The Best Restaurants In The Third Ward
photo credit: Richard Casteel
Restaurants in the Third Ward always feel connected to the community. Many of the restaurants have been family-run for generations—they know their customers—and at most of these spots, you’ll see a cashier ringing up a regular’s order before they even reach the counter.
Not only is the Third Ward one of the first historically African-American neighborhoods in the city, it’s also the center of the Black culinary diaspora, including soul food landmarks, great cajun and creole restaurants, and cozy Caribbean places. There are barbecue spots, vegan spots, and even vegan barbecue spots. So whether you want oyster po’boys by Emancipation Park, giant smoked turkey legs on Almeda, stuffed dumplings by U of Houston, or some of the best Tex-Mex in the city, these are the best of the Third Ward’s food scene. All of it is worth riding down OST, feeling like you’re four-wheel off-roading.
While the small Third Ward bakery Crumbville, TX makes all sorts of baked goods, we can’t get enough of their vegan desserts. Specializing in plant-based cookies, brownies, and “stuffed cups'' (cupcakes with fillings inside) the treats here line the walls. There are a few varieties you can count on, but prioritize the peach cobbler shortbread cookies, vegan Oreo stuffed cupcakes, or the giant ginger snap cookies stuck together by a layer of icing.
One stop over from Green Seed Vegan, the food truck Lindiana’s Southern Vegan Kitchen serves vegan comfort food that can keep up with local soul food spots, like beans and rice, macaroni & cheese, and fried chicken sandwiches. We like to get the oyster mushrooms po’boy for the crackling mushrooms that can be heard down the block. While you might have to take your order to your car to enjoy (unless you want to devour it in the parking lot), the fried boudin balls are just as tasty when you’re slightly reclined in the driver's seat.
What was once the historic Eldorado Ballroom has transformed into The Rado Market. An all-day spot to eat, the market serves oxtail barbacoa breakfast tacos, hot roll handies, and a few cold cut sandwiches to choose from. Cozy up at one of the bright red tables or take your food outside to the quaint, tree-lined patio. After getting your meal and a cup of coffee, take a stroll around the market to check out cookbooks, glassware, and desserts made by local Houston vendors.
Like most clubstaurants in the city, the Cajun-Creole spot Bar 5015 keeps the good times rolling from the moment you walk in. Most of the seating is outdoors, and you’ll find most patrons posted up on one of the wooden booths slinging back frozen drinks and nodding their heads to classic 90’s hip-hop. Swing by at night to get your fill of hot wings (which are 50 cents on Wednesdays), fried catfish baskets with crispy french fries, and the occasional cloud of hookah smoke. And on Sundays, Bar 5015 has you covered for a boozy brunch.
Sparkle’s is the sort of understated counter-service spot you can always count on, whether you pop in during the day for a BLT breakfast sandwich, or when you want to end your night with a mammoth burger and fries. Customers regularly lean on the counter and shoot the breeze with the cashier, while they wait for a massive fried fish sandwich or a cheeseburger with extra onion rings. There are a couple of options for frozen daiquiris: Northside or Southside, but the only real choice is whether you want your tongue stained bright blue or red. The space is pretty small, so unless you eat at one of three available tables inside, you’ll probably be standing just outside of their doors, unhinging your jaw for another bite of the meaty double cheeseburger.
Ray’s Real Pit BBQ Shack has been around since 1984 and is the spot to go in the Third Ward for consistent barbecue. Ray’s is engrained in the neighborhood–usually this joint is filled with regulars who make stopping in for a loaded brisket baked potato a part of their weekly rituals, and folks craning their necks to catch glimpses of a football game between forkfuls of fried okra. We like their three-meat plates because you can sample their BBQ Big Three (brisket, pulled pork, and sausage) and sides like sweet hushpuppies filled with corn and smoky baked beans that make us yearn to live a rustic cowboy lifestyle.
If you’ve driven down Almeda on a Saturday or Sunday, you’ve probably seen a line of people wrapped around Turkey Leg Hut. One of the most buzzy restaurants in the heart of the Third Ward, this spot is famous for its fall-off-the-bone smoked turkey legs and Creole sides like dirty rice and boudin balls. The upbeat music, frozen cocktails, and friendly service attract everyone and their mama, and there’s a covered patio area where you can watch candy-colored muscle cars cruise down the street. If huge crowds and two-hour wait times aren’t your jam, swing by on a weeknight so you can devote your energy to the important things: like deciding which of the extravagantly dressed turkey legs you’re going to order.
The First-Timer’s Guide To Eating In Houston
A dependable spot for classic Southern comfort food, Houston This Is It Soul Food has been in the Third Ward since 1959. When you order a plate from here, you choose your entree and sides elementary school cafeteria-style—except instead of square pizza, you’ll find rows of tender pork chops, gooey macaroni and cheese, sweet and spicy candied yams, and crispy fried chicken. Carrying your food back to your table feels significantly less intimidating than elementary school, plus we love their intimate patio outside.
Just up the block from Turkey Leg Hut, Reggae Hut has been making staple Caribbean meals for over 25 years. Immune from life’s daily hustle and bustle, the place practically mandates that you stay awhile. While they do a brisk takeout business, we’d rather sit in the lived-in wooden chairs and admire the vibrant murals while taking down golden beef patties. The food here, including some of the best oxtail in Houston leaves us wondering how this place isn’t packed every night. While this isn’t the spiciest Caribbean food you’ll ever have, they have an arsenal of pepper sauce that will have you doubling back to the counter for another order of sorrel tea.
On the corner of Emancipation Ave and Elgin St, just across the street from Emancipation Park, Navy Seafood is a one-stop-shop for all things fried seafood that has been around for 25 years. This modest counter-service spot serves everything from fried oysters to an otherworldly fried fish sandwich that crackles with every bite. There are a few tables inside, but Navy Seafood is undeniably a takeout operation—which is fine with us, because a styrofoam container all but overflowing with shrimp fried rice tastes just as good in the car.
On the corner of Elgin and Adair Street, Cream Burger follows one of our favorite golden rules: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This small red and white building has been serving up tasty burgers, chili cheese hotdogs, fries, and incredible pineapple milkshakes since 1961. Cream Burger is cash-only, with an old-school white menu board that you’d only see here and maybe at a local high school football game. While there are only a couple round tables underneath the metal awning where you can eat, the juicy bacon cheeseburger and overflowing fries served in a brown paper bag will taste just as delicious in your car. This is the kind of place that’ll make you start keeping extra cash on hand just in case you’re ever nearby.
A Third Ward deep cut, Backyard Boil House is an “if you know you know” kind of spot for Cajun-style seafood boils or good bowls of gumbo. You could easily drive right past it, because there are no signs on the building outside except for a decorative blue crab hanging on the side of the building. The inside of Backyard Boil House is significantly more inviting—a sweet, intimate, spot with less than 10 tables. It can be difficult to choose between the different seafood dishes, so don’t. Instead, get the commbeaux, which features snow crab legs, jumbo shrimp, corn, and sausage, all submerged in a decadent garlic butter. And, if you’re a regular (or a very curious first time guest), strike up a conversation with the owner and maybe they’ll make you a special, off-menu drink.
An unassuming joint across the street from Emancipation Park, Soul Food Vegan is a neighborhood spot making vegan southern comfort food with a dash of Creole flavor. The menu has Cajun pasta, burgers, jambalaya, and fresh-pressed moringa juice, but the star of the show is anything that involves oyster mushrooms. You should try their po’boy with deep-fried oyster mushrooms that crackle when you bite into them, coated in spicy mayo and topped with crisp red onions. You don’t go to Soul Food Vegan for the ambiance, but rather for a quick bite of vegan comfort food to finish off the day.
A Houston staple without a doubt, Frenchy’s Chicken has multiple locations around the city, but our favorite is only a few minutes away from Texas Southern University on Scott Street. Since opening in the ‘60s, their golden-brown fried chicken, boudin links, and gris gris sauce has kept this place busy day and night. The chicken here is consistently crispy and comes with an ACG (Audible Crunch Guarantee) every time. When you order here, you’ll wait anywhere from 20-30 minutes to get your food (yes, even if you’re in the drive-thru), but if even Beyoncé mentions it in one of her songs—it’s clearly worth the wait.
The Birria Queen food truck dishes out crispy birria tacos out of the 4501 Food Truck Park on Almeda. There are four styles of tacos, but the best are the shredded chicken ones that come with spicy consome and an even spicier pressure sauce, which we can only describe as a cheesy, garlicky jalapeno crema. If you start cracking under the pressure, their tart, guava watermelon limeade can cool down the most tingly of tongues. The truck does sell out, especially on weekends, so come midday for the most options.
Green Seed Vegan, a soy-free vegan restaurant, has been solidly holding down the corner of Almeda and Wheeler for over a decade. The interior is minimal and green and dressed up with bamboo and fake wheatgrass, kind of like an Ikea cafeteria. First, it was a food truck with a legion of loyal fans, but now it’s become somewhat of a Third Ward classic thanks to its fusion of Tex-Mex, Cajun, and American cuisines for a balanced blend of sweet, and tangy flavors. Weekends are busy, but on weekdays you can pop in for a cold-press wheatgrass juice, spicy burgers made with buckwheat quinoa patties and jalapeño, or raw veggie tacos.
Frequenting the local takeout spot in college is an essential experience, which The Flying Dumpling, a Chinese restaurant on the University of Houston campus, dutifully provides. The portions are huge, delicious, and will satisfy the nostalgic craving you have for American Chinese classics. Feed yourself or a group on the cheap, or stock up for a few days of leftovers during finals week.
The intersection of vegan food and barbecue is a place most restaurants in Houston dare not go (yet alone Texas). Luckily, Houston Sauce Pit isn’t most places—this small, pioneering food truck is one of the only spots in the city making plant-based barbecue. The best instance of Soul Food Vegan’s work is their chopped “veef” burger with subtly sweet baked beans and spicy brussels sprouts. Most folks come here on a focused takeout mission, but there are a couple of wooden benches in front of the truck where you can enjoy your food.
Always filled with regulars, The Savoy is a rustic bar and grill in the Third Ward that’s great for watching the game or hanging with friends on their massive heated patio. Once you reach the bottom of your drink, try their flaky lamb empanadas and chicken sliders that will most likely inspire you to devote yourself to this spot as a regular. Come here whenever you want to dine solo, have a casual drink with a group of buddies, or have your first introduction to the chicken slider during Happy Hour.