In H-Town it’s all about chowing down on a global scale.
No assembly of food cities of the West would be complete without Houston. The largest city in Texas, H-Town (with an estimated population of 2.3 million, as of 2017) is also the country’s most diverse city. What’s more, city residents speak nearly 150 languages. This, we dare say, makes for incredible eating and drinking beyond Texas staples like Tex-Mex and barbecue, and the margaritas, cold beer, and Big Red that wash it all down. In this town, you can get everything from a plate of locally famed “Nancy Cakes” served up with butter, smoked trout roe, and honey at the sophisticated Nancy’s Hustle to a steaming bowl of Vietnamese pho and an order of goi cuon at Huynh Restaurant. The large Vietnamese diaspora population has led to myriad restaurants specializing in their native cuisines and intersections with American and Texas eats. Highlights include Crawfish & Noodles, where the signature Viet-Cajun crawfish is available at four heat levels.
Click the image above to view the slideshow of photos from Xochi and Hugo’s.
From classic fare from our southern neighbor to contemporary renditions found on either side of the border to good old-fashioned Tex-Mex, Mexican food remains as popular as ever. Beloved James Beard Award-winning restaurateurs Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught, owner-operators of H-Town Restaurant Group, offer a range of classic Mexican dishes at casual Hugo’s in the Montrose neighborhood and Xochi (So-chee). The menu at the latter downtown hotspot skews toward the finer end of the spectrum with a mezcal list sure to excite aficionados of agave spirits. Julep, a longtime “down-home” cocktail lounge led by James Beard Award-nominated bartender Alba Huerta, is another spot for a good mezcal drink or, let’s say, a julep.
Houston’s reputation as a national culinary heavyweight has a lot to do with the city’s diverse population and how it’s reflected in the restaurant scene. Beside Ortega and Huerta, there is another name that can’t be left out of a discussion of Houston restaurants, that of chef-owner Chris Shepherd. Since closing his beloved Underbelly, he has gone on to open other acclaimed restaurants — UB Preserv and Georgia James steakhouse, among them. We have a recipe for lamburger helper from Shepherd’s new cookbook, Cook Like a Local: Flavors That Can Change How You Cook And See the World, to share with you here.
But about Tex-Mex, one can’t go wrong with the Original Ninfa’s on Navigation. Founded in 1973 by “Mama” Ninfa Laurenzo, Ninfa’s has a longstanding reputation as one of the best. Take a stab at their legendary fajitas and unbeatable margarita specials that include their refreshing signature drink, the Original Ninfarita.
And we still haven’t gotten around to barbecue. Tex-Mex barbecue is a developing style of smoked meat that melds the best of Texas’ homegrown culinary traditions. Think peppery brisket or garlic clove-studded chicken served with beef-fat flour tortillas at The Pit Room or the whole spread of Texas ’cue with nearly translucent tortillas and hearty tamales from the JQ’s TexMex BBQ pop-up. It’s pure Houston. Or, to channel the parlance of Tejas, puro Houston. crawfishandnoodles.com, hugosrestaurant.net, xochihouston.com, julephouston.com, underbellyhospitality.com, thepitroombbq.com, facebook.com/jqstexmexbbq
Photography: (featured) Kirsten Gilliam Photography/Original Ninfa’s on Navigation; (slideshow) several; Julie Soefer/Courtesy Julep; Courtesy Visit Houston CVB