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Where to eat in Houston: 8 great restaurants to try now

Snacks in The Lounge at March. | Photo by Julie Soefer Photography Snacks in The Lounge at March. | Photo by Julie Soefer Photography

When Bravo TV announced plans to film Season 19 of Top Chef in Houston, nobody around Texas was surprised—nor was anyone who’s planned a trip to the nation’s fourth-largest city just to eat.

Unquestionably a food destination, H-town boasts a deep restaurant roster that’s as rich as any city on either coast, serving everything from down-home Southern to cuisine from around the world.

“After 12 years covering restaurants in Houston, I remain awestruck by the talent and diversity of the city’s restaurant community. And its great resolve. The industry’s great struggle during the ongoing pandemic proved its resiliency, creativity, ability to adapt, and knowledge of the people they serve—how and what they eat,” says Greg Morago, food editor at the Houston Chronicle. “Houston eats well and will continue to do so.”

Here, we cast a spotlight on 8 great choices that reflect the food scene’s diversity and energy, places where you can taste the cooking passion on every plate.

1. Golfstrømmen

Hot smoked salmon snitter, with smoked salmon, roe, and dill on toasted sourdough bread. | Photo by Kat Ambrose Photography

Hot smoked salmon snitter, with smoked salmon, roe, and dill on toasted sourdough bread. | Photo by Kat Ambrose Photography

Norwegian chef Christopher Haatuft made his name in his home country for seafood sustainability before teaming up last winter with James Beard Award winner Paul Qui to create Houston’s (and possibly the nation’s) only “neo-Fjordic” market and restaurant. Corralling experience from his work in Norway, Paris, and New York City, Haatuft accepted Qui’s invitation to open a fish place in the food hall at Post Houston, the renovated space in the historic Barbara Jordan Post Office.

With Qui running the show and Haatuft curating an ever-changing menu reliant on daily catches, Golfstrømmen is turning heads with dishes like fresh Gulf red fish ceviche; Jonah crab snitter (Norwegian for sandwich) on grilled sourdough with local lettuces and pickled green onion; oysters from the Gulf of Mexico and Maine; and salmon tartare. Even the wine menu comes with a stamp of sustainability, with plenty of global picks from small producers (be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol).

Info: 401 Franklin Street. (713) 999-2550.

2. La Lucha

The handsome dining room at La Lucha. | Photo by Connor Daniel

The handsome dining room at La Lucha. | Photo by Connor Daniel

Perched on the edge of The Heights, La Lucha is owner Ford Fry’s trip down memory lane to the long-gone San Jacinto Inn, a bayou joint where he grew up feasting with his family on fresh Gulf fish and country-café favorites.

Stepping inside takes patrons back a half-century or so, to a comfortable roadhouse with an airy deck on the side. Smart diners bring a crowd, the better to graze a menu loaded with fried chicken and biscuits, wood-roasted oysters, peel-and-eat shrimp, french fries dipped into blue crab chowder, and delicious griddled burgers served in old-fashioned tissue wrappers. Besides good, cold Texas beer, there are special drinks to consider, like the Dad’s Daiquiri.

Info: 1801 N. Shepherd Drive. (713) 955-4765.

3. March

The elegant dining room at March. | Photo Julie Soefer Photography

The elegant dining room at March. | Photo Julie Soefer Photography

With just 28 seats, March brings a focused, intriguing experience to the fore for dedicated foodies. Master Sommelier June Rodil partnered with (fellow immigrant) chef Felipe Riccio to create a place where guests can explore regional cuisine from countries bordering the Mediterranean.

The 6- and 9-course tasting menus at this new Montrose favorite change seasonally, each taking a deep dive into the history and diversity of a selected area; they began with the Maghreb and Andalusia and will continue this spring with Occitania. The constant is a thoughtfully curated caviar service, also pertaining to the chosen region, and there’s a wine list spanning some 75 pages for connoisseurs of the grape.

Be sure to ask about the lovely art collection adorning the walls.

Info: 1624 Westheimer Road. (832) 380-2481.

4. Musaafer

Panipuri, a take on Indian street food, at Musaafer. | Photo by Julie Soefer Photography

Panipuri, a take on Indian street food, at Musaafer. | Photo by Julie Soefer Photography

The husband-and-wife team of Mithu and Shammi Malik brought aboard chef Maynk Istwal to create a sophisticated tasting tour through India’s 29 states.

Located in the Galleria, Musaafer offers modern interpretations that hold tight to authenticity while making beautiful renditions of dishes starring local and imported ingredients, with a wealth of vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free options. Lamb chops with stewed apricots, raita, and basmati rice is a favorite dinner choice, while power-lunch picks include grouper with mango curry; and jackfruit with apricot-pistachio dumplings. Specialties from the social-hour menu include lychee martinis and flatbread with chicken tikka.

Repeat visits are advised, as the elegant restaurant features 7 dining rooms festooned with artifacts and artwork specific to each space.

Info: 5115 Westheimer Road. (713) 242-8087.

5. Mutiny Wine Room

Gemelli pasta at Mutiny Wine Room. | Photo courtesy of Michael Anthony

Gemelli pasta at Mutiny Wine Room. | Photo courtesy of Michael Anthony

Despite the name, this destination in The Heights serves up food that deserves equal billing alongside the impressive wine list.

Designed to transport guests to a contemporary Napa wine-tasting room, Mutiny Wine Room’s airy space with soaring windows, elegant lighting, warm stone-and-wood interiors, and a sunny patio makes you want to spend a leisurely afternoon sipping and nibbling.

Chef Eduardo Alcayaga’s grilled Spanish octopus warrants attention, alongside the plates of handmade pasta and the deep bowls of steamed mussels with planks of sourdough. Grazing options include boards laden with seared bison, cold-smoked Scottish salmon, cheeses from everywhere, and admirable vegan selections. Note that wines are sold retail, as well.

Info: 1124 Usener Street. (832) 618-1233.

Read more: 3 blissful days in Texas wine country

6. Taste Bar + Kitchen

General Tso chicken and waffle at Taste Bar + Kitchen. | Photo by Jeremiah Jones

General Tso chicken and waffle at Taste Bar + Kitchen. | Photo by Jeremiah Jones

Soul food gets glammed up and paired with live entertainment at chef Don Bowie’s ode to Southern cuisine. Found inside a turn-of-the-century, 2-story Midtown house, Taste Bar + Kitchen delights diners with all-day, daily brunch that’s become the favorite of local sports stars like gymnast Simone Biles.

Variations on the ever-popular chicken-and-waffles include waffles paired with crispy, Chinese-inspired General Tso’s chicken, chicken-fried lobster and waffles, and, for vegans, chicken-fried cauliflower with vegan waffles. Comfort dishes like mac-and-cheese come with additions such as bacon or smoked Gouda, while Sunday specials include oxtail and grits. Speaking of grits, Bowie elevates that humble staple with a Cajun seafood stew made with lobster, shrimp, bacon, and white wine.

Check out the frozen cocktails, as well as an impressive champagne list.

Info: 3015 Bagby Street. (832) 538-1451.

7. Truth BBQ

Signature meats and sides from Truth BBQ. | Photo courtesy Truth BBQ

Signature meats and sides from Truth BBQ. | Photo courtesy Truth BBQ

Self-taught pitmaster Leonard Botello IV took the Texas barbecue world by storm with his tiny shack in nearby Brenham before opening his impressive Houston Heights location in 2019.

Winning accolades from statewide experts bestowing barbecue awards, Botello strikes that perfect balance blending traditional smoking techniques with modern flavors and top-notch ingredients.

His craftsmanship shines in melt-in-the-mouth beef brisket, bearing a dark spiced crust, and in tender turkey breast and racks of pork ribs. Signs tell you that Truth BBQ isn’t your granddad’s barbecue joint: Roasted brussels sprouts, creamed spinach, and tater tot casserole have guests begging for seconds. Desserts include towering carrot, triple chocolate, and Italian cream cakes.

Bring friends and family to share big platters piled with all the goods, and don’t skip the fabulous sauces.

Info: 110 S. Heights Boulevard. (832) 835-0001.

8. Wild Oats

Rabbit and Spaetzle at Wild Oats. | Photo by Julie Soefer Photography

Rabbit and Spaetzle at Wild Oats. | Photo by Julie Soefer Photography

Wild Oats is the brainchild of James Beard Award–winning chef Chris Shepherd and culinary director Nick Fine, who oversees all Underbelly Hospitality menu development.

Located inside the Houston Farmers Market, this exploration of native Texas cuisine turns up new interpretations of generations-old favorites. Spaetzle with rabbit evokes ideas of chicken and dumplings, while a deconstructed tamale stars spicy shrimp atop creamy grits on an open corn husk. A favorite game bird in Texas, quail is stuffed with jalapeño corn bread, wrapped in bacon, and served with spinach and whipped cream cheese.

The mood at this casual joint is meant to take us back to days when barn dances, Sunday ice cream socials, and finding that perfect rope swing over a gentle river occupied all our waking thoughts.

Info: 2520 Airline Drive.

June Naylor is an award-winning travel journalist, dining critic, and food writer based in Fort Worth. Follow her adventures at junenaylor.com.

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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