It’s been said that Houston boasts the “most dynamic and diverse food and drink scene in the nation.” Author John T. Edge believes that, “If you want to taste the future of American cookery,” a visit to Houston is a must. This Southern city has more than 8,000 restaurants with a rather significant percentage considered to be award-winning eateries. A few decades ago Houston was all about Tex-Mex and steakhouses, but it has transformed into one of the nation’s most diverse cities, where the metamorphosis is most visible in the dynamic, nationally renowned food-scene.
Explore Houston through its restaurants and you’ll never be bored. And before you get concerned of the damage eating through Houston will do to your wallet, you should know that many of the new, exciting fare is also highly affordable. The diverse mix of culinary influences includes Creole and Cajun cuisine from Louisiana as well as longtime cowboy traditions, fresh seafood from the Gulf Coast, Southern comfort foods, Mexican dishes, and even Asian cuisine. In fact, Vietnamese-style crawfish boils are said to rival even Louisiana’s. The largest concentration of Vietnamese and Chinese establishments in the entire country can be found right here in Asiatown along Bellaire Boulevard.
Begin your food explorations at Blacksmith, a coffee bar located in the Montrose area that’s known for serving the very best cup of java in Houston. Seattle has got nothing on this place. While it functions as a typical coffee shop that serves as a quick-order counter with the usual hot beverages, an 11-seat counter known as the “Enthusiast Bar” serves a rotating mix of coffee beans that are prepared in a variety of ways, showcasing the different flavors of the bean.
Enjoy fabulous breakfasts here too, like the Vietnamese steak and eggs nestled into a skillet of soy-blackened onions, paired with a toasted baguette and chicken-liver pâté. No, this is certainly not your standard coffee shop on the corner.
If your taste buds are craving delectable, spicy crawfish, head to Asiatown’s Crawfish and Noodles, a Cajun-Vietnamese eatery featuring succulent garlic butter-soaked crawfish that are so good Cajun chefs across the nation are beginning to emulate this perfect recipe.
To sample some of the best of Houston menus in one place, Chef Chris Shepherd’s Underbelly in the West University area offers unprecedented flavor combinations that allow patrons to do just that. Its diverse menu includes a wide array of tempting cuisine, incorporating everything from German schnitzel and red cabbage to Korean-style braised goat and dumplings in a spicy red gojuchang chili sauce. Some say it’s one of the most “laid-back, upscale” eateries in Houston – but upscale refers to the food and not the prices.
Underbelly is worth visiting for lunch too. Savor the grilled cheese sandwiches that are stuffed with tasty Redneck Cheddar, chilled tomato gazpacho, crisp cucumber and charred Gulf shrimp over creamy grits that are covered with homemade pimento cheese.
Of course, many people still come for the fantastic Tex-Mex or Mexican fare, and you really shouldn’t leave Houston without sampling it. The restaurant Marie Selma is considered to be the city’s best-kept secret, with non-greasy Tex-Mex as well as authentic Mexican food. Its menu features items made from fresh, healthy ingredients with many imported directly from Mexico. Come here in the morning for the incredible breakfast dishes such as a heaping plate of huevos motulenos – sliced ham topped with fried eggs, black beans, jalapenos, onions and tomatoes as well as a cactus omelet.
Kiran’s, located in Highland Village, offers a taste of Indian with an American twist. Sample the tasting menu, which can vary depending on the mood of the highly innovative chef, Kiran Verma. Some of the favorite dishes here have included everything from quail with figs, mushrooms, and pine nuts to tandoori sea bass with mango chutney and a multicourse vegetarian feast.
You might just feel like you’ve crossed the border in Thailand when visiting the Asia Market restaurant, a tiny hole-in-the-wall eatery that masquerades as a Thai market. This hidden gem has just five tables on which to dine, but here you’ll discover some of the most flavorful and unusual Thai and Laotian dishes in the city. Some may ask, “Why travel all the way to Thailand when it’s come to Houston?” Try the deep-fried preserved duck eggs and papaya salad.
If you ask a local what the very best restaurant is in the city, you’ll find that many will answer, “Oxheart.” For the grand “food” finale in this city, it’s sure to fit the bill. This establishment is all about the total experience, challenging the idea of what dinner can be. It was rated the No. 1 restaurant of the top 100 in 2012 and 2013, with everything from your first plate to dessert course made to perfection.
Oxheart is a trendy, vegetable-driven eatery you’ll want to tell all of your friends about, offering only tasting menus that include such dishes as turnips baked in salt with radishes, Texas pecans, sunflower seed soup, and even a Chinese pancake laced with beef marrow.
Those traveling with kids certainly won’t have any trouble finding the perfect place to satisfy their appetites either. There is no reason to hit the well-worn national chains with unique family-friendly favorites like the Downtown Aquarium, which is part restaurant, part attraction. It not only boasts a Ferris wheel, white tiger exhibit and wall-to-wall aquarium, but its menu includes items that are sure to please the little ones like “sand dollar pizza” and “Captain’s grilled cheese.” Adults love the silky lobster bisque and the crab-topped Gulf red snapper.
Houston has a fantastic restaurant to feed any taste. If you’re looking for something quick and local, you can find it here. If you’re looking for something new and exotic you can find it here as well. While Houston is known as “Space City,” its food scene is what is truly out of this world.