THE BEST FOOD OF HOUSTON
In the six years that I lived in Houston, I know one thing is for certain: I ate a lot of food. Houston is the Culinary and Cultural Capital of the South. You can't argue with me, I know I'm right. Visit Houston will tell me I am right. No, they didn't pay me to use their marketing slogan. (Even though, they probably should!) All jokes aside, I am using it because it is an accurate slogan. The city knows and believes it to be true. I am telling you, the international cuisine alone is one of the great reasons to live there.
Now that I am on my way to Los Angeles, I gotta tell you: I am truly scared. People tell me that I shouldn't worry because there are great food scenes there, too. Ones that don't really exist in Houston. For example: I heard they get vegan right! I walked through Little Tokyo in Downtown LA last month and my eyes lit up. Okay okay, I guess I will be "fine." But to be honest, I didn't leave Houston sooner because of its food. I am not ashamed, a girl's gotta eat. To honor the delicious plates and businesses that I hold very dear, I decided to create a "Best Food Of Houston" list. You can agree or disagree. I enjoy constructive criticism, but if I am wrong ... you better prove it.
BEST SALADS: Salads help me write and make humor with the nonsensical random occurrences in my life. I'd like to think that salads have personalities. Mine must be colorful and bright. Mi gente ... Why would you ever eat a sad salad? It can be "ugly" but better not be not sad. Another secret, there is a part of me that really just wants to be a "Laughing With My Salad" meme girl.
- Central Market offers the best salads in Houston. You can create your own or choose one from the "Signature Salads" menu. I didn't know how much I loved these salads until I met my best friend's husband. He is from Trinidad and when he moved to Houston, it was his first time really getting a glimpse of the food around town. We all grabbed lunch one day and started discussing some local spots. I brought up Central Market. In my short moments describing my favorite signature salad at the time, I started crying (and laughing) in the middle of the restaurant. I couldn't help myself, Central Market is where it is at. They get it right and the salads are under $10 for basically two meals. Duh, winning.
- Brasil Cafe's Duck Salad - This is a classic Montrose salad. I was blessed to have and afford this on a monthly basis. This salad is $16 and worth every cent. By the way, never have your duck cooked more than medium. The meat becomes chewy. Brasil really does nail it every time with this one and I love them for it. Pair this with some champagne and celebrate life.
- Canopy's Fried Chicken Salad - You know, I love fried chicken so much. Canopy does a nice job, especially at the Urban Harvest Farmer's Market on Richmond Avenue on the weekend. This tastes exactly like you think. It is pretty filling too. Priced at $15, the chicken is always warm, the vegetables are always fresh, and the bacon is always crunchy.
BEST CALDO: The best Caldo Xochitl. Wow, this was hard for me to nail down. There was a moment where I traveled around town trying to find the best of the best. There's nothing like a big bowl of caldo, some flour tortillas and a margarita. Don't believe me? Try it whenever you're down. Trust me, you'll feel better. Originally I was going to give this to Maria Selma (RIP) but the winner is .... La Tapatia. The last time I was here they killed it! Close second goes to Ninfa's on Navigation Boulevard for Sunday brunch and third goes to El Tiempo for lunch. El Tiempo's East End location has better broth than the Montrose one but both will work just fine. Add lemon!
BEST FISH FRY: I only ate catfish once a year in Houston and when I did, you better believe I went to Holman Street Baptist Church for the Good Friday Fish Fry. I was lucky enough to have this plug from my old coworker at the UH Architecture + Art Library. Every time I bought this $10 plate, I received fried fish, two delicious sides, a slice of bread, dessert and a drink! Guaranteed. It felt great to support the community and the church. Everyone is so kind. I always look forward to Good Friday because of this event. I'll miss them. I truly was blessed beyond belief.
BEST INDIAN: Get ready for an in depth opinion. Think what you want. These are my favorites!
The pictures above are from two pretty great but pretty different Indian restaurants. The thali on the left is from Houston's beloved Pondicheri. I love going to Pondicheri for breakfast because you can really experience their creativity. Meatless Mondays are super fun and their community breakfasts benefit local nonprofits. I love trendy, fancy, and beautiful places that give back. Their bathroom hallway makes me feel really light and jolly. They have a great Bake Lab + Shop upstairs too.
The photo on the right is from the Southern Indian restaurant, Udipi Cafe. I have mixed opinions about Udipi. This vegetarian only buffet is convenient and quick for when you are out and about on Hillcroft, but if you are on the Southwest side of town, I would save your Indian buffet fix for Naseeb Indian Restaurant in Sugar Land. I stumbled across this place with my best friend after a work event we coordinated. This is arguably the best Indian food in Houston. If you're headed out to Clearlake/NASA there is one place to go, Cuisine India off of NASA Parkway in Nassau Bay. Get the vegetarian biryani for the table and don't forget to get a mango lassi.
BEST COMMUNITY POTLUCK: Project Row Houses (PRH). Look at this plate. DBD y'all! Don't be dumb and miss this event next December. Every holiday season, PRH graciously opens its doors to the community and hosts a scrumptious potluck. Bring something yummy, grab a plate, sit down at a table and get to know the community around you. PRH is Houston's gem. If you haven't participated in their programming, start! If you didn't know, now you know. Don't sleep. OK?!
BEST SMOOTHIE: This is going to be very interesting to write out because before I left Houston I worked at Juiceland off White Oak. Juiceland is an tremendous company. Being from Austin, you don't have to tell me twice. It is the best. But I don't want to talk about a company. I think Doshi House has the best smoothies in Houston. My favorite is called the Pink Panther. It is a rare drink and they also have two other kinds available. Not only was that my nickname growing up, but also this smoothie is literal heaven. Head into to the Third Ward and snatch it. You won't regret it!
BEST ETHIOPIAN: Blue Nile. Make the trip. If you want authenticity at it's finest, do yourself a favor and come here! I hope you like eating with your hands as much as I do, because you have to here. I recommend ordering the #12 (pictured). The #12 is vegetarian. You get the Blue Nile Salad, the Kik Alicha (cooked split peas), Gomen (chopped collard greens), Atkilt Wot (mixed vegetables), Yemissir Wot (red lentils), and Green Lentils! I believe we also got the beef Kifto which is their most popular meal. The Injera (sourdough flatbread) is delicious too. It has a spongy texture and it is gluten free!
BEST PERSIAN: You're in luck! At Kasra Persian Grill, you get to have the best hummus and the best lamb in Houston. I have never had a more perfect hummus. That may sound like an exaggeration but it isn't, I promise you. Others can vouch for me. It is buttery, garlicky, and what everyone is talking about. They even have that written on the menu as proof. The lamb is indescribable. It falls off the bone so gracefully into the most delicious savory broth. Served with dill rice, this entree is not to be missed. Don't even think about ordering something else.
BEST ITALIAN: My whole heart. Here we go.
Italian food is special and should be taken seriously. My first favorite is Coltivare in the Heights. If you haven't been here yet, I feel a bit sorry for you. Try to make it there before the end of the year. Quick tip, the menu changes often and your best bet is to do family style. I recommend you order: proscuitto, mussels (with unlimited bread), vegetables, a salad, a pizza and/or pasta depending on how many are in your party and if you get unlimited bread, then you set on carb love.
Close second is Paulie's. Paulie's is generous to souls like me. Writers who thrive in solitude, in booths in the back of restaurants with nothing but belief in what has been and what will be. I've been going there for years and each time I walk through the door, the same two faces greet me at the counter. I don't know who you are, but I love you both very much.
Third favorite is Buon Appetito. This small, relaxing, and fantastic Sicilian restaurant originally opened near the Medical Center in 1975. My 2017 Valentine's date took me there and we couldn't stop laughing because we were so full and happy afterwards. I would get a tattoo of the Sicilian trinacria to honor this restaurant. I also recommend you check out Giacomo's. They're fun, too.
BEST FRIED CHICKEN: You ready? My favorite fried chicken in Htown is Frenchy's Chicken, the Third Ward location. When I went to the University of Houston and lived off Wheeler Avenue, I came here quite a bit and never once regretted it. I don't like to count my food nor do I like to shame myself when it comes to eating. I just wasn't raised that way. Please enjoy every moment. Make it count and make it last forever. You will never get something like this outside of Houston. Other places will try but nothing will compare. Ever.
BEST CHICKEN AND WAFFLES: Since we are on talking about fried chicken, I thought I would bring up The Breakfast Klub. One of my best friends from middle school came to visit me last summer for the first time. She had never been to Houston and had heard all about it from me. This was her only request and I actually had never been. Oh! And by the way, her friends from Austin were also meeting us there and they already had a spot in line. Tight! I loved it so much. I also loved the rainbow plate and my cafe au lait. I think standing in line is worth it, but if you're lucky ... I recommend someone going ahead. It made the whole experience even more marvelous.
BEST PHO: You can get pho at hundreds of places all around Houston. I like Les Ba'get the best. Yes, you pay a little more but you get SO much in your bowl. Pho heals! I came here all the time when I was sick. Oh! Here is a tip for anyone who works in the area, they are closed on Mondays. When you are coming back to work from a long weekend and you think you can get your favorite pho ... you can't. Believe me. They are closed. Don't be fooled like my coworkers and I were. All the time. We have a great nickname for this place, instead of Les Ba'get ... we call it Slay Ba'get.
BEST VIETNAMESE: Huynh. Duh! Get that homestyle. The last time I was there I was celebrating my birthday over lunch with one of my closest friends. He was kind enough to say that I was "starting trends" with my meal. Our neighbors kept peeping at my plate. I'm lucky to have a girlfriend who enlightened me with what I should be ordering at Vietnamese restaurants: Cơm Tofu. I like to add an egg on top. I would get that! It is great and according to my close friend, you'll be starting trends.
Only recently, I've decided that my second favorite is Tan Tan. This Chinese~Vietnamese spot was first introduced to me by my friend from Los Angeles this past Memorial Day weekend. It is required. Take the diamond lane all the way there. I was so inspired by the whole experience that I made a sweet playlist for him and the restaurant. You know, while you are at it ... you should jam my mix on the way there. My friend loves being right and he sure was about this. You win. Be sure to get the salted toasted soft shell crab and the seafood soup, the tangy one with pineapple in it.
BEST MEXICO CITY CUISINE: La Fisheria. Last summer when I came home from Mexico City, my heart physically hurt. I missed the country, my family and the culture so badly. When I was there, my lovely cousin and her husband took my sister, my other lovely cousin and I to a casual local seafood spot. One of the highlights I remember was eating tostadas de atún. I thought I would never find it again, until I came to La Fisheria. My heart exploded when I saw it on the menu. I felt like I was in Mexico. You have to have a michelada with Victoria. The chef is super nice, I met him at a gallery opening. He works hard. Oh ... another great moment at this restaurant was meeting Cheech Marin at last year's Texas Contemporary Art Fair book signing! He told me he liked my purse, which he called "my sack." Not bad.
BEST COCKTAILS: Lei Low. Friends shouldn't let their friends drink bad drinks. At Lei Low, it is nearly impossible. This mellow tiki bar feels like vacation. You have to try their classic Mai Tai. It is the best in Houston. As my friend would say, "It's super hard to be in a bad mood when you're drinking a mai tai." Another great touch is their music. The last time I was there I was introduced Cambodian Psychedelic Surf Rock and fell in love. I created a playlist that you can access here.
BEST TACOS: The best tacos in Houston are located at Laredo Taqueria. You're welcome. If you're a Latino, Latina or Latinx, I want you to imagine the smells and sounds of your childhood. The cashier is shouting "horchata," "limonada," and a lady is telling people "compromiso" in order to pass out trays. It takes you back to what feels like home. I've never stood in line for more than 15 minutes. Once you reach the counter, be ready. These tacos are affordable and bomb. My order: 2 bean and cheese tacos and a side of fideo. Someone asked me once if I was from San Antonio because I eat bean and cheese tacos. I thought that was hilarious because everyone I know from San Antonio loves them. Ha! No, I'm not from there. I'm just obsessed.
BEST THAI: This is a tough call.
If I had to decide right at this moment, I would name Thai Gourmet the best thai food restaurant in Houston. Their drunken noodles (featured on the right) are divine and deserve the prize alone. The last time I was there, my heart warmed up. They expand to both sides of the restaurant and have included a small gift shop at the front. I'm happy for them! It's across the street from Drake's favorite spot, V Live. Every time I pull up to this place, I have to recite the lyrics to "No Tellin." It's tradition.
A very close second is Asia Market on W. Cavalcade St. They have the best Tom Kha soup I have ever had. *Ahhhhh* I am screaming!!! I miss it so much. Order it with a side of rice. Put the rice into the soup. Game over. It's done. You are deceased. Just kidding. The drunken noodles are excellent here as well. You really have a lot to work with, both menus come out strong.
BEST SUSHI: Nippon. Nippon. Nippon. Nippon. Nippon. Did you get that? Nippon. I could walk there from my home and I did it quite regularly. I loved coming by myself and sitting alone at the sushi bar. I don't crave food like I crave this sushi. I took my brother here one time and he was all smiles, as you can tell. My heart belongs to you Nippon. I hope to see you soon. My second favorite sushi spot is Oishii. This is where I fell in love with the concept of "sushi and basketball." If you are going to date me, we are going to watch some NBA entertainment over sushi. You dig? This spot is prime during the season and during the playoffs. Good luck finding a parking spot.
BEST LATIN AMERICAN FUSION: Cafeza is beautiful to me for many reasons. First and foremost, one of my first friends in Houston is the chef! His name is Ivan Ortiz and he is wildly talented. Seriously the food is magnificent. That brings me to talk about the food! They have churros. Go nuts folks. I love their coffee there. The paella soup is perfection and so are the patata bravas. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, Ivan totally figured this one out. I am very proud of him!
FAVORITE BAR: As much as everyone loves talking trash about Grand Prize (myself included), it was my favorite place to drink in Houston. Here's why: I could walk here. I could dance here. I could take selfies in the bathroom here. I never got roofied here. That last one is important. There is a certain level of class and trash realness at this place. In hindsight, I think I was super bitter about GP while I was in town because it felt like I was running into the void which in the end made me very sad. A vicious cycle of the expected. Ultimately, I can't narrow all of my experiences down to this idea. My memories don't work like that. I did have some amazing magical moments there that I will never forget.
BEST PIZZA: I will fight any of you. The "Deuce" at Pink's Pizza is the best pizza in Houston. Here is a trick, it already has goat cheese, mozzarella, spinach, portobella mushrooms, roma tomatoes, roasted garlic, and pesto sauce. Add chicken and cranberries! My friend's ex introduced me to this combination last summer and I'm so glad she did. I also love the Sausage & Goat Cheese pizza at Brasil Cafe. Of course, downtown favorites are Frank's Pizza and Roma's Pizza. Roma's > Frank's, anyday. Get the veggie with pineapple!
BEST COFFEE: Anyone who knew me in Houston knows that I had a loyal six year relationship with Black Hole Coffee House. It was the first place I went to in Houston and it actually was one of the last. All of my business meetings were held here. I once spent $550 one semester while writing my undergraduate thesis. Talk about commitment. I could write a novel about this place, I think I will one day. But when it comes to design and finesse, there is no greater shop than Catalina Coffee. I may be biased because of its name, which is named after the owner's mother. It's owner, Max Gonzalez, and I also share the same last name. Coincidence? I think not. In all honesty, Amaya Roasting Company roasts great coffee. Each experience has been exquisite.
BEST BURGER: My favorite burger is located at Beck's Prime off Kirby. Plain and simple.
BEST JEWISH DELI: When I first moved to Houston back in 2011, there was one person who was just as excited as I was, my older brother. You see, Katz's Deli's Austin location on 6th street closed a while ago and my brother never had the chance to have his late night burger again. Little did we know, there was a Katz's location right in the heart of Montrose. Usually after the family is done putzing around the city, we stop by here before they head back to Austin. Katz's recently facelifted their menus. The last time we were there we met the owner! Barry Katz. I love getting the matzo ball soup as well as the salmon and lochs bagel. Both! Together.
BEST BRUNCH: Andes Cafe. There's nothing quite like it. They offer the best of both meals. On the weekends, I like to wake up and have lunch with a cup of coffee. When I was in high school, I would regularly visit my best friend's home. Her family is Venezuelan and would cook the most amazing food. During the winter, our friend group was lucky enough to enjoy her family's arepas. I had a hard time trying to find anything like them, until I came here. Andes Cafe's arepas are Houston's arepas. You must also try their "Locro de Papa Con Queso" soup. Want something lighter? Their quinoa oatmeal ties perfectly with a juice or smoothie.
BEST SEAFOOD: Don't be silly. I proudly give this award to Hugo's Mexican Coastal Kitchen, Caracol. There is a reason why Hugo wins awards, y'all. For my 23rd birthday, I invited 15 of my closest friends and we took over their private dining room. When I was trying to decide what I would do for my birthday, I was pretty stuck. It wasn't until I plugged my phone into my car's aux cord and opened Spotify. The first song that played was Drake's "305 To My City." I worked hard in 2016 and Drake told me straight up, "tonight was your night, go get you some lobsters and shrimp. You smart and you know it, I get it I get it, you outdo these pimps." The rest was history.