City Guide

12 Places to Eat Incredibly Well in Houston Right Now

Houston has spent a lot of 2017 in the spotlight. From playing host to Super Bowl LI, to its resilience in the face of Hurricane Harvey, to having the Houston Astros win their first-ever World Series Championship just last week, the city has been unstoppable. And that goes for the Houston restaurant industry as well.

Since 2012, Houston’s stature as one of America’s great food cities has risen exponentially, earning respect from chefs like Momofuku’s David Chang, who, in a recent essay for GQ magazine, called Houston the next global food mecca. With three of the last four years’ worth of James Beard Awards for Best Chef Southwest going to Houston chefs, the city now has the edge over hot spots like Austin and New Orleans in terms of the best places to eat. Want to begin exploring? Start with these 12 places:

Chili crab and fried buns are just a couple of examples of Aqui’s exciting menu. (Photo: Mai Pham.)

Aqui

There is no place in Houston that comes close to Aqui right now. Austin-based celebrity chef Paul Qui’s first restaurant is led by chef de cuisine Gabriel Medina. Aqui debuted just before Hurricane Harvey with an exciting menu comprised of picture-perfect sashimi dishes, a dim sum-style list of “perfect bites,” and contemporary Southeast Asian dishes like the sublime Singaporean-inspired chili crab with fried bao buns, batting 10 out of 10 for execution and creativity. A bowl of boat noodles will rock your world. A Filipino dish of kinilaw, similar to ceviche, is extraordinary. For the best experience, come with a group of friends and order the entire menu, and if the uni toast is available, order one per person. 520 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX; 713-360-7834; aquihtx.com

The double cut pork chop at Field & Tides comes smothered in a Creole mustard sauce. (Photo: Mai Pham.)

Field & Tides

For Gulf Coast and new American cuisine, Houston native Travis Lenig’s charming bungalow in the Houston Heights is the place to be. Always packed with a well to-do neighborhood crowd, the cozy, 60-seat restaurant offers patio seating, a lively bar area that often runs two to three people deep, and large community table framed by an elongated antler-eared chandelier. The menu is designed to appeal to wide range of palates. Favorites include the pimento cheese fritters, brussels sprouts with fried oysters, and double-cut pork chop smothered in Creole mustard demi-glace, served over hoppin’ John rice. Furthering the overall feel of Southern comfort are classic desserts like pineapple upside-down cake and strawberry shortcake. 705 East 11th Street, Houston, TX; 713-861-6143; fieldandtides.com

All your steak dreams can be realized at Killen’s STQ. (Photo: Mai Pham.)

Killen’s STQ

It used to be that if you wanted to a taste of meat maestro Ronnie Killen’s steaks, ‘cue and burgers, you’d have to drive 30 minutes south of Houston. Killen’s STQ changed all that. A modest, neighborhood-style restaurant with just 60 seats, STQ (short from Steak and ‘Cue), the restaurant was crowned 2017’s best new restaurant in Houston by dining editor Alice Levitt of Houstonia Magazine, and has become the destination for discerning meat lovers. Come for your choice of wet-aged, dry-aged, corn-fed, grass-fed and A5 Japanese Wagyu alongside gigantic barbecue beef ribs, long bone-in dry-aged pork chops, and chef’s creations like the brisket tamale or sweet corn ravioli. 2231 South Voss Road, Houston, TX; 713-586-0223; killensstq.com

La Table puts the “table” in “table service,” with its Akaushi ribeye flambé. (Photo: Mai Pham.)

La Table

It took more than a year for the full transformation to take place, but under the guidance of New York-based Invest Hospitality — the same firm responsible for the launch of the new L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Manhattan — formerly stodgy Table on Post Oak has been transformed into a graceful French swan. Fashioned like a mini-Eataly, La Table is comprised of four sections in one. Chateau on the upper floor offers a plush, luxurious French fine dining experience with spectacular table-side service options like the cognac-marinated long bone-in Akaushi ribeye flambé. Downstairs, the more casual Marché offers a bistro menu of items like sandwiches, salads and steak frites. At the entrance, the adorable Macarons boulangerie and patisserie entices with an assortment of French macarons, baguettes and pastries like the hard-to-find, perfectly made canelés. The final touch is the posh Assouline retail boutique, which ties the disparate spaces together via an artistically arranged bookshelf display. 1800 Post Oak Boulevard #6110, Houston, TX; 713-439-1000; latablehouston.com

Sushi chef Christ Kinjo shows off his knife skills at MF Sushi. (Photo: Mai Pham.)

MF Sushi

Created as a stage to showcase owner and master sushi chef Chris Kinjo’s culinary artistry, the 12-seat MF sushi bar is an experience that’s easily among the best in the country. Throughout the two- to three-hour, 20-plus course omakase, you’ll be mesmerized by Kinjo’s knife skills and sushi technique as he regales you with piece after piece of glistening, mouthwatering, deftly prepare sushi and sashimi. The menu changes daily according to what’s flown in, and it’s all good, be it kinmedai Japanese golden eye snapper from Tsukiji, pristine ocean trout from Tasmania or live Santa Barbara uni. 1401 Binz Street Suite 100, Houston, TX; 713-637-4587; mfsushihouston.us 

New and old play off each other at Nobie’s. (Photo: Mai Pham.)

Nobie’s

Set on the small side street in a primarily residential part of Montrose, it’s hard not to love Nobie’s. Named after chef/owner Martin Stayer’s nonna, everything about the place is designed to make you want to hang out for hours. The bar is set up like a modern day Cheers, complete with friendly bartender and a no-menu cocktail list featuring a monthly rotation of three custom-crafted drinks. A record player spins soft rock from Stayer’s vintage record collection. The daily changing menu, which features produce and proteins from local farmers, invites you to alternately graze or indulge. Favorites like the Old Fashioned cocktail-inspired chicken liver mousse, Thai crispy rice salad, and the Nonno’s pasta, a traditional bolognese served over thick-cut house-made pappardelle. The feather in the cap is the BYOB policy, which, in lieu of paying a corkage fee, invites you to share a glass with someone else in the restaurant. 2048 Colquitt Street, Houston, TX; 346-319-5919; nobieshtx.com

One Fifth’s menu has everything, like the classic French croquembouche. (Photo: Julie Soefer Photography.)

One Fifth Houston

Offered a five-year lease on a historic, centrally located restaurant space in Houston, what’s a chef and restaurateur to do? If you’re James Beard award-winning Chris Shepherd, the answer is easy: Take the space, then open five different concepts, one for each year that the space is occupied. One Fifth’s first iteration was as a highly successful steakhouse, One Fifth Steak. That’s come and gone. Now, we’re in the One Fifth Romance Languages phase, with a menu that includes everything from Spanish jamón Ibérico, to Italian duck heart bolognese with house-made ricotta and traditional French croquembouche for dessert. The current concept will run through July 31, 2018, after which it will close and re-emerge as One Fifth Fish. 1658 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX; 713-955-1024; onefifthhouston.com

Riel’s menu is vast and diverse. (Photo courtesy of Riel.)

Riel

What do Eastern European borscht, Canadian tourtière meat pie and steak with pierogies have in common with tempura-fried cauliflower with kimchi hot sauce? Not much, unless you’re chef Ryan Lachaine. Striking out on his own after stints under big-name local chefs Chris Shepherd and Bryan Caswell, the name Riel (short for Louis Riel, the founder of Manitoba) is nod to his Canadian upbringing. The borscht and pierogies are an homage his Ukrainian grandmother. As for the kimchi fried cauliflower, “I wanted to do something like hot wings,” Lachaine says. Together, the dishes exemplify why Lachaine’s tightly edited, 15-item menu is such a pleasure. Thematically named drinks like the Trudeau, and divine sticky toffee pudding topped with frozen shavings of foie gras torchon round out the experience. 1927 Fairview Street, Houston, TX; 832-831-9109; rielhtx.com

Theodore Rex’s tomato toast is halfway between Italian bruschetta and Catalan pa amb tomaquet. (Photo: Justin Yu.)

Theodore Rex

After a highly successful five-year run, Justin Yu closed down Oxheart, the tasting menu-only restaurant that earned him a James Beard award for Best Chef Southwest earlier this year and helped him achieve celebrity chef status. In its place, he opened Theodore Rex (a.k.a. T-Rex), where, in lieu of a tasting menu involving heavy use of tweezer-arranged garnishes, you get dishes like his tomato toast. Part Italian bruschetta, part Catalan pa amb tomaquet, crisp, olive-oil toasted bread is dipped in green tomato juice, slathered with a tomato fondant and topped with fresh cherry tomato salad. The theme is simple, the execution and resulting creation, extraordinary. It’s a description that applies to most of Yu’s stripped down, European-influenced menu. Inspired by places like Oaxen Slip in Stockholm and Manfred’s in Copenhagen, which Yu describes as “casual, with a good amount of ambition,” and “delicious but approachable,” T-Rex is fun and carefree. A 90-bottle wine list with 12 wines by the glass complements the menu, while a playlist featuring 80’s feel-good music keeps the place humming. Just remember to book ahead. Though the four bar seats are reserved for walk-ins, the restaurant only seats 28. 1302 Nance Street Unit A, Houston, TX; 832-830-8592; trexhouston.com

The foie gras torchon at Tony’s is inspired by deconstructed apple pie. (Photo: Mai Pham.)

Tony’s

Few restaurants have the staying power of Tony’s. Now in its 52nd year of operation, venerated restauranteur Tony Vallone keeps his Italian flagship restaurant — which is still grand central for the Houston’s biggest power lunchers and Houston society — fresh by nurturing up and coming talent like Austin Waiter, who was named executive chef in June. A CIA-grad who completed his externship at Tony’s and and then returned after he graduated, 25-year-old Waiter is fearless when it comes to introducing dishes that stretch the imagination. Tonno crudo in camicia, in which tuna is pounded into translucent pink sheet and placed atop crispy octopus, is revelatory. Foie gras torchon with fuji apple, hazelnuts and duck fat crisps — inspired by deconstructed apple pie — is a thing of beauty. Though you’ll be best-served with a tasting menu, classics like the pappardelle bolognese and hand-pulled mozzarella never disappoint. 3755 Richmond Ave, Houston, TX; 713-622-6778; tonyshouston.com 

Xochi

Taking the top spot on Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook’s list of Top 100 Restaurants in Houston this year, Xochi, James Beard award-winning chef Hugo Ortego’s homage to Oaxacan cuisine, delves deep into the culinary traditions of this gastronomically rich Mexican state. The menu effectively parachutes you into the heart of the region with offerings like tlayudas (large Oaxacan tortillas cooked over wood with various toppings), a rotating menu of moles, as well as more exotic dishes like the queso el rancho topped with edible insects. What makes Xochi so remarkable is that it’s a triple threat: outstanding savory dishes, a stellar beverage program by Sean Beck and one of the most innovative pastry programs in the city by Ruben Ortega. 1777 Walker Street, Houston, TX; 713-400-3330; xochihouston.com

Roasted duck pumpkin puff is an example of how Yauatcha sets itself apart from other dim sum houses. (Photo: Mai Pham.)

Yauatcha

While seeking dim sum outside of Chinatown is inadvisable in most instances, getting a table at Yauatcha in the Houston Galleria is an exception to the rule. One of only two locations in the United States, Yauatcha gets its street cred from the the fact that its original location in London has held and maintained its Michelin star rating since it opened. Suggested orders include the one-of-a-kind roasted duck pumpkin puff, the prawn and crispy bean curd cheung fun, and the eye-catching crispy prawn dumplings. The award-winning, rose-shaped Raspberry Delice chocolate and raspberry cake is not to be missed, and cocktails are generally outstanding. 5045 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX; 713-357-7588; yauatcha.com