The Best Restaurants In The East End
photo credit: Liz SIlva
You might be asking yourself, what’s the difference between EaDo and the East End? The simple answer is: EaDo is part of the East End (which is generally, you know, everything east of Downtown). But the East End is also its own thing. As one of Houston’s oldest neighborhoods, the East End has seen wave after wave of folks immigrating to the city, many of which arrived via the Ship Channel, which runs along the area’s northern edge. And despite being a massive industrial area thick with warehouses, scrap metal recycling facilities, and hundreds of often-blocked railroad crossings, you can find ridiculously great restaurants and food trucks in just about every corner. So whether you’re craving burgers, tacos of any shape, size, or filling, or old school spaghetti and meatballs, you can find it in the East End.
You might not expect a scrappy spot next to a gas station with fantastic views of a railroad overpass to serve some of the best food you’ll ever eat, but Street To Kitchen is full of surprises. Everything at this Thai spot is value-added: from the jam-packed but comfortable dining room, to the natural wine list, and the spicy-as-hell food. Make sure to order the deeply aromatic papaya salad drunken noodles tossed with chiles and thai basil, and, if it’s available, a warm mango sticky rice that will melt away any lingering spice. So bring a friend, or a date, and be transported.
Taqueria Los Mexicanos serves a laundry list of tacos, tortas, burritos, and quesadillas from a small white taco truck every single day of the week. The barbacoa is tender, the pastor is juicy with a hint of dried chile, and the tripe is crunchy and smoky. All of the tacos are served standard—with onion, cilantro, queso fresco, and (in this economy?) avocado. Pull up early morning or late night—it’s open from 8am to 11pm.
Old school red sauce joints are few and far between in Houston these days, which is why Mandola’s Deli, an Italian deli and restaurant, feels like a rare gem. Not only can you dig into giant slabs of breaded and fried lasagna or slabs of cheese-crusted chicken parmesan, but you can also get quarts of red sauce, cannoli, and stuffed artichokes to-go. The vibe is less restaurant, and more kitchen attached to a local community center. In other words, everyone working there feels like old family friends, even if it’s your first time in. Mandola’s Deli is primarily open for lunch and is closed on Sunday, so go with your office pals (the ones you really like) or take a couple sandwiches home with you.
The breakfast and lunch taco spot Villa Arcos along Navigation is a beloved neighborhood gem. The handmade flour tortillas are still fluffy and buttery, the service is counter service, and the coffee is only available in a styrofoam cup. Wait in line among the never-ending throng of construction workers, hipsters, local heads, and politicians for super-stuffed breakfast tacos, barbacoa, and plates of machacado and eggs. The bright red house takes call-ahead orders, too, but then you would miss all the fun.
Hidden behind the Tlaquepaque Market strip center is Mimo, a rustic Italian restaurant serving a fleet of salads, paninis, bowls of pasta, and hearty entrees. Whether you enjoy pastoral Tuscan vistas or drinking Aperol spritzes at lunch time, Mimo can transport you straight to a still life painting of a centuries-old European farmhouse—with lots of ciabatta. Visit for a casual meal, a low-key date night, or a solo treat yourself pasta date.
The Almighty Moon Tower Inn is known for three things: hot dogs made from wild game meats, a lot of beer, and a f*ck-you attitude most people admire. Moon Tower is mostly a giant patio with a few shipping containers functioning as the tap wall and kitchen. Yet despite the divey, industrial exterior, the hot dogs are pretty gourmet: think duck meat with apple brandy or wild boar ground together with marsala and provolone. There are also excessively ridiculous concoctions, like the Cheesus Crust, which is just two grilled cheese sandwiches welded together with more cheese. You should embrace the stupidity, and the drunken outlaw vibe—and also make sure to order the potato salad.
La Imperial Bakery, a tiny panaderia and Mexican breakfast cafe, functions like a popular grandmother’s neighborhood kitchen table. People pop in and out, trading gossip and life updates, while plucking conchas from the pastry case or filling up personal mugs of coffee. The bright space is comfortably worn in from years of serving made-to-order huevos a la mexicana with handmade flour tortillas, bolillo with savory frijoles, and licuados to go. Head to La Imperial for a quick, quiet, and satisfying breakfast for under $10, and snag some pan dulce before leaving.
The taco-obsessed will easily find a home at Cochinita & Co., the Mexican kitchen and cafe in East End. Cochinita & Co. is named for the traditional Yucatan dish cochinita pibil, in which the tender roast pork gets marinated in citrus and warm, peppery achiote. Each bite bursts with tangy, meaty goodness. It’s frankly kind of rude that more food doesn’t automatically regenerate on the plate. This place is charming yet certifiably chill, the kind of spot everyone wishes they had in their neighborhood.
The only thing that’s changed about Champ Burger in the last 60 years is that the place accepts credit cards now. The old-school hamburger shack usually has a small line of people clustered near the order window waiting for a cheeseburger or steak sandwich. The burgers are juicy, but not greasy, and the thinly breaded and crispy “Texas-sized” steak sandwich will put you in a food-induced stupor for the rest of the day. Regardless, you should order an orange milkshake and chili cheese fries.
On Sunday nights, Pupusa Mami, a one-woman pupusa pop-up, offers sustenance to the Lonestar-drenched folks of the dive bar Lil' Danny Speedo’s Go Fly A Kite Lounge in the East End. Filled with beans, cheese, and meat of your choice, every pupusa is made by hand on the patio. You can also snack on scalding fried plantains served, refried beans, mountains of vinegary curtido, and spicy salsa. But be warned: the pupusas are third-degree-burn hot when they arrive, so just chill out and know your cheese pull is coming.
There’s no membership fee or dress code at this country club, which is actually more of a hamburger-dive-pool-hall. But Harrisburg Country Club also serves ice cold beer—an essential item, since there is no air conditioning. We especially like the burgers here, which arrive neatly wrapped in white parchment with a sesame seed bun and a bed of iceberg, tomato, pickles, and raw white onion slices. Snag a bar stool, order a burger or two, and chat up some neighborhood characters. Or bring some friends for a round of pool.
The aroma of handmade flour and corn tortillas welcomes you at the entrance of El Mirador, a low-key Mexican diner in Magnolia Park. Piping hot tortillas, along with an all-day breakfast menu, make this spot an East End beacon—hence the recurring lighthouse motif. The interior feels like someone patchworked together a Tex-Mex restaurant, a mid-century soda fountain counter, and a grandma’s seaside cottage. But everything starts to make sense when you pull a tortilla through jammy huevos divorciados or dip into a bowl of homestyle menudo. Sometimes, simple food is all the light you need.
Suko’s Burger House feels like it's been around forever. The friendly couple who runs it makes everything to order, and that’s impressive, because this place serves everything from burgers to Chinese food. There are fairly standard griddled burgers, which you can order alongside shrimp fried rice. Or grab some crispy dumplings and a fried fish plate with a side of fries. Eat at one of the small, vinyl-topped tables, or get everything to go—a great option if you’ve got a lot of folks to feed or need a quick lunch under $10.
For those inevitable moments when you wish you were in Mexico, there’s Taqueria Monchy’s, a counter-service taco restaurant in the East End. Monchy’s doubles as a bus station (a decision of pure genius), so you can take your homestyle rajas con queso and a sweet sandía agua fresca to go, if need be. Breakfast tacos, like eggs with ham or potato, go quickly, but you can get barbacoa and rajas con queso any day of the week. Don’t skip the refried beans, which are creamy and melt into the tortillas, or the chile de arbol salsa, which will make you feel alive again. We suggest trying both the homemade flour and corn tortillas, which are equally fluffy and soft.
Watching a seasoned taquero skillfully slice a trompo is a thing of beauty. Which is to say, the folks running the Tacos La Sultana taco truck in the East End really know what they’re doing. Served Monterrey-style, in which pork gets seasoned with nothing more than smoked paprika, slices are seared again alongside oil-warmed corn tortillas. The pork is juicy, with pockets of sweet, caramelized fat. Each bite tastes better than the last, so much so you almost forget about sprinkling on any fresh onion, cilantro, or a squeeze of lime. Luckily, Tacos La Sultana is open from 3:30 to 11:30pm everyday—sometimes later on the weekends.
There are two Ninfa’s locations in Houston, but the Original Ninfa’s On Navigation, which has been around since 1973, is a cornerstone of the East End. Since Mama Ninfa is credited as “the inventor of the fajita.” you’ll see staff carrying enormous trays full of juicy skirt steak fajitas like they’re the only thing on the menu. This spot is about five minutes from Minute Maid Park, so expect to see hoards of Astro fans on game day bonding over pitchers of Ninfaritas. And while you might not be able to hear the music playing over the bustle of the restaurant, you can still do a good bit of people watching while you cross your fingers and hope the next incoming tray of flaming fajitas has your name on it.
Named for a town in El Salvador, Olocuilta serves homestyle Salvadoran food like pupusas, all-day breakfast, and a sandwich that checks every box on the USDA’s food pyramid, the pan de pollo. The simple, no frills restaurant stuffs what seems like half of a golden, crispy roasted chicken into a loaf of french bread along with cucumbers, tomatoes, and an intimidating amount of mayonnaise, all of which should then be smothered in a smoky, rich tomato stew. If you don’t have napkins at the ready, make sure someone close by can pass some over in the heat of the moment.