One of the most surprising things about Houston for many visitors is its diversity. According to a report by Rice University, Houston has the most diverse population of any major metropolitan area in the country — even more than New York or Washington D.C. It's estimated that about one out of every four Houstonians were born in another country, not to mention the many thousands more who are transplants from elsewhere in the U.S.
This diversity has infiltrated nearly every aspect of Houston's culture, but nowhere is it more apparent than in its food. Houston might be known for its Tex-Mex — Mexican cuisine with Texas flavors — but it's also home to Tex-Cajun, Asian tapas and Korexican.
If you are looking to explore the city's diversity through its fusion food, start with these great eateries.
Named after a spice discovered by the Portuguese in South Africa some six centuries ago, Peli Peli mixes South African and American dishes with European and Asian ingredients.
The bobotie — a flaky crusted pie with curried meat and veggies, topped with mango chutney — is award-winning, as is the gumbo. The brunch menu boasts schnitzel and deep-fried waffles, providing a whole new take on Houston’s beloved chicken and waffles. While there’s plenty of beef, pork and seafood, the menu has a good selection of vegetarian items, including curried spaghetti squash.
Food is on the pricier side with entrees ranging around $40 each at dinner time, though lunch and brunch offer a limited menu with lower-priced items. For a real splurge, try one of the blind tasting menus priced for two or four people to sample an array of the restaurant’s best dishes — freeing you from having to pick just one.
Ambrosia’s menu features locally sourced ingredients with an Asian flare. Plates are inspired by a wide variety of Asian cuisines — from the house-made naan flat breads to the citrus salmon sashimi to the Gangnam ribs. Dishes are served tapas style on small plates — perfect for those who like to try a little of everything. For the best experience, grab a group and order a bunch of plates or flat breads to share.
Tip: Pair plates with a libation from their fairly extensive drink menu. Check out the restaurant’s happy hour Sunday through Friday or reverse happy hour on Friday and Saturday for deals on drinks.
Ibiza Food & Wine Bar
At a glance, Ibiza's menu seems all over the place. American dishes like pork chops are prominently placed alongside complex dishes like scallops with grapefruit and bacon. But there's a method to the madness, said Chef Charles Clark.
As Executive Chef at Ibiza, Clark is constantly coming up with new and exciting dishes based on his own experiences growing up in the South and traveling throughout Europe and elsewhere.
One of the most popular items on the menu, for example, is the Watermelon Salad, which has influences from all over the world.
"The cheese is from Mexico, the olives Italy and the dressing [uses] traditional ingredients found in Malaysia," Clark said. The result? "The salad is refreshing and unexpected with a slight kick that is balanced by the cheese and sweet, crisp watermelon."
The menu is always changing — making it a perfect spot for those always looking for some new flavor combinations to try.
For those claiming “the hotter, the better,” this Latin-Asian fusion food truck will hit the spot. The menu is a simple blend of traditional Thai dishes, like pad thai and red chicken curry, and Tex-Mex staples like burritos and quesadillas. The sampling of Mexican ingredients flavored with Thai spices results in a spicier, bolder flavored menu that will leave you wanting to try it all. Thankfully, portion sizes are generous, so sharing is easy to do.
Before purists cry foul at the name — pho is a Vietnamese dish, not Thai — the truck does serve a Thai version of the classic broth and rice noodle soup that it calls Pho-thai.
Tip: The food truck pops up throughout the city and surrounding suburbs, so it can be a bit of an adventure to find. Follow the truck on Twitter to discover where it will show up next.
Korean Fried Chicken is having something of a renaissance in Houston, and Dak & Bop is leading the charge. Sandwiched in a large building between two other popular Museum District restaurants, Dak & Bop can be easy to overlook. The patio is small and the storefront unassuming, but inside you're hit with stylish decor and delicious aromas.
The menu boasts Southern staples with strong Korean influence — fries with kimchi, for example, and bulgogi mac and cheese. Because it's Houston, the restaurant also serves a fair amount of Korean-Tex-Mex dishes, like carnitas bao and fusion empanadas. All of the dishes pack bold — and often eye-watering spicy— flavors.
The chicken takes at least 30 minutes to prepare. Do yourself a favor and order an appetizer — like the truffle parmesan fries — to tide you over until it arrives.
Tip: Get even more flavor-packed chicken by getting it double-sauced.