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Photograph: Courtesy Dani Parsons

The best restaurants in Houston right now

Sure, you're going to enjoy a lot of Tex-Mex, but the best restaurants in Houston excel at all sorts of deliciousness

James Wong
Written by
James Wong
Contributor
Lauren McDowell
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Don’t be fooled into thinking that the best of the south lies in Tex-Mex restaurants, at least not in Houston, which boasts one of the most exciting culinary scenes in America. The fact is that their restaurant scene is as ethnically diverse as the six million-plus residents that inhabit. Translation: 10,000 restaurants representing more than 70 different cuisines. 

Those with an expectation for Tex-Mex and barbecue need not worry. Those mainstays are widely done and done darn well. But did you know that Houston has the second-largest Indochinese population in America, behind Los Angeles? Chinatown ain’t no novelty lil’ town—it’s a thriving district. Add Gulf Coast seafood, decadent European fare, and authentic South-East Asian delights, and well, you’re in foodie heaven…with Texas-sized portions. We’ve plucked our favorites from the mahoosive range of eateries available, so all y’all gotta do is show up hungry and wear loose-fitting pants.

Best restaurants in Houston

Nothing says Houston like spicy Viet Cajun-style crawfish, and this Asiatown staple introduced the dish to hungry residents before Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods and David Chang’s Ugly Delicious brought the larger world’s attention to chef Trong Nguyen, who’s earned a James Beard semifinalist nod. During crawfish season, it’s criminal not to order the namesake dish, a stir-fried buttery garlic delicacy with just the right amount of spice. Other worthy dishes include stir-fried blue crab, chicken wings, and bo luc lac, stir-fried beef with rice. No need to dress up for this casual West Houston spot; just take a group for maximum ordering capacity. Oh, and ask for a bib.

Chef Billy Kin, best known for Blackbird Izakaya and Hidden Omakase, has opened this brilliant concept in the historic Heights neighborhood. Guests enjoy an intimate (there are just 14 seats) omakase using ingredients flown in weekly from Toysou Market, Japan. Billy and co turn up the theatrics over the immersive journey, ranging from the finest O-toro to the marvelously marbled wagyu (you know it is a special cow when served with its birth certificate!). Dishes are fresh and seasonal, so you won't have the exact same experience each time. Oh, and the restaurant is BYOB for added festivity.

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Tian Tian Lu Chuaner
Photograph: Courtesy Jennie Bui-McCoy

3. Tian Tian Lu Chuaner

No website, no reservations, no marketing. This is a hole-in-the-wall Chinese snack shack that only the locals know about, and it’s slowly garnering word-of-mouth acclaim. Expect deliciously sauced and spiced skewers, puffy fried dough sticks, buns, dumplings, and other street food favorites at bargain prices (skewers start at just $1.99). Tian Tian makes their own soy milk, perfect for dipping their dough sticks in. If you’re in the mood for adventure, go for the crispy intestine sticks or the stinky tofu. You’ll totally forget this is Texas.

This retro-cool bistro in the burgeoning EaDo neighborhood delivers on-point shared plates, innovative cocktails, and a nice natural wine list. The relaxed atmosphere feels modern and smart with great service and a reel-to-reel tape player producing background music at just the right level. This cozy spot is just as good for a weeknight dinner as a late Saturday night drink at the bar. In addition to neighborhood residents and the city’s foodie set, it’s a place where industry professionals eat and drink when they’re not on the clock. Must orders include the pan-fried rabbit “wings,” lamb tartare, and the Nancy Cakes with house-made whipped butter and roe.

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Executive chef Hugo Ortega is a Houston culinary powerhouse, and his swanky downtown Oaxacan restaurant on the first floor of the Marriott Marquis Houston represents his greatest hit. The menu focuses on the culinary traditions of Oaxaca, Mexico, and includes a variety of house-made masa and corn dishes, moles, grasshoppers, and other ingredients not often seen on fine dining menus in Houston or the rest of the country.The mole tasting and churros with chocolate are must-orders, though it would be a shame to miss out on the suckling pig, sopa de piedra, and Tamal de Huitlacoche.

This trendy Viet-Cajun restaurant is inspired by chef Nikki Tran’s Vietnamese heritage and her love of southern flavors. Vietnamese with a Cajun twist is a culture in its own right here in Houston, but Kâu Ba elevates it in the coolest possible way. Brunch is a must-do whether you opt for specials like the lemongrass beef or a banh mi, and dinner menu items include the sensational smoked brisket pho. Don’t leave without ordering a ‘Pho Loma’ from the bar—a unique cocktail made with pho seasonings and broth, presented in a ceramic bowl. The colorful hangout is perched in the equally vibrant Montrose neighborhood, worth a morning of exploration.

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Housed between industrial buildings and artists’ lofts, the tiny 31-seat restaurant offers a unique dining experience focused on well-executed plates made with local, seasonal ingredients alongside one of the city’s most interesting wine lists. The menu changes often based on seasonality and availability of local farm offerings, so the food is always fresh and innovative. Because of the limited space, it’s best for those dining in pairs, as the restaurant’s single large table seats 5-6 people, and reservations go quickly. No reservation? Call the restaurant for estimated wait times, as they keep tables open for walk-ins.

Pit barbecue in Texas is a must, and Houston has its fair share of award-winning contenders. Pinkerton’s has been open since 2017, and it’s a local favorite that has earned a spot on plenty of best-of lists. Lines and restrictions are legendary for barbecue joints in Texas but thankfully, this doesn’t apply to Pinkerton’s. There are no complicated rules to ordering, and you can enjoy a leisurely meal without the fuss of lines wrapped around the block. Ordering the beef brisket with a side of jalapeño-cheese rice is a necessity, and if you’re with a hungry crowd, the beef and pork ribs and duck and sausage jambalaya make nice additions, too.

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Pronounced like the word "win" with a subtle h at the beginning, this family-owned restaurant offers a variety of delicious dishes inspired by food from the owner's hometown of Quang Ngai in Central Vietnam. There are many Vietnamese places to choose from in Houston, but the friendly staff and cozy family environment make Huynh stand out. The staff helpfully guides patrons in their ordering, especially those unfamiliar with the menu offerings. Ask about the bun bo hue and drink a salty lemon soda called soda chanh muoi.

This neighborhood greasy spoon has long ceased to be a grocery store but stayed in business by serving enormous breakfasts and old-fashioned burgers. Continuously operating since 1934, the casual, cash-only joint still resides in an old house in Midtown. The early hours and lunchtime burgers draw neighborhood crowds to the kitschy mom-and-pop restaurant. Order the old fashion hamburger if you’re feeling classic and the spicy firehouse burger to follow in the footsteps of Guy Fieri.

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The ‘godmother of Indian fine dining’, Kiran Verma's beautiful golden restaurant is in Upper Kirby and is known for exceptional Indian hospitality, French sophistication, and American informality. They have an award-winning wine list of over 300 labels, monthly wine dinners and a popular Saturday Afternoon Tea service that uses chef Kiran’s own chai blend. The food is inspired by an Awadhi style – cooking over a slow fire, with subtle use of spices and herbs to create delicate flavors. The result is a sensational sensory experience via the well-portioned tasting menus (choose from the classic, the lobster, or the vegetarian). Save room for the Panchamrit dessert; a sweet, milky, and nutty concoction consisting of ras malai, pineapple chutney vanilla genoise, and pistachio rabri. 

This butcher shop and steakhouse occupies a remodeled 1922-era bakery building that features original wooden beams, exposed brick walls, and steel columns. During the day, the attached deli and butcher shop slings sandwiches and house-made cold cuts, while the restaurant offers hamburgers, pasta, and salads for lunch. For dinner, the upscale steakhouse serves all the classics but expands the menu with unexpected appetizers, sides, and mains. With plenty of high-end steakhouses to choose from, B&B stands out with its large menu and undeniable local character. To start, order the carpet bagger oysters and bacon three ways for the table, then dive into a classic steak cut or chicken fried pork chop.

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The authentic Mexican restaurant that bears chef Hugo Ortega’s name is a Montrose mainstay that continues to wow on a national scale. Housed in a redone historical building, the Latin-inspired interior pays homage to Ortega’s traditional Mexico while simultaneously boasting a contemporary and upscale fine-dining feel. The menu offers scratch-made dishes in a traditional style from many regions of Mexico, along with an extensive tequila menu and an excellent cocktail list. While dinner service is always a good idea, the Sunday brunch buffet offers the best bang for your buck at $39 per person. Dessert’s included, and diners eat and drink to the sounds of live music provided by the house band.

Nam Giao
Photograph: Courtesy Chowdown in Chinatown

14. Nam Giao

This unassuming restaurant in an Asiatown strip mall specializes in delicious Vietnamese street food from the central city of Hue. The family-run establishment’s friendly staff and very reasonable prices make this a destination-worthy spot despite the driving distance. Though it’s perfectly fine to dine alone or as part of a duo, bring a group to justify ordering the many delicious small plate options. Order the banh beo steamed rice cakes appetizer combo platter, including all three varieties of the house specialty cakes: banh nam, banh bot loc la, and banh beo. Pro tip: pick up a bag of pork floss for the road on your way out.

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This Houston institution near the Southwest Freeway offers an Indo-Pakistani menu with a few Texas twists. Proprietor and Karachi native Kaiser Lashkari has been serving mouthwatering dishes for 30 years at the small strip-mall restaurant that fills up quickly during peak hours. What the restaurant lacks in ambiance, it makes up for in delicious food. Order the pillowy garlic naan, chicken hara masala, Hunter’s beef plate, and Himalaya fried chicken.

As the Texan saying goes, “let’s get down to brass tacks” (which means to focus on the basics). Brass Tracks is your morning coffee, breakfast taco, lunch banh mi, evening rice bowl, and post-dinner cocktails. Phew. Brass Tracks is an awesome hangout with excellent food to match. We’re impressed with how well they execute, given the diversity of offerings. The WiFi is fast, and there’s a ton of workspace area, making for an ideal remote working destination and a funky spot to mingle out on the patio when you finally log off. Also, if you don’t drink coffee, there are a bunch of tea options.

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This Montrose-based neighborhood restaurant represents a unique culinary perspective from executive chef and co-owner Ryan Lachaine. The stellar made-to-share menu takes inspiration from local ingredients and the Gulf Coast, with elements of the Lachaine's Ukrainian and French-Canadian background. The rotating menu features dishes that make eating out feel like a worthy expedition, especially if you order across national boundaries and pair dishes with picks from the excellent cocktail list. Order the Montreal smoked meat plate to start, plus a Gulf Coast seafood dish and pierogis with horseradish cream for a well-rounded meal—plus dessert, of course.

The vibe is casual, but the food and drinks are next-level at this Heights neighborhood spot from Houston stars Bobby Heugel and Justin Yu. The community feel, patio space, and innovative brunch menu make this a great Saturday and Sunday brunch destination. But the regular menu is equally tempting. If time and tummy space are limited, opt for the charred chicken sandwich glazed with Japanese BBQ or the decadent party melt.

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Southside's proof that the best pizza in Texas, hails from Texas (sorry, NYC). This Austin-born pizza legend sees its first Houston location on Navigation Blvd, and locals are clamoring to get a slice of that yummy hand-tossed pie. Everything's made from scratch on-site (dough, ground meats, sauces, dips, dressings and even the brownies) and you can taste that freshness with each juicy bite. Our go-to is the Flyin' Hawaiian made with BBQ sauce, chicken, ham, red onions, pineapple, jalapenos, mozzarella, parmesan and romano. Bellissimo!

This family-run spinoff of beloved Houston Tex-Mex institution Ninfa’s carries on the legacy of Mama Ninfa, whose claim to fame was introducing fajitas to the United States in 1973. Though slightly pricier than some of the city’s Tex-Mex establishments, the quality of the food, festive environment, and reliably great service make this a favorite for locals looking for their Tex-Mex fix. Order classics like cheese enchiladas and sizzling fajitas, and pair them with a margarita (or three).

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Nobie’s may not have the history of other eateries on this list, but that's certainly no reason to dismiss it. Named after executive chef Martin Stayer’s grandmother, this homely spot is effortlessly charming. Like a well-kept secret, it's tucked away on a neighborhood side street – in a quaint bungalow. Stayer’s warming and home-style menu elevate comfort food to a whole new level. Since the rotating menu offers several perfect-for-sharing small plates, it's a perfect spot to meet a friend and catch up over food and cocktails. Our recommendations? The Texas tartare, old-fashioned chicken liver mousse, and any of the salads.

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