The Top Thing to Eat: Houston

Written: The Top Thing Staff | June 19, 2023

1. Texas Barbecue Brisket

When you’re in Houston, the Bayou City, indulging in Texas Barbecue Brisket and beef ribs at restaurants is a must among other worthy dishes. Known for its tender, flavorful beef ribs meat and smoky aroma, this dish represents the heart of Texan cuisine. The secret lies in the slow-cooking process, often exceeding 12 hours over low heat to achieve that perfect tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Houston’s barbecue restaurants each add their unique twist to brisket preparation, with chefs using brick ovens to delight diners. Some chefs in restaurants opt for a spicy rub that forms a crusty edge around the meat, catering to diners who prefer this cuisine, while others might slather it in a sweet and tangy sauce post-cook. Regardless of the chef’s approach to the noodles cuisine, the result is always deliciously satisfying for diners.

Here are some quick facts:

  • Cooking Time: Slow-cooked for 12-20 hours.
  • Serving Style: Sliced thin or chopped.
  • Accompaniments: Often served with coleslaw, beans, and Texas toast.

Notable spots to try Texas Barbecue Brisket include Killen’s BBQ in Pearland – just outside Houston – renowned for its consistently juicy brisket that has people lining up before doors even open. Another gem is Gatlin’s BBQ; where family recipes and chef’s expertise meet quality ingredients resulting in unforgettable flavors and dishes, delighting diners with its unique cuisine.

For those diners seeking an immersive experience beyond just eating, many barbecue places offer behind-the-scenes tours showing off their pits and explaining the smoking process, with the chef often highlighting the cuisine and side dishes.

2. Crawfish Boil

Houston, a melting pot of cultures, offers an array of mouth-watering dishes, but the Crawfish Boil stands out as a must-try. This culinary delight, a cuisine cherished by diners and crafted by chefs through unique dishes, has its roots in Louisiana but has found a fervent following in Houston’s food scene. The dish, crafted by the chef and part of a broader cuisine, is more than just eating; it’s an experience that brings diners together through its dishes.

A typical crawfish boil includes pounds of these tiny crustaceans seasoned with Cajun spices and boiled to perfection with potatoes, corn, and sometimes sausage. The magic lies in the chef’s blend of spices soaking into every bite of the dishes, creating flavors that dance on your palate.

Here are some quick facts:

  • Season: Crawfish season runs from February to June.
  • Where to Find: Numerous spots around Houston boast their version of this delicacy, with chefs presenting unique dishes. Midtown’s “Crawfish & Noodles” and “Boil House” in the Heights are local favorites.
  • Serving Style: Expect hands-on dining. Eating crawfish is a tactile experience where you get dirty peeling shells for that succulent meat inside.

Why it’s beloved:

  • It embodies community spirit; sharing a table covered in crawfish dishes is quintessentially social.
  • Each restaurant’s chef adds its twist to the seasoning mix, offering unique tastes across town in their dishes.

3. Chicken Fried Steak

In the heart of Houston, a culinary giant stands tall: Chicken Fried Steak, a chef’s signature dish. This Southern classic has found a special place in the city’s gastronomic landscape, evolving into more than just a meal—it’s an experience.

At its core, Chicken Fried Steak is simplicity perfected: tenderized steak coated in seasoned flour, fried to golden perfection, and smothered in creamy gravy. Yet, it’s the subtle variations in dishes from one Houston eatery to another, guided by each chef, that make each bite a new discovery. Some chefs add a kick with spicy seasoning blends to their dishes; others let the natural flavors of quality meat take center stage.

Houstonians and chefs are passionate about their Chicken Fried Steak dishes, and this passion translates into meticulous preparation and presentation. Restaurants across the city vie for the title of “Best Chicken Fried Steak,” leading to chef innovations in dishes that keep diners coming back for more.

The dish also tells a story of cultural fusion—a blend of German schnitzel techniques with Southern cooking traditions has given birth to something uniquely Texan. It represents comfort food at its finest, evoking memories of family dinners, Sunday gatherings, and dishes prepared by the chef.

Beyond taste, dining on Chicken Fried Steak dishes in Houston offers insight into local customs, hospitality, and the chef’s expertise. It’s common for these dishes to be served with sides like mashed potatoes and green beans—each component adding layers to an already rich tapestry of flavors, meticulously crafted by the chef.

4. Tex-Mex Fajitas

Houston, a melting pot of cultures and cuisines, offers an unrivaled Tex-Mex experience with top chefs and diverse dishes. Among its culinary treasures, the fajita dishes stand out as a must-try. Originating from the Mexican ranch workers in West Texas, fajitas have evolved into a beloved dish across Houston’s dining scene.

The essence of fajitas lies in their simplicity and versatility. Typically made with grilled meat (beef or chicken), they’re served on a piping hot skillet alongside sautéed onions and bell peppers. The smoky aroma of the chef’s dishes is enough to make your mouth water before you even take your first bite.

What sets Houston’s Tex-Mex fajitas apart is the quality of ingredients and the unique marinades that infuse deep flavors into the meat. Restaurants across the city boast their secret recipes by chefs that elevate these simple dishes into something extraordinary.

Eating fajitas is an interactive experience; it invites you to create your perfect bite by wrapping up succulent pieces of meat with vegetables in soft tortillas. Add-ons like guacamole, sour cream, cheese, and salsa allow for customization to one’s taste preferences.

Houstonians pride themselves on where to find the best fajitas in town – debates often revolve around local favorites such as Ninfa’s on Navigation or Pappasito’s Cantina. Each spot has its loyal followers who swear by their version being superior.

5. Viet-Cajun Crawfish

Houston’s culinary scene offers a unique fusion that has food enthusiasts buzzing – the Viet-Cajun crawfish. This dish represents a harmonious blend of traditional Vietnamese spices and Cajun flavors, a testament to Houston’s diverse cultural landscape.

Imagine succulent crawfish soaked in a garlicky, buttery sauce with a kick of spice that tingles your taste buds. The secret lies in the blend of seasonings – lemongrass, garlic, cayenne pepper, and sometimes even a hint of citrus. It’s not just about boiling seafood; it’s an art form where East meets West on your plate.

The popularity of Viet-Cajun crawfish soared in the early 2000s when Vietnamese immigrants in Houston started adding their twist to the local Cajun cuisine. Today, you’ll find numerous eateries across the city boasting their versions of this mouthwatering dish. Each spot has its signature sauce and level of spiciness, making each visit an adventure.

Why do people flock to Houston for this delicacy? It’s simple: no other place masters this culinary fusion quite like Houston does. Whether it’s at bustling food markets or cozy neighborhood spots, dining on Viet-Cajun crawfish is more than just eating; it’s an experience that encapsulates Houston’s multicultural vibrancy.

6. Kolaches

In the heart of Texas, a Czech-inspired treat takes center stage: kolaches. These delightful pastries blend sweet and savory into one irresistible bite, making them a must-try in Houston. Originally from Central Europe, kolaches found their way to Texan hearts thanks to Czech immigrants. Now, they’re a staple in Houston’s culinary scene.

Kolaches come with various fillings, ranging from traditional fruit jams like apricot or prune to more hearty options such as sausage, cheese, and jalapeños. The versatility of these pastries makes them perfect for any time of day – breakfast on-the-go or an afternoon snack.

Houstonians have put their unique spin on kolaches, incorporating local flavors and ingredients that reflect the city’s diverse culinary landscape. From brisket-filled delights to versions packed with locally made cheeses and meats, the innovation is endless.

Several bakeries across Houston are renowned for their take on this classic pastry. Some notable mentions include Kolache Factory known for its wide variety of both sweet and savory options; Christy’s Donuts & Kolache which offers some of the best value-for-money selections; and Revival Market where artisanal versions feature gourmet ingredients.

Visitors should not miss out on experiencing this integral part of Houston’s food culture. Whether you prefer the traditional fruit-filled varieties or are eager to try inventive creations that push culinary boundaries, there’s a kolache out there for everyone.

7. Gulf Coast Seafood Gumbo

When you’re in Houston, indulging in Gulf Coast Seafood Gumbo is a must. This hearty dish perfectly encapsulates the rich culinary tradition of the region, blending spices, seafood, and vegetables into a comforting bowl of goodness.

Houston’s take on gumbo often features a variety of local seafood such as shrimp, crab, and oysters. The base is typically made from a dark roux, giving it that signature deep flavor and color. Okra is used not just for its taste but also as a thickening agent.

What sets Houston’s gumbo apart are the layers of flavors developed through slow cooking. Ingredients like Andouille sausage add a smoky depth while bell peppers, onions, and celery – known as the “Holy Trinity” in Cajun cooking – provide freshness.

Restaurants across Houston serve this delicacy with their unique twists. Some might add file powder at the end for an extra earthy note or serve it over rice to soak up all that flavorful broth.

Stats reveal that dishes like Gulf Coast Seafood Gumbo have contributed significantly to making Houston’s food scene one of the most diverse and dynamic in the country. Food enthusiasts and critics alike praise its authenticity and complexity.

8. Breakfast Tacos

Houston, a melting pot of cultures and cuisines, offers an array of breakfast options. However, the city shines. These aren’t just any tacos; they’re a morning ritual for many Houstonians. Filled with everything from chorizo and egg to barbacoa or even cactus, each taco is a flavor bomb waiting to explode in your mouth.

What sets Houston’s breakfast tacos apart? It’s all about the freshness and variety. Local taquerias often make their tortillas from scratch daily, ensuring that soft, warm embrace for the fillings. The fillings themselves are cooked to perfection, marrying flavors in every bite.

For those new to this delicacy, here are some top picks:

  • Chorizo and Egg: A classic combination where spicy meets savory.
  • Barbacoa: Slow-cooked beef that melts in your mouth.
  • Nopales (Cactus): For vegetarians looking for something uniquely Texan.

The beauty of these tacos lies not only in their taste but also in their ability to bring people together. From construction workers grabbing a quick bite before dawn breaks to families enjoying a leisurely Saturday morning meal – everyone has their favorite spot.

9. Pecan Pie

In Houston, pecan pie isn’t just a dessert; it’s a tradition steeped in Texan pride. This sweet treat takes the spotlight during holidays and family gatherings, but its presence is felt year-round in many of the city’s diners and bakeries.

What sets Houston’s version apart? It’s all about the filling: a rich, caramel-like mixture cradling fresh, locally-sourced pecans atop a flaky, buttery crust. The secret lies in balancing sweetness with texture, ensuring each bite offers that perfect crunch followed by melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

Houstonians have their favorite spots for this classic dessert. Goode Company BBQ serves up one of the most talked-about versions—so beloved that people order it online from across the country. Meanwhile, House of Pies claims locals’ affection with its traditional recipe passed down through generations.

But why limit yourself to traditional? Innovative chefs across Houston are experimenting with twists on the classic recipe. From bourbon-infused fillings to chocolate drizzles and even vegan alternatives using coconut oil and almond flour crusts – there’s something for every palate.

Pecan pie in Houston goes beyond just taste; it embodies local culture and history. Many restaurants source their nuts from Texas orchards, supporting local agriculture and ensuring freshness you can taste.

10. Bánh Mì

In Houston, the Vietnamese sandwich bánh mì has taken on a life of its own. This delightful dish combines French colonial influences with traditional Vietnamese ingredients, creating a fusion that’s hard to resist. The basic components include a crispy baguette filled with savory meats like pork or chicken, pickled vegetables, fresh cilantro, and spicy jalapeños.

What sets Houston’s bánh mì apart is its quality and variety. Thanks to the city’s vibrant Vietnamese community, you can find authentic versions that rival those in Vietnam itself. From food trucks to high-end restaurants, each place offers its unique take on this classic sandwich.

Here are some quick bites about bánh mì in Houston:

  • Variety: Beyond the standard fillings, expect to find options like grilled shrimp or tofu for vegetarians.
  • Affordability: One of the best things about bánh mì is how budget-friendly it is. Prices typically range from $3 to $7.
  • Locations: Midtown and Chinatown are hotspots for finding top-notch bánh mì.

For an unforgettable experience, try spots like Saigon Hustle or Les Givral’s Kahve for their modern twists on traditional flavors. These places not only serve delicious sandwiches but also contribute significantly to the local food scene by blending cultures through cuisine.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the must-try barbecue dish in Houston?

Texas Barbecue Brisket is a game-changer. Smoky, tender, and packed with flavor, it’s like a hug for your taste buds.

Can I find authentic seafood dishes in Houston?

Absolutely! Gulf Coast Seafood Gumbo will transport you straight to the coast with its rich flavors and fresh seafood.

Is there any unique fusion food to try in Houston?

You bet! Viet-Cajun Crawfish is a mouthwatering mash-up of Vietnamese spices and Cajun cooking techniques. It’s like Mardi Gras meets Tet Festival on your plate.

Where can I get a classic Texan breakfast in Houston?

Don’t miss out on Breakfast Tacos. They’re the perfect start to any day – think soft tortillas stuffed with eggs, cheese, and often much more!

What dessert represents Houston best?

Pecan Pie is as Texan as cowboy boots. Sweet, nutty, and oh-so-satisfying, it’s like a slice of Southern hospitality.

Are there any international dishes popular in Houston?

Yes! Bánh Mì sandwiches are huge here. With their French-Vietnamese heritage, they pack a punch of flavor that’ll have you coming back for more.