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The 8 Essential Houston Restaurants Every Traveler Should Try

Houston defies all culinary expectations of a Texan city. Sure, there are more steak houses, Tex Mex food trucks, and barbecue joints than you can shake a stick at, but here in Bayou City, bánh mì sandwich shops, soul food restaurants, and West African diners rest comfortably next to their Texan counterparts.

But really, all of it is Texan—and that’s the great beauty of the Cultural Capital of the South, which is not just the most diverse place in Texas but also the most diverse city in the nation. Houston is home to a bevy of ethnic communities from all around the planet, and more than 145 different languages are spoken here. Naturally, Houston’s multicultural population has also given birth to one of the best foodie havens on the planet, with nearly every type of meal you can imagine available. The city has even fostered the growth of now-legendary fusion dishes, like the Viet Cajun crawfish boil.

Here are the eight best places to eat in Houston for an all-encompassing taste of this spirited melting pot of the South.

1. Lucille’s

  • Where: 5512 La Branch St.
  • When: Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and 4 p.m.–9 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5 p.m.–10 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 10 a.m.–3 p.m.

For more than a decade, Lucille’s has been serving up seriously tasty and comforting elevated Southern cuisine in Houston’s Museum District. Founded in 2012 by brotherly duo Chris and Ben Williams, the restaurant is an homage to their great-grandmother, Lucille B. Smith, who was a chef and food entrepreneur. Today, James Beard Award Finalist chef Chris Williams and chef de cuisine  Khang Hoang continue to cook some of her most famous recipes while adding their own contemporary, internationally inspired flair. Be sure to order the perfectly crisp fried green tomatoes and oxtail tamales as appetizers. As for entrées, pick from a fine selection of Southern classics like yardbird (fried chicken), shrimp and grits, and braised oxtails. If you enjoy a tipple, the craft cocktail menu ain’t nothin’ to sniff at either—for a sweet treat, try A Southern Thing, a whiskey-based cocktail featuring Sprite, peach schnapps, and a little lemon juice.

2. Kau Ba Kitchen

  • Where: 2502 Dunlavy St., Suite B
  • When: Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m.

Celebrity chef Nikki Tran has been featured on two Netflix shows recently, Ugly Delicious and Somebody Feed Phil, and is best known for her efforts to bring “Viejun” (Vietnamese Cajun) cuisine to the forefront of public consciousness. Tran’s restaurant, Kau Ba Kitchen (pronounced “cow-bah”), is located in Houston’s swanky Montrose neighborhood and is a testament to Tran’s own Vietnamese and Texan roots. At Kau Ba, diners can expect inventive cocktails like the paloma-inspired Pho Loma, which is served in a bowl with noodles, and the colorful #LycheeGang, a vodka-based drink infused with lychee and elderflower extract. Don’t miss out on Tran’s street egg rolls, stuffed with taro, pork, greens, and pickles, or the combination pho, with just the right balance of savory goodness and fragrant aromatics.

3. Hamsa

  • Where: 5555 Morningside Dr., Suite 100
  • When: Tues.–Sun. 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.–10 p.m.

One of the newest additions to Houston’s thriving food scene is this little Israeli restaurant, which opened in May 2022 in the city’s Southampton neighborhood near Rice University. Hamsa’s menu (and its atmosphere) represents a posh, modern concept of Israeli cuisine—stylish and contemporary with big, classic flavors. The portions at Hamsa are huge and most dishes on the menu are meant to be shared, so bring a pal along to tackle lunch or dinner. Hamsa’s signature skewers are served on miniature swords; choose from offerings like beef tenderloin, lamb, and shrimp as well as vegetarian options like king oyster mushrooms. Dips like baba ghanoush and matbucha can be ordered individually, or you can try them all at once with the “Wholeshebang,” which comes with samples of everything and three pitas.

4. Blood Bros. BBQ

  • Where: 5425 Bellaire Blvd.
  • When: Wed.–Sun. 11 a.m.–3 p.m.

Blood Bros. BBQ is an iconic Houston area institution that offers guests a unique and delectable selection of Vietnamese Texan barbecue fusion dishes. Co-owner Quy Hong became the city’s first Vietnamese pitmaster when he and his childhood friends Robin and Terry Wong opened the restaurant in 2014. The menu reflects not only of the trio’s background but also the larger diversity of Houston and its surrounding communities—including the ultra-diverse neighborhood of Alief where the three grew up. At Blood Bros., visitors can find char siu bánh mì, Hawaiian loco moco, and brisket fried rice, in addition to Texan barbecue classics like perfectly tender brisket and house-made boudin sausages.

5. Crawfish Cafe

  • Where: 1026 N. Shepherd Dr.
  • When: Mon.–Sun. 12 p.m.–10 p.m.

Viet Cajun cuisine might be one of the most distinctly Houston (and Southern) food traditions to come out of the Gulf Coast region. It was pioneered by Vietnamese immigrant communities living in the H-Town area in the mid-2000s. One of the cuisine’s signature dishes is the Viet Cajun crawfish boil, which is much like a traditional American crawfish boil but with an important twist: After the crawfish is cooked, it’s tossed in a rich, butter-based sauce flavored with lots of garlic, ginger, scallions, peppers, lemongrass, and other aromatics.

Crawfish Cafe, which has two locations in the Houston area, is one of the O.G. places to get Viet Cajun food in the city. The original Crawfish Cafe is located in the Hong Kong Food Market shopping complex, home to the eponymous supermarket and several Asian-focused restaurants, stores, and bakeries. I prefer the location on North Shepherd, which is in Houston’s Greater Heights neighborhood and has more seating than the original restaurant (though I recommend visiting the Hong Kong Food Market locale if you’d like to devote an afternoon to lunch and browsing the neighboring establishments). For a tried-and-true Viet Cajun classic, opt for the crawfish and Gulf Coast blue crab slathered in the original Cajun sauce—you can adjust the spice according to your comfort level. Be prepared to leave the restaurant with oily fingers and a full belly.

6. Handies Douzo

  • Where: 3510 White Oak Dr.
  • When: Mon.–Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

In Houston’s hip and up-and-coming Heights neighborhood, adventurous diners can satisfy their sushi cravings at Handies Douzo, a hand-rolled sushi bar dreamed up by chefs Patrick Pham and Daniel Lee. Dinner at Handies Douzo is an intimate affair. The 26 seats are arranged around the U-shaped sushi bar where patrons can watch their orders rolled in front of them and chat with the chefs while they’re at it.

Expect classic hand roll offerings such as negitoro (which can be topped with caviar for a lavish touch) and scallops, plus seafood crudo plates delicately flavored with ponzu.

7. Hugo’s

  • Where: 1600 Westheimer Rd.
  • When: Tues.–Wed. 3 p.m.–9 p.m., Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–9:00 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–9 p.m.

Named after dishwasher-turned-James-Beard-Award-winning-superstar-chef Hugo Ortega, Hugo’s is a Montrose mainstay. Hugo’s is housed in a 1925 art deco building by Houston architect Joseph Finger. Here, the dishes dive deep into Mexico’s rich culinary heritage, like fall-off-the-bone tender garlic-marinated goat and lechón (roast pork) with crackling, crispy skin. But save room for dessert—options include churros stuffed with dulce de leche and flan topped with tangy passion fruit glaze, candied pistachios, strawberries, and whipped cream.

8. ChòpnBlọk

  • Where: 401 Franklin St., Suite A
  • When: Sun.–Wed. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

ChòpnBlọk is located inside of the culinary heaven POST Houston, a former regional post office that was converted into a food court and entertainment venue in 2021. The fast-casual restaurant is the invention of chef Ope Amosum, who started it as a pop-up in 2018 and evolved it into a brick-and-mortar at the same time POST Houston opened its doors.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, and raised in Houston, Amosum wanted to introduce diners to the complex and myriad food traditions of West Africa—and ChòpnBlọk does that in a simple, accessible, delicious way. Guests can pick between a bed of steamed white rice, jollof rice, or rice and greens, and then select a protein—either a bean-based curry, five-spice seasoned chicken, or marinated steak—to top it. As an added bonus, patrons can enjoy their meals while listening to the Afrobeat tunes that are usually playing at ChòpnBlọk.

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