Howdy...my wife and I are headed to Houston over Thanksgiving weekend. We'll have a couple of opportunities not to eat with the family so I'm looking for some "absolute best" places in town for stuff like:
Since we're from Kansas City I don't really HAVE to have BBQ but it'd be nice to do a comparison. We've been to Goode Bros burgers & taqueria down on Kirby before, really kewl place, but I'd like to check out other Tex-Mex places, be they hole-in-the-wall types or more fancy-shmancy. Any suggestions are appreciated.
Chili? You won't find that on many restaurant menus here. We mostly make our own. If you can't find WICK FOWLER brand packaged chili mix in Kansas City super markets, stop in most any super market in Houston, pick up a package or 2 or 3 (about $2/pkg), take it home with you and then get your butcher to grind up about 2 lbs of chili meat (DON'T use hamburger meat) for you. That one package (of Wick Fowler) contains smaller packets of all the ingredients for chili except the meat and tomato sauce (if you like tomato sauce in your chili). It makes a better pot of chili than you'll find here in those places that do actually serve chili. There is a chili recipe for
For the other (Tex-Mex and BBQ), try browsing this site. http://www.b4-u-eat.com/ You can find Tex-Mex amd BBQ places to eat and reviews for those places, some good, some not so good.
As for BBQ, my personal preference is William's Smokehouse on Wheatly Ave. in Acres Homes (north Houston). Try the pork ribs, usually very good. The beef brisket is hit and miss, some times good, some times not too good, same as most BBQ places. The sides (cole slaw, beans, potato salad) are usually very good and freshly prepared. William's also has chicken and links (BBQ'd) if you care for that. They are closed Sunday and Monday and may close at 8 PM on days when open. I'm not sure of closing time. There are about 171 places listed under BBQ in Houston. Some are good, some are bad, same as in KC (Yes, I've eaten BBQ in KC several times). Now if you could just go to Luling, Texas (3 hours west of here) for BBQ . . . . . .
People will debate it endlessly, but barbecue tastes are a personal thing. Go across the street from Goode Co. burgers and taqueria and get some of their barbecue. The brisket and ribs are still my favorites in Houston after many years of exploration.
My favorite Tex-Mex place is not mentioned by many people, but it's about as Tex-Mex as you can get. Casa Dominguez is at 4548 Bissonnet, in Bellaire. Drive west on Bissonnet (big intersection with Kirby just a little south of the Goode Co. restaurants) until you are almost to the 610 loop. It will be on the right. Try the Aggie Special!
Howdy there Fummunda. If you're driving down from KC you might want to go through Grapevine (DFW area) to Tolbert's for some chili. It's only been open a few months and I haven't been, but it should be great chili (Frank X. Tolbert's 'Bowl of Red' is a classic chili text). There's a website.
In Houston Jim Goode's latest venture is Armadillo Palace, right down the street from the Taqueria. He has a bowl of venison chili on the menu that is the real deal, just meat and spices, and very, very good, probably the best bowl in the city. A generous portion for just $5.95. Unfortunately they haven't put much thought into the sides; all you get is a pile of tortilla chips. C'mon now, chili is not an appetizer or dip, it's the main course!
Another good bowl, although non-traditional (chicken w/kidney beans, corn, tomatoes), can be had at Cafe Express, a local chain of upscale casual diners (counter service) by celebrity chef Robert Del Grande. I like it best when I get a serving that's soupy because the chili gravy is the best part of this bowl. I wish I knew Del Grande's spice and seasoning recipe and I wish he'd turn his attention to making a good beef or venison chili.
Another possibility is the brick chili at Guy's Meat Market on Old Spanish Trail (US 90A) just west of TX 288 on the south side. Not served at the meat market; grab a couple of pounds out of the freezer, hot or regular (the hot will not be too much), commandeer your relative's kitchen, chop some onions, grate some cheese if you must, fend off the relatives who'll all want a taste, and enjoy. Or take some back or have your relatives send you some. It's just meat and spices, as it should be, chunked choice Northern chuck.
A decent bowl of buffalo chili can be had at Bubba's Texas Burger Shack on Westpark underneath the Westpark Tollroad.
There's also decent chili at Spec's Liquor Whse and Deli on Smith downtown; chili grind meat, nothing but meat and spices.
Probably the best selling bowl in the city is at James Coney Island with about 18 locations. Very mild, chunks of beef with some pintos; recipe unchanged since 1923. I prefer the chili pie.
Those are the best bowls I know of in the city and other than that many places served canned institutional chili that's pretty awful most of the time. But any self-respecting chilihead, whether local or tourist, owes it to themselves to check out the chili at Armadillo Palace.
Tolbert called Fowler the best chili cook in the world; he participated in the very first cookoffs at Terlingua. But the spices in the pack can be stale and it can't come close to what you can make pulverizing or steeping chiles and making your own mix. Plus the popularity of the mix has led to the unfortunate belief by many that chili is supposed to have masa flour in it to tighten it. Tolbert pointed out Fowler never served his chili on the day he made it - he refrigerated it overnight, skimmed the fat the next day and THEN decided whether to add masa. I've grown very tired of the taste of masa altering the chili and never tighten my pots. With todays leaner meats, it isn't necessary.
I'll go with Williams Smokehouse for best bbq by far; second would be Thelma's. Goode Co. is above average, but not the best.
Tex-Mex/Mexican - there are undoubtedly close to a thousand eateries from old fashioned Tex-Mex to taquerias, etc., and we are just as disputacious about which is the best as we are about bbq. I'd suggest Lopez Mexican restaurant on Wilcrest just north of US59 South for Tex-Mex, 100$ Taquito or any of the Taquerias La Tapatia for taqueria fare, Pico's for more upscale Mexican. There a lot of buzz about Hugo's being not only the best Mexican but one of a handful of the best restaurants in the city, period, but I haven't made it over there yet. Expensive, I think.
Check out the link by dolethillman above for maps and other reviews.
oltheimmer, what a great rundown on Houston chili. It's not what I normally seek out but will have to try some. Especially Goode Armadillo, where I usually get the great burger and the skinny crispy fries. Thanks for the posting.
Also agree with dolethillman that you can make a fine chili with the mix. Haven't tried it in years.
For BBQ, I like Goode because the meat is fine but the sauce, bread and sides far surpass any other bbq joint. The atmosphere is great Texas kitsch, too. Get extra sauce on the side, jalapeno cheese bread, Austin baked beans, and dirty rice.
Thanks texnosh. I'll keep your recommendations in mind. I don't go to a great bbq place for sides and sauce, though, it's gotta be the meat. I've never detected the sides at Goode were any better than elsewhere but I can't say that I've ever had the Austin beans or dirty rice. I do go from time to time; it's a lot closer to where I live than Williams.
The Chili at James Coney Island is very good, and the chili pie is even better.
For Tex Mex it is hard to beat two places:
Taqueria Tapatia on Richmond (try their tamales and the enchiladas. Guacamole is superb.) Ninfa's on Navigation (and only the one on NAvigation) is true Tex-Mex, and many of the cooks and waitstaff have been there since Mama Ninfa started the place. The inside will remind you of places right along the border too. For upscale Mex-Mex you cannot beat Huga's on Westheimer. A very elegant Mexian restaurant and strong attention to details make it a great experience.
For Barbecue, The ribs at Goode's on Kirby or IH-10 are the best you will find anywhere. And the brisket, and Czech sausage are great too. Goode's attention to top quality meat is part of what makes this place better consistently than the competition. Ther are times when Thelma's, just east of the downtown convention center, has great ribs too, but sometimes I have found them too dry And the sauce does not compare to Goode's - it is too sweet. And for sides - and I sometimes go to Goode's just to pick up some potato Salad - are truly special. The Austin Baked beans are not typical barbecue joint beans but they are delisious. They also have the more typical beans though. Some people love the jalapeno bread, but it is too much like sponge bread for my taste.
I'll second (third) a recommendation for the original Ninfa's on Navigation (but steer very clear of the other Ninfas). I'll also toss in Pico's on Bellaire, which has some great margaritas, and some very good pork pibil...
William's Smokehouse is probably my favorite for bar-b-que, but after a trek to Lockhart this past weekend, the gulf between the good and the great has been made ever the more evident.
I'd also toss in Luling City Market on Richmond for BBQ. Sure, it's not the real thing Luling, but I'd still put head and shoulders above Goode Co.
I was back in Houston for the first time in 20 years this spring and stopped at Pizzitola's at 1703 Shepard Drive. It's a real hole-in-the-wall from the outside, but a real classic inside. I had the brisket sausage sandwich and it and the sides were very good. If you type in "Pizzitola in Houston" on your browser it should bring up a Houston Chronicle review.
It lost some charm when they supersized it and turned the interior into a cavern, but I enjoy Drexler's, which puts an East Texas spin on its BBQ.
But my absolute favorite BBQ in Houston is Thelma's, at 1020 Live Oak. It's a real down home joint, so friendly and so good! One of the things I miss most about Houston.