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13 restaurants that define Houston

A photo of Red logo
by Lauren McDowell
Updated March 30, 2023

Once characterized as a land run by cowboys, oil, and gas, Houston now escapes easy definition. A large and diverse community makes up the current landscape of a city full of people that, despite being laidback, take dining out seriously. The city’s best restaurants are an integral part of what makes it unique.

Houstonians line up around the block for catfish and grits at a decades-old Midtown stalwart. An acclaimed family-owned Pearland steakhouse stands out for its hand-cut wagyu and smoked pork belly. A James Beard Award-winning chef brings modern Mexican flavors to a swanky Montrose spot.

Whether they create ripple effects in a movement that grows larger than themselves, or open up new possibilities for what certain cuisines can be, there are some restaurants that deserve special recognition for their contributions to the city. Read on for a guide to 13 restaurants vital to Houston.

A photo of Uchi Houston restaurant
4.8
4.8 (4289)
$50 and over
Sushi
Montrose
About the restaurant
When James Beard-award-winning chef and owner Tyson Cole opened the Houston outpost of an Austin favorite in 2012, he brought a different kind of upscale sushi experience to the city. Uchi’s sushi, sashimi, and extensive sake list underscore Cole’s years of working under Japanese masters. The “hot” and “cool” tasting menus surprise and delight diners by incorporating local ingredients and seasonal specials. The attentive service and consistently excellent food from chef de cuisine Chris Davies have made the restaurant a standout in its own right, and a perennial favorite with a loyal following.
Top review
OpenTable Diner
Dined 3 days ago
First time trying Uchi and will definitely be back. Our server Zach was exceptionally attentive and was also great at explaining the menu, making it easy to choose the perfect dishes. Everything we had was delicious. Highly recommend! Nice ambience too.
A photo of MF Sushi restaurant
4.8
4.8 (1600)
$50 and over
Sushi
Museum District
About the restaurant
Houston is no stranger to high-end fish, but there’s something special about Chris “Magic Fingers” Kinjo’s traditional sushi. MF Sushi is lauded for the multi-course omakase experience reminiscent of Japan’s sushi masters, and the fresh fish is unrivaled in Houston. Kinjo’s deft knife strokes and minimal accents keep the focus wholly on pristine, melt-in-your-mouth fish and shellfish selections made to precise specifications in an environment as elegant as the menu offerings.
Top review
OpenTable Dinervip
Dined 7 days ago
The best sushi in Houston! Amazing service, great management, and lovely selection wines and sake.
A photo of Tony's restaurant
4.8
4.8 (857)
$31 to $50
Italian
Upper Kirby / Shepherd Corridor
About the restaurant
Tony’s has been the standard-setter for fine dining in Houston for more than half a century. Over the years, oil barons, celebrities, and the society set have all congregated to eat, drink, and be seen at Tony’s — even Princess Margaret once enjoyed a party thrown for her in the wine cellar on a visit to Houston. The family-run Italian restaurant has evolved over the years, with food that’s more impressive than the clientele. New and exciting menu items from chef Kate McLean, such as the dry-aged duck feel right at home alongside classics including the signature pasta portanova, tossed tableside in a 36-month aged parmesan sauce and finished with Osetra caviar.
Top review
DaveGvip
Dined on Jun 11, 2024
FABULOUS! This was our first time to Tony’s and we will definitely come back. The tasting menu was amazing and was customized to our tastes. The service was outstanding and Roman made the evening special.
A photo of The Original Ninfa's on Navigation restaurant
4.7
4.7 (3151)
$30 and under
Mexican
East Side
About the restaurant
Tex Mex may be ubiquitous in the Bayou City, but the Ninfa’s name is the one that’s known for introducing fajitas (which began as grilled skirt steak in handmade flour tortillas) to North America in the 1970s—legend has it that the original owner “Mama” Ninfa Laurenzo sold 250 on her first day alone. Nearly 50 years after the original Ninfa’s opened its doors, it’s still considered the pinnacle of high-end Tex Mex, and the home of perfectly tart and boozy margaritas, aptly named Ninfaritas. The East End restaurant continues to thrive under current chef Alex Padilla, and was recognized on a national level with a 2020 James Beard nod as one of 20 Outstanding Restaurants in the country.
Top review
PaulJ
Dined 7 days ago
Wonderful food and outstanding service. Can’t wait to come back.
A photo of Rainbow Lodge restaurant
4.7
4.7 (5130)
$31 to $50
American
Heights / Washington
About the restaurant
Rainbow Lodge is a Houston go-to choice for ambience, with its well-appointed, refurbished century-old hunting cabin digs. But the restaurant is also loved for its seasonal menus featuring wild game and Gulf fish. Chef Mark Schmidt’s kitchen serves everything from South Texas-sourced antelope loin to rainbow trout with lump crab and pecan brown butter and beverage director Marc Borel’s wine list is one of the best in the city. Surrounded by kitchen gardens and landscaped grounds, the large outdoor patio offers crran excellent view of White Oak Bayou, best paired with wild game burgers (a Friday special) and a bottle of wine.
Top review
OpenTable Diner
Dined 1 day ago
They definitely went above and beyond to make my first date with a special lady a wonderful night to remember!
A photo of Killen's Steakhouse restaurant
4.7
4.7 (5441)
$50 and over
Steak
Alvin / Pearland
About the restaurant
In a city that takes its steak very seriously, rising to the top of the pack—especially as a family-owned operation—is a serious feat. But that’s exactly what executive chef Ronnie Killen did. Hand-cut steaks, which include hard-to-find Japanese wagyu options, plus a focus on fresh ingredients and some of the city’s most decadent desserts such as crème brûleé bread pudding, have garnered many nationwide accolades, including honors as a top steakhouse in Travel + Leisure.
Top review
atikokan1
Dined 2 days ago
Great Anniversary celebration! Our waiter Randy was amazing ! We took his advice & split the Wagu surf & turf! Loved the king crab i& still brought steak home.
A photo of Masraff's restaurant
4.8
4.8 (3834)
$50 and over
Contemporary American
Westside
About the restaurant
After decades of serving a posh Post Oak crowd, beloved fine-dining staple Masraff’s now wows with its second act near Bunker Hill. This iteration is light, bright, and modern, with attentive service and well-executed Houston faithfuls such as steaks, wild-caught seafood, and wild game at the core of the dining experience. The lounge and patio are ideal spots to enjoy one of the city’s standout happy hours, where must-order combos include crispy fried Gulf oysters and Masraff’s jalapeño- and cucumber-infused gin and tonic.
Top review
garyovip
Dined 1 day ago
Masraff’s is consistently a very fine restaurant across the board. Starting with the greatest hostess Olga, the service is A++! Menu and food are top notch, a GREAT dining experience!
A photo of Brasserie 19 restaurant
4.8
4.8 (2639)
$50 and over
French
River Oaks
About the restaurant
Brasserie 19 marries elegant French brasserie-style food with a see-and-be-seen vibe. Chef-owner Charles Clark created a philosophy that encourages access to an expansive wine list with bottles priced just above retail, which makes it easy to sample a wide variety of bubbles alongside oysters on the half shell, or a luscious Pinot Noir with steak frites. Whether the occasion calls for a shared bottle on the patio with light bites, or a romantic dinner for two that lingers late into the night, Brasserie 19 makes for a great excuse to dress up and go out on the town.
Top review
OpenTable Diner
Dined 5 days ago
Absolutely delicious! This is my second time at Brasserie 19, and I was not disappointed. Kenneth, our server, was polite and great at making recommendations. I would say try everything, and if my wallet could afford to do so, I definitely would have. Try as much as you can, you will not be left unsatisfied. A few of my recommendations are the beef carpaccio, escargot, scallops and their shrimp cocktail. So yum! We will be back!
A photo of Kiran's restaurant
4.8
4.8 (2682)
$50 and over
Indian
Upper Kirby / Shepherd Corridor
About the restaurant
Chef Kiran Verma is considered Houston’s “godmother of Indian fine dining.” Verma blazed her own path to showcase her version of world-class north Indian food at her namesake restaurant. The first clue that Kiran’s is something special starts when diners enter through a grand, hammered brass door and step into a chandelier-filled dining room. The kitchen consistently puts out excellent fare from an extensive menu featuring Indian street food and classics such as butter chicken and vindaloo. Local ingredients shine in dishes including the chef’s South Asian riff on shrimp and grits. Don’t miss the indulgent afternoon tea service on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, complete with tandoor chicken finger sandwiches and masala chips.
Top review
AndrewMvip
Dined 5 days ago
Wonderful evening at Kiran’s last night. Service, drinks and food were excellent. At the top end of the budget range for us but portion sizes were more than enough - we brought food home! All of the dishes we tried were fantastic with the tandoori being the star of the show for us. I can also see how the menu could appeal or accommodate to folks who may not choose Indian as their first choice of cuisine. I’d encourage those folks to give Kiran’s a try!
A photo of Kau Ba restaurant
4.5
4.5 (374)
$30 and under
Vietnamese
Montrose
About the restaurant
Chef Nikki Tran’s Kau Ba is the poster child for creative “Viejun” dishes in a town that loves its Viet-Cajun culinary heritage. The Saigon-born Tran loves to experiment with spices, ingredients, and pairings that marry the food cultures of Vietnam and her adopted city of Houston, best reflected in her Texas-style smoked brisket pho and nuoc mam caramel chicken wings. The dishes pair well with specialty cocktails by Chris Morris (the Pho Loma adds pho spice and Thai basil to the classic tequila-based cocktail). It all adds up to a cozy neighborhood spot with new and interesting flavor combos exclusive to Bayou City.
Top review
RachelleD
Dined on Mar 31, 2024
Good food! Wonderful service, able to accommodate the food allergies of my guest!
A photo of Goode Co. Armadillo Palace restaurant
4.7
4.7 (219)
$30 and under
American
Upper Kirby / Shepherd Corridor
About the restaurant
Houston staple Goode Co.’s Armadillo Palace is downright charming, from the large silver armadillo gracing the entrance to the indoor dance hall and live-fire barbecue pits. Built with three stages and a huge outdoor patio space, this unique complex was made to entertain. The top-notch Texas-style food from the kitchen has something for everyone: mesquite-smoked redfish, chile con carne, and the sweetest ending—a slice of Goode’s renowned pecan pie.
Top review
BrandonIvip
Dined on Jun 5, 2024
Unique twists and perfect execution were legendary!
A photo of The Annie Café & Bar restaurant
4.5
4.5 (1353)
$31 to $50
Southwest
Galleria / Uptown
About the restaurant
The Annie Cafe & Bar is not unlike Houston itself, having changed over time without losing the distinct elements that fuel its charm. The Southwestern restaurant’s concept was refreshed in 2019 when restaurateur Benjamin Berg partnered with retiring chef Robert Del Grande to bring the Annie into a new era. The beautifully remodeled bar and dining room are excellent settings for a long business lunch or a family dinner, where diners continue to enjoy refined classics such as crab tostadas, bacon-wrapped quail, and legendary tortilla soup.
Top review
OpenTable Diner
Dined 1 day ago
Great dining experience, excellent attendant/waiters attention to my table.
A photo of Street To Kitchen restaurant
4.8
4.8 (715)
$31 to $50
Thai
East End
About the restaurant
It’s hard to imagine Houston’s dynamic food scene without this small restaurant attached to an unassuming East End gas station. Chef Benchawan Jabthong Painter’s food is billed as “unapologetically Thai”—a reflection of what she grew up eating and cooking in central Thailand. Painter was recently nominated for the James Beard Awards Best Chef: Texas category and draws Houstonians to the east side with pitch-perfect takes on tom yum soup, pad thai, and som tam, a spicy papaya salad with chile, tomato, and crushed peanuts.
Top review
OpenTable Diner
Dined 1 day ago
Tiger prawns were not a good value; everything else was excellent
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