It’s fair to call this list “Heights-esque,” as we shall put one foot over White Oak Bayou occasionally and step — barely — into the Lazy Brook and Timbergrove areas. Some of the best food at the best prices is found there and breaking those places out into a separate list just doesn’t make a lot of sense. (Besides, how many of you are going to search for “10 Best in Lazy Brook/Timbergrove," really?)
All that said, when it comes to reasonable yet notable fare, the Heights might in fact be the best neighborhood in Houston. To that end, let’s get a substantial number of honorable mentions out of the way.
Eight Row Flint, 1039 Yale
It just opened, but we can imagine spending a whole lot of time at Eight Row Flint. The menu of casual Mexican fare is small but satisfying, including tacos, housemade tortilla chips, guacamole, queso and salsa. Tacos range from $3 to $5 and so far, the braised beef cheek and Berkshire pork varieties are our standout favorites. Oh, and did we mention there's a lot of whiskey and beer, too?
Pi Pizza, 2518 Yale
It's just wonderful that this long-running food truck has a permanent home at Johnny's Gold Brick now, because owner Anthony Calleo has been cranking out some of the best pizzas in Houston for years. From the cheekily-named 420 Slice to the rather elegant Soppressata, Pi Pizza has something to please nearly every pizza lover. If you're really lucky, you'll catch one of the awesome seasonal pizzas made with fresh local ingredients. If you've done some truly good deeds lately perhaps the heavens will smile on you and you'll arrive just in time to grab a pizza covered in Mac & Cheese and bacon.
Dacapo’s Pastry Cafe, 1141 East 11th
When people think of restaurants in The Heights as old, charming and quaint, they’re probably thinking of Dacapo’s. It’s the kind of place you can walk into a decade later and it’s still exactly the same. That includes a good selection of classic cakes (Dacapo's takes custom orders, too) and the funny little leftovers from trimming the cakes called “ugly cake tops” that make for perfectly sized sweet bites after lunch. The sandwich, salad, quiche and dessert spot shuts down at 6 p.m. daily (except for Sundays, when it's closed), so visit for lunch or a very early dinner.
Asia Market Restaurant, 4822 Fulton
The folks who formerly ran the Asia Market on Cavalcade moved to a full-fledged restaurant. It’s technically in Northside now, but those acclaimed spicy curries are just on the other side of I-45. It should not be confused with the old location, with new owners running that as Asia Market Thai Lao Food. Asia Market Restaurant’s Green Curry with Tofu is a favorite dish. “Spicy” means spicy, so don’t come crying to us if you order it “Thai hot” and don’t like the results.
Collina’s Italian Cafe, 502 West 19th
This longtime local chain, with three locations in Houston, has been ignored and underrated for a long time, especially when considering the value offered. An eight-inch pizza is an extremely generous “personal” size, and it even comes with a salad and breadsticks. The grand total: $14.89 after leaving a $3 tip. Collina’s is BYOB, too. The corkage is only $1 per person. That’s ridiculously cheap.
The Primavera, with all manner of fresh vegetables including spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, garlic and bell peppers, is an old favorite. The crust is of the hand-tossed, slightly chewy variety. It’s not going to change your tires, comb your hair, give you a loan or change the way you look at pizza, but it’s a good deal. Collina’s also gets Brownie points for always being good about working with nonprofits and other local organizations for events and club meetings.
That’s it for the honorable mentions. Now on with the countdown.
10. Carter & Cooley, 375 West 19th
There’s as much history inside of Carter & Cooley as there is in the antique stores down the street. For that matter, it practically is an antique store, with old cash registers and historical photos all around. There’s a big, round neon-framed clock that minds the back and probably has been there in the same spot for decades. The best old-fashioned thing here, though, is the service. It’s the warm, friendly kind that will make you feel right at home. The muffuletta is the must-order sandwich, but the chili is a good bet when it’s available, too. Carter & Cooley is open only for breakfast and lunch.
9. Happy Fatz, 3510 White Oak
There’s a menu of specialty hot dogs here that are $8 each, including a pretty remarkable Texas beer chili dog that’s topped with a Frito pie. The staff is genuine and friendly, and there’s a case full of pretty cake balls and other desserts. Happy Fatz also serves breakfast, including challah French toast and a creative hot dog hash. We’ll have to revisit someday, because the savory cheesecakes in flavors like Gorgonzola and olive pesto sound too good to pass up.
8. Alma Latina, 2203 North Shepherd
It kind of looks like a pawn shop on the outside, but who cares when the food is so good and reasonably priced? If your heart is craving some good, old-fashioned Tex-Mex, like cheese enchiladas with chili gravy, refried beans and Mexican rice, there's no shame in it here. Also, when Alma Latina says “a la Diabla,” it means it. Dishes like the camarones a la diabla aren’t crazy-spicy, but you’ll know you ate them.
7. Lola, 1102 Yale
Part of what makes Lola so good, whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner (note that this place closes at 9 p.m.), is that the menu has a conscience. No matter the dietary restriction, it’s easy to dine here. The menu is marked with symbols for “heart healthy,” "gluten-free" and "vegetarian" for easy ordering. Breakfasts feature locally raised eggs, and dinner dishes use hormone-free meat.
Just as important, the food actually tastes good. This is no diner serving dry, boring, do-gooder fare. Slap a side of the applewood-smoked bacon onto those eggs. Have a “Crack Brownie” for dessert. Feel-good food can be tasty and fun.
6. Gumbo Jeaux’s, 2155 Durham
Gumbo Jeaux’s is in a bit of a no-man’s land off Durham near I-10 that has no sexy neighborhood name, so we’re going to leave it here because we’re into anarchy almost as much as we’re into Cajun food. There’s a legit catfish sandwich to be had here and a spicy Catfish Opelousas dish that includes two fillets crowned with fried shrimp over a goodly mess of dirty rice. It’s entirely possible to fill the table with food for $30. We know, because that’s what we did at one point while we were reviewing Gumbo Jeaux's last year. Bonus: It's totally BYOB.
5. Lee’s Fried Chicken & Donuts, 601 Heights
This relatively new entry in the Heights fast-food scene should get some sort of award for having the most epic neon sign in the area. It’s modeled after owner Lee Ellis of F.E.E.D. TX Group, the same company behind Liberty Kitchen and BRC. If the phase “fried chicken and donuts” doesn’t interest you, you’re either vegetarian or you have no soul. Lee’s makes the best creamed corn we’ve ever had, with fresh kernels, not canned. The mashed potatoes are extremely good as well — just the right balance of whipped and chunky.
We wish the fried chicken batter had a little more salt to it, but it’s nicely crunchy and even the breast meat stays moist. (By the way, if you haven’t been within the past couple of weeks, it’s time to go back since Lee's has installed brand-new fryers and tweaked the recipe.) As far as the donuts go, the yeasty varieties, such as the Birthday Cake with white icing and sprinkles, have just the right amount of doughy firmness without being dense, and the Blueberry Cake, shot all the way through with fresh blueberries, lives up to its name.
4. Good Dog Houston, 903 Studewood
The Heights has more than enough clientele for not one but two stellar hot dog places. (See No. 9, Happy Fatz, above.) Good Dog Houston’s focus is on locally sourced ingredients. Everything here is made by small Texas businesses, from the Slow Dough buns to the housemade chili. The Picnic Dog is one of our favorites. It includes an all-beef hot dog with red potato salad, chorizo chili and "Short Bus Mustard" (also made in-house at Good Dog Houston, along with all the other condiments).
Interestingly, Good Dog's fish and chips are also really good. The fish, encased within a light, crispy beer batter, changes from day to day depending on what's fresh and available. The “chips” are a stack of very worthy crispy, skin-on, seasoned fries.
3. Hughie’s Tavern & Vietnamese Grill, 1802 West 18th
This is one of those times we’re going to step over White Oak Bayou and into the Lazybrook/Timbergrove area. Hughie’s has so much to offer that it’s well worth going the extra mile for. It’s quintessentially “Houston,” offering both Southern and Vietnamese food on the same menu. The banh mi burger, topped with pickled vegetables, cilantro, jalapeño, Vietnamese ham and spicy aioli and fries, is the finest expression of how complementary these cultures are to each other. Beer lovers adore this place because there’s always something interesting on the tap wall.
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2. Pappa Geno’s, 1801 Ella
One more step over the bayou and this one is really necessary. The Philly cheesesteaks at Pappa Geno’s are just tremendous. The bread simply seems correct for the type of sandwich it is and that’s a rarity. Diners can’t go wrong with either the traditional with grilled onions and “whiz” (that is, Cheez Whiz) or the Pappa Geno’s namesake sandwich with melted Provolone. The restaurant now has a full-size dining room because it was able to lease the space next door.
1. Hubcap Grill, 1133 West 19th
This seems like the obvious choice and, as much as we hate being obvious, there's no denying how good and relatively inexpensive Hubcap Grill is. From a slammin’ jukebox filled with some of the best music from the '70s, '80s and '90s to even more slammin’ burger and fry ingredients, Hubcap Grill has a whole lot to offer for a casual lunch or dinner. Everyone has a different favorite here, from the Hangover Burger to the Greek Burger. The Hell Fries, topped with cayenne, chile powder, Sriracha mayo and jalapeños, might be our favorite “side order.” (Really, they’re big enough to make a meal.) There’s a wide variety of bottled beer, too, from local favorites like Saint Arnold to classic Belgian ales such as Chimay.