10 Houston Restaurants Every Out-Of-Towner Should Visit

Categories: Top 10

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
Texas barbecue done right at Gatlin's.
On Wednesday afternoon, I mused that some day I hoped for visitors to Houston to feel as excited about our dining scene as I was about New York City's. The sheer breadth and depth of ethnic and regional cuisines present here is staggering, although it still has a long way to go before it approaches New York proportions.

I strongly agree with Robb Walsh's assertion that Houston is the South's "new creole city." And we have a lot to offer the rest of the food-loving nation right now as a result. I started thinking about the ten restaurants or food experiences that I would recommend to an out-of-towner eager to dive head-first into Houston's rich pool, and all of these are definitely head-first destinations -- no simple tourist attractions here.

But the great thing about all ten of these restaurants is that they're not merely novelties for out-of-towners; they're useful and well-loved by locals as well. And because of that, Houston can be content to know that even if rest of the world never discovers how wonderful this city truly is, the wonder will still be there for us to enjoy.

10. Barbecue and dirty rice at Gatlin's

Visitors naturally expect Houston to have a wealth of great barbecue. And while we do have some good places, the out-of-body experiences sought by true 'cue-hounds are often found very far outside the city limits. Not so with Gatlin's, where charming but distressingly odd hours give way to Texas barbecue done right: low and slow, with a thick smoke ring around a juicy brisket or rib meat that drops from the bone before your teeth even get to it. And the thickly liver-laced dirty rice abolishes the notion that a barbecue joint with good 'cue will have bad sides.

9. Cafe TH on Thursday nights

Minh Nguyen has completely transformed the old Vietnamese sandwich shop in the East End, not only offering vegan curries and pho alongside traditional favorites like xiu mai dia, but branching out into three-course, prix-fixe dinners that are only offered two nights a week. You never know what Nguyen is going to cook; you just show up and eat what he's concocted, usually a confluence of Vietnamese, Thai, American and French flavors and dishes that are all shockingly good. Cafe TH's dinners on Thursday and Friday nights have the feel of exclusive supper clubs and tend to fill up quickly. A recent dinner included miniature baked potatoes topped with chopped beef and bo kho sauce, banh cuon filled with pork and mushrooms, and a dessert of fried bananas. (And when dessert is cake, you're in for a real treat, as Nguyen himself always bakes them fresh each morning.)

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One of Phoenicia's many counters.
8. Phoenicia's market and deli

What can be said about Phoenicia's sprawling international foods market that hasn't been said already? Phoenicia's transformation over time from a small market/deli on Dairy Ashford to the tremendous food force that it is now is a true Houston success story. A non-chain grocery store as a destination, where you can buy halal lamb next to Austrian spaetzle and Greek beer? That's Phoenicia, the United Nations of Houston.


Location Info

Reef

2600 Travis St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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41 comments
Johndemerry
Johndemerry

this definately has to be one of the worst lists i've read in a while. seriously? bootsies and reef? you need to re-examine your taste buds. you have no clue what you're talking about. 

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

Tampico Seafood on Airline Drive for red snapper a la plancha always results in out of town friends with happy happy faces. Sorry we missed you at Cafe THursday last night. I made a coconut cheesecake for the usual suspects to share.

Lillie
Lillie

I live in the neighborhoods on Hillcroft between Bellaire and Bissonet, and I don't know who wrote this article, but that isn't Gulfton. That area is called Sharpestown. Gulfton is the terrible crime ridden street closer to 59 where illegal immigrants live cramped in tiny apartments being charged exorbitant prices by money grubbing individuals and people are being murdered everyday. If your from out of town, don't go anywhere near Gulfton. Sharpestown, yes.... Gulfton, no. Who ever wrote this story needs to get to know Houston a little better. 

Bruce R
Bruce R

You missed an obvious one, and it's a Houston original.

Here's how I set it up.  I tell my visitors that we're going out for the best pork chop they've ever eaten.  Then they roll their eyes with skepticism.  Then I take them to Perry's.  Check and mate.

Speaking of Perry's, today is pork chop Friday.  They'll hook you up with bread & butter, masked potatoes, apple sauce, and the biggest and best pork chop you'll ever eat, all for $11.95.

Fatty FatBastard
Fatty FatBastard

Wow.  I mean wow.  Not a ONE of those places is in my top ten, and I've been eating here for close to 40 years.  I know opinions can be different, but not one?  You and I have VERY different palates.

TQro
TQro

Great list!  More honorable mentions... snacks such as chicharron at the flea markets, sweets/dessert/frozen goodies on Hillcroft, Bellaire, Canal.  Oh, and Specs for the adult bottles of stuffs.   Damn, and now I want a jeera cookie.

csoakley
csoakley

I would have to say Hubcap Grill (or any of Houston's primo burgeroriums). I think the reason why places like 5 Guys and the other premium chains get such rave reviews in towns like Rock Hill, SC ("When you need a good burger fast, try Five Guys") is because their toughest competition is Applebee's. Houston is a solid burger town and Hubcaps' Greek Burger or the Philly Cheese Steak Burger on their ciabatta-esque bun (doesn't fall apart under heavy loads) are solid examples that show visitors what a burger can be.

Amyplattman
Amyplattman

 Glad you went Bourdain's relative ignorance when he dined at Mai's palace of mediocre wonders. Cafe TH is by far the better pick. Minh is pushing the envelope there, while Mai's is decorating it, and overcharging for postage.

Matthew
Matthew

 i think this list should be titled: top ten places to take out of town friends that think all we serve in houston is tex-mex and barbecue. if i have an out of town friend without a bunch of prejudices about houston food, i'm taking them to a bunch of other places. not the most eccentric selections possible.

JB
JB

This is a fantastic idea and a great list.  Just last week my sister asked me for foodie recommendations for a friend of hers visiting from Minneapolis.  My list focused on what I consider the Houston triumverate - Mexican (Tex-Mex and Hugo's), Cajun, & BBQ (and I totally agree that Houston's vietnamese food far outshines its barbecue, but when folks come to Texas they expect BBQ). 

In the future, I will just send this list along with my suggestions (and the caveat that going to Tomball or Missouri City frankly shouldn't be in any visitor's plans).

Great job, and there are a few places on this list that I need to go for the first time as well.

Sgnixx
Sgnixx

 These writers have obviously never been to Pho Bien Hoa on Tomball Parkway just east of the Beltway 8.  The best soup stock I have eaten, and the grilled pork on fine vermicelli is divine.  I could literally eat there every day.

Mike
Mike

I agree with all of these... for sure. But dang! How can you not mention Da Marco or Poscol?!

Eric Henao
Eric Henao

Word to da "Momma" for making a GREAT list. I do believe you are hitting your stride Ms. K!

SirRon
SirRon

Solid list Shilcutt... yours are the only reason I haven't installed a EOW list filter add-on for my browser {\}

craig
craig

I graduated Dobie High in 1987 and that trailer (across the street) seemed old then.Can't belive it is still there.

Mary
Mary

Maybe it should be titled "restaurants every Houstonite should visit." Cause I've lived here all my life, and have only been to one of these. I've never even heard of most of them.

Chuck
Chuck

Nice list; I've been thinking about compiling something like this myself. There are a few places on your list I'll need to visit.

Fatty FatBastard
Fatty FatBastard

 It's "Sharpstown."  It was named after the nearby mall, Vien Nyet Hoa.

scotter
scotter

 If the potatoes are so good, why do they have to hide 'em behind a mask?

csoakley
csoakley

Agreed. Best pork chop in the galaxy is to be had at Perry's. At the Perry's Market & Grille on Scarsdale the pork chop is on special for $8.99 (about half the normal price). It's such a deal that it's worth driving 80mph down I-45 at lunchtime just to eat one and make it back to the office downtown in time to not get fired.just to eat one and make it back to the office downtown in time to not get fired.

TQro
TQro

 Original?  Do you speak of the original Ninfa's?

DamianW
DamianW

 The former executive chef from Perry's, Phuc Luu, just opened a new place called Just Eat, on Bellaire at Eldridge.

Kevin Shalin
Kevin Shalin

Tell us more Bruce R...is this every Friday?  Please, tell us more!!! 

Fatty FatBastard
Fatty FatBastard

 Is this every Friday?  I can't do it tonight, but I've heard enough about this to try it.

Dorothy
Dorothy

I feel the same about Pho Binh trailer, Signixx. Have you tried it?

I'll put PhoBien Hoa onto my list to try the next time I'm in H-town. 

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I love, love, love both of those restaurants. Truly. But I was trying to pick restaurants where Houston's creativity and uniqueness really shines through. Many American cities have truly outstanding Italian restaurants like Poscol and Da Marco.

Texasgirl129
Texasgirl129

I'm with you. Lived here 30+ years and have never been to any on the list. Never heard of 75% of them either. Guess I need to get my head out of the sand and gas in the car because none are even close to where I live.  

big red
big red

 Houstonite? Houstonite? What the hell is a Houstonite? Clearly you are new here or you would be familiar with the term Houstonian.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Out-of-towners and residents alike should try visit these places! I feel like they really encapsulate what's so special and so unique about Houston.

JB
JB

 Actually, like the mall, it was named after the developer Frank Sharp.

Bruce R
Bruce R

 The Perry's in Clear Lake sells the chop for $11.99 on Fridays from 11am-4pm.  They used to also have that deal on Wednesdays--not sure if they still do.  the Perry's Meat Market on Scarsdale sells the chop for $8.99 on Wednesdays.  I think it's worth the few extra dollars to go to the fancier Perry's (as opposed to the meat market). 

Tom
Tom

Capturing what is unique about Houston -- and showcasing what Houston does that other cities (except perhaps Chicago) cannot -- is the main reason why the exclusion of Hugo's from this list is perplexing. These are pretty thoughtful choices, but anyone who's coming to Houston for the first time would be loathe to miss a restaurant that expresses the core of this city: a cuisine so rarely found (and arguably done better only at Topolobampo and Frontera Grill in Chicago) that typifies (with Chef Hugo's phenomenal story) the admiration we have for people who make their own way.

Mary
Mary

Is there another way to say "all my life?" 

Doc Ricky
Doc Ricky

Actually, I beg to differ with regards to Hugo's. If I were to choose a Houston institution to Mexican cooking, it would be Pico's Mex-Mex. 

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I completely, 100% agree with you, Tom. Mea culpa. Hugo's should have been included on the list.

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