Very much enjoyed reading Alison Cook’s Top 100 Houston restaurants list. As she noted, it isn’t not her Houston best restaurant list, but the ones that she really finds memorable, for whatever personal reasons that speak to her. Her list is particularly good in identifying ethnic food restaurants that you might not be familiar with.
Inspired by her list, I tried to come up with my own list to see if I could even come up with 100 restaurants that I really love. I couldn’t.
My criteria for my list?
My list criteria was a combination of these factors: Is it worth paying for a babysitter? Do I go out of my way to eat there? Do I eat there a lot? Would I despair if that restaurant closed? When people ask me for a recommendation in a particular place in town or for a particular type of food or for a particular purpose, would I send them there? Would I wait in a line to eat there? If I were celebrating a special event or going out with girlfriends, would I be happy about going to this place? Does eating this food give me joy? Does eating this food give me both a great meal and good fuel for a living healthy?
I know that my list is missing a number of standards. Some may be because I haven’t gone there. Some may be omitted because if someone suggests going there, my first thought is “Ugh, bleep no. Can’t we go to _______ instead?” So many well-regarded restaurants that I wish I liked but just never had a great experience at.
Also note, Mexican food restaurants are under-represented on this list. I could do an entire list of fave Mexican joints for different purposes, food types, beverages, locations, etc. When I was looking for my first legal job, I had Tex Mex food listed on my resume as one of my interests. It turned out in interviews, we tended to talk opinions on Tex Mex places more than boring legal stuff.
This is not a foodie list. I used to be a foodie before foodie became a word and then I had kids. With kids you have to pay for a babysitter and the food so I don't go out a ton.
I did not put the links to these restaurants in this blog post because I do not have a staff, and there’s this thing called Google. After the list, I share the real-talk scoop why I like a particular restaurant.
Steph Stradley’s List of Top Houston Restaurants in an Amount Less Than Alison Cook’s Top 100 Houston Restaurants.
Mark’s American Cuisine
The Moveable Feast
RDG + Bar Annie
Underbelly – updated
Brasserie Max & Julie
Ninfa’s on Navigation
La Fisheria – updated
Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse
Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen
Morton’s The Steakhouse
Tutti Frutti aka The Kenny G Yogurt Shop
Places on my want to check out list in order (aka "Hey friends, let's meet to eat"):
Best hamburger joints worth the cholesterol.
Find some go-to Thai places, Vietnamese places (My faves no longer exist)
Places you tell me I have to go to.
I’d like to see other people’s Houston faves list. I don’t have any special background in food judging other than my friend Melinda says I love food more than any other person she knows.
What place isn’t on my list that I should check out, or check out again?
About My List of Top Houston Restaurants in an Amount Less Than Alison Cook’s Top 100 Houston Restaurants.
Uchi – Great combination of surprising, wonderful food and people watching. My favorite sushi bar to sit at in town.
Mark’s American Cuisine – Somebody else paying? Special occasion? Important dinner? Want grown up service, grown up food, cool non-boring, non-strip center building, no disappointments? Mark’s always my first choice. Always.
Kata Robata – This is on the top of my list of restaurants I want to go back to very soon. I want to experience those tastes again.
t’afia – When I lived that direction, I used to go to Monica Pope’s Quilted Tocque so much they must have thought I was a stalker. Devastated when that closed. Happy that t’afia exists.
The Moveable Feast – Is it too much to ask for good food that is also good for you? It should be easier than it is to find healthy food at restaurants. If terrorists had the health effect on our population like the food industry does, Americans wouldn’t stand for it. Moveable Feast is where I go for my veggie fix. Like the brown rice, black beans they have as a side to many dishes. Quick. Fresh. Inexpensive. Free Wifi.
Otelia’s – “No Tex Mex!” On their menu, they want to convey that they are a Mexican restaurant not a Tex-Mex joint. Rhetoric aside, I am addicted to their Enchilada Verde Dinner. The green sauce is very unlike ones in other places, it has a tangy taste I can vividly imagine in my brain.
RDG + Bar Annie – In our casual society, there are very few excuses to get really dressed up. (Read: Gee, I have some nice dresses but am always in my gym clothes). You go here with your girlfriends to people watch, get your catty on, and eat good food. It’s both hilarious and delicious.
“Check it. Mutton dressed like lamb.”
“Which number is higher: Women with fake ones or dudes with hair plugs.”
“The Worst Hypothetical Ever: Is there any amount of money on this planet to be romantic with that guy.”
Katsuya – Another dress up place with great people watching and delicious food. Pricy, but love their specialty cocktails. I’d put this high up on the list for places to go with your girlfriends for someone’s birthday.
Indika – I had high expectations about this place from what I heard. All my previous experience at recommended Indian food restaurants have disappointed. Love this food. Love it. Why don’t I eat here more often? Really really good.
Texans Tailgating – I couldn’t think of a favorite BBQ place in Houston. I know all the regular, reasonably good joints but none of them have that yes, I have to travel across town to go there specialness to them. By far, the best brisket, ribs, BBQ chicken, pork I’ve had in Houston was from tailgating before Houston Texans games. The second best BBQ, the husband Bill makes. We bought our custom made smoker from “Pitts by JJ.”
Okay, maybe that’s cheating to put those on a best restaurants in Houston list, but I’m fussy about meat. If I’m going to jack with my cholesterol, it better be blow your doors off spectacular. There are plenty of reasonably good BBQ joints in town far better than what can be found in most parts of the country but nothing so much better to be worth mentioning. So, yeah, I’d rather eat that stuff at a good tailgate or at my house than at any restaurant in town. That and I’m assured the company is always good.
Underbelly – Finally got to try Underbelly. Beautiful space, attentive service, and delicious fresh locally-sourced food. Very good to go with a group because much of the menu is meant to be shared family style.
Taco Milagro – When this restaurant first opened, I loved it but worried it wouldn’t make it because it was empty all the time. I had this weird feeling that if I ate there a lot that somehow I could make it survive through my efforts alone. Yeah, weird I know. Glad it still exists and thrives.
My favorite thing to order isn’t on the menu but was suggested to me when I was debating two items and they were happy to make it a combo: One Tostada de Pollo and One Chile Relleno. Really that should be on the menu just like that because I manufacturer errands on that side of town just to order that combo.
They serve my favorite margaritas in Houston, and I like their salsa bar. It’s a great central location for a casual meet up with friends, especially when they have bands playing.
Harvest Live Grille and Bar – Relatively new restaurant that serves a huge menu of organic food. It is not inexpensive, the menu is a little odd and the décor is a little odder, but it’s easy to eat vegetables here that are cooked in creative ways.
Very much enjoy their salad bar that you can purchase as an add-on to your meal. I’m not much of a salad bar person, but they have all the best stuff (including Kale which is supposed to be the ultimate super food), and a remarkable mustard salad dressing that I wish I could buy at the store. Best grilled fish I've had in a while.
Brasserie Max & Julie – I love going to France. It has been too long. It’s been far too long since I’ve been there, and far too long since I’ve been to Brasserie Max & Julie. Need to fix both of those problems soon.
Ninfa’s on Navigation – Back in college before I knew what cholesterol and stuff was, I remember the first time I tried their Queso Flameado. And marveled at how warm, delicious their flour tortillas were.
Comfort food. The place you take out-of-towners when they want the idealized, accessible version of Tex Mex.
Brasserie 19 – The bread. I wish it were delivered to my house all warm like that. One of those places I like to go with girlfriends or another couple. Lots of energy. Good food.
benjy’s – Every time I go there, I want to order everything on the menu. I like their music. The bar on top of the benjy’s in Rice Village has many fond memories.
La Fisheria – When I'm in Mexico, I always want to order the seafood dishes, but am afraid to because fears of stomach problems. Come by those fears honestly after fainting from illness after a trip to Puerto Vallarta.
La Fisheria is like running off the Mexico without having to pay a ton of money to United, and getting stomach safe, incredibly delicious Mexican style seafood But even better than that even. Like the some of the best seafood you'd have in Mexico or any location. And do not skip dessert and coffee. Incredible, creative, delicious. I can't wait to go back.
Mission Burrito – The best rollup burrito place by far. Not even close. All the other rollup burrito places on the planet should be eliminated and replaced by Mission Burritos. I love their Que Mas Salad. I am not much of a salad for meal person because I am a big eater, but I adore that salad and will drive long distances to eat it.
Empire Cafe – May be my favorite breakfast place, and I’m a breakfast person. The coffee. Breakfast needs to have quality coffee.
Love the Hunter’s Style Eggs. Not sure if they still have it, but they used to serve these blueberry oatmeal pancakes along with some salmon egg dish as a weekend special. I wish they had those blueberry oatmeal pancakes all the time. I’ve told them that before. A few times. Because I really love them. I don’t think they did it though.
In a brief period of time when I was trying to become a running person before I gave that up because running is boring, this was the place I liked to go after my runs.
Haven – In a city where many of the better restaurants are in strip centers or boring looking buildings, I love this combination of space and food. This is the sort of restaurant you go to in order to catch up with friends.
TQLA – I am not a tequila drinker. I make an exception when I go to TQLA. Love their tequila flights with their home made sangrita. The sangrita has this wonderful salt, sweet, spice combo taste to it. This is one of those stuck in your brain tastes that make you want to go back to a place.
I enjoy New Mexico-style southwestern cuisine, and it can be hard to find quality examples in Houston. Love this place. I don’t do Washington Avenue, but if I’m that way, this is where I am going. They have an actual parking garage behind the restaurant so you don’t get towed or park amongst undesirability.
Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse – I’m good eating here for just about any reason, but I love this bar to watch sports on the TVs above the bar, eat great food, drink quality wine. This is my perfect spot to eat at before Astros games because Minute Maid food tends to make me ill.
Revival Market – I am not a hotdog eater. Except here where they are so delicious they are worth the calories.
They also have a shop where they sell locally produced foods and they butcher their own meat. I asked someone who worked there what the best cut of meat was, and they suggested the ribeye. That’s not my common steak to grill but went for it. BEST STEAK EVAAAAR.
Pappa’s Steakhouse – Oh, yeah. Galleria area? You paying? We talking business? Celebrating making big money or something? This is where we are going.
Alas, nobody is doing big business deals with me where I make lots of money so I don’t go here much. Someone please, do a big business deal with me and buy me an expensive bottle of red wine from their magnificent wine list.
Buffalo Grille – Solid breakfast choice. A fun one to take yankee friends to because of the western décor. I want their pancake recipe. Love the apple pecan pancake. So good, it doesn’t need syrup.
Fadi’s – My mother had never tried Mediterranean food and said she wasn’t hungry. Then I ordered her the Vegetarian Platter. She crushed it.
This is a great place to take the food to-go as well.
My husband wants to add that this would be #1 on his list. Even the Fadi's leftovers that sit in the fridge are better than a lot of restaurants.
Hugo’s – There’s no place in Houston like it. When you want to eat Mexican food but more upscale than most places. Great place to take out of towners who don’t get much quality Mexican food.
Taqueria Laredo – Get there before the line goes out the door. Love the breakfast tacos. Cheap. Bonus: Lots of Texans logo stuff around the restaurant.
Island Smoothie – Another good food that is good for you place. Wish there were more places like this. Very much like their vegetable, chicken over brown rice platter. I keep wanting to come here for breakfast because their menu looks appealing, and then I forget.
Juan Mon’s – Not a sandwich person. But I LOVE their sandwiches. By far, they use the best bread. And they have some sort of sauce that is on some of their sandwiches which is so spicy it makes my brain hot.
Hobbit Hole – I want to order everything on the menu, please.
Hearsay – If I want a bite near the office downtown, this is where I like to go. I can sit at the bar, watch some tube, maybe do some work, get a quality meal.
Ibiza – Consistently good meals. Never disappointed.
La Griglia – Love the combination of energy and quality food. Sometimes you want good Italian food in a no-flip flops atmosphere.
Breakfast Klub – No way I’d go there on a weekend, but this is one of those places I’ll drive out of my way to go to. Like their coffee, like their bacon. Love how friendly their staff is. Feels like home.
Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen – I have an addition to the Mexico City chicken enchiladas with the goat cheese on top. The picamole which is sort of a chunky guacamole has its addictive qualities as well.
Uptown Sushi – Quality sushi in the Galleria areas in an event sort of atmosphere? I’m there.
Grotto – Good quality Italian food in the Galleria area. A good place to meet. If you are feeling under the weather, get their Zuppa Maritata “wedding soup” to go.
Kobe Japanese Cuisine – You want quality sushi in a friendly neighborhood atmosphere where you feel comfortable taking your kids and not dressing to the nines? You go here. Like sitting at the bar watching sports on their TV.
El Rey Taqueria – Sometimes you want to eat well but have zero time for a sit down meal. I think El Rey has the best drive thru food in town. They have breakfast tacos. They have good roasted chicken, served with rice, blackbeans and plantains.
I often go here just for the coffee. Their coffee is not just the best drive thru coffee but is just delicious and not at a crazy price. Their website calls it the “Best Coffee Money Can Buy.” I never get their regular coffee, but I like a variety of their espresso drinks. Drinking one of their lattes right now.
Berryhill Tamale – I’m a huge supporter of any place that offers all day Mexican breakfast. I also support places that will do egg whites for you by request. Berryhill will do both. I like their vegetarian breakfast taco made with egg whites served on a corn tortilla. There’s plenty of places in Houston to get a artery hardening breakfast taco that is delicious, but I like the idea that I can get a breakfast taco that won’t put me at war with my skinny jeans.
Oh, and if you are in the mood for a reliably good fish taco, they do a nice one for not a ton of money.
La Plaza – One of the many of small, inexpensive, independent Mexican restaurants across our city. (Map here because you might not know of it). I like their breakfast, even their American breakfast items. I don’t eat waffles much, but I’ll eat their’s if I’m in the mood.
Must be good. Many cops eat here.
Morton’s The Steakhouse – If you are going to spend a lot of money on a steak, you want professional service and to be treated very well. That’s what Morton’s does.
I will never forget how special they treated my sister when she wanted a nice steak before going to the hospital. They treated her like the queen of the universe. And I knew that if we went there they’d treat her like the queen of the universe. Treating people like royalty is Morton's niche.
Tutti Frutti aka The Kenny G Yogurt Shop (The one near Voss/San Felipe) – I’m a fan of the frozen yogurt trend with many yogurt shops popping up all over town. Frozen yogurt just makes sense in a hot environment, and getting it with fruit toppings is a more healthy treat than ice cream.
My family calls this particular yogurt shop The Kenny G Yogurt Shop. They have 12 Kenny G songs on a loop that they play over and over again. It’s awful. And yet we go back because the yogurt/toppings are good. We feel bad for the employee who works there, and have told him about Pandora for Business that allows businesses to legally stream Pandora for around $25 a month.
Don’t know if the owner will go for it. Fortunately, you can eat your yogurt on the patio and not listen to the Kenny G experience.
Torchy’s – Yes, parking for this Austin export is a pain. And sometimes the lines get unreasonable. But I like a variety of their tacos, particularly those made with corn tortillas.
Going to Torchy’s in Houston is not quite the same as going to Torchy’s in Austin but I’m happy they are here.
The news I’d like is if we got Austin’s Taco Deli in Houston.
Shandy’s – So you just ran around Memorial Park for your health. Now you need fuel. Near the park, Shandy’s is one of those few good food that is good for you choices.
Paulie’s – Every neighborhood needs a casual eatery that has a variety quality food where everybody you are going with will find something they like. This is a nice go to place.
Now when people ask me about places in Houston to eat, I can tell them, send them this link. Any additional thoughts on this, places I need to try?