10 Must-Try Brunches in Houston

Honorable Mention: Pondicheri

Technically, Pondicheri doesn't have a "brunch," but the breakfast menu that it offers the whole week through should have you thinking about it as a weekend option anyway.

Get to know the Morning Thali, for it is awesome and mighty. For those unfamiliar with thalis in general, imagine that there's a tiny little buffet served in shiny metal dishes. They all come in a big tray, with dishes appropriate for any time of day, and are all just for you!

Pondicheri's breakfast version comes with single-serving beef keema, uppma, potato curry, saffron yogurt, fruit, carrot paratha and a fried egg. If that's not your bag, you might find favor with the three-egg saag paneer omelet filled with spinach, mustard greens, house-made paneer and sweet potato. A carrot paratha comes alongside. There are also two different kinds of mimosas to choose from: one with orange juice and raspberries, and another with mango juice and blueberries.

While you're there, check out the new Pondicheri Bake Lab + Shop upstairs.

10. Max's Wine Dive

Max's must really love brunch, because they offer it more often during the week than any other place in Houston. If there were an award for "Most Brunch," they'd win it. Both Houston locations offers it Friday through Sunday, and the Fairview one additionally offers it on Mondays. As if that weren't enough, the Washington location just added late-night brunch on Friday and Saturday nights from 11:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. No more ending up at Denny's.

The hearty Chicken Fried Rib Eye, made with a Harris Ranch rib eye in a crispy batter coating, comes with truffle gravy, two eggs any style and either jalapeño cheddar grits or home fries. We got the jalapeño cheddar grits and they were as good as we've had anywhere. Leaning towards something sweet? Try the RVP — three red-velvet pancakes accented with lemon cream-cheese frosting. Skip the dry Crème Brûlée French toast, which bears no resemblance to its namesake.

Orange juice mimosas are a mere $4.95 and fancier juices are available for $7.95. Brunch dishes range from $5 to $19, and the morning brunches run Fridays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The special Monday brunch at the Fairview location is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

9. El Big Bad

El Big Bad has a lock on "morning after" food on Sundays. Our hands-down favorite dish here is the Pozole. Chef Jonathan Jones (formerly of Xuco Xicana and Beaver's) calls it a "Meal in a Bowl for Your Soul." and we believe it. The meaty pork stew is chock-full of hominy and comes with fresh optional accoutrements such as sliced radishes and cilantro.

Yet that's just one of the many items here that will let you go home happy. The decadent French Toast "Torrejas," made with tres leches batter and infused with vanilla tequila, comes with a generous handful of pickled raisins and blueberries. Don't ignore the other savory items here, either, like wonderfully earthy pumpkin-seed hummus and the "at least three eggs" mushroom omelet with chimichurri, Pure Luck TX chevre, roasted green chile, pico de gallo and kale salad.

Dishes cost between $8 and $18. Brunch hours are from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m on Sundays.

8. Arnaldo Richards' Picos

Sunday brunch is buffet-style. Picos has a breakfast menu option, but we sailed right past that. How could we resist a feast featuring three different types of meats with mole (our favorite by far was the pork in coloradito, a brick-red mole made from roasted peppers) pans full of tamales, paella, red and green posole and the best guilty pleasure of any Houstonian with a cheese fetish, good old cheese enchiladas?

If that's not enough, there's an entire table of desserts where you'll have a hard time deciding between the creamy rice pudding and the cinnamon- and sugar-encrusted churros. You'll be here for a while, so go for the bottomless mimosas. Roving Mexican guitarists and singers will keep you in the spirit of the meal.

The buffet costs $29 per person. Kids six to 12 are $15 and kids under six are free. Brunch hours are from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays.

7. Lillo & Ella

Lillo & Ella's big, open patio is the perfect place for weekend brunch, especially in the spring and fall when Houston is blessed with clear skies and temperatures below 90 degrees. Its brunch menu is clever, bending traditional Asian elements into interesting dishes that seem just right at mid-morning. The Thai Muu Noodles, for example, with ground pork, Asian long beans and linguini, seems a nod to both larb (traditional Thai beef salad) and Chinese lo mein. Fresh herbs, sliced peppers and a fried egg make it a complete meal.

Where the Thai Muu Noodles dish is lowbrow fusion, the Chilled Glass Noodles with Duck is the city sophisticate, with generous portions of seared duck breast, sliced radish, fresh basil and glass noodles doused in nuoc cham dressing. There's a smart cocktail list to go with the menu. There are takes on mimosas that incorporate Asian ingredients, like lychee and cherry yuzu, as well as fuller-bodied options such as Le Caffeine, a White Russian variant with coffee liqueur, Añejo rum and a float of heavy cream.

Brunch dishes range from $6 to $13 and are available both Saturday and Sunday mornings from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

6. Tiny Boxwoods

Tiny Boxwoods is a Houston classic that beckons on bright weekend mornings with its impeccably manicured back lawn and giant lattes that could have come straight from the Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland. Brunch is served both Saturday and Sunday, and the choices range from conscientious to decadent. The Day's Pastries, composed of house muffins with whipped honey butter, croissants with homemade jam, scone du jour, cinnamon rolls are a great excuse to indulge in some carbohydrates. Feeling guilty? The fruit and yogurt parfait and bowl of fruit allow you to walk out and not be in a state of overload.

That's easier said than done, because Mother's Breakfast of house-ground sausage, jalapeño cheese grits, biscuits and strawberry jam awaits, as does the Morning Cheese and Meat Board. It's made up of three cheeses, an ever-changing variety of cured meats, honeycomb, fresh fruit slides, flatbreads, roasted hazelnuts and jalapeño jelly. Now, who wouldn't want to start the day like that?

Saturday brunch is from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

5. Triniti

Triniti is a great place for a sophisticated lunch that isn't stuffy. Dishes like the Foie Gras "Breakfast" — a slab of seared foie gras with cinnamon-orange monkey bread, orange, bacon marmalade, a quail egg and apple slices — will have you eating like royalty who just finished a game of Sunday cricket.

The menu is subject to change, but the sensibilities stay the same. The current brunch menu features Butternut Asiago Quiche with asiago cheese, herbs and local greens and a Hot Brown Bennie with a poached egg, candied bacon, smoked turkey breast, spicy greens and Mornay sauce. Prices range from $4 for Samantha Mendoza's excellent doughnuts and scones to entrée prices that are $15 pretty much across the board.

Brunch is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays.

4. Dosi

Dosi just started its Sunday brunch two weekends ago, and it's already proven to be a strikingly inventive take of the sort that's really never been seen before. Chicken and waffles are ubiquitous, but chicken-fried quail and waffles with sorghum redeye gravy and a little side salad with Aleppo pepper vinaigrette is most certainly not.

Equally satisfying is the Huckleberry French toast that's been amped up with roasted shards of coconut (not those sad little shreds that come out of a plastic bag) and crystallized ginger. Those are just two of the dishes from a menu that was overall a win-win. Unlike Dosi's dinner dishes, which are very sharable, the brunch dishes can potentially be shared but aren't necessarily geared for that. (It's not like that stopped us from sharing, anyway.)

Prices range from $8 to $18, and brunch runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

3. Fielding's Wood Grill

Fielding's puts an emphasis on using quality ingredients. Those include Black Angus beef from 44 Farms and Mill King milk straight from the dairy. They grind their own meat and make their own bacon.

By the time you've sunk your teeth into their 44 Farms Sirloin and Eggs, you'll be lost in the flavors and will no longer care about the details. It comes with two eggs, baked hash and a choice between an English muffin or a biscuit. The Signature Baked Eggs come in a little cast-iron pan on top of a sturdy stew of white beans and bacon lardons, and a heap of arugula leaves lend a verdant touch.

For drinks, the quartet of mini Bloody Marys, or Mary's Flight, is a whole lot of fun and every one of them is substantially different from the others. They range from the fairly traditional Fielding's Mary, garnished with green olives and house-made pickle slides, to the unique Mary Caprese, with fresh basil and mozzarella.

Brunch is served from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on both Saturdays and Sundays, and prices run from $5 to $16.

2. Hugo's

Houstonians hit up chef Hugo Ortega's eponymous restaurant, Hugo's, in droves every Sunday morning, and with good reason. Actually, with dozens of good reasons, as the brunch buffet is rather vast. It's important to know going in that this is not a Tex-Mex buffet. It is interior Mexican, which can open your eyes to cuisine that many are still unfamiliar with. The buffet includes carnitas, corn pudding, guacamole, various egg dishes, multiple kinds of enchiladas, chilaquiles verdes, quesadillas and so much more. Hugo's has always madse sure to provide vegetarian options, and this is reflected in the buffet selection as well.

The dessert table is an exercise in decadence. It features desserts made with Mexican chocolate by pastry chef (and Hugo's brother) Ruben Ortega, hot chocolate and non-chocolate ones including rich flan and rice pudding. At $31, it's not cheap, but it is quite the experience. The feast runs from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and reservations are strongly recommended.

With all those great places already covered, which place was our top pick? Turn the page.

1. Caracol

What can we say? Chef Hugo Ortega and his wife-business partner, Tracy Vaught, know what Houstonians want for brunch! Maybe it's just newness winning out over familiarity, but we like brunch at Caracol even more than at Hugo's. Like the restaurant itself, it's focused more on Coastal Mexican offerings, so there's lots of fish, shrimp and shellfish dishes to be had here.

The downside is that it's pretty much impossible to try all the offerings. All you can do at the end is stare wide-eyed, like a kid in a candy store, at the vast line of chafing pans. Ease the sting by promising yourself you'll try different dishes next time.

The freshly shucked oysters on the half shell and oyster shooters are natural choices for starters. The selections rotate regularly, but from there indulge in pulpo almendrado (marinated octopus with almonds), mussels, seafood tamales, shrimp enchiladas, migas, lamb chops and elote (corn on the cob with lime and a sprinkle of cotija cheese). That's just a small sampling of the number of available dishes.

The savory items are different from Hugo's, but the restaurant has wisely replicated the irresistible dessert table. Caracol's brunch is also packed like Hugo's, so be sure to make reservations. Adults are $35 and kids are $12.

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Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook