Top 12 Best Restaurants in Houston

Last Updated on February 16, 2024 by Emily Johnson

With a vibrant culinary scene infusing global flavors into Southern hospitality, Houston satisfies hungry diners at over 10,000 exceptional restaurants representing 70+ cuisines. Houston’s cultural diversity appears gloriously on plates citywide from Eritrean stews simmering with exotic spices along Long Point Road to perfect Italian pastas gracing River Oaks red sauce joints.

Restaurant NameCuisine/StyleNotable Features
UB PreservAmericanDiverse dishes using local ingredients, celebrates Houston’s cultural mosaic
The Original Ninfa’sTex-MexFamous for introducing fajitas, vibrant atmosphere
Crawfish & NoodlesVietnamese-Cajun FusionKnown for seafood and pho, unique flavor combinations
CaracolMexican SeafoodUpscale dining, fresh seafood daily from Mexico
The Breakfast KlubSoul FoodLong waits for breakfast classics, community favorite
Hugo’sMexicanAuthentic dishes, vibrant setting, winner of James Beard Award
Rice Village Café & BarEuropeanParisian-style patio, serves coffee and cocktails
Mala Sichuan BistroSichuan ChineseFiery dishes, traditional with a spicy twist
Tony Mandola’s Gulf Coast KitchenItalian-Texan BBQItalian-accented Texas barbecue, house-baked cookies
PondicheriIndian with French TechniquesCreative Indian cuisine, brunch specials
The Gypsy PoetEuropean Comfort FoodOld world techniques, cozy ambiance

Whether craving barbecue, bánh mì or birria tacos, these 12 eateries promise memorable dining experiences that make “Space City” an eating adventure.

UB Preserv

Name and Location: UB Preserv is located in Midtown Houston, Texas.

History and Significance: Opened in 2016, UB Preserv transforms its menu daily to creatively use every part of locally and sustainably sourced whole animals and produce while supporting regional farmers and partners. The creative space fosters an inclusive environment.

What to Expect: Diners can expect a scratch kitchen and eclectic preparations such as seared pork heart with nuoc cham or caramelized potatoes cooked in beef fat spotlighting underutilized and older cuts. The vibrant bar program complements bold flavors with craft cocktails. Visitor Information: UB Preserv serves dinner nightly, adds weekday lunch and weekend brunch. Reservations accommodated alongside walk-ins at the counter. Paid street and garage parking available nearby.

Chef Chris Shepherd celebrates Houston’s rich cultural mosaic through his ever-evolving “One Fifth” concept that transforms completely every few years. His current UB Preserv restaurant journeying through American cuisine sources from local farmers, fishers and ranchers to create regional masterpieces like buttery Carolina Gold rice with country ham from Edwards Virginia, grilled quail stuffed with Alabama kale or Georgia trout crudo singing freshness. Save room for humongous slices of chocolate chess pie capped in chantilly cream. UB Preserv’s vibrant small plates and comfort foods tell America’s story deliciously.

The Original Ninfa’s

Name and Location: The Original Ninfa’s is located in the Navigation Boulevard area of Houston, Texas.

History and Significance: Ninfa Laurenzo opened the original Ninfa’s on Navigation Blvd in 1973, establishing Houston’s famed Tex-Mex cuisine by serving tacos with skillet-grilled skirt steak and handmade tortillas cooked by Mama Ninfa herself in her home kitchen.

What to Expect: Diners visit the historic location to enjoy Mama Ninfa’s legacy of tacos al carbon, fajitas and trademark red and green sauces made using original recipes, complemented by house margaritas and Mexican beers in a vibrant atmosphere.

Visitor Information: The Original Ninfa’s serves daily lunch and dinner. Reservations are only for large parties so individuals or small groups can easily walk in and enjoy Tex-Mex dishes at tables or the bar.

The Original Ninfa’s still dishes sizzling fajita combos just as Mama Ninfa Laurenzo first introduced the now ubiquitous Tex-Mex favorite from her 1973 Houston landmark gathering crowds ever since. Using secret Ninfa family recipes, lean marinated skirt steak arrives steaming with grilled onions/bell peppers, fresh flour tortillas, pico de gallo, guacamole and cheesy bean sauce for assembling perfect tacos al carbon tableside. Pair the combo with tangy House Margaritas or Mexican beer while soaking in Ninfa’s party energy with live music rocking the colorful patio nightly.

Crawfish & Noodles

Name and Location: Crawfish & Noodles is a casual Vietnamese Cajun seafood restaurant located in Houston’s Asiatown district just west of downtown.

History and Significance: Trong Nguyen opened Crawfish & Noodles in 2016 to great acclaim, focusing the menu on distinct Viet-Cajun flavors prominent around Houston executed through family recipes with high standards for quality, freshness and technique in seafood preparation.

What to Expect: Diners share flavorful plates of garlic noodles, fried rice, bahn mi sandwiches and the namesake crawfish, shrimp or crab prepared with diverse seasoned butters and broths. BYOB with casual counter seating invites communal dining.

Visitor Information: Crawfish & Noodles serves Monday-Saturday lunch and dinner. No reservations needed so come early to enjoy Viet-Cajun flavors before ingredients sell out, especially crawfish in season. Metered street parking is available.

Vietnamese-Cajun fusion soars to scrumptious success at Crawfish & Noodles where plump Gulf shrimp snuggle cheese kimchi grits while butter poaches jumbo crawfish dunked into perfect homemade pho. Or try the signatures: shrimp banh mi dressed with spicy aioli or steaming seafood noodle bowls piled with mussels, clams swimming red curry broth bright with basil. Locals line up every weekend for Crawfish & Noodles’ flavor fest turning Houston favorites into original mashups celebrating both cultures so wonderfully.

Caracol

Name and Location: Caracol is a trendy coastal Mexican restaurant located in the Galleria district of Houston, Texas.

History and Significance: Led by acclaimed chef Hugo Ortega, Caracol opened in 2012. The stunning interior highlight artisanal Mexican design and regional influences amid stunning decor from Oaxaca and the coast, complemented by a vibrant bar program alongside refined culinary creations.

What to Expect: Caracol diners can enjoy sharable small plates like ceviches and tacos sharing flavors of Mexican seafood and cuisine from both coastal regions and interior Mexico City specialties, or heartier main entrees, all with craft cocktails or extensive agave spirits and wine to pair.

Visitor Information: Caracol serves daily lunch and dinner. Reservations are recommended to experience the full vibrant atmosphere and regional Mexican flavors from this lauded Houston restaurant. Valet parking available at the adjacent luxury mall.

Mexico City flavors shine at Hugo Ortega’s upscale Caracol restaurant named after legendary chef Zarela Martinez who inspired his culinary pursuits with traditional dishes done elegantly. Share camarones al ajillo garlic shrimp sizzling from cast iron under a cloud of fragrant cilantro, snack crisp jicama tacos stuffed with citrus fishes or sinks forks into tender lengua before toasting passion fruit Mezcal cocktails that pack punch. With seafood shipped fresh daily from Mexico’s shores, Caracol remainsHouston’s gold standard for authentic coastal cuisine.

The Breakfast Klub

Name and Location: The Breakfast Klub is a popular local breakfast and lunch diner located in Midtown Houston, Texas.

History and Significance: Marcus Davis opened The Breakfast Klub in 2001 to immediate success and hour-long waits. The eatery gained further acclaim for creative southern comfort dishes like catfish and grits while fostering community and showcasing local artists’ works surrounding the comforting soul food dishes.

What to Expect: Patrons should anticipate creative southern breakfast and lunch between the downhome cooking, signature breakfast sandwiches and chicken wings, waffles, melts and more comfort food dishes that earned The Breakfast Klub national recognition amid a casual but vibrant atmosphere.

Visitor Information: The Breakfast Klub serves weekday breakfast and lunch. Long waits are common without reservations for parties under 8. Street parking is limited outside the small space.

Houstonians wait over an hour most weekend mornings for hot plates of chicken wings alongside perfect waffles drenched in syrup or catfish over grit cakes at the sensationally popular soul food eatery The Breakfast Klub. Music pulsates while crowds mingle discussing politics or local sports between bites of flaky biscuits smothered rich turkey sausage gravy or fluffy French toast stuffed with cream cheese. Despite intense crowds, the Klub manages friendly efficient service delivering hearty plates ideal for long days exploring the huge city. Don’t skip their signature sweet potato pie either!

Hugo’s

Name and Location: Hugo’s is an upscale Mexican restaurant located inside the Four Seasons Hotel Houston in downtown.

History and Significance: Led by lauded Houston chef Hugo Ortega, Hugo’s opened in 2002, earning Ortega the coveted James Beard award for Best Chef Southwest in 2017. The regional interior design and cuisine interweave Mexican culture, ingredients and tradition through refined culinary techniques and presentation.

What to Expect: Diners experience Oaxacan moles, complex sauces and preparations in dishes ranging from street tacos and tamales to elevated entrees which balance flavor, texture and colors across appetizers, mains and sides plus an extensive tequila selection and creative Mexican-inspired cocktails all amid upscale, vibrant Mexican decor.

Visitor Information: Hugo’s serves daily breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch and dinner. Reservations are recommended. Hotel self parking and valet available, alongside public transit access in downtown. Attire is business casual.

Amidst chattering crowds savoring vibrant Mexican small plates and sipping on specialty margaritas, Hugo’s transports diners to a hip Mexico City cantina without leaving downtown Houston. James Beard Award winner Hugo Ortega infuses regional authenticity into antojito street snacks like chipotle shrimp ceviche tostadas crowned avocado or proper Yucatan cochinita pibil slow-roasted pork shoulder tacos dressed in handmade corn tortillas. Dim lighting creates intimacy for enjoying Hugo’s mole sauces and tequila flights before dancing late to the festive house band keeping energy buzzing.

Rice Village Café & Bar

Name and Location: Rice Village Café & Bar is a modern Italian café located in Rice Village neighborhood of Houston near Rice University and the Medical Center.

History and Significance: Opened in 2019 by chef Anthony Calleo, Rice Village Café & Bar sources seasonal ingredients to create authentic handmade pastas, wood-fired pizzas, salads, and Italian entrees in a casual but upscale setting bridging Houston’s nearby communities.

What to Expect: Diners can enjoy Neapolitan pizzas, fresh pastas, salads, Italian sandwiches and entrees benefiting from housemade ingredients showcasing regional rustic Italian flavors. Extensive wine and spritz selections complement the menu amid a lively, modern atmosphere.

Visitor Information: Rice Village Café serves weekend brunches plus lunch and dinner daily. Walk-ins easily accommodated and outdoor patio seating available, with parking garages and metered street parking nearby.

Former Houston Ballet dancers deliver graceful service swirling about the contemporary Rice Village Café & Bar pouring French press coffee by day while crafting herbaceous cocktails evenings as Euro jazz plays. Tear silky burrata dripping estate olive oil atop sourdough sharing Italian small plates like lemon ricotta gnocchi, meatballs simmering red sauce, or truffle flatbread scattered arugula. Locals pack the Parisian-style sidewalk patio for weekend Bloody Marys garnished olives plus fluffy Dutch Baby pancakes sweetening brunch vibes. This chic Euro hideaway enchants.

Mala Sichuan Bistro

Name and Location: Mala Sichuan Bistro is located in Chinatown area of southwest Houston, Texas.

History and Significance: Opened in 2008 and led by owner Cori Xiong, Mala Sichuan Bistro quickly earned acclaim as one of Houston’s finest purveyors of authentic Sichuan cuisine amid stripped-down casual decor, focusing efforts instead on complex layers of chili pepper heat alongside aromatic Sichuan peppercorns and regional Chinese ingredients.

What to Expect: Patrons enjoy signature mala dishes featuring tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns and chilies. Housemade noodles, dumplings, cold dishes, hot pots and stir fries balance flavor, texture and aromatics across the fiery menu including many vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free options, all complemented by Chinese teas or Tsingtao beer.

Visitor Information: Mala Sichuan Bistro serves daily lunch and dinner. Reservations accommodate larger parties while walk-ins line up for fiery Sichuan fare and efficient counter service alongside the few tables in the tiny restaurant with paid street parking available.

Ignite tastebuds with fiery Kung Pao chicken detonating chili peppers, Sichuanese dan dan noodles tossing spicy ground pork or Chengdu-style crispy beef awakening mouths at acclaimed Mala Sichuan Bistro in Chinatown’s buzzing food hall. Balance numbing heat with cool cucumber salad dressed in black vinegar while sipping floral bubble tea. Then let ginger ice cream soothe tongues set ablaze by Mala extreme preparations showcasing traditional Chinese regional fare taken to scorching extremes for hardcore chiliheads. Just ask for desired spiciness adjusting each dish’s scream factor.

Tony Mandola’s Gulf Coast Kitchen

Name and Location: Tony Mandola’s Gulf Coast Kitchen serves Cajun Creole and coastal cuisine inside a 1940s warehouse along Waugh Drive in Houston’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

History and Significance: Opened in 2006 by Tony Mandola to bring the flavors of Gulf Coast seafood inland, drawing culinary inspiration from New Orleans to South Texas amid rustic Gulf-inspired atmospherics with live music, crawfish boils and happy hours bridging Houston’s coastal traditions and inland communities through food.

What to Expect: Large shared plates of NOLA classics like gumbo, jambalaya and etouffee balance Texas-sized seafood platters brimming with seasonal crabs, shrimp, oysters and crawfish sourced from Gulf fisheries. Save room for housemade beignets or bread pudding while enjoying Louisiana brews and Southern hospitality.

Visitor Information: Tony Mandola’s serves daily lunch, dinner and happy hour. Reservations accommodate large parties while smaller walk-ins can enjoy counter/lounge seating. Free self parking is available for the warehouse near low-rise office buildings.

Famous for firing up enormous custom pits smoking tender meats super slowly for intense flavor, Tony Mandola’s Gulf Coast Kitchen has perfected Texas barbecue accents since 1976 through Italian-accented touches. Sweet heat ribs glazed brown sugar bourbon BBQ sauce play perfectly alongside crispy Brussels pan-roasted lemon. Share family-style platters piled high with pecan-smoked beef brisket, spicy cilantro pork links plus cheesy jalapeño grits and corn casserole rounding out the meal. Just leave room for their giant house-baked cookies passed down generations!

Pondicheri

Name and Location: Pondicheri Bake Lab & Shop is located in Upper Kirby just south of River Oaks in Houston, Texas.

History and Significance: Opened in 2011 by chef Anita Jaisinghani, the name Pondicheri meaning “storehouse” in Tamil honors the coastal Indian heritage through cuisine blending traditional recipes with French ingredients and techniques passed down in Anita’s family alongside Indian-inspired baked goods prepared daily.

What to Expect: Diners enjoy Indian street-style snacks, creative baked goods fusing influences, jars of housemade preserves, savory tarts, vibrant curries and kebabs benefiting from skillful spicing for lunch. Paired wine, beer and housemade masala chai complement the bright flavors.

Visitor Information: Pondicheri Bake Lab serves daily breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch. No reservations are taken so lines are common for first come seating. Nearby street parking serves the small eatery.

Vibrant Indian flavors burst with fun twists and French techniques at chic Pondicheri celebrating Houston’s bi-continental diversity through gastronomy. Luscious shrimp curry stuffed inside flaky paratha flatbread makes an irresistible handheld meal or try frozen samosas for an icy hot treat. Weekend brunch dazzles with masala waffles crowned spiced chicken or tres leche French toast soaked in aromatic cardamom syrup sure to spice up mornings. Soulful yet playful, Pondicheri’s blistering naan and refreshing mango lassis require repeat visits.

The Gypsy Poet

Name and Location: Located in Houston’s historic Heights district, The Gypsy Poet is a neighborhood restaurant and music venue housed inside a 1920s craftsman bungalow.

History and Significance: Joellyn and Carl Brinkley opened The Gypsy Poet in 2011, transforming the historic home into a EURO-Texas eatery fusing regional American comfort food dishes influenced by European techniques and Texas hospitality amid a casual, bohemian setting hosting regular live music performances.

What to Expect: Weekly rotating menus with European flavor profiles feature elevated comfort food dishes like schnitzel, meatloaf or pot roast balanced across small plates and entrees, complemented by local beer and wines. Live music fills the adjacent Listening Room’s indoor and patio stages weekly.

Visitor Information: The Gypsy Poet serves dinner Tuesday-Saturday with varying happy hour and performance schedules. Walk-ins welcomed, with limited parking available otherwise rideshare or taxi recommended from nearby areas. Cover charges apply during shows.

Tucked along trendy Westheimer Row swathed in ivy strings, The Gypsy Poet dishes European comfort foods prepared using old world techniques that fill tables nightly with loyal Houstonians. Share a meter-long paella pan sizzling saffron rice studded plump chorizo, chicken and shrimp or giant Bavarian pretzels dunked spicy beer cheese. Then slurp bistro mussels steaming garlic broth soaked with grilled bread, a quintessential French brasserie experience done right in Houston.

Beyond barbeque and Tex-Mex standards, Houston’s incredibly diverse dining scene built by immigrant communities shapes restaurant trends citywide. UB Preserv spotlights regional American cuisine through Lowcountry boils and Carolina Gold rice recipes. At Pondicheri or Hugo’s, chefs fuse Indian or Mexican flavors using French culinary approaches taken to creative extremes. Neighborhood favorites like The Breakfast Klub draw devoted crowds with Southern soul food classics and lengthy waits worth enduring. Visitors find nearly every global specialty from Chinese hot pot on Bellaire Boulevard to East African stews in Fondren to the perfect French onion soup at cozy Gypsy Poet hidden on Westheimer. These 12 restaurants promise can’t-miss Houston meals visitors crave long after.

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