10 Essential Dishes Houston is Known For|
When it comes to food, Houston’s palate is as diverse as its population. If you are familiar with H-Town’s smorgasbord of traditional dishes, then you know smoked brisket and barbecue ribs are only the beginning of what Houston’s culinary scene has to offer.
Think bigger (you know what they say about Texas). Think Gulf Coast-inspired dishes prepared with fresh seafood or, fusion food paired with exciting ingredients such as Thai basil, freshly cracked Tellicherry peppercorns and delicious olive oil.
What kind of food is Houston famous for?
Houston is known for a number of foods and types of cuisines. The most famous foods in Houston are Viet-Cajun crawfish, barbecue, breakfast tacos, chicken and waffles, tamales, pho, and kolaches. The variety of cuisines available in Houston includes Vietnamese cuisine, Tex-Mex, and Louisiana Creole cuisine. This selection stems from Houston’s population diversity. Sounds tasty, right? Well, keep reading to learn more about Houston’s many signature cuisines, explore the city’s diverse dining scene, and get a taste for Space City’s out-of-this-world culinary highlights. Here are 10 foods you need to try the next time you are in Houston.
If you enjoy tasting different cuisines from around the world, Houston may seem like paradise. There are many types of food represented in Houston’s culinary scene. The most influential types of food include Vietnamese cuisine, Tex-Mex, Texas barbecue and Latin-American cuisine.
From Viet-Cajun crawfish to pecan pie, the following foods put Houston on the proverbial food map. Keep reading to learn why each dish is special and where you can find it the next time you are in Houston.
10 Essential Houston Dishes
1. Viet-Cajun Crawfish
What is it? The result of Vietnamese immigrants experimenting with Cajun flavor, Viet-Cajun crawfish is a must-try in Houston. The dish pairs boiled crawfish with a blend of butter, olive oil, garlic and a slew of fragrant spices to create an iconic dish that highlights Houston’s unique culture.
Where do I find it: Chinatown. Find this signature dish at Crawfish & Noodles and Cajun Kitchen. Crawfish season peaks during February, March and April, so book a table during these months to get the best Viet-Cajun experience.
2. Texas Barbecue
What is it? Texas, unlike North Carolina or Kansas City, doesn’t depend on a sauce to develop its barbecue flavor. Instead, Texas-based pitmasters use bold spices to elevate the meat’s natural flavor. At most Texas restaurants, sauce is still available, but it is certainly not necessary. Barbecue highlights in Texas include smoked brisket and barbecued beef ribs.
Where do I find it: All over. Local favorites include Blood Bros on Bellaire boulevard, The Pit Room in Montrose and Ray’s BBQ Shack. Dine in at any one of these excellent restaurants to taste delicious food and relish in the sights and sounds of the lone star state.
3. Breakfast Tacos
What are they? Breakfast tacos may seem simple to explain, but in Texas, they are perfected in a number of creative and tasty ways. Virtually every corner in Houston is populated with a Tex-Mex restaurant or food truck waiting to serve you some combination of scrambled eggs, bacon, chorizo, cheese and veggies all piled high atop a homemade flour tortilla. The best part is that these warm and delicious food “blankets” are available before 8 a.m. at most spots.
Where do I find it: Almost everywhere. Honestly, you would have to be purposely hiding from breakfast tacos to not find them in Houston. Local taquerias are a prime spot for breakfast tacos, while Tacodeli and La Mexicana are both highly-rated restaurants that offer Houston’s go-to breakfast. If you are looking to get your hands on a taco before daylight, Brothers Taco House begins serving at 5 a.m. Monday through Friday.
4. Chicken & Waffles
What is it? A southern take on two American favorites, chicken and waffles combines sweet and savory flavors to create what some call “the ultimate comfort food.” Throughout Houston, many breakfast and lunch spots serve up a combination of this favorite. At its essence, the dish is one part crispy, finger-lickin’ fried chicken and one part sweet and fluffy waffle (both parts are pretty darn good).
Where do I find it: The premier place to find chicken & waffles in Houston is The Breakfast Klub (yes, with a “K”). This popular brunch spot has been serving up its Wings & Waffles combo since 2001. When the lines are too long and you are not trying to impress your out-of-town friends, head on over to the Waffle Bus Food Truck or Waffle Bus restaurant.
What are they? Originally the innovation of Mexican ranch workers, fajitas are now served around the United States from Portland to Miami. However, they were made famous in none other than good ol’ Houston. That’s right, legend states that Ninfa Laurenzo started cooking up her skirt steak recipe in the 1970s to sell her made-from-scratch tortillas.
Where do I find it: Ninfa’s original location still serves tacos al carbon (fajitas) daily. Additional Tex-Mex locations that serve steaming fajitas of hand-trimmed skirt steak and marinated chicken include Molina’s Cantina, Candente and Revelry on Richmond.
6. Pecan Pie
What is it? Staying true to its southern roots, Houston is also a hotspot for pecan pie. While this popular dessert is commonly served on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas throughout the country, it is available year-round in Houston. Of course, like most local foods, there is a bit of controversy surrounding who does it the best.
Where do I find it: Goode Company, Three Brothers Bakery, House of Pies and Flying Saucer Pie Company are all consistently touted as perennially favorites for in-house pecan pie. If you are looking to grab a pie during the holiday season, make sure to go to the restaurant early. Each of these city favorites attracts a crowd fast, especially around Thanksgiving.
What are they? Kolaches are a breakfast staple served all across south Texas. Originally, these yeast dough pastries were filled with sweet cheese or fruit in Eastern Europe. However, sometime after Czech immigrants moved into the city, savory fillings became the go-to. Today, you can find a number of doughnut shops and breakfast sites serving the Czech pastry with all sorts of fillings including sausage, cheese and even jalapenos. Among kolache purists, the inclusion of sweet and savory fillings is still up to debate. Some are still sticking to their guns, stating that Kolaches are fruit-filled and that what most Texans call a “kolache” is actually a “klobasniki.”
Where do I find it: Despite this heated debate, you can still find kolaches or klobasniki throughout the city (why debate their existence when they taste so good?). Christy’s Donuts & Kolaches and Kolache Shoppe are each a Houston treasure that has stood the test of time. Koala Kolache is a newcomer to the city that has gotten experimental with its craft. At this restaurant, you will find kolaches stuffed with a beef cheeseburger blend, mac and cheese, and even cheese grits and egg.
What is it? Pho is a Vietnamese dish that includes rice noodles, herbs, spices, and meat (usually beef, but chicken is also a popular choice) all submerged in a broth. This broth is typically made by simmering beef bones or oxtails (common in other Vietnamese meat dishes), and it takes several hours to make. Houston’s devotion to Vietnamese cuisine is well documented in the overall quality of pho produced in the city.
Where do I find it: Pho Thanh Long is a family-owned restaurant on Houston’s northwest side. The restaurant has been serving savory beef pho for more than 20 years. Another premier spot for pho in Houston is Pho Houston, which is located just off of I-45 in an unassuming strip mall. If you are looking for a spot only locals are hip to, you need to try Pho Binh Trailer, which yes, is a food truck (or food trailer) that serves steaming bowls of pho in southeast Houston (cash-only).
What are they? A common sight in and around Houston, traditional tamales are a mixture of corn dough (masa) and meat (chicken or pork), wrapped in a corn husk. This mixture is then steamed to make the masa firmer. After being steamed, a tamale can then be unwrapped and eaten on the go (the corn husk is not edible).
Where do I find it: Granny’s Tamales, Alamo Tamales & Tacos and Momma’s Tamales are all local establishments that serve up traditional tamales year-round. At any one of these places, you can order enough tamales to satisfy a large group (don’t forget a side of red salsa). If you ask a Houston resident who makes the best tamales, they might tell you that they only eat tamales made by their Abuela, Tia or Madre (grandmother, aunt or mother, for the uninitiated).
What is it: Whataburger is coveted fast food in Texas. The fast-food establishment, famous for its striking orange and white buildings, originated further south in Corpus Christi, TX. However, now you can find multiple locations in most Texas cities and a few elsewhere across the United States. The fast-food restaurant serves up burgers, fries, deep-fried onion rings, milkshakes and a number of original creations such as the honey butter chicken biscuit and the honey BBQ chicken strip sandwich.
Where do I find it: The restaurant chain currently has 58 locations in the Houston area, which means that wherever you are in the city, you are not too far from a Whataburger.
What is the number 1 food in Texas?
The number one food in Texas is barbecue. However, Texas is also known for a host of other cuisines and foods. Each of Texas’s major cities (San Antonio, Dallas, Houston and Austin) all support very diverse populations, which have brought a variety of cuisines to Texas.
Go Out and Try the Best Food in Houston
Houston is an exciting and diverse city for a number of reasons (read 11 reasons to move to Houston in 2022). But as you have learned, nothing is more exciting than Houston’s culinary scene. Where else can you find local chefs experimenting with such an exciting selection of ingredients and flavors? Where else can you find such a blend of culture and tastes? Chicken and waffles and tamales next door to one another? It’s safe to say that Houston is one of the best food cities in the country, and you are now ready to try each of its signature dishes.
Have you already tried a few of the foods mentioned in this blog? If so, let us know which one was your favorite by participating in our Houston food poll (it has to be the barbecue, right?).
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