Ask any Houstonian what they love most about their city, and you’ll likely get the same answer: the food. Houston has over two million people inside its city limits. It's estimated one in four Houstonians were born in another country and they brought their tastes and cuisines with them. The city’s rich cultural and culinary diversity makes for a stunning variety of restaurants — some are widely popular and others are local gems but all serve delicious food. Your next meal in Houston should be at one of these 15 eateries.
The Breakfast Klub
This midtown brunch spot has some of the best southern cooking in Houston. In addition to all the greatest hits — biscuits and gravy, catfish and grits — the Breakfast Klub is famous among locals for its chicken and waffles. The waffles are fluffy and sweet, while the chicken wings are crunchy and savory. There’s a reason people line up around the block to grab brunch here — and they really do line up around the block. This place gets busy. If you swing by on a weekend morning, expect to hang out outside for a while until a table’s ready. It’s worth the wait.
The Original Ninfa's on Navigation
Reasonable people can disagree on where the best Tex-Mex is in Houston, but few would argue who was the first to offer it. Back in the 1970s, the Original Ninfa’s on Navigation changed the course of culinary history by introducing the city to the cornerstone of Tex-Mex: the fajita, perfectly seasoned meat wrapped in a warm tortilla. Mama Ninfa isn’t in the kitchen anymore — the restaurant changed owners years ago — but many locals will still tell you if you want to find legit Tex-Mex, you can’t go wrong with the tacos al carbon (or beef fajitas) at the Original Ninfa’s.
When you want to impress someone in Houston on a first date, you take them to Uchi. This Montrose-area locale labels its menu as modern Japanese cuisine, but it doesn’t hurt that it’s also ultra-romantic. From the cozy booths and total mood lighting, to the shareable dishes and attentive staff, this place is one of the city’s best date-night hot spots. That said, its ambience isn’t what makes it one of Houston’s best restaurants. Its menu — a modern twist on classic Japanese dishes — is legitimately delicious and always an adventure worth trying.
Phoenicia Specialty Foods
The city’s diversity is a point of pride for a lot of Houstonians, perhaps second only to its cuisine. Phoenicia Specialty Foods, however, is where both collide. This international food market and deli has more than 15,000 products from over 50 countries, but Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food is where it really hits it stride. The buffet has a ton of freshly made favorites like tabouli, shawarma and baklava. Grab ready-made food from the deli, or stock up on some of supplies to cook your own.
Killen’s Barbecue is one of the city’s worst-kept secrets. Drive out to this south Houston suburb on a Saturday or Sunday, and you can bank on waiting at least an hour before getting to place your order. But the wait is worth it because Ronnie Killen is the unofficial King of Meat in Houston, and his brisket is legendary. Unlike the saucy barbecue of Kansas City or the vinegar-drenched pork of North Carolina, Killen’s has true Texas barbecue: relying only on dry-rub spices and high-quality meat for its flavor. Like any good barbecue joint, this place doesn’t have any frills or gimmicks — just the best meat in Houston.
Thien An Sandwiches
The Houston metro area has the largest Vietnamese population in the United States outside of California. Vietnamese food is a big deal for Houstonians, and Thien An Sandwiches is one of the best places to get it. This Midtown cafe is a popular lunch spot for downtown and med center office workers because of its Inner Loop location, high-quality menu, and reasonably low prices. When you’re done with your bánh mì, phở or vermicelli bowl, treat yourself to a cafe sua da — a rich, creamy iced coffee made with sweetened condensed milk that’s common in Vietnam.
Houston’s Famous Deli
If American sandwiches are more your style, it’s hard to find a better spot than Houston’s Famous Deli. It’s the kind of place where you can get a tasty, filling meal in 10 minutes and under $10. The muffalettas are particularly popular among the regulars. These New Orleans-style sandwiches are piled high with meats and cheeses and smothered with olive dressing. And unlike a lot of other sandwich places, the salads at Houston’s Famous Deli are a feature — not an afterthought. The lettuce is crisp, and the veggies are fresh. They’re the perfect cure to a sad desk lunch.
Stanton's City Bites
Stanton’s City Bites is where you go when you want your food deep-fried and your burgers a little sloppy (but in a good way). The burgers here are ranked among the best burgers in Houston with mouth-watering ingredients like deep-fried bacon and garlic spinach (the “Luke Skyburger”), fried eggs and fried pickles (the “Cowboy Brunch”) and no fewer than five different kinds of cheese (the “Holy Cow”). Sandwiches can be paired with one of a number greasy-spoon sides — including 11 different kinds of fried potatoes — that are sure to hit the spot.
Houston has no shortage of Mexican restaurants, but few are as upscale as Hugo’s. One of several popular local restaurants founded by Mexican chef and James Beard award-winner, Hugo Ortega, Hugo’s menu features authentic Mexican cuisine with a distinctly high-class flare. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill Tex-Mex place. It’s legit Mexican food — like fresh ceviche, savory barbacoa, and hearty mole — that you’d find at high-end restaurants in Hugo’s native Mexic. Hugo’s Sunday brunch is something of a bucket list item for Houstonians. The brunch buffet is pricey but worth it if you want to fill up on all the restaurant’s favorites.
Ibiza Food & Wine Bar
Another popular place for date nights and special occasions, Ibiza Food & Wine Bar has the trifecta: tasty food, great service, and cool ambience. The restaurant is billed as modern American cuisine, but it’s really more of a melting pot. The ever-changing menu draws influences from all over the world, where fried catfish and pizza are on the same footing as seared ahi tuna and stuffed piquillo peppers. While the menu isn’t exactly extensive (for Texas standards anyway), it has more than enough to satisfy both high-brow adventure-seekers and traditionalists alike. Bonus: Come on your birthday, and you’ll get cotton candy and a sparkler.
The brunch game is fierce in Houston, so to say Baby Barnaby’s is one of the best breakfast places in the city is really saying something. The restaurant is only open for breakfast, so it’s basically perfected the meal. Baby Barnaby’s signature dish is green eggs (cheesy scrambled eggs, mixed with spinach and artichokes) served with home-fried potatoes that are the perfect amount of fluffy and crisp. This Montrose-area restaurant is small — the limited seating both inside and outside virtually guarantees a line on the weekends — so get their early to avoid a long wait.
Easily one of the best places in the Houston area to get seafood, Izakaya WA offers Japanese cuisine, served tapas-style. In addition to classic, yummy bites like sushi, edamame and grilled skewers, the restaurant offers both Japanese and Texas craft beers, as well as sake and wine. But it’s not just the food that makes Izakaya WA worth visiting. The staff have a reputation for being exceedingly friendly and attentive, even when it’s busy (which it often is). The result is a warm, inviting atmosphere that’s somehow both classy and laid-back.
It’s rare to have two restaurants hit it out of the park, but then again, Chef Hugo Ortega isn’t your typical chef. Ortega’s latest culinary endeavor, Xochi, opened up downtown in 2017 to near-universal accolades. Like his flagship restaurant, Hugo’s, Xochi pays homage to Ortega’s homeland — in this case by featuring food from Mexico’s Oaxaca region. Be sure to try the mole tasting, where you can try four mole sauces on warm tortillas. And finish it off with one of Xochi’s chocolate desserts, like the Oaxacan hot cocoa, that’s foamed tableside and served with churros for dipping.
Texans have a thing about meat, so steakhouses aren’t hard to come by. But Doris Metropolitan blows them all away. The dry-aged beef is the main attraction, of course. You can even see it stacked artfully in the light of a chandelier (yup, it’s that classy). But the steak isn’t the only thing to love there. Everything — from mouthwatering bread service, to the flavorful vegetable sides, to the creatively crafted cocktails — goes into making Doris Metropolitan one of the best restaurants in Houston, if not Texas. And that’s saying something.