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Restaurants / Lists

A Newcomers Guide to Houston Restaurants

The Best Barbecue, Burgers, Crawfish & More

BY // 03.02.17

Whether you’re a newly settled resident, or just visiting for the weekend, Houston’s food scene is a treasure waiting to be explored. The expansive landscape is home to thousands of restaurants, showcasing a diverse assembly of flavors and international cuisines.

While there are hundreds of dining standouts across the city, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite PaperCity-approved bites by genre — it’s our ultimate dining guide for Houston newcomers … may the foodie force be with you.

TEX-MEX: Houston’s known for its extensive Tex-Mex cuisine. Head to the Original Ninfa’s on Navigation — a city staple since the ’70s — for some of the best Tex-Mex in town, where wood-fired fajitas are a specialty … El Tiempo Cantina, which houses multiple locations across Houston, offers everything from quesadillas to ceviche in a casual setting.

You’ll find refined Tex-Mex renditions at Armandos, where Thursday nights, come complete with a live DJ, packed dance floor, and its namesake taco truck.

Original Ninfa’s on Navigation, 2704 Navigation Blvd., ninfas.com; El Tiempo Cantina, multiple locations, eltiempocantina.com; Armandos, 2630 Westheimer Road, armandosrestaurant.com

BARBECUE: Ronnie Killen’s famous barbecue has made national headlines, so the trek to Killen’s Barbecue in the Houston-area suburb of Pearland is worth the drive (and the long wait); or opt for family-owned joint Gatlin’s BBQ, which is offering some of the best smoked meat money can buy. (Texas Monthly ranked it one of the 50 best bbq joints in the world!) Pair the barbecue with their addicting Cajun-style dirty rice.

Killen’s Barbecue, 3613 East Broadway St., Pearland, killensbarbecue.com; Gatlin’s BBQ, 3510 Ella Blvd., gatlinsbbq.com 

CRAWFISH: Mudbugs are a Houston must. Indulge in BB’s Cafe‘s Tex-Orleans style crawfish, which can be paired with shrimp, smoked garlic sausage, corn, and potatoes; or stop by Crawfish & Noodles for its Viet-Cajun rendition, where the mud bugs are swimming in the restaurant’s signature secret garlic butter sauce. While you’re there, don’t forget to grab a pound or two of crabs.

BB’s Cafe, multiple locations, bbscafe.com; Crawfish & Noodles, 11360 Bellaire Blvd., facebook.com/crawfishandnoodles

KOLACHES: This Czech pastry is an iconic Texas delicacy. You can find sweet and savory renditions at The Kolache Shoppe. The Kolache Shoppe, 3945 Richmond Ave., kolacheshoppe.com.

SOUTHERN: In Houston, you can enjoy Southern cuisine in a bevy of ways. For a more traditional interpretation (think fried chicken, greens, cracklin, and boudin) opt for Harold’s in the Heights or Southern Goods … Southern food gets a global twist at outposts like Kitchen 713 and Lucille’s.

Classic Texas dishes takes center stage at State Fare, while decadent New Orleans fare fills the menu at Brennan’s of Houston … Or grab a soul food-centric breakfast Downtown at The Breakfast Klub.

Harold’s in the Heights, 350 W. 19th St., haroldsheights.com; Southern Goods, 632 W. 19th St., southerngoodshouston.com; Kitchen 713, 4601 Washington Ave., kitchen713.com; Lucille’s, 5512 La Branch Street, lucilleshouston.com; State Fare, 947 Gessner Road, statefaretx.com; Brennan’s of Houston, 3300 Smith St., brennanshouston.com; The Breakfast Klub, 3711 Travis St., thebreakfastklub.com

STEAK: You can find an upscale steak dinner at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse or Killen’s Steakhouse in the Pearland suburb, but for a who’s who crowd in the center of the city, head to River Oaks District’s Steak 48 or B&B Butchers & Restaurant in the Washington Corridor.

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, 5839 Westheimer Road, pappasbros.com; Killen’s Steakhouse 6425 W. Broadway St., killenssteakhouse.com; Steak 48, River Oaks District, 4444 Westheimer Road, steak48.com; B&B Butchers, 1814 Washington Ave., bbbutchers.com.

BURGERS: Down-home, flat top burgers take center stage at the original Hubcap Grill while whimsical gourmet renditions, hand-cut fries, and homemade condiments reign supreme at Bernie’s Burger Bus  For your late night burger fixe, spring for The Burger Joint.

The Original Hubcap Grill, 1111 Prairie St., hubcapgrill.com; Bernie’s Burger Bus, 5407 Bellaire Blvd., berniesburgerbus.com

SEAFOOD: Whether you’re craving an extensive raw bar selection or a delicate seafood entree, you’ll find some of the freshest Gulf Coast catch at Salt Air Seafood Kitchen, Bernadine’s, and Danton’s.

Salt Air Seafood Kitchen, 3029 Kirby Dr., saltairhouston.com; Bernadine’s, 1801 N. Shepherd Dr., treadsack.com/bernadines; Danton’s, 4611 Montrose Blvd., dantonsseafood.com

MEXICAN: Acclaimed chef and restaurateur Hugo Ortega offers three of the city’s best Mexican restaurants — Hugo’s, where the hand-shaken margaritas are a must; Caracol, which showcases seafood-centric dishes from the Mexican coastline; and Xochi, a newly opened Oaxacan concept in the Marriott Marquis hotel in downtown.

You can also experience the flavors of Mexico City at Cuchara helmed by Ana Beaven.

Hugo’s,1600 Westheimer Road, hugosrestaurant.net; Caracol, 2200 Post Oak Blvd., caracol.net;  Xochi, Marriott Marquis, 1777 Walker St., marriott.com; Cuchara, 214 Fairview St., cuchararestaurant.com.

JAPANESE: For premium sushi and sashimi alongside contemporary Japanese small plates, head to Kata Robata, Uchi, or MF Sushi.

Kata Robata, 3600 Kirby Dr., katarobata.com; MF Sushi, 1401 Binz St., mfsushiusa.com; Uchi, 904 Westheimer Road, uchirestaurants.com.

CHINESE: Authentic Sichuan cuisine awaits at Mala Sichuan, Cooking Girl and Pepper Twins (The latter two are BYOB.) … A luxury dining experience awaits via Michelin-starred restaurant Yauatcha, which combines dim-sum with an in-house European patisserie and teahouse when it debuts later this month.

Mala Sichuan, 1948 Bellaire Blvd., facebook.com/malasichuanbistrobellaire; Cooking Girl, 315 Fairview St., thecookinggirls.com; Pepper Twins, 1915 W. Gray St., txpeppertwins.com; Yauatcha, The Galleria, 5015 Westheimer Road, yauatcha.com.

INDIANPondicheri’s casual Indian cuisine transports you to the streets of Mumbai. After your meal, head upstairs to Pondi’s Bake Lab for innovative Indian treats … For upscale surrounds coupled with inventive Indian fusion fare, head to Kiran’s in the new One Grove Street development … Area favorite Himalaya Restaurant highlights Indian and Pakistani delicacies such as savory garlic naan, Pakistani-style beef pastrami — Hunter’s beef, and chicken hara masala smothered in an aromatic green sauce.

Pondicheri, W. Ave, 2800 Kirby Dr., pondichericafe.com; Kiran’s 2925 Richmond Ave., kiranshouston.com; Himalaya Restaurant, 6652 Southwest Freeway, himalayarestauranthouston.com

ITALIAN: An Italian mainstay in Houston, Damian’s Cucina Italiana is dishing out the classics in an old world setting … Coltivare doesn’t take reservations, but if you’re lucky enough to secure a table at this Italian-American favorite, the ever-changing menu features wood-fired pizzas and entrees crafted with vegetables from the eatery’s garden.

Damian’s, 3011 Smith St., damians.com; Coltivare, 3320 White Oak Dr., coltivarehouston.com

GRAB-AND-GO: Signature sandwiches, seasonal soups and salads, all crafted with local ingredients, take center stage at Local FoodsBebidas, a hip juicery in Houston’s Inner Loop, showcases fresh-pressed juices, smoothies, matchas, coffee, and light bites … Expertly crafted baked goods are always in rotation at this Montrose-area bakery Common Bond … a bevy of deli sandwiches are always in rotation at Brown Bag Deli. 

Local Foods, multiple locations, houstonlocalfoods.com; Bebidas, 2606 Edloe St., bebidashouston.com; Common Bond, 1706 Westheimer Road, commonbondcafe.com; Brown Bag Deli, multiple locations, thebrownbagdeli.com

POSH LUNCH RESERVATIONS: Saks Fifth Avenue’s in-house restaurant 51Fifteen combines New American cuisine with ultra-chic surrounds … Lush greenery engulfs Tiny Boxwoods, where you can enjoy a meal on the patio or dine indoors. Be sure to try the famous chocolate chip cookies … Bistro Menil serves European fare in a refined minimalist space on the famed Menil Collection campus … Stationed in the heart of River Oaks District, French bistro Toulouse‘s expansive outdoor patio makes for great gazing and grazing.

51FifteenGalleria, 5175 Westheimer Road, 51fifteen.com; Tiny Boxwoods, 3614 W. Alabama St., tinyboxwoods.com; Bistro Menil, 1513 W. Alabama St., bistromenil.com; Toulouse, River Oaks District, 4444 Westheimer Road, toulousecafeandbar.com

CASUAL DINNER: Neighborhood cafe Paulie’s specializes in Italian salads, paninis, pizzas, and pasta. Next door, the casual wine bar Camerata serves beer, cider, and wine until 2 am … In a chic yet industrial Midtown space, Weights + Measures churns out beloved dishes like russet chips with blue cheese and roasted-carrot pizza … Head to Rice Village for Coppa Osteria‘s modern ambience and rustic, Italian fare.

Paulie’s, 1834 Westheimer Road, pauliesrestaurant.com; Weights + Measures, 2808 Caroline St., weights-measures.com; Coppa Osteria, 5210 Morningside Dr., coppaosteriahouston.com

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