Where do Houston’s most lauded restaurateurs, chefs and bartenders go to eat and drink? Here, seven Houstonians spill on their favorite places to wine and dine.
I love steak and potatoes! When this is what I’m looking for, I head over to Pappas Bros. Steakhouse for a prime rib eye and au gratin potatoes. The melt-in-your-mouth potatoes are the best in town. I enjoy a good Bourbon, and Pappas makes an exceptional Vieux Carré.
My go-to spot in Houston has been Antonio’s Flying Pizza for nearly 45 years. It’s the place I took my wife on our first date and it’s still the same delicious, family-owned Italian restaurant. My favorite dish there is veal Parmigiana, always following a pizza as an appetizer.
On the weekends I love to eat at Harry’s Restaurant, especially for breakfast. It’s an amazing place to spend time with my family, sharing pancakes for the tables and waffles filled with bacon. Whenever I want a quick bite to eat, I go straight to Bellaire Broiler Burger. They serve up quick burgers and crinkle-cut fries. It’s a burger joint that opened in 1959, and the old school nostalgic feel remains.
One of my favorite places to eat on the weekend is a Houston Tex-Mex staple Los Tios. It’s a solid go-to for a solid Margarita. You can’t go wrong with a plate of beef fajitas and the Presidente Margarita.
After a late night, I always find myself at Moon Tower Inn on the East Side, where the kitchen is open until 3:00 a.m. serving great wild game hot dogs and the best pimento cheese in Houston. House of Pies, a staple, is open 24/7 and has great late-night breakfast. Finish it off with a slice of Bayou Goo pie and a strong cup of coffee.
For drinks, my favorite place to hit up is Dean’s Downtown for the best Old Fashioned you can get. If I’m on the East Side, I make it a point to stop off at 8th Wonder Distillery for a great craft gin and tonic or a Michelada made with Haterade, 8th Wonder Brewery’s gose with sea salt, and coriander. If you want my personal favorite mezcal Margarita, The Pastry War downtown is never a bad choice.
When family comes to town, we always go out to Huynh Restaurant for good Vietnamese. It’s BYOB, with great service and authentic Vietnamese food. Their bo luc lac (Vietnamese shaking beef) and their bun bo hue (spicy soup) can’t be beat. When I’m out with a group of friends, we always end up at El Tiempo in Montrose. The best Margaritas by-the-pitcher in Houston and you can split a plate of fajitas or treat yourself to their enchiladas.
On any given day of the week you'll find me at the bartop at Nancy's Hustle ordering up some Nancy Cakes. They're tiny corn cakes served with whipped butter, chives and smoked trout roe—they are highly addictive, so proceed with caution. Nancy’s has a late-night menu, which makes it ideal for industry professionals after their shifts.
With just as much gusto, if I could have one last dessert in my entire life, it would be the sticky toffee pudding topped with foie gras shavings from Riel Restaurant. It's a seamless blend of flavors and decadence and as unforgettably delicious as it sounds. Chef Ryan Lachaine rotates the menu seasonally at Riel, but thanks to huge supporters like myself, the sticky toffee pudding will always be on the menu.
When I have friends in town, I always take them to Hugo's by Hugo Ortega. My favorite thing on the menu is the banana leaf-wrapped lechón. It's made like carnitas confit, deboned and sautéed to order. I've joked with the Ortegas that if they ever gave me the recipe I would find myself a husband. And yet, still no recipe. But, I'm glad this item is a mainstay at Hugo's and their regional Mexican cuisine made from scratch is one that's garnered national acclaim.
Like in any good food city, Sunday brunch can be super competitive in Houston, but with Nick Wong heading the kitchen at UB Preserv, the decision has gotten much easier to make. His brunch is always fun, delicious and unpredictable. My absolute must-haves are the crispy rice salad and the tres leches Japanese pancakes. The bigger the group the better, because his dim sum-style brunch really lends itself to sharing.
My go-to meal when I’m not working is always oysters. The chefs at State of Grace pick and taste their oyster selection daily (Gulf Coast and East Coast), and make a mix of killer mignonettes to go with them. Ask for the off-menu bottled hot sauce to really kick up your slurps. I also love the store-front deli at B&B Butchers. It’s got that old-school deli feeling that you don’t see anymore. Get The Washington, a hoagie sandwich loaded with house-cured meats, with their homemade sour pickle on the side.
After a shift, though, it’s Nancy’s Hustle for anything and everything. They’re open late and even offer a late-night menu for food, which comes in clutch after a crazy restaurant night. They do a great Lincoln Club Cup that is refreshing and boozy with Cognac, cucumber, citrus and cava all poured over crushed ice. For food, start with the Pickle Party to snack on and then get the burger. It comes on a brioche English muffin with two patties, cheese, house-made pickles and a side of fries dubbed the fry-fecta. And yes, that’s exactly what you think it is—curly fries, matchstick fries and seasoned fries with a side of aioli.
Sarah Crowl, Bar Manager
Two Headed Dog is low-key, cool and littered with industry professionals and garden gnomes. It’s a vibe. Sometimes things get weird but in the absolute best way possible. The smaller space definitely adds to the appeal and the mood. It’s half inside, half outside and it feels like a great spot to be no matter what time of year or what the weather provides. They’ve nailed the frozen cocktail game and their back bar is stellar, especially considering it’s not a huge space. They also have Montenegro on tap—and who doesn’t want to drink Amaro on tap? Drink like a cool kid and order a frozen Piña Colada with a shot of Montenegro. It’s a win. Check this bar out.
If you want to ensure a seat at small sushi counter Kokoro, I recommend making a reservation. If you’re sitting at the counter, I advise letting the chefs steer you in the right direction on what to order. Let them feed you so they can shape your dining experience to suit your preferences and your budget, if you choose. This is not their first rodeo. These chefs are creative, they know quality, and they know fish and flavors. There’s not one bite I haven’t loved. They prepare the best scallop nigiri I’ve ever had. Try the A5 wagyu bite. Can’t go wrong with fatty salmon or anything with roe or caviar. Since Kokoro is in food hall Bravery Chef, they don’t have beverage service. If you do want to imbibe, I recommend ordering sake/wine at Bravery Wine Bar, just a couple countertops away.
Nobie’s is open late, which is great for people who work evenings. I’ve never had a mediocre meal there. Most dishes change seasonally, so I greatly encourage ordering something new as well as something familiar, like their beef tartare and their incredible pasta Bolognese, which I dream about. If Bolognese is on the menu, order it! Definitely save room for dessert and get the olive oil cake—the best cake in town. They have a cool wine list and great cocktails. All around great spot in Montrose.
My go-to bar after a long shift is Monkey’s Tail in Houston’s Lindale Park. I enjoy their chill vibe and eclectic music—not to mention their amazing cocktail program. My favorite Draft’ Tail is the “But Did You Die?” with aguardiente—a nice balance of spice, sweetness and a hint of smokiness. The cocktails are delicious, but their bar food can’t be missed, especially the Chango Burger, with cheese, onion, and pickles and slathered with Valentina mayo for a nice kick. And at $4 for a small, you can’t beat that!
The Penny Quarter is my “get work done and have a glass of wine” spot. The atmosphere is relaxing, the wine and snacks great, the service very warm, and I love that there are outlets under the bar to plug in my computer. My favorite snack there is the fried chicken sandwich—super crunchy and topped with sprouts.
My favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Thien Thanh, is located in Houston’s Asia town and serves the best bánh cuốn (steamed rice rolls). I always get the one filled with grilled pork. They also serve one of my all-time favorite Vietnamese dishes, chả cá, which is fish marinated in turmeric and fish sauce served on a bed of fresh dill. It comes out sizzling on a hot skillet served with a side of fresh noodles and herbs. Any time I have friends in town I have to take them to this Houston gem.
Himalaya is still one of my favorite restaurants in the city, tucked into a shopping center off of Hillcroft Street. They serve Indian and Pakistani fare that has a spooky depth of flavor (and they're BYOB). If you’re looking for a decidedly Texan experience, Pappas Steakhouse (both locations), have stunning wine lists and beef dry-aged in house. A Duke's Martini and/or a Japanese highball at Anvil Bar & Refuge afterwards are a must. For a lighter experience, you could hit up the sushi counter at Kata Robata for omakase, then slide through Penny Quarter for a glass of wine or an Irish coffee. Above all else, make time to have a lone star at West Alabama Ice House, no matter the weather.