Where to Eat in Houston Right Now, According to Its Top Chefs

Heed their pro tips for excellent sushi, tacos, pizza and more

September 15, 2023 7:00 am
Spread of food on a table
Looking for where to eat in Houston? We've got you covered.
Pondicheri

Houston is one of the best dining cities in the country. It’s also massive. Which means that your odds of stumbling upon a great restaurant are good, but they’re increased substantially if you have a little direction on where to go. That’s usually when you pull up the review sites or trust your fate to the algorithms, but the best way to ensure success is to ask the experts.

To that end, we polled seven of Houston’s best chefs to see where they like to eat when they’re off the clock. Follow their lead to great pizza, sushi, tacos, Chinese and other foods that should be placed squarely on your to-eat list the next time you’re hungry in Houston.

Spread of food on a table
Feast on dishes like tuna toast, smoked kampachi and tomato pie
Julie Soefer

Elro Pizza + Crudo

“I’ve been waiting so long for Terrence Gallivan to open a new spot,” says Chris Shepherd, author, TV host and founding director of the Southern Smoke Foundation, a nonprofit that helps F&B workers in need. “The cold dishes are absolutely delicious — the tuna toast, the smoked kampachi. I love the tomato pie, and I f’ing love the mortadella pizza. Arguably the greatest dessert is the maraschino cherry soft serve with magic shell. And I love any restaurant with aggressive pours of Montenegro at the end of the meal.” 

Brandi Key agrees. She’s the director of culinary operations for Five 12 Restaurant Concepts, which includes Dish Society and Daily Gather. And she says that “eating at this charming little spot on Fairview is an absolute joy. The space is so beautiful and the wallpaper is stunning — yes, I’m raving about it, but it truly creates a mood to enjoy all of the tasty treats coming out of the kitchen. Terrance makes a mean pizza, but honestly every dish I’ve had was outstanding. The spicy cucumbers wake up your palate with chili, peanuts, shallots and mint (my favorite herb). The tuna on toast is salty and savory, and the crunch of the pistachios with the charred, house-made bread shines. Elro is a place to celebrate and with a table spread with all the small plates, crudos and pizzas, you can’t help but celebrate.”

Josephine’s

“Lucas McKinney is a fantastic chef and has really leaned into his family history and the way he grew up cooking on the Gulf Coast,” says Shepherd. “You want delicious gumbo? Nailed it. You want catfish nugs? F-yeah! The pea salad is so unique — who thinks about making lettuce wraps out of peas? I just love it.”

Pondicheri

“I hadn’t been to Pondicheri in a long time, and I just stopped by for breakfast recently,” says Shepherd. “It was just as good as the first time I visited years ago. Flavors, textures, service — it’s consistently a Houston classic. The breakfast thali offers a selection of dishes on one plate, and the breakfast Frankie hit the spot. Pro tip: head upstairs to the Bake Lab for some sweets and fresh juices.”

Plate of varied sushi
Eat at Kata Robata for exciting specials and delicious market fish
Kata Robata

Kata Robata

“I don’t get to go out much, and they just don’t miss, so I can always count on them,” says Felipe Riccio, chef and partner of Goodnight Hospitality, which operates a stable of great restaurants including MARCH, Rosie Cannonball and Montrose Cheese & Wine. “The specials are always interesting, the market fish is always excellent, the sake and wine list is great. Service is attentive, and I love sitting at the sushi counter. I also can’t wait for them to open Katami, just a few blocks away from my house!”

El Palomo 

This taco truck in the parking lot of AvantGarden is another Riccio-approved favorite. “There is nothing that fills my soul as much as tacos, and these are always on point,” he says. “Perfectly seasoned and cooked options, salsas are delicious, and they are not skimpy. The campechana is a must have, so are the carnitas (always with green salsa), and when they have it, huitlacoche or chapulines. Atmosphere? Just enjoy the tacos. Music? Just enjoy the tacos. Drinks? Just enjoy the tacos.”

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Interior seating area of Nobie's
Find Southern hospitality, locally sourced ingredients and more at Nobie’s
Jack Thompson

Nobie’s

“I always brag how the Houston food scene is so underrated when you compare it to bigger cities like Chicago, New York, L.A., etc.,” says Sherman Yeung, the owner and executive chef of Money Cat and Tobiuo Sushi & Bar. “But my assessment of our food scene is taking relaxed, Southern hospitality and combining it with the same techniques and skills and locally sourced ingredients as the aforementioned cities. Nobie’s is a great example. They use really good ingredients, show care for them and cook them extremely well. Their menu is not only delicious but fun, and that’s where I see the Southern comfort shining through. Their service and atmosphere are the embodiment of hospitality.”

House of Bowls

“You can’t mention Houston without crediting its diversity,” says Yeung. “Houston’s Chinatown is filled with gems such as House of Bowls that really translate culture into a dish. When you walk in, you instantly hear servers shouting — unmaliciously — in Cantonese, and it takes me back to my childhood and all the time I’ve spent in Hong Kong. Cantonese food, in my opinion, is split into two main categories: traditional and British-influenced. For the former, at House of Bowls you have dishes such as stir fry beef flat noodles. For British-influenced, there are dishes like black pepper beef tenderloin spaghetti, so you really get the best of both worlds. House of Bowls also has one of the best HK milk teas around.”

Hugo’s

“In a town known for its Tex-Mex, it’s a Mex-Mex restaurant that stands out for me,” says Erin Smith, chef and owner of Feges BBQ, one of the best smoked meat purveyors in town. “Hugo’s is known for its authentic regional Mexican cuisine, highlighting from-scratch moles, traditional yet creative desserts and an impressive wine list. Hugo’s is a Houston institution and sits in the heart of Houston’s iconic Montrose neighborhood, where there is never a shortage of great people watching. Pro-tip: Go for brunch.” 

Tiny Champions

Located in the EaDo neighborhood just east of downtown, this gem has an eclectic vibe, great pizzas — yes, even the one with pineapple — and pastas, and one of the best wine lists in town,” says Smith. “I always, and I mean always, run into friends when I’m there. When the weather is nice, I highly recommend taking advantage of their massive patio and taking in the views of downtown Houston.” 

EZ’s Liquor Lounge 

On most nights, the lovable bar EZ’s slings hot dogs, tacos and chili, but don’t miss the steak.

“In my opinion, the best ‘steak night’ in the city is at EZ’s Liquor Lounge on Mondays,” says Jason Ryczek, executive chef at Little’s Oyster Bar in the Montrose neighborhood. “Best quality for the price at one of the best bars in the city. Matt Tanner has done an awesome job with the care he takes in providing awesome products at a killer price.” 

Puebla’s Mexican Kitchen

“If you want a real Mexican breakfast, this is my go-to neighborhood place,” says Brandi Key. “Order a build-your-own breakfast taco with choices like machacado, chorizo or nopales with queso fresco. The all-day menu has choices of tortas, sopes and picaditas, and they make one of my favorite moles poblanos in town. The staff are so heartfelt and happy, demonstrating a sense of family spirit to every guest. It feels like walking into your grandma’s house, the red carpet being rolled out to provide delicious food and comfort.”

Spread of food on a table where to eat in houston
Mama’s Kitchen is one of the best Sichuan restaurants in Houston
Mama’s Kitchen

Mama’s Kitchen 

“Out of all the amazing Sichuan restaurants in Houston — and there are many — this is the one we go to the most,” says Willet Feng, who runs Burger-Chan, one of the best burger spots in Texas, with his wife, Diane. “They execute the classics really well — mapo tofu, dry-fried green beans, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, boiled fish with pickled cabbage — just to name a few. What sets them apart, though, is they also have our daughter’s favorite shrimp-fried rice. Anyone with kids knows how important this is, and it really is a super tasty fried rice. Diane and I usually eat half of it, too.”

Zen Japanese Izakaya

“I have probably tried 80 percent of the menu with my family, and we’ve never had a disappointing meal,” says Feng. “Some of our favorites include the seafood champon, tan tan men, chirashi, extreme picante roll, toro taku don and seasonal fish sushi. Our daughter’s pick: kitsune udon sans green onions. Also of note: The draft beer always comes out ice cold!”

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