Houston’s thriving food scene
It used to be that New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles were the only cities in the United States where you could literally experience food from just about every country on the planet. Houston, Texas now deserves to be ranked with the big boys. Being the beneficiary of significant ethnic diversity, Houston has over ten thousand restaurants and cuisine from 70 different countries.
The combination of an abundance of Texas beef, fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, and some of the country’s most innovative chefs are the perfect storm that drenches the city with accolades from foodies everywhere. It’s no surprise that Houston was recently named by Food & Wine as the “newest capital of great food.”
Since my oldest daughter moved to Houston a couple of years ago, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing the city’s food scene through the eyes of a local. With each visit she introduces me to something new and amazing. Here are some of my can’t-miss dining recommendations when traveling to Houston.
Viewfinder Tip: Check the website of any place you are contemplating as some offer discounts for patrons carrying their guns. If that bothers you, there are plenty of other options.
If there were an official dish for the state of Texas, it would be beef brisket. Texans have perfected ways of smoking and barbecuing brisket for generations. There are literally hundreds of BBQ restaurants in the city and I have yet to find one that was’t awesome.
One of my favorite BBQ joints is Brooks’ Place. Brooks’ has won numerous awards selling his BBQ out of a trailer parked in front of an Ace Hardware store. He is open for business Wednesday through Sunday at 11 a.m. and he closes when he sells out of food.
Another favorite is Tin Roof B-B-Q that hosts live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights. In addition to great BBQ, the menu includes a variety of southern comfort food. Be sure and order some fried stuffed jalapeños!
Naturally being so close to the Gulf of Mexico, Houston would have an abundance of seafood restaurants. I still have many more to experience, but two of my favorites are Peska Seafood Culture and Holley’s Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar.
Peska has a fantastic Sunday brunch menu that includes a ceviche station, a raw bar, a tostada station, grilled clams, smoked muscles, and paella—just to name a few. At the entrance to the restaurant is a fresh seafood market where you can select fresh seafood, oils, and seasonings to take home with you.
Holley’s is perhaps one of the most innovative seafood restaurants I’ve ever experienced. Holley’s menu offers a fusion of seafood cultures from the Carolinas Lowcountry to New Orleans to the Texas Gulf. The menu includes everything from fresh gulf oysters to whole Thai-style fried snapper. Holley’s also offers what may be the largest whiskey selection in Houston.
There are probably as many Tex-Mex restaurants in Houston as there are BBQ joints. I’m a huge fan of Mexican-inspired foods and I’ve had some from just about every state and city I’ve visited. But there’s something about the Tex-Mex places in Houston that are just better. The atmosphere is usually more festive (without being tacky), the food seems fresher and more authentic, there are usually more seafood selections on the menus, and the margaritas seem to have more tequila and less sugar.
Hole in the Wall
Wherever I am in the world, my favorite foodie finds are those mom-and-pop, hole-in-the-wall places that don’t look like much from the outside but really have it going on on the inside. Two of my favorites are The Shack and Lankford Grocery & Market.
While The Shack may look more like a hobo camp than a restaurant, the burger menu is creative, the food is excellent, and the experience is fun. After placing your order, rather than being handed a receipt with a number on it, you are assigned a celebrity name which you draw from a tin bucket. It’s fun hearing various celebrities being paged to pick up their order. “Happy Gilmore and Snooki, your orders are ready!”
Lankford’s Grocery & Market was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. It has the look and feel of a 1940s diner. My favorite menu item is the Grimm Burger, made with mac-n-cheese, bacon, jalapeños, and a fried egg! Expect to wait a bit as all meals are made fresh to order. And be sure to swing by an ATM on your way as only cash is accepted.
In all of my trips to Houston, I feel that I’ve only scratched the surface in exploring the thriving food scene. I think it’s time to book a trip back for a little more research!
What are some of your favorite dining spots in Houston?