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Not only my first time in Houston, but my first time in Texas

I've spent the last couple of hours reading through CH posts for Houston and I'm finding all the 'first timer' and 'best' lists a little too international. I'm currently working in the Middle East (Dubai) and I travel a lot to India, Asia and Europe. I don't want to eat any of those cuisines in Houston when I'm there for only four days at the beginning of December. I want to 'taste' Houston, to get a feeling of what Texas (at least that part of Texas) has to offer in terms of local cuisine.

I feel I should be looking for barbecue, Tex-Mex, maybe some Gulf seafood. But is there a Texan cuisine that can be sampled? (What did multi-generation-locals grow up eating?)

Any guidance, or suggestions in any of these categories would be greatly appreciated!

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  1. Well cajun isn't quite Houston but it's close. You can get lunch at Treebeards mon-fri. Cafeteria style service - cheap and cheerful. In the tunnels at 1100 Lousiana

    1. Danton's would be a good choice for gulf seafood. Gatlin's has a good reputation for barbecue, but I have heard the wait can be extremely long, so it may not be easy to check out. I'm a fan of the platinum margaritas and crab quesadilla at El Tiempo. For more traditional Mexican food, Hugo's is great. Are you going to be in a particular part of the city?

      1. I will agree with Danton's if you are looking for Gulf Coast Seafood. Very good and traditional. Too many places in Houston have gone to more of a Cajun style while Danton's stays with what they do best. My favorite on their menu is their Crabmeat au gratin although last time we were there some friends of ours got either the trout or flounder and said it was the best they had ever had.

        I personally am not a big fan of El Tiempo. I like El Patio as my traditional tex-mex. There is always the Original Ninfa's on Navigation. Or find the closest Pappasito's. Tends to be overpriced but portions are big and there is a reason they always pack them in.

        A lot of it depends on the area of town you are going to be staying, if you have a car and if so, how far you are willing to drive. Houston is a very spread out city and it can take you over an hour (or more depending on traffic) to get from one side of town to the other.

        1. Thank you kagemusha49, mjust and rondi. Great advice. And yes, I probably should have mentioned where I'll be staying. I'll be at a hotel near Texas Ave and Main St.

          I will not have a car, but I have been considering a rental, especially if good barbecue can only be had outside the city. (Barbecue is probably my main objective, so any advice in this regard would be especially appreciated!) Gatlin's is now definitely on my list, as is Danton's. As for Mex/Tex-Mex, I have also been reading lots of mentions of El Real and also El Hidalguense and Mexico's Deli. Any thoughts about these places?

          Anyway, thanks again for the suggestions. And if anyone would like to add any 'location-based advice', that would be great too.

          6 Replies
          1. re: marcus68

            El Real gets mixed reviews, but I like it for queso, traditional cheese enchiladas, and puffy tacos. Probably the closest Tex-Mex place to you downtown is Irma's--check hours, though, because they only recently started dinner service on certain days. I haven't been to the other spots you mentioned, but I'm sure someone else has.

            1. re: marcus68

              While Mexico's Deli is large and tasty food, I wouldn't even think about the drive out just for that, it is quite a way from downtown. El Real is a good option and Danton's is one of my favorite places in town. For a 2-fer of famous Houston restaurant families, try the Italian/Tex-Mex fusion of Tony Mandola's on Waugh, brought to you by the Mandolas in conjunction with the famous Ninfas family. Large portraits of the famous family matriarchs adorn the entrance (their children married, I believe) and some of the menu items are fusion, i.e., seafood and cheese stuffed poblano over angel hair pasta. The menu is seafood and steaks generally, the service is impeccable and the owner is an ever present and gracious Tony Mandola.

              Obviously, the most "Houston" experience is Brennan's downtown, which holds a very special place in many hearts. Houston doesn't have the best BBQ in the state, but it seems Gatlin's gets the nod. Note well the hours and that you must be there early (before noon) so it may well interfere with whatever business brings you here. BBQ is a lunch fare here.

              Please let us know what you decide!

              1. re: Lambowner

                Nobody touts Mexico's Deli as much as I do, but I agree with Lambsy. I wouldn't recommend driving out from downtown just for that. (Sorry Alex!)

                I also agree with Brennan's. I love that place.

                I would also recommend stopping by the downtown Phoenicia and/or Midtown Spec's Liquors and Deli, but I always do my souvenir shopping at the local groceries.

                Also downtown, the Hubcap Grill for a killer burger.

                There are some more current and hipper options nearby as well.

                  1. re: DoobieWah

                    Hey wait a second. Mexico's Deli is very good Mexican food and I would say it IS worth a trip. I only get there once a year but I have a hankering for their food for months while I'm away.

                    1. re: dimsumgirl

                      Well as I said before, I love Mexico's Deli as much as anyone, but it's not the kind of place I would recommend to a brief visitor to try to get to from downtown.

                      Either they're driving a rental and I'm asking them to brave our freeways over a pretty good distance, OR it's a $75 cab ride.

                      There are much closer places that, while perhaps not as good, just seem to be more reasonable recommendations.

                      Nevertheless, to be perfectly honest I'm deeply honored that you would choose to argue with me about that since I introduced you to it.

                      Deeply.

              2. Thanks for giving us your parameters up front so we can do a better job of advising you. You've done a very good job of identifying the specialties of this part of Texas. A couple of specific dishes you might also consider would be chili or chili/frito pie and chicken fried steak.

                I did my multi-generational growing up multi-decades ago and what I ate was probably very different than what much younger Texans have access to. The only kind of Mexican we knew was Tex-Mex and I've eaten so much of it that I find it boring these days, as others on this board know. The only place I go for that is El Real and I stick to the recreations of the old dishes such as the Leo's, the Original, Old Borunda and Roosevelt special. Even fajitas are new-fangled Tex-Mex to me. For Mexican that isn't strictly Tex-Mex I like Radical Eats, in the same part of town, formerly exclusively vegetarian/vegan but now with meat dishes on the menu. I haven't eaten at the new location nor had any of the meat dishes, however.

                I have still never gotten around to Danton's despite my good intentions but I thought that was supposed to be Cajun/Creole? Their gumbo is cited by some as the best in town and gumbo is not a Texas dish.

                For seafood I would also consider Goode Co.'s Texas Seafood, 2 locations, a little bit farther from your hotel.

                Gatlin's is the best bbq in town and it's not mediocre by any means. I swore off the place in disgust right after it opened because of the glacially slow service; the lines i encountered were never long but they wouldn't move for 10 or 15 minutes. More recent visits have indicated however that they've attended to that issue. Still, it ain't quick and there's very little dining area. 2nd choice would be the newly re-opened Pierson and co., a little further away but still within a reasonable cab ride. This was the critics favorite before Gatlin's but has been closed for a couple of years while the owner underwent double-knee replacement surgery and evidently had a helluva rehab. I haven't been since it's re-opened but Clarence Pierson had been making barbecue for decades and I imagine he's gotten right back into the swing of things.

                Must emphasize however - the best bbq places are closed by late afternoon/early evening if they don't run out earlier. I'd avoid Gatlin's right at the lunch hour but don't expect there to be much at 6 pm, if they're even open. Same for Pierson's except the lunch hour will probably not be such a crunch.

                1 Reply
                1. re: brucesw

                  Danton's has some cajun dishes, but I would call them Gulf Coast Seafood.