Chef Chat

Where the Chefs Eat: Ronnie Killen of Killen’s Steakhouse, Killen’s STQ, Killen’s BBQ, Killen’s Burgers, and Killen’s TMX

Ronnie Killen, a Pearland native, graduated top of his class at Le Cordon Bleu in London. He is the chef and restauranteur behind a growing empire of restaurants in the greater Houston area.
Ronnie Killen, a Pearland native, graduated top of his class at Le Cordon Bleu in London. He is the chef and restauranteur behind a growing empire of restaurants in the greater Houston area. Photo by Kimberly Park
From 2012 to 2014, Houston Press ran a series called “Where the Chefs Eat,” (you can re-visit the entire series here) in which we asked some of Houston's most prominent chefs where they ate when they weren’t cooking in their own kitchens. Though it ran its natural course at the time, so much has changed in the Houston landscape since then that we’re bringing it back. For the new series, we’ll be putting the spotlight on one chef at a time. Want to find out where Houston chefs eat and some pro tips along the way? Come back often to discover the restaurants and dishes that spark joy for Bayou City's best toques.

There’s a little known fact about Pearland native, restauranteur and chef Ronnie Killen that often gets lost in all the hullabaloo surrounding his highly publicized eateries, Killen’s BBQ and Killen’s Steakhouse: He graduated first of his class from Le Cordon Bleu in London. Le Cordon Bleu, of course, being the famed institution that trained culinary greats like Julia Child. So yes, the trained chef is capable of producing tweezer-plated dishes that belong on fine dining menus, but instead, by returning to his hometown and staying true to his roots, he’s parlayed his skills into cultivating a growing empire of restaurants (he's got six now, plus two spots at NRG Park), the latest of which — Killen’s Steakhouse in the The Woodlands — just debuted the last week of April.

With all that he has going on, you’d think that this James Beard Foundation two-time Best Chef Southwest semifinalist might not have any free time to eat about town, but you’d be wrong. While he isn’t traveling, competing in food competitions, cooking at the James Beard House, or running his many restaurants, Killen is a veritable bon vivant. 
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Shima Aji sushi at MF Sushi, one of Ronnie Killen's go-to sushi spots.
Photo by Mai Pham

Let’s find out where he likes to eat in his own words.

Standard go-to’s: Uchi has been a long-time favorite because they do such a great job of creating well-balanced dishes that hit all the senses.  A must at Uchi is always the Hama Chili. To me, this made me look at food differently. The hamachi with orange, ponzu, Thai chili and smoked tobiko is the perfect bite. Along with the zero sen roll and, of course the fried milk. Go for the signature tasting—it never disappoints.

MF Sushi is another. I’ve been trying to eat healthier and their fish is some of the freshest in Houston. I lean toward the white mild fish (Option C) and it’s always amazing. The baked lobster tempura appetizer is a special treat when I feel I deserve it.

Cheap eats: Lila’s is a family-owned place in Pearland serving super simple Mexican plates. Two can eat for less than $20. They have amazing chips and salsa that I could almost drink. I always get the Lila’s Deluxe (cold plate ) chili con queso, beef taco and guacamole salad, or (hot plate) 2 cheese enchiladas, refried beans and rice. If I splurge I get the Look At Me Burger — 2 patties served open face with chili con queso poured all over it —with jalapeño and French fries.

Whataburger — I mean, what’s there to say? A Texas staple and just a good ole burger every time! I always get the Whataburger with cheese and jalapeño, fries and a Diet Coke. And obviously I love their ketchup, which is why we have it at Killen’s Burgers.

Dessert: I could go to Mastro's Steakhouse just for the dessert. Their butter cake is served piping hot from the oven with fresh fruit and house-made whipped cream. It’s one of my favorite desserts of all time.

Want other suggestions from those in the know? For more of Where the Chefs Eat, see below:
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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham