Whether a place has operated for decades or opened in the last year, the best neighborhood restaurants seem to fit into the landscape as if they’ve always been there, providing a comforting place for regulars to gather even in the face of a global pandemic.
Local restaurants become integral to a city not only because they serve up consistently good food and friendly service, but also because the people who operate them care deeply about the community. For Houstonians, this fact came into sharp focus as local favorites became places of respite and celebration from the world outside.
Now more than ever, it’s important to rally around these local standouts and celebrate what they add to the fabric of Houston. From cultural mash-ups unique to the city (Vietnamese + Cajun, anyone?) to spots that will transport you around the world, this list highlights some of Houston’s best neighborhood gems, along with outdoor and takeout options.
Eunice (Upper Kirby)
Louisiana natives opened this Creole brasserie to showcase seasonally inspired menus that
pair European influences with the ingredients and foodways of the Gulf Coast. Stop by for a seafood-heavy menu of dishes such as shrimp etouffee, Gulf red snapper, and of course, the region’s oysters, which the restaurant serves raw, roasted, or cornmeal-crusted and fried. The oysters are also a dollar during the restaurant’s daily happy hour, where you’ll find locals taking advantage of the deal and washing them down with half-price draft beers, classic cocktails, and select wines.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is accepting reservations for indoor dining and for the spacious outdoor patio. Regulars love the rotating menu of weekday express lunches that include a drink, choice of gumbo or salad, and an entree.
Takeout: Eunice offers takeout and delivery.
Kậu Ba (Montrose)
Fresh food with a personal touch draws neighborhood regulars to this “Viejun” restaurant in the heart of Montrose, where chef Nikki Tran spins Vietnamese and Cajun flavors into wholly unique, colorful dishes such as smoked brisket pho and Grandma’s Subsidy, a crispy rice dish topped with anchovies, pork belly, green onions, and seaweed-sesame seasoning. Open for lunch and dinner, the cheerful, relaxed space with innovative cocktails is equally perfect for weekday lunches and weekend dates.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining is available in addition to outdoor on Kậu Ba’s pergola-covered patio that’s flanked by walls boasting bright murals of tropical plants.
Takeout: Kau Ba’s full menu is available for takeout and delivery.
Roma (Rice Village)
Housed in a corner building in Rice Village, this charming restaurant specializes in the food of Italy’s capital along with northern Italian favorites such as osso bucco and bolognese lasagna. In addition to the food from recently returned chef Sandro Scarafile, regulars appreciate the curated wine list and the wine dinners that give diners the chance to learn directly from Italian winemakers and experts.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining is available. Those who prefer to dine outdoors can enjoy dishes such as cocoa-infused fettuccine cacio e pepe and seared sea scallops and shrimp served with fregola on the recently redesigned covered patio.
Takeout: The restaurant offers an a la carte takeout menu. Call the restaurant directly to order.
This casual farm-to-table restaurant resides in what was once a small house in the Montrose neighborhood, giving it an authentically homey atmosphere captured in its slogan “food and drink amongst friends.” The seasonal menu changes frequently, giving regulars a reason to consistently drop by to see what creative, globally inspired fare is available on any given night, such as caramelized chicken wings with preserved lemon and Calabrian chili sauce.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining is currently available, in addition to limited outdoor seating. Pro tip: don’t skip Roost’s incredible bread service.
Takeout: Roost offers takeout with curbside service. To order, call the restaurant directly.
Irma’s Southwest (Downtown)
After 20 years of serving up traditional Mexican food with wild Texas game and seafood to discerning Downtowners, this Houston mainstay and James Beard Award winner moved into new digs across the street in 2018. Though the new space is decidedly modern, the menu staples and friendly service that made Irma Galvan a household name for those in the know remains untouched. Diners will recognize common preparations on the menu, but what sets Irma’s apart is the proteins: here, you can build fajitas with smoked wild boar sausage, or try tamales made with Texas nilgai antelope.
Dining at the restaurant: Dine-in is available for regulars looking to enjoy chile relleno, Irma’s famous guacamole, and wild boar tacos inside the sleek window-lined space.
Takeout: The restaurant offers takeout.
Maison Pucha (Heights)
At Maison Pucha, chef Manuel Pucha infuses French bistro classics with his family’s Ecuadorian heritage, resulting in dishes such as the black and white soufflé, packed with Ecuadorian chocolate, passion fruit crème anglaise, and housemade vanilla ice cream. An alum of some of New York City’s top French restaurants, Pucha’s attention to technique is as evident in his ceviches as it is in his beef bourguignon.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining is available inside the restaurant or outside on the spacious patio, an especially good place to enjoy happy hour every Tuesday through Sunday.
Takeout: Takeout is available. Call the restaurant directly to place an order.
Street to Kitchen (East End)
This “unapologetically authentic Thai” restaurant delights East Enders with dishes from chef Benchawan Jabthong Painter’s native Thailand. Friendly service and an intimate dining room meets a rotating menu that relies on fresh ingredients and plenty of spice. Staples include stir-fried thai basil, Panang pork curry, and green curry with coconut.
Dining at the restaurant: Reservations for indoor dining are available.
Takeout: Curbside pickup and delivery is available. Order directly from the Street to Kitchen website for pickup at the drive-thru window or to arrange delivery.
Ginger and Fork (Washington Corridor/Heights)
When Mary Li decided to open her own place after nearly three decades working in the Houston restaurant business, she knew she wanted to offer two things: Chinese cuisine predominantly influenced by Hong Kong and the Canton province, and a serious cocktail list. Devoted clientele love that they can get delicious dim sum inside the Loop, served alongside creative drinks such as “Hot Child in the City,” a tequila- and mezcal-based drink with lime, agave, egg white, bitters, and cayenne pepper.
Dining at the restaurant: Dine-in is available inside the sleekly appointed dining room and bar. When dining in-person, take advantage and order the off-menu hot and sour soup before digging into soup dumplings and Cantonese curry chicken.
Takeout: Takeout and curbside pickup are available. Call the restaurant directly to place your order.
Saltillo Mexican Kitchen (Bellaire)
This Northern Mexican steakhouse is an equally fitting venue for over-the-top celebratory meals and satisfying low-key weeknight dinners. This — along with consistently standout food, margaritas, and service — make Saltillo a not-so-secret favorite of Bellaire residents and those who make the drive for a taste of mole enchiladas and mesquite-grilled meats.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining at the restaurant is available. For big celebrations, diners enjoy the restaurant’s tapa de lomo, a whole cap portion of a four-pound grilled rib-eye that feeds up to six people.
Takeout: Takeout available for curbside pickup. Call the restaurant directly to order.
Sonoma Wine Bar (Heights)
Family- and woman-owned Sonoma Wine Bar serves wines from small producers across the globe in addition to seasonal small plates, wine-friendly entrees such as pastas and pizzas, and desserts. Solid happy hours and build-your-own charcuterie and cheese boards make this a draw for Heights regulars meeting with friends or enjoying a low-key date night.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor and outdoor dining are available. During cooler months, the plush, comfortable couches by the fireplace are the best seats in the house, while those who prefer to dine al fresco will appreciate the restaurant’s tranquil patio space.
Takeout: Takeout, including curbside pickup, is available. Call the restaurant directly to order.
Rainbow Lodge (Lazybrook/Timbergrove)
It’s hard not to be impressed with Rainbow Lodge’s sweeping views of the White Oak Bayou and sophisticated rustic interiors, a nod to the building’s original purpose as a hunting lodge a century ago. But the views are just one part of the appeal. Wild game preparations such as crispy pheasant thighs over kimchi rice or smoked duck gumbo and an excellent wine list are what brings Timbergrove and Greater Heights residents back again and again.
Dining at the restaurant: Dine-in is available inside the cabin or outside on the beautifully appointed expansive outdoor patio, where the views are unbeatable.
Takeout: Rainbow Lodge offers an extensive takeout menu for curbside pickup. Order directly from the restaurant’s website.
Gatlin’s (Oak Forest)
As pioneers of Houston’s modern craft barbecue movement, the Gatlin family originally made a name for themselves with ribs and brisket made in traditional Southern style. After a few years running the restaurant out of a tiny converted house in the Heights, the family moved the operation to a larger space in the Oak Forest neighborhood in 2015. Unlike most barbecue joints, Gatlin’s lets diners get started early, serving a breakfast menu in addition to lunch and dinner that weaves the restaurant’s smoked meats into dishes such as brisket and egg breakfast tacos.
Dining at the restaurant: Dine-in is currently available at the restaurant, where regulars always make sure to order a side of dirty rice alongside Gatlin’s smoked proteins.
Takeout: The restaurant offers takeout with contactless pick up via a special barbecue locker located just inside the restaurant. Customers can order online via Gatlin’s website or call the restaurant directly to place an order.
Weights and Measures (Midtown)
Weights and Measures is a bakery, restaurant, and bar rolled into one, making it a go-to gathering spot for locals to mark any number of occasions, from quick weekday breakfasts to late night drinks to catching up at brunch. Sweet and savory brunch fans take note: the restaurant is known for its French toast and fried chicken combo.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor and outdoor dining is available at the restaurant. The open-air patio can accommodate parties of up to ten people, who enjoy an extensive menu that includes wood-fired pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, and salads.
Takeout: Much of the restaurant’s menu is available to go, but note that the bakery items can sell out quickly in the mornings. Call the restaurant directly to place an order or check for availability.
Costa Brava Bistro (Bellaire)
Loyal locals flock to this cozy upscale bistro that specializes in cuisine from the Spanish region of Costa Brava, a coastal area on the northeastern side of the country that borders France. Co-owners Angeles Dueñas and chef Kitty Bailey have designed a menu of beautifully composed plates, such as an appetizer of Texas quail breasts drizzled with parsley garlic oil and served with patatas bravas.
Dining at the restaurant: Dine-in is available.
Takeout: Curbside pick up and takeout are available. Call the restaurant directly to place an order.
Cowboys & Indians Tex-In Kitchen (Midtown/Montrose)
With a mix of classic Texas comfort foods and Indian specialties on offer, owners and brothers Imran and Haas Khan make neighborhood regulars happy whether they’re craving butter chicken tikka masala or a chicken fried steak. Lunch specials and a weekend brunch create more opportunities for fun specials, such as the photo-worthy fried chicken that’s served with a Texas-shaped waffle.
Dining at the Restaurant: Dine-in is available inside the restaurantor outdoors on the patio, where cocktails round out the eclectic menu.
Takeout: The full menu (including cocktails) is available for takeout. Order online via the Cowboys & Indians website, or call the restaurant directly to place an order.
Lauren McDowell is a Houston-area native and freelance food and lifestyle writer with an M.A. in Food Studies from New York University.
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