By: Amy McCarthy
From inside the loop to Houston’s happening suburbs, this map of Houston’s most essential restaurants is the perfect way to answer a question that everyone has to ask at one time or another: What's for dinner tonight?
Notably, this map doesn't track the city's trendiest or hottest new spots — those live on the Eater Heatmap. Instead, the Eater 38 tracks the Houston restaurants that consistently offer excellent fare, with a variety of price points and cuisines, that can pretty much satisfy any dining needs on any given night. Every few months, the Eater 38 is updated with the eateries that best reflect Houston's diverse culinary culture.
Everyone has their favorite establishments, but if you see a glaring omission on this map, make your case in the comments.
Trek to The Woodlands to find Tris, formerly known as Hubbell and Hudson Bistro. Helmed by chef Austin Simmons, the dishes here range from ramen and butter-poached crab served on kimchi pancake to Texas venison served with mushroom tart and basil-egg emulsion.
2. Coltivare Pizza & Garden
This rustic Italian spot in the Heights remains a perennial favorite, thanks in large part to its 3,000 square foot in-house garden and freshly-made pasta dishes. If the wait is running long, grab a drink at the bar and enjoy the people-watching before dinner.
3. BB's Tex-Orleans
Texas flair and Cajun fare collide at this beloved Houston chain. Open 24/7, it’s always an excellent option for po’ boys, a steaming bowl of gumbo, or enough fried seafood to satisfy any Gulf cravings.
4. Better Luck Tomorrow
This bar from Houston hospitality titans Justin Yu and Bobby Heugel is just as well-known for its excellent pub fare as it is cocktails. The “party melt,” a decadent riff on a classic burger is a must, and groups can order the “cycle” (read: everything on the menu) for less than $100.
5. B&B Butchers
The finest beef in Houston can be found at this Washington Avenue steakhouse, one of only a handful in the country certified to serve authentic Kobe steaks from Japan. Not feeling a hunk of beef? There’s plenty more on the menu at B&B, including an excellent herb-crusted rack of lamb and crab-stuffed trout.
6. The Pass & Provisions
With two concepts in one, this spot will satisfy any budget or dining preference. Enjoy a sophisticated and budget-friendly prix-fixe tasting menu at The Pass, or head over to Provisions for pasta dishes like squid ink cavatappi and pizzas topped with uni or Italian sausage.
7. The Original Ninfa's on Navigation
The Tex-Mex institution that started it all. Fajitas, enchiladas, and other Tejano classics join Oaxacan-style pork tamales for the perfect blend of Texan and Mexican cuisines. Of course, no meal here is complete without a Ninfarita, the restaurant’s notoriously potent signature margarita.
James Beard Award winner Hugo Ortega's Downtown restaurant is a love letter to Oaxaca. Chic plates like infladita de conejo, a lush dish of tender rabbit, raisins, tomato, and almonds served inside an inky black tortilla, await. On the weekends, swing by for an all-you-can-eat brunch that puts every other buffet in town to shame.
9. Pizaro's Pizza Napoletana
Pizaro’s is serious about Neapolitan pizza — so serious that it earned certification from the prestigious Vera Pizza Napoletana organization, which governs “authentic” pies from the region. Keep it classic with a margherita pie, or consider the Calabrese, topped with pepperoni, sopressata, fresh mozzarella, and Parmesan.
10. La Table
Going casual at this chic French restaurant is definitely a treat, but dining in the Chateau, its more upscale sister spot, is always worth the splurge. Dive into a plate of sea scallops served with crispy potato and capers, or go classic French with a duo of crispy duck breast and leg confit.
11. Nancy's Hustle
Eater Houston’s 2018 Restaurant of the Year, Nancy’s Hustle has quickly earned a reputation as one of the city’s best (and coziest) neighborhood restaurants. The pillowy “Nancy Cakes” served with butter and salmon roe are simple and delicious, and the hand-cut spaghetti with lobster and fermented chili butter cannot be missed.
12. Killen's STQ
Barbecue empresario Ronnie Killen brings his love of smoke to his first restaurant inside the Loop, and Houstonians are loving it. Everything from Vidalia onion soup to bone marrow gets a kiss of smoke here, and the steaks (including wet and dry-aged Prime beef and Wagyu options) get plenty of char on the restaurant’s wood-fired grill.
Chef Ryan LaChaine, an Eater Young Gun, blends his French-Canadian and Ukranian heritage with Texas beef, Gulf seafood, and global influences to produce unique and stunning dishes. Here, mushroom empanadas share table space with crispy Gulf snapper in bacon-tomato consomme, and hanger steak served with perfect pierogi.
14. Brennan's of Houston
3300 Smith St
Houston, TX 77006
50 years in, Brennan’s Creole and Cajun cuisine still shines thanks to iconic dishes like snapping turtle soup and Pontchartrain-style (read: crab, shrimp, and oyster-loaded) Gulf fish. Before digging into heartier fare, kick off dinner with a towering seafood platter that’s decadent without being outrageously priced.
15. One Fifth Mediterranean
What began as an experiment is now proven fact — One Fifth is one of Houston’s most innovative and consistently interesting restaurants. After cycling through a steakhouse theme and focusing on the cuisines of Spain, Italy, and France, chef Chris Shepherd’s rotating eatery is now serving stunning Mediterranean dishes through the end of July. Endlessly creamy hummus, mezze plates like chicken shawarma and kibbeh, and large-format dishes like yogurt-marinated chicken and roasted whole fish await.
Chef Hugo Ortega’s namesake restaurant in Montrose continues to stun, thanks to housemade ingredients like stunningly complex mole sauce and fresh tortillas. Start dinner here with one of Ortega’s bright ceviches, then move on to heartier fare like tender braised duck in mole Poblano or the famed cochinita pibil.
17. State of Grace
A perfect destination for date night, happy hour, and everything in between, State of Grace’s Texas-obsessed fare has earned a loyal following. Find oysters roasted over oak and spiced with tandoori curry, blackened Gulf snapper in coconut broth, and duck carnitas served with bacon fat tortillas. Pro tip: swing by during happy hour when the freshly-shucked Gulf oysters are $1 each.
18. Saigon House
This Midtown Vietnamese eatery has quietly earned a reputation as one of the city’s best. Steaming bowls of pho are topped with primo beef, Dungeness crab is served in a sweet tamarind glaze, and there’s no denying the appeal of Saigon House’s spicy, saucy crawfish.
19. Giacomo's Cibo e Vino
This casual eatery has been serving some of Houston’s best Italian fare since 2009. A bountiful selection of hot and cold antipasti options (think salumi boards, fennel-spiked meatballs, and Roman-style gnocchi) awaits, along with freshly-made pastas (order the pappardelle!) and whole-grilled rainbow trout.
This modern Indian spot is a good call for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, thanks to consistent execution and perfectly piquant dishes. Try aloo paratha (carrot roti stuffed with mashed spiced potatoes) instead of the typical breakfast burrito, or order up a vegetable frankie served with peanut chutney and “Desi fries” for a lunch that you’ll keep coming back to.
21. Peli Peli
A Houston original that has since spawned two spin-off restaurants and an outpost in Austin, Peli Peli's South African cuisine is a proven local favorite. Start off with piquant peppadew peppers stuffed with chive cream cheese, then dig into curried chicken or fried whole snapper.
22. The Breakfast Klub
When a restaurant is endorsed by Beyoncé, you know it’s legit. This homey destination for chicken and waffles still inspires lengthy lines and peak hours, but the fare here is always worth the wait.
23. Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
In a city full of steakhouses, Pappas Bros. still stands out in this ridiculously-crowded field. Cuts of Prime beef are seared to perfection, and paired with classic Pappas favorites like lump crab mac and cheese and lobster deviled eggs.
24. Tacos Tierra Caliente
This beloved taco truck, parked next door to the West Alabama Ice House, is home to some of Houston's finest tortilla-wrapped delights. Score tender fajita, crispy pastor, lengua and more street-style tacos, or go for a torta or quesadilla. Either way, lunch will likely cost less than $10.
25. BCN Taste & Tradition
Taking its name from Barcelona, this upscale Midtown eatery showcases the best of Spanish cuisine, offering delicate, razor-thin slices of jamón Iberico, crispy patatas bravas, and tender suckling pig. A stellar selection of Spanish wines rounds out the experience, which is decidedly cheaper than booking that trip to Spain.
26. The Pit Room
This Montrose barbecue favorite is perhaps best known for its sausages, made daily at the restaurant in flavors like jalapeno-cheddar pork and black pepper-garlic venison. Not feeling a full barbecue feast? Go for brisket or pulled pork tacos, both served on tortillas made with smoky pit fat.
Chef Kiran Verma’s elegant, globally-inspired plates exemplify some of Houston’s finest modern Indian cuisine. Pay close attention to the section of the menu dedicated to Indian street snacks, ranging from pani poori to samosas stuffed with crab and corn, and don’t sleep on tandoori-fired meats like rack of lamb and lobster tail.
28. Kata Robata
Arguably Houston’s finest sushi institution, it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong at Kata Robata. Sashimi selections like madai topped with black truffle are always pristine, and allowing Chef “Hori” Horiuchi to guide an omakase dinner here is always a stunning journey into the world of raw fish.
29. Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant
This Houston institution is known for its kifto (ground beef tossed with a spicy, buttery sauce) and other classic Ethiopian dishes. Grab a freshly-made injera to scoop up the savory sauces here, and save room for a glass of tej, a sweet honey-based wine made at the restaurant.
30. Raja Sweets
The oldest Indian restaurant in Houston, Raja Sweets is the perfect stop for both a sweet and savory fix. Dig into samosas, dosas, and curries, then enjoy the city's finest gulab jamun and jalebi, among other sweet treats.
After 20 years in Houston, Benjy's has the formula for a perfect brunch, lunch, or dinner down to a science. Wood-fired pizzas and an excellent selection of small plates like roasted carrots in spicy caramel and pistachio-crusted goat cheese make Benjy's the perfect spot for hanging out with a group — order everything on the menu and split it.
32. Himalaya Restaurant
One of the best Indo-Pak restaurants in Texas — and the country — Himalaya is a Houston icon. The crispy, spicy fried chicken and hunter’s beef are essential Space City dishes, and owner Kaiser Lashkari’s menu of innovative specials keeps this restaurant’s menu fresh all the time.
33. Mein Restaurant
Asiatown restaurant mogul Mike Tran has created a destination restaurant in Mein, where some of the city’s finest Cantonese fare awaits. Juicy pork xiao long bao, black bean clams, and chili oil chicken are menu standouts, and every table should order a few of Tran’s excellent vegetable dishes, like lotus root in bean curd sauce or garlic-spiced eggplant.
34. Mala Sichuan Bistro
This James Beard nominee in Asiatown is Houston’s most well-known Sichuan restaurant, and for good reason. The mapo tofu is tender and spicy, the kung pao is some of the best in the city, and the red oil dumplings are perfect every single time.
35. Pho Dien
A relative newcomer to Houston’s pho scene, Pho Dien has impressed Houstonians and critics alike. One of Texas’s 38 essential restaurants, the broth at this Vietnamese eatery is simmered for at least 12 hours, making it rich and fragrant.
36. Crawfish & Noodles
This James Beard Award nominee has earned a cult following thanks to its spicy, herbaceous Viet-Cajun crawfish. Instead of the traditional flavor profile of most boil, find mudbugs tossed in a buttery garlic sauce with lemongrass, chiles, and herbs that exemplifies the kind of cultural mash-up that could only happen in Houston.
37. Pho Binh
Houston is spoiled when it comes to pho, and this decades-old Asiatown stalwart serves some of the city’s best. The broth here is aromatic and rich, a cure for even the nastiest of hangovers.
38. Killen's Barbecue
This Pearland barbecue joint attracts lengthy lines, but fortunately there’s often free beer for waiting barbecue enthusiasts. Once inside, feast on juicy, barky brisket and hulking beef ribs that induce the perfect kind of meat coma.