Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the November 2016 issue of WestJet Magazine
For many travellers, Texas cuisine is synonymous with steak houses and barbecue, but Houston, in particular, offers so much more. One of the most ethnically diverse cities in the United States, Houston has an exciting culinary scene that boasts an array of cultural choice, from Iraqi kabobs and Indonesian fried rice to Vietnamese pho and Mexican fajitas. All over this Southern metropolis, talented, worldly chefs have discovered just how open-minded the city’s diners can be, launching ambitious restaurants to national acclaim.
Grab a heaping plate of pork ribs at Pizzitola’s Bar-B-Cue on Shepherd Drive. The open-brick pits here have been hickory smoking spare ribs, beef brisket and chicken on the bone since the 1930s. The pitmasters use only salt and pepper for seasoning, so all the other flavours smoldering in your mouth are from the pit smoke.
Opened in 2014 in Greater Houston’s Pearland area, this hot spot serves house-ground sausage, beef ribs, pulled pork and bone-in pork belly by the pound or plate with baked beans and creamed corn piled high. On weekends, long lines snake through the parking lot.
Loyalty to local farmers drives this vibrant, Montrose-area restaurant’s hyper-seasonal menu, which embraces the city’s culinary diversity with modern mash-ups like Korean braised goat and dumplings and heirloom grits with smoked pork.
Make sure to sample the smoky, char-grilled beef fajitas wrapped in handmade flour tortillas from The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation. A widowed mother of five, Ninfa Laurenzo single-handedly popularized fajitas in this city when she started a taco stand in 1973, which led to the restaurant that still stands on Navigation Blvd.
Start the day with Vietnamese iced coffee and a buttermilk biscuit egg sandwich at this casual favourite in the Heights neighbourhood. It doubles as an artisanal grocery store selling house-cured charcuterie, condiments and preserves. Browse the provisions before joining friendly locals reading the paper and chatting on the patio.
Chef Justin Yu won a James Beard Award this year for his veggie-forward tasting menus at the remarkably relaxed Oxheart restaurant. Slow-roasted carrots as sweet and smoky as the best barbecue meat in town, hearty allium-stuffed mung bean crepes accented with pickled turnip slices and tilefish in basil-kombu broth are some of the many highlights to savour.
Start in the Oyster Room at this bustling spot in the River Oaks neighbourhood before sinking into leather banquettes to enjoy what the kitchen here describes as “Gulf Coast meets Texas Hill Country” cuisine, featuring dishes like cheesy Tex-Mex enchiladas and gulf crab hushpuppies.
Candy-lovers should head to Cacao & Cardamom Chocolatier, where tropical fruits and South Asian spices flavour the shop’s gorgeous jewel-like chocolate bonbons and confections.
Equally exotic are the ice cream flavours at Cloud 10 Creamery, on Morningside Drive. Try one of the savoury options or opt for the dark chocolate—it’s exceptional.
Croissants, brioche and macarons fill the pastry case at Common Bond on Westheimer Road. The bakers here also make irresistible chocolate chip walnut cookies.
The Pastry War, on Main Street, has the best mezcal and tequila list in town, along with Mexican beer and wicked frozen margaritas. Pay in pesos and ask for a side of chapulines—a.k.a. dried grasshoppers.
Anvil Bar & Refuge on Westheimer Road was the first classic cocktail bar in Houston when it opened in 2009, and it’s still a great place to go. The menu offers 100-plus time-honoured favourites, plus seasonal specials.