There are more than 12,000 restaurants in Houston. And as the most diverse city in the country, you can basically find every type of food here that you’d ever want. But that can also make it tough to decide where to eat - whether you live here and want a really excellent dinner, or you’re visiting for work and only have one or two meals to make your trip count. That’s where we come in.
Here you’ll find our recommendations for where to eat and drink in Houston. We’ve included everything from the best date spots to some of our favorites for Tex-Mex, barbecue, and Vietnamese, along with all of the new restaurants you should know about.
Update May 28th, 2020: Due to the current pandemic, many places are still closed. For a full list of places that are currently open, check out our Houston restaurant reopenings guide.
THE NEW-ISH SPOTS EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT
Between kids running around like outlaws in the old west and everything being slightly too expensive, hotel restaurants get a bad rap. But Xochi, located inside the Marriott Marquis downtown, is one of the best restaurants in the city and should be on your shortlist the next time you’re planning a celebratory dinner or brunch. This Mexican spot specializes in Oaxacan food, so expect mezcal cocktails, mole, and lots of fresh masa. Xochi is open all day, but if you come later, make sure to get the pato crujiente with duck chicharrones, along with the mole sampler.
The menu at Theodore Rex says, “Items are subject to change on a daily basis due to availability, quality or boredom,” which perfectly explains what it’s like eating here. The food is super seasonal and you’re as likely to see people having tomato toast and stracciatella soup as you are a rib of wagyu. This place is ideal for a date or a small group, but if you come with three or more people, you can basically order the entire menu. This is the first spot you should make a reservation at the next time you’re planning a big night out, but they also save a few tables for walk-ins if you try to go last minute.
Nancy’s Hustle is a bistro/wine bar in East Downtown that gets a lot of things right, from the dim lighting and good music to the interesting wine selection and late hours, and it’s one of the coolest new places in Houston. While there’s no real theme to the menu, there are always a few dishes that you know will be good just by reading them, like lamb dumplings and Nancy Cakes with whipped butter and caviar. Grab a drink and some small plates at the bar, or stop by for dessert until midnight.
As the name suggests, The Classic - All Day is a modern diner that’s open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. While this place hasn’t been around long, it’s already become one of the best comfort food spots in town and conveniently, you can get most of the menu any time of day. If you come early, the breakfast sandwich with pork belly and the crispy rice salad are two of our favorites, but if you stop by for dinner instead, the grilled pimento cheese with kosher salami should be on your table (or at your spot at the long counter).
A’Bouzy is one of those rare places that you could go to as a jumping off point for a night out, or to recoup the next day after the “one more drink” you suggested turned into three. This River Oaks spot has a big patio, a bar that’s always packed, and 1,000 different wines to choose from, including more than 250 types of Champagne and sparkling. While you could go here just to drink, they also serve small plates like lamb lollipops and baked oysters, along with larger entrees. If it happens to be one of the rare occasions when the humidity takes the day/night off, make sure to grab a spot outside.
Better Luck Tomorrow in The Heights is a really good restaurant disguised as a neighborhood bar. This is a retro-ish spot with excellent cocktails, a wraparound patio, and a perfect patty melt. They also do a really good pasta night every Tuesday.
Located inside an old Hyde Park church, One Fifth sounds as much like a science experiment as it does somewhere you’d go for dinner. It’s currently in year three of a five-year plan that includes a completely different theme every 12 months. This year it’s Mediterranean, which means lots of dips and fresh pita, along with family-style dishes like braised lamb and a whole roasted fish. It’s a great option when you want to split a bunch of small plates and some wine, all while trying to guess what the next theme might be, or to see how everyone feels about eating in a former church.
Hugo’s is a Montrose institution where you go when you want to eat a lot of Mexican food in a more upscale space - think chandeliers and lots of ivy. They’re known for their table-side margaritas and traditional dishes like ceviche and mole poblano, along with one of the best tree-covered patios in town, but more than any of that, it’s their Sunday brunch buffet that sets them apart. It’s $35, includes more than 20 dishes like chilaquiles, duck carnitas, and tamales, and is exactly where you should eat on a Sunday when your only plans afterward are sitting and/or sleeping.
If you’re craving beer and bar “snacks” that include half a pig’s head, check out The Hay Merchant. This spot has 80 beers on tap, alongside a very good burger, chicken fried steak, and that roasted pig’s head.
There are lots of Tex-Mex establishments in Houston, but The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation is legendary. Brief history lesson: it was opened in 1973 by “Mama” Ninfa Laurenzo, who is largely credited with making fajitas popular in Houston. For this, we thank her. The original downtown location is now run by a different restaurant group, but Ninfa’s legacy continues and their fajitas are as good as ever. Post up on their outdoor patio with a margarita and be sure to order extra flour tortillas.
Kata Robata in Upper Kirby serves sushi made with fish caught right off the coast, and they’ve been at it for a decade. The menu here is huge, with lots of sashimi and specialty rolls to choose from, as well as dishes you wouldn’t normally see at a sushi place, like foie gras and duck soba and spicy soy ramen. The multi-course omakase is the best way to taste a bunch of local fish (whatever’s fresh that day), so sit at the bar and just let the chef decide for you.
Just a few blocks away from The Menil Collection and Rothko Chapel is Nobie’s. This Montrose farm-to-table restaurant is inside a converted house, and with their vinyl soundtrack and shared plates, it feels like you’re eating in someone’s home. Come with a small group (from experience, we’d say that four is the magic number here) and don’t miss the beer-battered sweet tots and bolognese tagliatelle. If you really want to make the most of your night here, get one of the extra-large (“HOV Lane”) entrees, like the Winner Winner Chicken Dinner, with apple and cauliflower salad and truffle jus.
Coltivare has all of the right elements for a great group dinner: excellent cocktails, a garden where you can enjoy said cocktails, and a shareable Italian menu. Located in The Heights, this Italian-American spot uses seasonal produce from its own backyard to make a big menu of snacks and small plates in addition to pizzas, pastas, and larger entrees. You should expect a wait, but that just gives you time to get a cocktail and find a bench in the garden while you strategize what to order.
State of Grace answers the age old question of what would happen if a hunting lodge and a Restoration Hardware came together to form a restaurant. Animal skulls? Check. Lots of dark wood, marble, and brass light fixtures? You bet. But it’s the food that really makes this River Oaks restaurant stand out. There’s a lot of fresh fish, giant Gulf oysters, and hill country-style dishes like smoky beef ribs and duck carnitas. If you’re hungry between meals, grab a seat in the Oyster Room - their attractive bar is a good place to enjoy some wine from their extensive list and their $1 oyster Happy Hour, which happens Monday through Friday from 11am-6pm.
If you’re seeking out that mildly hallucinatory buzz that only comes from eating Szechuan peppercorns, go to Pepper Twins. The Pepper Twins Chicken is what most people come here for, but we suggest rounding things out with the sautéed pork with oyster mushrooms and pork dumplings to even out the burn. This place is super casual and BYOB, and the original location in Montrose is conveniently located next door to Boheme - the perfect bar for a drink to settle your stomach after consuming your body weight in chiles.
This Mexico City-inspired spot in Midtown is a great option for authentic Mexican food in a space that looks like it was designed by your cool aunt. Try to make it there specifically for weekend brunch - their patio gets packed on Saturdays and Sundays, but you’ll be much happier if you arrive early enough to grab a seat outside. There’s usually a live mariachi-jazz band playing (this is a good thing, we promise), and their brunch specials, like chilaquiles and huevos chelo (crispy potato tacos topped with fried eggs, salsa verde, and cotija cheese), are both delicious and potentially life saving, depending on the night you had before.
Sometimes you just want to stop somewhere for some wine and a snack. But then you have a second glass of wine and get more snacks before eventually ordering a whole meal. Midtown’s Oporto Fooding House is a mash-up of a bakery, cafe, restaurant, and bar where that’s happened to us many times. This place specializes in Portuguese tapas, and serves lots of wine, cheese and charcuterie, and Portuguese specialties like polvo com batatas and croquetas de bacalhau.
This Montrose pizzeria is a good spot, to bring someone you care about, but who also loves taking down large amounts of pizza as much as you do. If you’re with someone you want to be a bit more polite around and want somewhere with lots of wine and small plates under $15 instead, their sister restaurant Vinoteca Poscol is only a block away. They also have a high-end option down the street called Da Marco Cucina e Vino where you can get a nice steak and $52 uni spaghetti. You might want to reserve that one for an anniversary though.
Along with some great museums and a few Knowles sisters, Houston is home to some of the best Vietnamese food in the country. Everyone has their go-to place, but Huynh is one of our favorites. Located just east of downtown, it’s a great choice for lunch when you’re here for a convention or need to escape the busy-ness of the city for a little. The menu is huge, but the banh cuon, vermicelli bowls, and duck salad should all be part of your meal here.
You’ll know you’ve found Laredo when you spot the bright green shack with the long line located just off Washington in The Heights. But the freshly-made tortillas are so good that you won’t mind the wait. If they haven’t run out of breakfast tacos yet, order them in multiples. If they have, our condolences, but be sure to prepare yourself for that by glancing up at the menu on the wall so you can make a split second decision when it’s your turn to order. Either that or just smile and point as you pass by the different taco fillings, like barbacoa, fideo, and chicharron.
Ask five Houstonians what their favorite BBQ place is and you’ll get 10 different answers. But if you don’t have time to plan a day-long smoked meat crawl, go straight to The Pit Room. Their menu features all of the barbecue and sides you expect, along with their popular brisket tacos that come with homemade tortillas cooked in brisket fat. Fill up a tray, grab a beer from the bar, and make sure to get some elote or potato salad before you head outside to the back patio.
There are a few things you can always count on at Cafe TH in East Downtown. You’ll have a great conversation with the very friendly owner, there will be jazz playing, and you’re going to eat really good Vietnamese food. They serve a wide range of dishes, including classics like spring rolls, vermicelli bowls, and pho - but you’ll want to focus on the specialties like the vegan curry and banh mi bo kho (beef stew served with French bread). It’s open Monday through Friday for lunch, and only serves dinner on Thursday and Friday nights, so plan accordingly. Also important for your planning: it’s BYOB.
El Tiempo Cantina is perfect for two very different situations: a classic Tex-Mex feast with a big group, or a margarita-infused pregame to kick off your night out. Start with some queso and then order one of the huge parrillada fajita platters to share. There are multiple locations around town, but our favorite is the one on Washington Ave. Expect a crowd and a basket of fresh tortilla chips upon arrival.
Located in an old Montrose strip mall between a laundromat and a convenience store, La Guadalupana Bakery And Cafe serves Mexican breakfast until 3pm everyday, along with a variety of homemade pastries and their signature cinnamon coffee. Eating here feels like home, mainly because the owner greets you at the door and personally seats you at one of the cafe tables. If you don’t feel like breakfast, they do lunch dishes like enchiladas verdes and chile rellenos too.
Maybe you have a friend who really likes to ask bartenders about types of bitters or their favorite mint to use in cocktails. Or maybe that’s you and you’re just looking for a bar where they speak your language. Either way, check out Anvil in Montrose. This place serves more than 100 different types of cocktails, but the bartenders will be happy to make something else for you if you somehow don’t find one you like. There’s also a “Captain’s List” full of rare spirits if you’re someone that gets excited about liquors that you’ll probably never be able to find again.
Between the high temperatures and nearly constant humidity, Houston always feels a little tropical, but Present Company takes it over the top with palm trees, frozen drinks, and more neon than you knew was possible for one bar. This Montrose spot has two levels of patios and serves drinks in Lacroix cans, along with Bloody Mary’s out of Campbell’s soup cans during weekend brunch. Stop by for drinks and to take advantage of the pizza, queso, and wings on the late-night menu.
Imagine your perfect backyard. There’s probably a hammock and an endless supply of beer, and when you get hungry, pizza magically appears. Axelrad Beer Garden checks off all of these boxes, which means it might be your new favorite place to drink outside. This Midtown bar serves more than 30 different beers and has a big backyard full of hammocks where they host nightly movies and live music. It’s also located next to Luigi’s Pizza, which you can have brought directly to you, be it at a picnic table or in a hammock.
If you’re looking for a low-key cocktail option on Washington Ave., head to Julep. It’s the kind of bar where a cocktail takes five minutes to make, but is worth the wait. Also a big plus: Julep doesn’t have the bouncer and dress code situation that’s common at other spots nearby. They serve fancy bar food like seafood towers and cheese boards, but if you’re in need of a snack with your nightcap, get the chicken salad and crackers.
Definitions of an ice house vary, but it’s essentially a neighborhood indoor/outdoor bar, commonly without air conditioning, that serves mostly beer. West Alabama Ice House has been a Montrose staple since the 1920s and it’s always packed with friendly regulars who have been going there for 30+ years. Grab a Lone Star at the bar and a barbacoa taco from the neighboring Tacos Tierra Caliente food truck and repeat as needed.