The Basics

Dining in Houston: Where Should a New Resident Even Begin?

Oven-roasted oysters at Caracol
Oven-roasted oysters at Caracol Photo by Troy Fields
Oven-roasted oysters at Caracol - PHOTO BY TROY FIELDS
Oven-roasted oysters at Caracol
Photo by Troy Fields
For a brand-new resident of Houston, the places I've eaten so far haven't been the showboats or stalwarts or intriguing newcomers. My dining has been based on perfunctory breaks during a  time of chaos — dining with my little niece and nephew at Tacos A Gogo (great frozen Palomas) and Hugs & Donuts, escaping Mother during Christmas vacation at the Lei Low, taking a quick lunch at El Real during apartment hunting.  

During that Saturday lunch, my sister and I did not, unfortunately, try the build-your-own margaritas.  In fact, when I told another local food writer that was the case, a look of utter disappointment came across her face. "It was only noon," I said. "So we didn't drink." Her response, as one might rightfully expect: "I thought you were from New Orleans." She then warned me I'd also be judged for what I'd ordered to eat. "Oh," I told her, "I just had the Gringo-style tacos." I have a soft spot for the ground beef and crunchy shell, either because of an iron deficiency from running long distance or the fact that a friend's mother drove us to Taco Bell every day after middle school marching band practice. Like a love for French horn, some taste memories just won't die. Still, I know I'll be back to El Real many times, eating more than just the Tin Can crispy tacos.

In fact, there are so many places I want to try, so many dishes I am dying to consume, that it's more than just a tad overwhelming. Coming from a city with only 1,500 restaurants and a dining scene steeped in the tradition of Creole, America's seemingly first melting pot cuisine, which includes French, Spanish, Italian, German, Irish, Native American, African, Croatian and even Vietnamese influences, I am more than ready to explore the vast foodways that New Orleans did not play home to, from Pakistani to Chinese to Tex Mex. I am also thankful that plenty of Cajun influences seem to be alive and well here, to help my transition to the Bayou City.

That being said, these are just some of the spots that are at the top of my dining list: Hugo's, Caracol, Underbelly, Oxheart, Uchi, The Original Ninfa's on Navigation, Killen's, Pho Binh, Irma's Original, Long Sing Supermarket and Himalaya. I think I'll stop there and take a deep breath.

What restaurants and bars should a new resident first and foremost make her way to?  Thoughts? Opinions? Hit the comments.
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Gwendolyn Knapp is the food editor at the Houston Press. A sixth-generation Floridian, she is still torn as to whether she likes smoked fish dip or queso better.