After being named as one of America’s best food cities, Houston is finally getting the recognition it deserves for some of the best eats in America. As the fourth largest city and one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the US, Houston is home to a delicious mix of cuisines that make up its food scene (no surprise here).
Whether you’ve been reppin’ Space City since birth or are new to Screwston (see more of Houston’s many nicknames here), here’s 50 of Houston’s edible essentials that you should have before leaving this Earth. Long live H-Town.
1. Chicken & Waffles at The Breakfast Klub
A looong line of people start queuing up early in the morning to get into this Houston establishment. Every one of them will tell you that this chicken/waffle combo is more than worth it.
2. Pad Thai at Tony Thai
There are a lot of good places to score good Thai food in the Bayou City, but no one does pad thai quite like Tony Thai. They’ve mastered the perfect balance of flavors in this iconic dish, and give you enough for leftovers you can look forward to.
3. Beignets at Chez Beignets
Right after you eat dinner at Tony Thai, run next door to Chez Beignets for the fluffiest fried dough pillows you can find outside of New Orleans. You can spot elderly Vietnamese people chatting and munching away on these blissful beignets late into the night, so don’t hesitate to bring yourself and your crew in for a midnight snack.
4. Bánh Mì at Les Givral’s
If you haven’t gotten a hold of one of these Vietnamese subs before, it is time for some major life adjustments. You can start right here at Les Givral’s, where chicken and pork, grilled to perfection, are sandwiched between baguettes to give you the sweetest sounding crackle when you bite into them. These bánh mì are a friendly $2.50 each, which can be both a blessing and a curse to your wallet.
5. Crepes at Sweet Paris
Unlock your inner Parisian with any delicately delicious crepe from Sweet Paris. Something about brunching at this cute crêperie will transport you out of the humid Houston heat, and make you feel like you’re at a French street-side cafe, if only for a few hours.
6. Chicken & Waffle Fryders at The Waffle Bus
Just when you thought chicken and waffles couldn’t get any better, the geniuses at The Waffle Bus food truck squeezed lil’ nuggets of chicken in between golden waffle fries, then drizzled it in their own special spicy mayo. These Chicken & Waffle Fryders will make you take a moment to appreciate the great culinary heights that are being reached with all things fried. What a time to be alive.
7. Wild Game Hot Dogs at Moon Tower Inn
If wild boar and duck foie gras hot dogs led you to believe that this is some trendy, wannabe-fancy hot dog joint, you’d be gravely mistaken. Situated in Houston’s Second Ward, Moon Tower Inn serves up wild game hot dogs that are creative, but far from pretentious. Sitting in the large yard, sipping on one of the 66 beers they’ve got on tap and biting into their apple brandy duck wiener dogs = perfect Friday night.
8. Flip BBQ Skewer Plate at Flip’n Patties
While the delectable steamed bun burgers are what Flip’n Patties is known for, their Flip BBQ skewers are hard evidence that Filipinos got their pork game ON LOCK. The patriotic feels I get when eating these juicy pork skewers laid atop a steamy bed of Sinagag (Filipino garlic rice) are only comparable to the emotions I felt when Pia Alonzo Wurtzbatch was crowned Ms. Universe.
9. Kouign Amann at Common Bond
Literally any baked good that you pick up at Common Bond will have you feeling #blessed. Kouign Amann is sort of like a densely packed croissant, made up of flaky, buttery layers and finished off with a crunchy, caramelized sugar glaze. If you want this little taste of heaven, get there early — these babies don’t stay in the case for long.
10. Chocolate Chip Cookie at Tiny Boxwoods
Tiny Boxwoods is one of Houston’s premiere brunch spots, and their pastry chef just happened to be on Top Chef: Just Desserts. These chocolate chip cookies might cost you a little more than your average cookie, but no one leaves Tiny Boxwoods without grabbing one of these melt-in-your-mouth morsels for themselves.
11. Vietnamese Crawfish at LA Crawfish
Some of the best crawfish to be had during crawfish season can be found at this stall at the 99 Ranch Market in Memorial. Put a bag of their Cajun flavor in one hand, a bag of their garlic butter crawfish in the other, and feel good about double fisting.
12. Cupcakes at Crave Cupcakes
The height of the American cupcake craze brought about a ton of average cupcake specialty shops. The only one of these cupcakeries worth visiting is Crave. You can always count on these baby cakes to be perfectly moist, rich and undeniably adorable.
13. Baos at Fat Bao
Bao in Chinese translates to package or bag, and Fat Bao is known for their little steamed bun purses, which are rich in fillings. Pair pork belly baos with a side of curry fries for a full foodie experience.
14. Triple Heart Clogger at Hubcap Grill
This simple burger hut serves up big burgers to some of Houston’s favorite chefs. Gluttons can relish in the Triple Heart Clogger, which is composed of a beef patty, bacon and grilled sausage. Still not satisfied? The Quadruple Heart Clogger’s additional chili cheese fry topping is sure to make you go up a pant size.
15. Macarons at SWEET
Any Houston girl knows that a box full of SWEET macarons is worlds better than a box of chocolates for any special occasion. If you’re a single lady, be your own bae and treat yourself to the variety of yummy flavors available at the macaron counter.
16. Thai Style Ice Cream at Class 502
Thai Style Ice Cream has arrived in Houston at this classroom-themed tea shop. Sip on some milk tea while you watch your favorite ice cream and mix-ins get rolled up into a bouquet of pretty ice cream rolls.
17. Brisket at Killen’s Barbecue
BBQ reigns supreme wherever you go in Texas, and Houston is no exception. Ranked as the second best barbecue destination in America, Killen’s, in the Houston suburb of Pearland, is serving up barbecue that is just as good (if not better) than its Texas Hill Country competitors. Line up for the hype-worthy brisket and stay for the croissant bread pudding.
18. Banana Split at Cloud 10 Creamery
When Houston native Hilary Duff sang “This Is What Dreams are Made Of” in the critically-acclaimed The Lizzie McGuire Movie, I’d like to think she was singing about this banana split. In Cloud 10’s rendition of the classic sundae, three scoops of their innovative ice cream flavors are flanked by blow-torched bananas and topped with fruit jams, a chocolate magic shell and Nutella powder, all made in-house.
19. Two to Tango Tapioca at Honey Bee Teahouse
Houston is sprawling with various teahouses that feature delicious drinks, but Honey Bee Teahouse is the only one that serves drinks the same size as quarts of queso. The Two to Tango smoothie drink with their honey tapioca is the perfect combination of mango and strawberry swirl to cool you down on a hot day (basically every day in Houston).
20. Crunchy Chicken Sandwich at Local Foods
You really can’t go wrong with any of the sandwiches at Local Foods, all of which are prepared fresh with locally sourced ingredients. The Crunchy Chicken sandwich, paired with their giant, homemade potato chips make for a solid lunch option.
21. Fajitas at Ninfa’s on Navigation
If you wanna get your fajita fix in, Ninfa’s is the OG place in Houston to get some Tex-Mex. Ninfa’s has several locations in the Houston area, but none of them compare to the place where it all started. Visit this historic gem for beef fajitas that are tender and charred just right.
22. Biscuits and Marmalade at Blacksmith
Biscuits are serious business in the South, and Blacksmith makes sure to deliver. This coffee shop has a pretty appealing menu that might make you skip over the biscuits to order something more filling, BUT DON’T DO IT. These buttery scratch-square biscuits are perfectly complemented by the cool and tangy crème fraîche and marmalade, making it something you definitely do not want to miss out on.
23. Tacos at Tacos A Go-Go
Hit up Tacos A Go-Go for some flavor-packed, no-frills tacos in either Midtown or the Heights. The barbacoa and carne guisada tacos are so juicy and cheap that you can easily feast here for a very small fee.
24. Snow Cones at Friohana
The phrase “Everything’s Bigger in Texas” is perfectly demonstrated at Friohana. These colorful little mountains of ice they call snow cones definitely come in clutch during the summer when you need a refresher.
25. Loaded Gogi Fries from Oh My Gogi!
While Oh My Gogi! is not the originator of kimchi fries, they have certainly mastered the art of making them. It might not exactly be #cleaneats #paleo #anythingremotelyhealthy, but sometimes you gotta do your stomach a favor and devour some fries covered in bulgogi and kimchi.
26. Asian Bread at Six Ping Bakery
Step into Six Ping and prepare to be overwhelmed by the variety of baked goods you can buy. Everything is dirt cheap too, meaning you can buy as many taro-stuffed buns and custard-filled breads as your little heart desires.
27. Fried Chicken at Frenchy’s
Spicy chicken skin so crispy and flavor-packed that it puts KFC to shame. According to Beyoncé, it’s the best thing to eat in all of H-Town. The Queen has spoken. Need we say more?
28. Snow Shaved Ice at Nu Cafe
These towering stacks of thinly shaved ice, drizzled with toppings such as mixed fruit, condensed milk and tapioca pearls will make any prior shaved ice experience you’ve had seem very, very sad.
29. Gyros at Niko Niko’s Greek & American Cafe
No Houston bucket list is complete without a mention of Niko Niko’s, a Greek family-owned institution in the heart of Montrose. Order the gyro sandwich and be greeted by a plate overflowing with more gyro meat and French fries than you could ever dream of.
30. White Chocolate Bread Pudding at Ruggles Green
Warning: eating this bread pudding might ruin all other bread puddings for you. But with an award-winning bread pudding adorned with warm raspberry sauce, a dark chocolate trellis and organic vanilla ice cream, how could you not?
31. Gateway of India Pizza at Bombay Pizza
When you’re dreaming about your ideal slice of pizza, chances are that Indian flavors do not cross your mind. However, the cilantro-mint chutney pizza sauce, Tandoori chicken and fresh crab meat on the wafer-thin crust of the “Gateway of India” work together so well, it earned this pizza a spot on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”
32. All-You-Can-Eat Hot Pot at Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot
If you’ve never given hot pot a try, Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot is a good place to start. For $22, you get an infinite amount of meats and veggies to cook in a steaming pot of their original or spicy broth.
33. Traditional Breakfast at Kraftsmen Cafe
Grab the Traditional Breakfast at Kraftsmen Cafe for a simple breakfast done right. Sitting in this textile mill-turned-cafe and brunching on their perfectly crisped bacon and potatoes is a swell way to start your Sunday in Syrup City.
34. Dumplings at Fu Fu Cafe
While each and every dish is guaranteed to please at Fu Fu Cafe, you can’t walk away from here without getting any of their dumplings. From pan-fried pork dumplings to soup dumplings that burst in your mouth, Fu Fu’s homemade-tasting dumplings are as authentic as it gets.
35. Roast Beef Noodle Soup at San Dong Noodle House
The rich and beefy cure to all of your future hangovers. If getting wasted tonight means a trip to San Dong Noodle House tomorrow, you’ve got a reason to look forward to the morning after.
36. Butter Chicken Kolaches at Pondicheri
Houston is ranked one of the most diverse cities in America, and its fusion of different cultures’ cuisines is a direct reflection of that. Where else on Earth can you find the happy union of Indian and Czech/Slovak cultures that is the Butter Chicken Kolache? Only Houston.
37. Vietnamese Steak and Eggs at Tout Suite
Sister restaurant to the aforementioned SWEET, Tout Suite is a great place to go if you want to want to impress visitors with a nice brunch, or if you just want to people-watch at this hipster hotspot. Their juicy Vietnamese steak and eggs with baguette and liver pâté is just as Instagram-worthy as this renovated warehouse’s atmosphere.
38. Donuts at Christy’s Donuts
Shipley’s is for sure a Houston staple, but Christy’s Donuts gives them a run for their money. Seven bucks will not only get you a dozen light and airy donuts, but you’ll get a couple of their donut holes sprinkled in there, because the people at Christy’s are saints.
39. Black Pepper Lobster at Confucius Seafood Restaurant
Pretty sure there is no such thing as bad tasting salt & pepper/black pepper anything when it comes to Chinese food. Black Pepper Lobster however, takes things to a whole ‘notha level. Crunchy, meaty, lip-smackin’ lobster is attainable at Confucius at such a cheap price that you will definitely wonder how on Earth you’re so blessed.
40. Tibs at Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant
Go utensil-less at Blue Nile and enjoy a traditional Ethiopian meal with the hands that God gave you. The Awaze Tibs, a stew made of tender beef chunks sautéed with veggies, is a fiery, spicy dish that will leave your heart feeling warm and tingly.
41. Famous Fried Cauliflower at Roost
Dancing veggies don’t just exist on Veggie Tales. Lightly fried cauliflower florets are covered in bonito flakes that wiggle and dance around due to the heat from the cauliflowers underneath. The crispy but creamy umami cauliflower are not only a spectacle for your eyes, but also for your tastebuds.
42. Siphon Coffee at Siphon Coffee
Coffee connoisseurs will definitely appreciate the unique Siphon method that uses halogen burners to bring out the flavors of their artisan coffee beans. Even if you’re no coffee expert, what’s not to like about drinking yummy coffee that seems like a hipper version of your middle school science experiments?
43. Baklava at Phoenicia Specialty Foods
Phoenicia is an ethnic grocery that specializes in (but is not limited to) Mediterranean foods. Their bakery serves up pastries like almond croissants and chocolate tortes comparable to that of a French patisserie; but the true star of their bakery is their giant array of baklava. You can get specialty baklava that are chocolate or cream-filled, but nothing compares to the pistachio-filled, sticky-sweet original.
44. Chai Tea Coconut Ice Cream at Fat Cat Creamery
Lactose intolerant people, rejoice! Fat Cat’s Chai Tea Coconut is decadent, not too sweet and dairy-free. Fat Cat has a good amount of unique ice cream options that have milk in them, but this friendly option will not make you pay for it later.
#SpoonTip: Get your ice cream in a brown butter waffle cone or you’re doing it wrong.
45. Dan Dan Noodles at Mala Sichuan Bistro
Out of all the delicious Chinese eateries along Bellaire Boulevard, no one does spicy food quite like Mala Sichuan Bistro. Chewy noodles drenched in an addicting sauce await you at this Szechuan-style eatery.
46. Bò Lúc Lắc at Mai’s Restaurant
Mai’s in Midtown is a much nicer alternative for late night eats than grabbing some Mickey D’s. Bò lúc lắc, Mai’s signature dish, features beef so garlicky and tender that you might not want to share.
47. Spicy Seafood Soup at Korean Noodle House
Sometimes all you need is some soup so hot and spicy it makes your nose run. The Spicy Seafood Soup at this home-turned-noodle house fits the bill, and after you’ve consumed all of their famous complimentary kimchi, it’s sure to set your mouth on fire in the best possible way.
48. Dim Sum at Fung’s Kitchen
Weekend dim sum here is a Houston experience: the mixing of loud-voiced customers and the sound of carts hauling around their different dim sum from table to table make for a lively, almost hectic atmosphere. A Sunday lunch at Fung’s might be far from peaceful, but the reason why everyone and their mom is there is because Fung’s dim sum is authentic (and delicious) AF.
49. Bayou Goo at House of Pies
House of Pies is a restaurant and bakery where magical, memorable evenings unfold. All of the pies in this classic diner are simple and made with love, and the signature Bayou Goo, layered with custard, chocolate and whipped cream on a pecan crust, is no exception. If you ever find yourself inside The Loop on a late night, stop inside this glowing beacon of friendship, nostalgia and pie craftsmanship.
50. Barbecue at the Bookity Bookity Boudain Man
One of Houston’s best kept secrets is a tiny white trailer tucked away in a Walmart parking lot. Word-of-mouth has led Houstonians to the legendary Boudain man, who draws in customers with his hospitality and delicious venison and boudain sausages. The Boudain man really only provides info for the trailer’s location and hours via his own personal Facebook page. The Bookity Bookity Boudain Man may not be the easiest to track down, but locals can assure you that this hidden barbecue gem is one worth searching for.