada plates, shredded fajita beef in crisp taco shells, and the restaurant’s signature: puffy queso. Los Tios has been frying up these corn tortillas since 1970, and now these mini balloons drenched in queso are hall of fame status. This is a nostalgic spot for many, which is why it’s still one of the top restaurants in Houston 50-plus years later. It excels in classics like large combo plates of carne asada and sopapillas, a lightly fried pastry dough dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar.

Lucille’s

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Come Sunday brunch, there’s a perpetual line out the door of this Museum District spot. While the wait is worth it, you can skip the line with delivery for chef Chris Williams’ excellent classic (and not-so classic) Southern dishes. Bite into crisp catfish filets dusted with a layer of cornmeal seemingly made for ASMR or a hefty chicken fried steak large enough to keep as leftovers for days, and sink into braise-y oxtail tamales. One thing you must order: his great grandma’s biscuits served with a house chili, cheddar cheese, and harissa cream.

Mala

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Houstonians have a reputation for loving heat, so it’s no surprise this Chinatown spot has expanded to multiple locations, from the Heights to Montrose. Owners Cori Xiong and Heng Cheng craft a blazing chili oil that threads itself through the menu of Sichuanese staples: beef tendon tossed in red chili oil, dan dan noodles, mapo tofu. With hit after hit of mouth-numbing spiciness in each expertly executed dish, it’s clear why Mala has become such a popular destination.

Mo’ Better Brews

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In a city better known for its steakhouses and barbecue joints, this Museum District establishment is a trailblazer. It makes the case for meatless dishes that speak to Houston’s boundary-blurring cuisine: the Crunchy Boudain (which combines the classic Japanese sushi roll with Cajun ingredients like paprika and hot honey), Tex-Mex breakfast tacos with fried mushrooms and lots of Southern-style hot honey, and carrot “lox” on an everything bagel. These are dishes you won’t find anywhere else in town.

Money Cat

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At this Upper Kirby restaurant, chef Sherman Yeung taps the Asian American culinary canon for fun takes on dishes you’ve likely had before. That means toasting Japanese milk bread and layering it with foie gras, fig-pomegranate jam, and house-made peanut butter, or transforming tom kha, the ubiquitous Thai coconut soup, into a seasoning for grilled tiger prawns. Sure, you could order the crowd favorite nigiri or maki rolls, but I'd recommend saving room for the chutoro toast featuring squid ink bread.

The Original Ninfa’s

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Many Houstonians consider the Original Ninfa’s, specifically the one on Navigation in the East End, as the gold standard for Tex-Mex. Since 1973, the iconic restaurant has been home to tacos al carbon (a.k.a. fajitas) and mastered the art of sizzling beef and chicken and wrapping them into warm flour tortillas with Mexican rice and beans on the side. The Original Ninfa’s continues to be the GOAT, and if you’re looking to round out your meal, I’ve found the brisket tamales and fajita burger just as delicious as the signatures.

The Pit Room

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One of the best barbecue joints within the Loop recently expanded from Montrose to Memorial, and it’s continued to crank out crowd-pleasing dishes like fatty brisket and fork-tender pork ribs alongside less traditional offerings like a full taco menu, Texas red chili, and Frito pie. Unlike many other barbecue favorites in town, the Pit Room keeps longer hours than most spots, which means you can work your way through its freewheeling menu. Ordering delivery or takeout also allows you to skip the lines, which leaves more time to contemplate adding on a breakfast taco (trust us, you won’t regret it).

Reza Persian Grill

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Some of Houston’s best kabobs can be found at this Persian restaurant in the Mahatma Gandhi District. Skewered meat, from juicy, saffron-glazed chicken tenders to minced beef koobideh, arrive with the right amount of charcoal singe that you feel like they’ve just been plucked from a live-fire grill. I always order a side of the tahdig, the crisped, browned bottom part of the rice, which is ideal for soaking up all the flavors of the meat as well as the requisite side of shallot-and-yogurt dipping sauce.

Riel

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Mushroom empanadas and potato-cheddar pierogies don’t exactly scream Gulf Coast cuisine, but at this Montrose restaurant, chef and owner Ryan Lachaine pushes its boundaries in creative and delicious ways. The menu reflects his Ukrainian and French-Canadian roots and leans on seafood sourced from the Gulf. There’s cheese-curd-topped collards, honey walnut crawfish, and tempura cauliflower bites with a side of kimchi hot sauce. This is serious food that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Soy Pinoy

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Houston’s already bustling Filipino food scene has gotten even better ever since James-Beard-award-winning chef Tom Cunanan debuted this fast-casual restaurant inside Downtown’s Post food hall. The menu is full of time-tested favorites like chicken adobo, veggie pancit, and pork lumpia, but the best thing to order here is the kamayan sampler. This sumptuous spread of Cunanan’s favorites — including proteins like Pinoy grilled chicken and barbecued pork served with carbs like coconut-tinged rice and crispy shrimp chips — is best eaten with your hands, the Filipino way.

Tacos Doña Lena

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Everyone in Houston has their own opinion on what is the city’s best tacos, but this counter-service restaurant in a nondescript strip mall in Spring Branch is my top contender. The Central Mexican menu is expansive with an array of meats — barbacoa, beef tongue, chorizo, and carne ranchera, among others — that can be served as tacos, quesadillas, gorditas, sopes, and tostadas. Your order also arrives with plenty of condiments, so you can tailor each bite to your liking. And if you have a hankering for birria, Tacos Doña Lena offers a ramen version.

Winnie’s

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You easily forget Winnie’s is a popular Midtown bar when you scan its menu full of sandwiches, salads, and other Southern specialties. There’s a clear New Orleans theme with the smoked chicken and andouille gumbo and po’boys bursting with fried shrimp. Chef and owners Graham Laborde and Benjy Mason take it a step further with creative riffs you won’t find anywhere else in town, such as oyster mushrooms fried Nashville style and wings doused in a zippy lemon pepper sauce. Don’t forget to tack on an order of dessert, a trio of chocolate chip cookies made with brown butter and salted caramel.

Xeo Yum

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Vietnamese restaurants abound in Houston, but very few serve banh xeo, a savory, turmeric-tinged Vietnamese crepe often filled with shrimp and pork belly. Chef and owner Cuong Nguyen not only has the dish on his menu at this stall tucked inside Midtown’s Conservatory food hall, but he’s perfected it. Nguyen achieves peak crispness with the crepe, which can often be floppy as a flapjack in less capable hands. All you need to do is tear off a corner with a shrimp or nub of pork, wrap it in herbs like a perilla leaf, and dunk it into the sweet-and-savory fish sauce. I think about this dish so often that I forget Xeo Yum also offers excellent spring rolls stuffed with grilled pork sausages and shaking beef.