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Dec 2, 2012 08:18 PM

What is unique in Houston?

I'll be in Houston for a few days--Jan 3 thru Jan 7. I live in Southern California. The hotel is in River Oaks but I have a car. Are there a few unique food experiences (B, L,D) you would say not to miss?


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  1. I apologize for your not having received any replies.

    The fact is that it is a tough question.

    Houston has a LOT of great food. But not much of it is "uniquely Houston".

    We have great food from the various cuisines of South and Southeast Asia.

    We have great seafood and/or Cajun/Creole.

    We have great steaks and fried chicken and on and on and on.

    We do NOT have great barbecue and while it's just plain silly, it's the truth.

    Give us some more ideas of what you like, if you'll be alone or with kids, etc, and I'm sure you'll get some recommendations.

    I'll start with Barbecue Inn. NOT for the bbq, but for the fried chicken or chicken fried steak. Ask for a fried shrimp or oyster or both on the side. Not too far from you either.

    Then drive a block east to Flying Saucer Pie Company and have a slice of your favorite.

    Interesting Indian at Pondicheri very close to River Oaks.

    For vintage Tex-Mex, El Real.

    And right across Westheimer from El Real is Hay Merchant,.



    Neither of which I've been to yet.

    For interior Mexican, Hugo's.

    And for award winning Japanese Fusion/Sushi, Uchi.

    Hope this helps, and with more info we can give you better reccs.

    Enjoy your visit.

    8 Replies
    1. re: DoobieWah

      Thanks for your reply.

      I was expecting great BBQ. Sorry to hear that.

      I know its out of season--but is there still a great crawfish? Is one of your choices a great seafood? What is in season in the first week of Jan?

      What does Japanese Fusion fuse with?

      I lived near Kemah about 20 years ago? Is there anything there worth going to, or is it all Landry's chain food?

      We probably havbe time for 3 dinners and 2 lunches. I could do that from your suggestion list. We will probably go to NASA one day. Is Crazy Cajun still a good choice? or Kemah? Or someplace new (over the last 20 years) in the Clear Lake Area?.

      Thanks for your reply

      1. re: foodell

        Well, you say you're going to be here for several days and have a car. If you're up for a road trip, and if you really are interested in "great BBQ" - the "unique" type - you can drive the 1 1/2 to 2 hrs over to Luling & Lockhart. It's an easy drive. But it would take the better part of the day.

        1. re: foodell

          Near Clear Lake, we really like T-BoneTom's in Kemah. You will be here at peak Gulf oyster season. Some of the best are found at Gilhooley's in San Leon. Try the grilled oysters. No children are allowed here so if you have some, leave them in the car (not kidding about the no-kids policy). In Houston, great oysters and cajun seafood can be found at Danton's on Montrose.
          Crawfish in the shell are not in season as you point out, but there are plenty of places that serve it in etouffee and a variety of other dishes.

          1. re: Lambowner

            You should be able to find crawfish, but they will be small, still delicious though. I used to like Mardi Gras Grill on Durham before they changed owners, but haven't been since. I also liked the fried oysters and oysters Louisanne, poached in white wine and butter. I second everything Jaymes and Lambowner say.


          2. re: foodell

            While I would agree we don’t have the best bbq in the state here, most of us can’t afford the luxury of trekking off to Central Texas every time we want some, so we make do. I can make it to Luling form the far SW side in just short of 2 and a half hours; from the River Oaks area, it's going to be closer to 3, one way.

            I would say maybe the best here rates an 8 on a scale of 10, but I know that’s going to be disputed. It would be a shame to come all that way and not have at least some so what were your go-to places when you lived here? If you’re not going to be up to making the trek yourself, maybe we can point you to something comparable or better locally if that place is not still around or warn you if it’s gone down hill.

            Since you’ve lived here you know much of Houston’s appeal is small ethnic eateries. We have a huge China Town, now located out on the SW side instead of east of downtown, and a huge Vietnamese populaton. We also have a sizeable Indian/Pakistani community with their own clusters of restaurants. Interested in any of that?

            I’m not much on either Tex-Mex or Cajun, having eaten it all my life I just don’t find it very interesting, but I will put in a vote for El Real, the best Tex-Mex I’ve ever had. I stick with the older dishes, though, the recreations of the classic dishes of 40 or 50 years ago, the combo plates, etc.

            We have several posters who live in the Clear Lake area; hopefully they will weigh in in coming days. I'll second T-Bone Tom's and Gilhooley's (no children allowed).

            As far as unique goes in the same vein as El Real I reallly like Radical Eats, a vegetarian Mexican restaurant. There aren’t many of those around. You won’t miss the meats. It's north of downtown, inside the Loop.

            Also unique, or at least unusual, is the fact that Houston’s restaurant scene is getting favorable national attention, regularly. There’s a lot going on here that’s very exciting to foodies across the nation. Some of the places that have garnered national praise include Feast, which has been around for four years but is giving up the ghost in a few months, Hugo’s, Reef, Oxheart, Underbelly, Uichi, and El Real. Those would certainly be on my list of suggestions for anyone wanting to experience some of the best of Houston these days. For some of those, you’re going to need reservations well in advance.

            1. re: brucesw

              Thanks team. I'll have to talk with my better half, but I think we have the start of a plan here.

              Noise? Californians seem to think a good restaurant has to be headache noisy. We recently left a good food place after appetizers because the noise was oppressive. Is Houston afflicted with this too?

              Its been a long time seine I was there. We used to do a storefront BBQ on NASA Rd 1 and Crazy Cajun was the place for Crawefish.

              1. re: foodell

                I live in Clear Lake by NASA and the Crazy Cajun is long gone and I can't think of any BBQ place on NASA Rd 1 but there is Red River BBQ in League City that is very good not Luling or Lockhart good but very good none the less.

                Oher places I would recommend in Clear Lake are;
                Gilhooley's in San Leon for oysters. It's a dive but we love it

                Greek Deli & Cafe for just about anything though we go for the gyro's. Daughter lived in Greece and said it's the closest thing to what she had in Greece. A word of caution the owner can be gruff. Niko Niko's is also excellent Greek but that's in Montrose. Owner is much gentler and it's close to River Oaks. I'm originally from the Southern CA area and get back there about 4 times a year and don't remember there being Greek at least in the areas I visit which is why I recommend it.

                If you are a steak eater there is Killen's in Pearland. Killen's is only open for dinner. Some of the best steak in Houston but pricey.

                I'm basically only commenting on the Clear Lake area. The recommendation above are spot on



            2. re: foodell

              No more Crazy Cajun. Mysteriously disappeared several years ago. Mamacita's on Nasa Rd 1 is raved about but I have not gone there yet. Love Masa Sushi on Nasa Rd 1.

          3. Foodell, as a fellow Californian, I would say that you should not miss the BBQ experience. If you have a car, make the drive to Luling and Lockhart and you will not be sorry. As for the great Asian food in Houston, you live in So Cal so you can easily get to the San Gabriel Valley-- I like the asian food in Houston but you are not going to find anything that rivals what you can get at home.

            I've had good catfish at Captain Benny's when I've been in Houston and family has taken us there.

            Doobie Wah did introduce me to Bosnian food at Cafe Pita-- something I cannot find in NorCal. If you want to try that, it's at 10852 Westheimer-- excellent food! Enjoy your stay and please let us know what you find!

            5 Replies
            1. re: dimsumgirl

              Cafe Pita + has opened a second location @ 5504 Richmond, directly across from Pete's Fine Meats, a lot closer to RO. Only been open a couple of weeks at most.


              Diners, Drive-ins and Dives visited the original and the video is hugely popular online.

              1. re: brucesw

                Wish they'd open a branch out here in California!

                1. re: dimsumgirl

                  Someone said its 3 hours to Luling. Is that round trip? Is rthere anything else to see or do between RO and there?

                  1. re: foodell

                    Not really anything on the road between. Mostly freeway and looks kinda rural. No it's about 2/12 to 3 hours each way; depends on how crazy a chowhound you are-- I thought it was worth it but my friends and relatives thought I was nuts. If you make the drive there, you might as well go to BOTH Lockhart and Luling and enjoy the BBQ at both places. And remember to take cash. If I recall correctly, they don't take credit cards. Also, they charge for ridiculous items like sliced onion (15 cents a slice) and pickles-- I think they were $1 each but white bread is free. Go figure.

                  2. re: dimsumgirl

                    Have you tried Pita Jungle in Newport Beach near Mcarthur and the 73?

              2. I lived in Houston for 14 months.
                One thing about Houston, it's a mecca of famous eateries.
                For a great day and an interesting drive go to Round Top, not Round Rock and eat at the Round Top Inn.
                It seats 23, has almost as many freshly made pies lining the place, is in a historic area surrounded by Shaker homes and Long Horn cattle ranches and has crazy good beef dishes. Years ago, not sure about now, it was rated in the 10 best places to eat in Texas, not just Houston.

                1 Reply
                1. re: iL Divo

                  Thanks for the idea but not enuf time on this trip.

                2. Great question, and a topic near and dear to my heart.

                  First of all, if you want BBQ the best you're going to do in Houston is Gatlin's on W19th (lunch only). If you want the best though, driving to Lockhart is like the Mecca Pilgrimage for BBQ lovers. It's a drive, but worth it. If you go, do your research but ultimately decide between Black's, Kreutz, and Smitty's.

                  Back to Houston...

                  Unique Breakfasts:
                  Hugo's Sunday Brunch (interior Mexican influences)
                  Breakfast Klub (chicken & waffles or catfish & grits)

                  Unique Lunches:
                  Cafe Pita + (interesting Bosnian food)
                  Tex-Chick (Puerto Rican... fried pork mofongo!)
                  Lankford Grocery (my vote for best burger in town)
                  Bombay Pizza (Indian Pizza... seriously)

                  Unique Dinners:
                  Ninfas on Navigation (my vote for best Tex-Mex)
                  Pappas Steak House (best around)
                  Tampico Seafood (authentic Mexican seafood)
                  Uchi (sushi and seafood flavor explosions)
                  Cafe Rabelais (most romantic place in Houston... try the mussels and then go have a beer at the Gingerman)

                  Other famous Houston places:
                  Da Marco

                  Houston food is amazing. Enjoy!

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: davisgb1

                    What is the best bbq place which is open on Sunday?

                    1. re: foodell

                      My two favorites, Virgie's and Gatlin's are closed on Sunday. My next choice is Luling City Market near the Galleria, which has it's detractors. Get there early for the best meat. A local favorite of the masses is not so Goode Company, being from Southern California it's probably better than what you have, but I don't go anymore, despite living less than ten minutes from the Katy Freeway location. Just rememberd Baker's Ribs, open Sunday.



                      1. re: James Cristinian

                        How do they compare with Black's in Lockhart --which I think is open Sunday.

                        1. re: foodell

                          My $.02 worth - not even close. I'm not the cue hound I used to be but back 4 or 5 years ago, I thought there was no finer brisket to be had than Black's. I like the simply seasoned beef sausage but it's not one of the four or five best in the state, ribs, sides, sauce are all forgettable. Yes, Black's is open, as the signs say, 8 days a week. Til 8pm most nites but I'm not sure about Sunday. Edgar Black has always taken a very simple approach to seasoning - nothing but salt, black pepper and post oak smoke he claims.

                          Last time I was up that way, Smitty's was also open on Sunday, though only for a few hours (11a-3p???). Others here can comment on Smitty's.

                          For that matter, Franklin's in Austin is open Sunday; I haven't been yet. The trek to Austin will add 30 minutes each way and Franklin's is famous for long lines and running out very soon after opening.

                          I agree with what James says above about Goode Co.; if I went, the Katy Fwy location would be my choice. For LCM, get there for lunch, by 1 pm at the latest, or risk getting dried out meat that's been sitting on a steam table too long. Goode Co. is in Texas Monthly's Top 50 BBQ joints in the state, I think; LCM is not. City Market in Luling, Smitty's and Franklin's are all in the Top Ten. I'm not sure if Black's makes the Top Ten but it's definitely Top Twenty.

                          1. re: brucesw

                            Well it looks like it's crow for me for lunch today. It was late last night and I didn't bother to look some things up but I have to correct what I said above - Black's did not make the Tx Monthly Top 50 list in 2008 (the last one?), not even the honorable mentions, although they were on the list in 1997. My latest notes about having been were from December 2006.

                            The two Houston places on that 08 list were Burn's BBQ and Virgie's, with Goode Co. earning Honorable Mention. Roy Burns has since died and the place was closed for a while then 3 places have opened with the name, run by family members. I haven't been and it hasn't been mentioned much on this board (closed Sunday except for pre-paid pickup orders, according to the website).

                            The next closest place on the Tx Monthly list open Sunday (until 3 pm) is Vincek's in East Bernard, about 25 minutes west of Rosenberg on US 90-A. I was there just last Sunday but only for kolaches on the way out.

                            Austin's in Eagle Lake, another 20 minutes or so, is excellent but more noted for sausage than brisket and dining accomodations are outdoor, covered but otherwise open air.

                            Very sorry for the misinformation.



                            1. re: brucesw

                              If you are going to Rosenberg, don't forget Swinging Door in Richmond which is my all time "local" favorite since sometime in the 1970's. Open Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday.


                              1. re: Lambowner

                                Thank you all for your advice. Unfortunately, due to the press of family, we were only able to have two restaurant meals. We were very happy with our choices.

                                We had one fish dinner at Dantons. I had the stuffed red fish I ordered the "topper " of Oysters Dan -really as a small appetizer. Very nice and so rich I was happy to have only two oysters. The BW had shrimp etoufee. Both very nice and very happy choices.

                                The other was the pilgrimage to Blacks at Lockhart. It was a Sunday so choices were limited. We were very happy with the brisket, the beef rib, and the baby back ribs. I was a lot less happy with the sausages--regular and garlic. Bland, poor texture, dry, ''But the bbg'd meat was great.

                                Thank you to the BBQ critics as well.

                                1. re: foodell

                                  I'm glad you were pleased with your choices and thanks for reporting back.