17 Restaurants to Try When you Visit Houston
Houston doesn’t have a great reputation outside of Houston. I moved here 3 years ago from Colorado and was a bit nervous. To me, Houston represented a massive concrete jungle with a lot of humidity, nothing to do, an oily reputation, and hurricanes to boot. I moved here for a job and hoped that I would like it.
I quickly discovered that Houston has a lot of charms that outsiders have no idea about.
For one, the people are SO nice. My first weekend, a local told me with a chuckle that “Houstonians are the nicest people you’ll meet… at least until they get behind the wheel of a car.” I found both statements to be immediately true. I made so many friends quickly and even know a couple dozen neighbors. I NEVER knew any of my neighbors in Colorado!
I also got cut off more than once, so… 😅
Two, the Houston skyline is actually really pretty. Don’t believe me? Just look!
Three, there is SO much to do here. I’ll write a post on that later… but trust me, there is more than enough to occupy your time here.
But do you know what sets Houston apart from literally any city I’ve been to?
The poppin’ food scene. For real.
I have become a food snob thanks to Houston. Think of literally any type of cuisine and it’s here. And it’s world-class.
Think of some off-the-wall fusion and it probably exists, too. Vietnamese and Cajun sound too crazy? Nah, Viet-Cajun is a Houston specialty – and there’s a Netflix episode about it, too. Go check out Ugly Delicious, Season 1, Episode 4 to find out more.
This list certainly doesn’t include all the great restaurants in Houston. I’m convinced you could dine out every day and still not try every restaurant in Houston. This list captures my favorite restaurants, the places where I take friends & family when they come in town. As I try new places, I will update it!
Best Donut and Kolache: Shipley’s
I know Shipley’s is a chain and therefore not limited to Houston, but Shipley’s doesn’t exist everywhere in the country and is worth a mention.
I have ALWAYS been a cake donut with chocolate kind of gal. Literally for decades. A coworker told me to try the plain glazed donut one day because they’re “the best” at Shipley’s. I had doubt – plain glazed always felt like a waste of calories.
Let me tell you: Shipley’s plain glazed donuts are some of the most marvelous concoctions on Earth.
They are like a croissant hugged a Krispy Kreme donut and came out light and fluffy. Shipley’s is especially fantastic if you partied a little too hard the night before.
Their kolaches happen to be my favorite, too. The bread is filling, the cheese is melty, the sausage delicious, and they’re cheap. Kolaches are a Texan thing, too, so it’s best to enjoy both.
Best Breakfast Taco: Tacodeli
Where I’m from, breakfast burritos are a thing. In Texas, however, the reigning breakfast champion is breakfast tacos.
Warm, fluffy tortillas filled with eggs, cheese, salsa, and some kind of protein. Does anything sound more delicious?
Best Casual Bar Bites: Henderson Heights
When I want a laid-back bar with an awesome patio space and tasty bar bites, I go to Henderson Heights.
With plenty of outdoor space, excellent food, and awesome drinks, Henderson Heights is great for a happy hour cocktail or a late-night bite. My absolute FAVORITE thing on the menu is the loaded tots. Tots topped with pico, jalapenos, and bacon and smothered with queso… served with a side of ranch… delish!
Best Burger: Rodeo Goat
Rodeo Goat is my favorite burger joint. Period. They make some unique (and sometimes strange-sounding) concoctions that just WORK. The vibe inside is “barn-chic”, if that’s even a thing, but the burgers are fantastic. My favorite burger is the Ranch House (bacon and onion marmalade, arugula, spinach, white cheddar, and ranch mayo) or the Whiskey Burger (Irish whiskey cheddar, candied bacon, blackberry compote, shredded lettuce, and whole-grain mustard). YUM!
Best BBQ: Pinkerton’s
Y’all can’t come to Texas without getting some world-class BBQ. Truth be told, there are awesome BBQ joints all over Houston, but Pinkerton’s is my favorite.
They serve until they run out so definitely go early. The parking lot fills up quickly but there’s street parking nearby. You have to get the brisket and ribs. The one side you absolutely CANNOT miss is the cheesy jalapeno rice. Pinkerton’s is a little spendy compared to most BBQ joints, but trust me, it’s worth it.
If you buy too much (because you wanna try everything!), left-over Pinkerton’s makes for some awesome homemade breakfast tacos. I speak from experience. 😋
Best Tex-Mex and Fajitas: Two-Way Tie
Houstonians are fiercely split on which of these two joints serves the best fajitas, and for good reason: the same family started both restaurant brands. Visit one or both, they are both excellent choices.
Ninfa’s slogan is “The Best Mexican Food In Texas Since Texas Was In Mexico!” and this claim doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. In fact, Ninfa’s claims to have invented the fajita!
If you go, I definitely recommend fajitas, but literally everything I’ve had there is fantastic. Fair warning, this place gets packed!
El Tiempo Cantina
I’ll be honest, I prefer El Tiempo to Ninfa’s. However, both places are my top two fajita joints, so you cannot go wrong with either of them. They are simple but so tasty. You’ll get your fajitas served with a side of garlic butter and you may think “Butter? On my tasty Mexican food? That’s so wrong!”
No. It isn’t wrong. Try it, you’ll love it, I guarantee.
Also, El Tiempo makes the best pina colada I’ve ever had, so definitely order that, too.
Best Classic Viet-Cajun: Crawfish and Noodles
Crawfish and Noodles is one of the featured restaurants in that Netflix episode I mentioned above (“Ugly Delicious”, Season 1, Episode 4). Viet-Cajun is literally a Houston invention so there is nothing more classic than that. You HAVE to get the Viet-Cajun crawfish if you come here. It’s what they’re famous for!
Best Fried Chicken: La Lucha
Growing up, KFC was the only fried chicken joint I knew of. Because of that, I never really appreciated what truly good fried chicken is like.
La Lucha recently celebrated “Fried Chicken Day” (I just love arbitrary holidays!) and I decided to break up my boring quarantine routine with some take-out.
Despite not being straight-up fresh from the kitchen (because of my drive home!), this chicken was super crunchy and moist. Their fried chicken meals come with the best damn biscuit I’ve ever had, some tasty fruity compote, and a spicy sauce for dipping the chicken in. Honestly, the chicken was great on its own, so I didn’t use the sauce.
La Lucha has a lot of other fantastic dishes. Their peel & eat shrimp with remoulade is to DIE for. I love remoulade, though... no secret there 🙂
Best Cajun Classics: BB’s Tex-Orleans
If you’re craving gumbo, red beans and rice, or po’boys, BB’s Tex-Orleans is the spot to hit up. They also have crawfish!
I especially love their gumbo. Whenever I’m missing New Orleans, I head over to BB’s to get my fix.
Their take on a Hurricane is the “Red Headed Wompos Cat” and it’ll hit you just like a Hurricane.
Best Winter Warm-Up: Ramen Tatsu-Ya
You’re probably thinking “Winter? In Houston?”
I know, I know. It never really gets cold-cold here, but I will tell you, 45 degrees with humidity is a bit chilly!
Whenever I need a quick, cheap, and super filling warm-up, I head to Ramen Tatsu-Ya.
Their ramen bowls are SO GOOD and super filling. Frankly, I never even finish the bowls, but I get pretty stuffed trying.
Pro tip: pay for an additional egg. It’s the best part, in my opinion.
If you need some additional warming, their sake is always available 🍶
Best Italian (with a Texan twist!): Coltivare
Coltivare is the kind of restaurant that both simultaneously feels like a pleasant neighborhood joint and a non-pretentious, but still high end, dining establishment.
They don’t take reservations so there’s usually a wait. There’s a reason that the wait doesn’t deter people: Coltivare is legit.
Their pizzas are my favorite but they also offer up pasta dishes, salads, entrees, and fantastic sides – so everyone in your party will be pleased.
Best High-End Steakhouses: Two-Way Tie
I was not a “steak person” until I moved to Houston. I was used to eating steak with ketchup (I know, I know). It’s embarrassing to think of now.
But there are some solid steakhouses in Houston. These are not like the chains that offer $9 steaks – if you go to either of these steakhouses, you should plan to drop about $100 per person. If your budget allows for that kind of a splurge, however, then both of these restaurants will make for an excellent night out.
This is my favorite steakhouse, bar none. The wait staff tell me that Pappas stands out from other steakhouses because of their dry-aging process. Honestly, I don’t know much about meat, but whatever they do makes for an excellent steak.
Pappas has the best service of any restaurant I’ve ever been to. You’re going to feel like the most important guest in the entire dining room – every time.
My recommendation is to get a bunch of sides and share with your party. My favorite starts and sides include the lobster deviled eggs, the au gratin potatoes, and the haricots verts. But everything is fantastic.
They have amazing sommeliers on staff, as well, with an extraordinary wine menu.
If you want a truly decadent dining experience, Georgia James is where you need to go.
Specializing in seared steaks and seafood, everything at Georgia James is rich and delectable. Georgia James is one of Chris Shepard’s restaurants – a James Beard chef and icon in the Houston community. He’s the featured chef in that Netflix episode I keep mentioning! (Ugly Delicious, Season 1, Episode 4).
In addition to your steak, I recommend you get the Viet-Cajun oysters, slab salad, center-cut crab legs, and smashed & fried new potatoes.
You’ll waddle out when you’re done, but you’ll waddle happy.
Best Sushi: Uchi
Let me be very clear: Uchi is not the kind of sushi restaurant where you order a California roll and a spicy tuna roll and share them with the table.
Uchi is exceptionally high-end and you should plan on $100+ per person. This is one of the only restaurants I’ve ever been to, however, where I have no qualms paying that much. Uchi is my favorite restaurant in the world.
Uchi is a whole dining experience. The 10-course omakase (my recommendation) is a culinary adventure: I’ve been served sushi, beef tartare, and duck confit (which, for the record, was better than the duck confit I had in Paris). On top of that, the service is amazing. The servers are quick, attentive, and very helpful.
You should plan to spend a few hours at Uchi if you choose omakase. An entire evening out helps me feel more comfortable with the price.
The best part? The ending dessert is “fried milk”: a decadent chocolate, fudge, and ice cream dish.
Best Sweet Treats: Two-Way Tie
If you’re looking for a decadent but quick pick-me-up, these two bakeries offer luscious treats that are perfect for a brief stop.
Tiny’s Milk & Cookies
Tiny’s Milk & Cookies is an adorable little ice cream & sweet treat stand in the center of the “West University” neighborhood. Tiny’s is most famous for their fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, but everything is wonderful here.
Their chocolate chip cookies are served warm & gooey and are HUGE. Grab extra napkins because you’re sure to get chocolate on yourself.
These cookies are nearly a meal in themselves.
Their cinnamon rolls are also fantastic. My recommendation? Buy a cookie for now and a cinnamon roll for tomorrow!
Fluff Bake Bar
I think Fluff combines sweet & salty the best of any bakery I’ve been to. Their concoctions are creative and enticing and completely addictive.
My favorite thing is the Veruca salt cake (pictured below). Imagine this: devil’s food cake, salted caramel buttercream, and crunchy pretzels and chocolate pearls. Is your mouth watering yet?
I also love their “couch potato” cookie (potato chips, pretzels, cornflakes, marshmallows & chocolate chips), but literally everything Fluff sells is next-level.
Final Thoughts – Houston’s Top Restaurants
It’s so hard to make a list of Houston’s best restaurants because Houston is a foodie city. With so many fantastic restaurants, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to eat – even more so for visitors! This list is the list that I use when I have friends or family visit because these restaurants are “classically Houston”.
However, Houston has so many new, up-and-coming restaurants, so I’m sure I’ve missed some!
Do you have a favorite restaurant in Houston that I haven’t mentioned? Did you try one that I recommended? Share your thoughts below!