With the holidays just around the corner, a pie tasting to find the best around Houston felt in order. Finding the best type of just one pie (e.g., pumpkin or pecan) felt limiting, so the approach of this tasting was to sample the most popular pie from each included restaurant or bakery. This seemed the fairest — and also most effective in terms of self-selection — way to face off the existing favorite pies in Houston against other favorites.
Once we had the pool of pies, we found they naturally fell into several categories: namely pecan, pumpkin, buttermilk, fruit and cream or novelty pies. Each pie was judged based on the quality of the crust, the quality of the filling, and the overall satisfaction rating of the pie as a whole. Read on to find your pie of the season.
Pies were selected via word of mouth and online research. We asked each restaurant or bakery to suggest its best-selling pie in hopes of achieving a self-selecting pool of the most popular existing pies in Houston.
Pies were rated by 18 tasters in three categories on a scale from 1 to 10: crust quality, filling quality and overall quality. The numbers following each shop name represent the pie's overall quality score out of 10.
The Pie Factory (6.9): This shallower pie had a pale crimped crust that practically sheds crumbs from its utter flakiness. The buttery flavor that pervades the crust indicates a careful, homemade attention to quality. The “goo” layer beneath the pecans has a just barely perceptible lumpiness but a perfect level of maple-laced sweetness that earned high marks in the filling category. At $12.95, this is a bargain considering the high quality you’ll get—but make sure to bring cash to the cash-only establishment.
Three Brothers (6.6): The deeply toasted flavor of the pecans stood out in this pie—with a gooey, extremely sweet lower layer with notes of maple that some tasters dubbed “too sweet,” this had a balanced ratio of almost equal nuts to goo. The perfect crimping on the crust looks machine-made, but was extremely crisp and flaky—by far my favorite crust among the pecan pies. Pies are only available whole for $22.95.
Pappas BBQ (6.5): This pie also stood out for the toasty quality of its nuts and the maple notes in the filling. Tasters gave the thin, flaky crust above average marks. With a thin layer of pecans topping a deep layer of goo that has faint notes of caramel, this is a pie highly recommended for “goo” lovers. Slices are around $3.
Goode Co. (6.3): Although the pecans lining the top of this pie erred on the chewy side compared to some of the crisp, toasted pecans in other pies, this pie shines in the “goo” arena—verging on a deep dish pie, whole pecans make up a superficial layer on top of the pie with a inch of syrupy, gelatinous goo underneath that tastes like crack. The crust is sandy and nearly disintegrates in your mouth, reminiscent of a graham cracker-type crust. This is not a pie for those who need a flaky pie crust, but if you like a high goo to pecan ratio, this is your pie. Whole pies are $19.95.
Toasted Nut Pie from Backstreet Café (6.1): For those who want an off-the-beaten-path pie, this veers from a traditional pecan pie, with a filling studded with multiple varieties of toasted nuts. Though it's billed on the menu as a pie (you can order it as an individual dessert in the restaurant, or get a whole pie to go), the thin, flakey crust is really more tart-like. Though purists should stay away, those looking for a more sophisticated option for their holiday table would find a solid offering here. The individual pie is $9.
Roegels (5.2): A candy-sweet syrup leaked out of this pie filling topped with a mass of chopped pecans. The bland crust, slightly sogged from the weight of the dense, sweet pie filling, was nearly indistinguishable. It’s not a bad option for a barbecue joint, but most tasters wouldn’t choose this as their ideal pie. Slices are a bargain at $3.25.
Ooh La La (6.9): This dainty pumpkin pie is about as picture-perfect as it gets, with a thick, deep-orange filling, a pale, flaky pie crust and plumes of whipped cream. The pumpkin layer is perfectly spiced — winning third-highest overall marks for filling — though the crust lacked a bit in flavor. Overall, a solid choice for pumpkin pie — and Ooh La La has a variety of other pies, including cherry, coconut cream, key lime, Reese’s mousse and more, that are all sure to be delicious. Slices are $4.95; whole pies range from $22.95 to $58.95.
Revival Market (6.8): This pumpkin pie is gently spiced and über-creamy, with a crust that stands out for its thick, imperfectly wavy crimping that screams homemade. The crimped part of the crust has a short, extremely flaky texture that almost melts in your mouth, while the crust lining the pie filling has longer, flakier layers with a tiny bit of chew. At $32 per pie, this one is worth the price (though you can also buy individual slices at the restaurant). One taster called this pie “about as good as it gets.”
Pondicheri (6.1): Pondicheri transforms its famous chai pie into a pumpkin chai pie in the fall — a thick, grainy, cookie-like, deep-dish crust is filled with a sweet, silky chai layer and a barely sweet pumpkin layer. It’s a symphony of spices that is far more exotic than an average pumpkin pie. “I liked this and I don’t even like pumpkin,” commented one taster. A whole pie is $80; individual slices are also available in the Pondi bake lab or restaurant.
Central Market: Although we had high hopes for this grocery superpower, which churns out hundreds of pies for the holidays, the mini chiffon pumpkin pie we sampled tasted extremely average. You’ll get what you pay for ($4.99 for a mini pie).