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What's great in Houston?

I need recommendations on the best Houston eats. I grew up in L.A., never been to Texas, all I know are the usual stereotypes about the heat, the hairstyles, the people, the guns... Here's the thing: my boyfriend is thinking of moving back to his hometown of Houston after his current job so I may have to consider LIVING there!

*shudder*

Kidding!! I'm open-minded, willing to check the place out. I'm visiting for the first time over Thanksgiving weekend. I want to find the BEST food Houston has to offer, particularly the typical Houston/Texas food that I can't find in L.A. I already know we're going to Hugo's cuz his family loves it. I browsed other posts, and I'll narrow it down if that helps:

* Nothing high-priced or super-fancy, I want to try the places that the average person would frequent rather than "special occasion" restaurants. Local-type places with lots of character.
* BBQ is definitely good in my book. If the place has great sides, that's even better. I'm a mac n cheese and cornbread fiend.
* I'm not a fan of chili or big steaks
* Desserts! The best homemade-style cakes and pies. Ice cream too.
* Seafood! But not Cajun seafood unless the sides are outstanding
* No Asian or Italian, I get enough of that here.
* No burgers, hot dogs or pizza, unless they serve something unusual.
* Best independent coffeehouse!
* Breakfast

I know for sure we'll be in the SW suburbs, Rice U., and wherever the touristy area is. But am willing to drive up to an hour for someplace really great. THANKS IN ADVANCE!!!

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  1. I live in Austin, but whenever we go to Houston I love Cafe Annie for a fancier night out with great Texas fusion and wonderful service. For something more ethnic try Indika, which is Indian inspired fusion. For something more casual maybe Cafe Red Onion.

    1. Interesting requests - great food that average people eat - you may be over-estimating the average Houstonian's taste (or the average person's taste anywhere) but I'll assume the 'great' is more important.

      BBQ - the best is Williams Smokehouse (ribs are best). Other places that are very popular and very good are Thelma's, Luling City Market and Goode Co. That's the order in which I would go for them. I'm afraid mostly sides at TX bbq places are predictable and mediocre but Goode Co. is known for it's jalapeno cheese bread. Thelma's will have soul food sides. IMO, great TX bbq is not about the sides, it's about the meat. I'd wager the average Houstonian has never heard of much less been to Williams; Goode Co. is the most famous and undoubtedly the most visited by out-of-towners.

      The good news is there's a new place opening that is very promising which should be open by Thanksgiving - Monica Pope, a local celebrity chef, is opening a place on the near West side called Beaver's and advance reports of samples made available at her farmer's market on Saturday mornings are very good. I'm really looking forward to it and expecting great things. Also expecting it to become a foodie place in no time short. Check back in on this board for reports -- I plan on being there within a couple of days of opening.

      For ice cream try Hank's on S. Main near Reliant Stadium:

      http://www.hanksicecream.com/

      As for cakes and pies, I'm not too familiar with many places but I do know Blake's BBQ & Burgers, listed on the Hank's site, serves good home-made cakes as well as the ice cream. The bbq at Blake's is mediocre but the burgers are very good.

      For seafood my choices would be Tampico on Airline down from the Produce Market or Top Water Grill in San Leon on Galveston Bay.

      Touristy - as in the Kemah Boardwalk and Galveston???? You're going to encounter lots of restos in the Landry's, Inc. chains. Pappas is another very big local operator with above average chain food outlets.

      11 Replies
      1. re: brucesw

        Thanks for the recs. A great start to my list. I think what I really meant by "average" was non-upscale.
        I do tend to enjoy sides more than the meat - never been a big slab'o'meat eater. But I plan to get my occasional fix of slabs'o'meat there. It's the right city for it!

        I don't know exactly where I'm going to be taken for sightseeing. Is it like L.A., as in no one central tourist downtown area?

        1. re: CookieEater

          You have to try Thelma's. Her BBQ and pretty much every side are beyond scrumptious. It almost makes up for the killer humidity...Almost.
          Think Vietnam with big hats.

          1. re: CookieEater

            Thanks for the clarification. Have you seen the 'New to Houston' thread? That was started by someone moving to Houston from Los Angeles and several who have made the change chimed in with their advice; you might find a lot of good stuff there.

            I think you'll find Houston a very affordable place for average people to eat out compared to LA and we really excel in that category as well as what one local reviewer calls peasant food. Not to say we don't have excellent upscale dining, too, though. Hugo's is probably about as upscale as it gets re: Mexican food.

            The typical sides at bbq places are slaw, potato salad and beans and many are just so-so IMO. Thelma's as mentioned has some soul food sides but tend to be overcooked to my taste. Best bbq places I can think of for sides would be Lyndon's Pit BBQ on 290 @ Hollister - this is Carolina style pulled-pork bbq, not Texan, and very good non-traditional sides. Hinzes in Wharton (40 miles SW) is a small town bbq joint with home-made sides that are good and there's also a Hinzes in Katy but I've never been to that one. Hinzes uses pecan wood, a SE Texas regional variation on the oak-mesquite-hickory more commonly used elsewhere in the state. Pappas Brisket house has some better sides - yams, lima beans, dirty rice as I recall - but their Q is only so-so. I haven't been to Pappas in years so no hearty recommendation.

            There is no really touristy area - Houston is very spread out. Local attractions that draw tourists would include the Kemah Boardwalk, a sleepy bay village turned into a carnival like place by Landry's Inc., Galveston Island, NASA and, for history purposes, the San Jacinto Battleground and Battleship Texas. As far as the latter the Monument Inn is a good seafood place that your boyfriend's family probably knows about. Landry's Inc, which just about owns Galveston, seems to be based on the notion that what most adults want when they dine out is an adult version of a McDonald's Playground.

            http://www.monumentinn.com/

            I also second texnosh's recommendations of Goode Co. Texas Seafood.

            You really should take a drive out thru China Town on the west side, even if only passing thru. I know someone from SF who thought he knew a lot about Chinese food who was astounded shopping at the Chinese supermarkets there at the produce he found that he had never even heard of before.

            About breakfast - downhome or chi chi? I seldom leave home for breakfast so I'm not a good reference but I do know of the Breakfast Klub, a waffles and chicken place, but I've never been. Tel-Wink Grill is a very old fashioned diner that is hugely popular, especially on weekends, and claims to serve the best breakfast in Texas and has reasonable portions and very modest prices. Avalon Diner (River Oaks and Stafford) is very good old style diner food also. Kelley's Country Cooking (5 locations) is famous for humongous portions. Kelley's has good chicken fried steak but their sides are overcooked to my taste. They also have home-made cakes and pies but I've never even been able to contemplate ordering anything so I don't know how they are. Other hounds will have to chime in with more chi chi offerings.

          2. re: brucesw

            My family is from Katy so most of the places named in this thread are a good drive away, with exception for Goode off I-10 and Echo, that's not too far.
            Point is, I'd like to know if there are more places worth mentioning in the west side of town? Beaver's sounds great too, looking forward to hearing about your thoughts when they open.

            1. re: air

              I don't know much about that part of town but Marini's Empanada House on S. Mason at Westheimer Pkwy is excellent (there's a website) as is Capt. Tom's Seafood and Oyster Bar, on Katy @ Mason, as I recall, in the big faux shrimp boat.

              Along Mason headed toward Marini's, you'll pass Hinze's bbq. I haven't been to that location but the original in Wharton is one of my favorite Q joints in the area, pecan smoked, with great home-made sides.

              Along I-10 just outside the Beltway is a Dimassi's Meditarannean Buffet, excellent food for a buffet (I've only been to the Richmond location).

              If you're willing to come all the way in to Goode Co., try Empire Turkish Grill, just east of the Beltway on Memorial. If I remember correctly it's co-owned with Istanbul in the Village and so should be great:
              http://www.theempireturkishgrill.com/

              Come on down the Beltway to Westheimer and go out to Cafe Pita, 1/2 mile west, a Bosnian place I reviewed a couple of months ago. Everybody seems to like this more than I did but I'm not negative about it at all. Further out would be Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen.

              I could also mention Dozier's in Fulshear, 7 miles S of I-10 on FM 359 (Brookshire exit, just west of Katy). Used to be considered the best Q in the area but my most recent visits a year and half ago were disappointing and you almost never hear about it anymore.

              I know we've had some Katy hounds post here but it seems most Houston area hounds are practicing for the Olympic's Sitting-On-Your-Hands competition. Maybe you should start a separate thread?

              1. re: brucesw

                Thanks for all the information!

                I should've actually been more specific with my reply - I was mainly wanting to see if there's good Q in the west side. Most of my restaurant familiarity centers around Asian food in the Chinatown/Bellaire area. I still really appreciate your tips!

                I pass by Hinze's all the time, just never took the time to check it out. Will definitely give that a try when I'm home for the holidays.

                1. re: air

                  No problem. Happened to think of another one - Houston BBQ and Saloon on Eldridge Pkwy, between I-10 and Memorial. When this first opened Alison Cook in the Chron made much of the fact the owners were the original owners of Luling City Mkt on Rickmond and this was their new venue. I presume the Q is very similar but haven't ever been. If you get to either of these be sure to let us know if they're worth the trip.

                  1. re: brucesw

                    Thanks again bruce. I'll be home for Thanksgiving and Hinze's is gonna be one of the first places I'll try and check out.

                  2. re: air

                    If you like jerky try the jerky at Hinze's. It's better in the Wharton location, but you have to call ahead to make sure they have it. They make it there and transport it to the Sealy location, so it's a bit fresher in Wharton.

                    1. re: danhole

                      How's the Q on Mason Rd. compared to Wharton?

                      1. re: brucesw

                        I prefer Wharton, myself. Just seems to be smokier!

            2. Sorry ma'am, all we have are big steaks or big steaks smothered in chili. Seriously, check out:

              Goode Co. BBQ for great sides and pecan pie.
              Goode Co. Seafood for Texas Gulf seafood.
              Tampico's for whole red snapper served in a Mexican restaurant.
              Treebeard's (open only weekday lunches) for great sides.
              Amy's or the Chocolate Bar for ice cream (and the Chocolate bar for cakes if you like those)
              Coffeehouses: Empire

              Welcome to Houston!

              4 Replies
              1. re: texnosh

                Any other indie coffeehouses besides Empire?

                1. re: CookieEater

                  Bright and Early at Washington and Durham has reallygood coffe but its really only a drivethrough kind of place.
                  Diedrichs has a place on Montrose but the old place on Westheimer had a much better coffehouse feel.
                  Brazil is probably Houstons strongest Coffee joint. Its at Westheimer and Dunlavy.
                  In the Heights area there is a pretty cool coffe bar/liqour bar but I forget the name.

                  1. re: CookieEater

                    I went to Brasil one time a few years ago, liked the atmosphere wasn't particularly impressed by the coffee. My fav indie coffee house closed some years ago. A friend has been wanting me to meet him at Inversion on Montrose but I haven't gotten around to it yet. The place is quite new. I've also heard some good things about Taft St. Coffee from friends.

                    I've assumed you've discovered this other resource in your searches?:

                    http://www.b4-u-eat.com/eat002.asp?Z=...

                    You can search by neighborhood or zip code if you want to find something closer to where you're staying. The Heights and Montrose are probably where a good deal of the indie places are. Reviews can be quite unreliable.

                    I see Empire isn't listed, perhaps because it is more cafe than coffee house??? But Brasil serves food, too (they're very close to each other)???

                  2. re: texnosh

                    Went to Empire Cafe for the first time ever last night and loved it. Great desserts and drank some of the best hot chocolate I've ever had. Wish there were more excellent coffeehouses like this closer to Katy!

                  3. For
                    BBQ= I would say either Williams Smokehouse or Thelmas.Ribs at Williams and Brisket or catfish at thelmas.
                    Desserts= The gelato and other chocalate goodies at Raindrop Chocalates are the best in town. The blood orange choc gelato is really good. Hanks Ice Cream on Main St by Reliant stadium does really good ice cream like the banana pudding, or in the fall the sweet potato, and apple pie and the butter pecan are just a few other favorites.
                    Seafood=In Houston I would say Tampico on airline is my favorite. The whole grilled red snapper is one of my favorite foods in town. Try a michelada, it is a beer with lime and hot sauce. Another place in San Leon which is not real far from Kemah is Topwater Grill. The grilled oysters are great as is the other seafood. It is a little place on the bay surrounded by shrimp boats, its a little like Kemah used to be(cool).
                    Breakfast=Maybe Picos, Buffalo Grill, Breakfast Klub...Personally I go for a breakfast taco in the barrio at someplace like Villa Arcos on Navigation. The Bacon "Super" is my favorite.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: jscarbor

                      Also, more often than not you get great tamales at Dona Tere Tamales on Beechnut. They ave other locations but this is the one I know.

                      You did not mention Indian or Pakistani but Himalaya is out of this world good. Its not the type of Indy/paki place with great vegatarian stuff but the meats are great and the naan is awesome.
                      One more thing that is worth mentionin is Maryz Mediteranean on Richmond for the baba ganoush alone really. I usually just eat appetizers here.

                      1. re: jscarbor

                        oohhhh, sweet potato ice cream! That sounds so good.

                        1. re: CookieEater

                          It was good BUT I have only seen it the one time.

                      2. For the best pies in town you have to go to the Flying Saucer Pie Shop on Crosstimbers. Around holidays you need to pre-order, because people line up before it opens to get those pies. They are the best pies in town.

                        PS _ Carry-out!