HOUGuide

The Houston Kolache Power Rankings

Yes, we know these are technically called klobásník.
The interior of Christy’s Donuts.

photo credit: Quit Nguyen

When Czech people rolled into Central Texas, they bestowed yeasty bread filled with fruit and meat upon the Lone Star State. Now a donut shop breakfast staple, kolaches in Texas are their own entity, stuffed with everything from spicy boudin to barbecue-smoked sausage. Each kolache varies slightly, like adding an egg wash to the top of the bun or mixing in jalapeño and brisket. We tried the standard sausage-and-cheese from each place, and one or two of each shop’s signature pastries, and ranked them.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Liz Silva

Bakery/Cafe

South Houston

$$$$Perfect For:BreakfastDessert

These kolaches feel important. Maybe it’s because, by 7am, a line forms at the door, and folks are grabbing hot kolaches by the dozen. Or maybe it’s because everyone working there surrounds a table behind the counter calmly stuffing bread dough with sausage or pastrami with the focus of a Formula 1 driver. Like classic smoked sausage and cheese with the perfect bread-to-meat ratio, or sweet triangle-shaped kolaches stuffed with jam or cream. Ordering just one is a waste of a trip.

Savory kolaches are Christy’s bread and butter. While the standard small sausage and cheese taste great, opt for the smoked Chappell Hill-stuffed kolaches or the sinus-clearing spicy boudin instead. Especially because Christy’s dough, with its egg wash and satisfying-to-pull-apart bread, tastes like it's made of spun gold. One large kolache could set you up for the whole day given each one weighs five pounds. 

Opened in 1936, the Ella and 34th location of Shipley’s (often called “The Original Shipley’s” by its fanatics), is the modern Texas-style kolache blueprint. While the sausage-to-bread ratio here leans heavily on the bread side, the dough here tastes unlike anything else on the list. It’s sweet, creamy, and squishable with an ever-present thin layer of baking flour. Hot ones pull apart as though gently glued together. Somehow the cheese permeates every millimeter of sausage. Also watching kolaches get pulled from giant labeled warming drawers feels like being given a gift, especially after waiting in this location’s very long line.

photo credit: Chelsea Thomas

Pastries at Koffeteria are works of art, especially the beef pho kolache. And yes, the interior tastes just like pho with lemongrass and rich broth surrounding the tender beef. It’s like a supersized soup dumpling, but instead of sipping broth from a spoon, the soup soaks into the surrounding bread. It’s unclear what kind of advanced mathematics Koffeteria figured out to square that baking equation, but it’s incredible how the kolache holds just the right amount of broth to keep the outside from getting soggy.

Olde Towne Kolaches brings a traditional Czech bakery feel to the middle of Houston. The hand-rolled smoked sausage and cheese is perfectly what you’d expect, but the fruit and cream cheese is what you need to order. Loaded with jammy apricots or thick blueberry swirled with sweet cheese, these fluffy pastries proudly wave their Texas flag.

Like Christy’s, Donut Delight 2 makes egg-wash dough kolaches filled with Chappell Hill sausage and spicy boudin. And although Donut Delight’s kolaches are significantly larger somehow—the boudin kolache roughly measures the size of an adult hand—but the boudin isn’t as spicy, and the bread tastes less buttery. The kolaches (and donuts) here still make for a special morning treat, with a side of the friendliest service among all the shops.

Le Donut follows the old Texan rule—bigger is better. Regular sizes are available, but the best kolaches here are the giant ones seemingly designed for a bear. The larger the size, the more snappy sausage and bits of jalapeño there are per bite. And while dough might not be the fluffiest in the city, a kolache from this Medical Center bakery can make any early morning errands more exciting.

Kolache Shoppe—not to be confused with The Original Kolache Shoppe—has four locations around town. It feels like each shop sells hundreds of different kolaches with so many buoyant little balls of baked dough packed into the pastry counter. Apart from stellar seasonal specials, like biscoff latte or s’mores with a giant torched marshmallow, the quintessential sausage and cheese bread-to-filling ratio is too high, so it eats more like a roll than a kolache. But if you want variety, Kolache Shoppe has any kind you can conceive.

Mr. Donut in the East End does one thing differently than any other shop on this list. They make a large sausage-and-cheese kolache wrapped in a buttery, flaky biscuit dough. While that’s novel, it’s only recommendable to someone who wants to eat an entire stick of butter. The dough itself has so much butter that it falls flat around the sausage, and the whole thing tastes overly rich. But in between bites of still-warm glazed donuts, it tastes pretty good—the same way anything made with sugar and butter does. But for a solid savory snack, stick to the normal-sized sausage and cheese.

River Oaks Donut has a few kolache options, and most of them are, simply, just OK. The kolaches are on the smaller end and the meat inside is overpowered by dough that’s a bit too thick. While we wish the dough wasn’t the main character, the butter coating makes it enjoyable. But if you order the BBQ brisket kolache, the tender pieces of meat coat the dough in a tangy sauce, making it a reliable choice.

As evidenced above, The Heights has a lot of kolache options vying for attention, and Bakery Donuts falls on the low end. Even though kolaches here are still tasty, the dough feels dense and tastes like a warmed-up dinner roll. Bakery Donuts works great as a regular donut shop, a place to grab a few dozen early mornings without waiting in line. It’s solid and useful, but not our first choice.

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