The best taco, steak, and seafood in Houston
I’m back after my two-week hiatus! I was on holiday in the UK and Ireland—it was the first international vacation I’d taken in three years and long overdue. As expected, I consumed voraciously, but that will all come in another entry.
Today, I’m continuing my suggestions for Houston eats. My first entry on this series logged where I took my pops when he was visiting, and the most recent entry focused on Vietnamese and Chinese food on Bellaire. In this third part of the Houston series, we’re eating more dishes Houston is known for: tacos, Southern, steaks, and Gulf seafood.
More Mexican street-style tacos
As mentioned before, I prefer authentic Mexican cuisine to the native Texan hybrid known as Tex-Mex. (And the Texans gasp.) For those who have trouble discerning the two, a quick lesson: Tex-Mex is often saucier, dressed in cheese and sour cream. It’s the enchilada or the fajitas you get at many chain restaurants, and while Tex-Mex has its merits—the hubs and I had our wedding rehearsal dinner at one such restaurant—four times out of five, I prefer the simple taco with just meat, onion, cilantro, and lime juice.
I’m embarrassed to admit I did not have my first taste of Tacos Tierra Caliente until recently, even though it’s been a Houston institution for years. The tacos are only a buck-fifty, and you can get a healthy helping of sliced avocado if you just ask. The salsas are fiery, and yes, these tacos are slung from a truck—an authentic taco truck, the kind after which all of today’s food trucks are modeled—and it permanently parks across the way from the West Alabama Ice House, another long-time Houston institution.
My favorite is the barbacoa, but the menu offers a variety from lengua to al pastor. Tote your brown paper bag over to the Ice House and devour them with a Lone Star. Nothing beats a dinner and drink for about the same price as a cup of coffee from you-know-where.
The hubs loves these tacos so much, I also catered them for his birthday once, along with the banh cuon from Thien Thanh.
Tacos Tierra Caliente
1919 W. Alabama St.
Houston, TX 77098
For the best catfish ’n grits in town, try The Breakfast Klub. The catfish is salty, the grits buttery, but that’s what makes Southern comfort food a treat yo-self thing. Many also love their wings ’n waffles, but I prefer the biscuits ’n gravy. I don’t like biscuits ’n gravy anywhere else, but I love them here.
Lines are often long, so plan to go right as they open.
The Breakfast Klub
3711 Travis St.
Houston, TX 77002
Beef steaksBeef is what my pops misses most now that he lives in Vietnam. Two of my favorite steakhouses are Pappas Bros. Steakhouse and Killen’s Steakhouse. Pappas Bros. has impeccable service, the best bread and butter (sourdough French baguette), perfectly cooked dry-aged steaks, and stellar apps and sides, too (I like the crab cakes). We took my pops here to celebrate his retirement in 2012; we spent a pretty penny, but it was worth it. Anything for the parents.
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
5839 Westheimer Rd.
Houston, TX 77057
More recently, the hubs and I tried Killen’s Steakhouse for our anniversary. The restaurant is down in Pearland, and the outside looks unassuming, but the food here is also excellent. The hubs had ordered the New York strip flight, which included four ounces each of Japanese A5 Wagyu (considered the best beef in the world), Australian Wagyu, Texas Akaushi, and American Wagyu. As if his meal wasn’t fancy enough, he also ordered a side of seared foie gras. Oh, but to make up for all that decadence, he did also get a side of grilled asparagus.
I, on the other hand, went for the comfort food: chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and haricot vert—quite possibly the best CFS I’ve had to date. My dish cost a mere fraction of the hubs’s, but we both enjoyed all the food immensely.
You can see our Killen’s spread at the top of the entry.
Ronnie Killen is about to open up his much anticipated burger joint to round out his beef empire already consisting of barbecue and steaks, so maybe you’ll see a review of that in the future.
2804 S. Main St.
Pearland, TX 77581
Gulf Coast seafood
Being right off the Gulf Coast, Houston is a breeding bay for great seafood. Shrimp, oysters, and blue crab are the crowned jewels of the Gulf Coast.
You’ll find many restaurants serving shrimp: grilled and tossed with grits, peel-’n-eat with cocktail sauce, together with lump crabmeat atop a steak. But my favorite way to eat shrimp is just to buy fresh and cook at home. In fact, the hubs and I just grill some Monday, together with squash and mushrooms, for a light, simple dinner after all the meat and potatoes we’d eaten on holiday. (Okay, so I served it with some bagna cauda, a buttery anchovy sauce.) Gulf shrimp is plump with a hint of sweetness, the epitome of how shrimp should taste.
As for oysters, season is generally in the cooler months (some use the rule of thumb that the freshest oysters come in any month that contains the letter “R” (September through April). The best way to eat fresh oysters is straight off the half-shell with just a touch of mignonette made with shallot, a milder vinegar such as sherry, and a touch of sugar. Don’t forget to wash them down with a glass of bubbly. Many like to eat oysters on saltines with cocktail sauce and horseradish, but I find these additions cloud the briny oysters (and remember, I’m a purist).
Gulf oysters are larger than your typical west and east coast varieties, and a bit brinier. The best, least expensive place to get oysters on the half-shell is Gilhooley’s out near the coast, but a more central location is Little Pappas Seafood Kitchen, which, when in season, sling them for just $6/dozen. Beware, though, the wait can be long because everyone who appreciates good oysters for cheap come here during season.
222 9th St.
Dickinson, TX 77539
Little Pappa Seafood Kitchen
3001 S. Shepherd Dr.
Houston, TX 77098
Last but not least, blue crab! Even though it’s considered the peasant of crabs, blue crab is my favorite for its sweet meat. The main problem with blue crab is the crustaceans aren’t large, so your meat-to-shell ratio is minuscule, thereby making it, as some believe, a lot of work for little pay-off. (This is the same reason why many don’t appreciate crawfish.) But the way I see it, eating often also serves a social purpose (not just a satiable one), so gathering around a paper-lined table to slowly work your way through crustaceans with your bare hands over an ice cold beer is something better done in good company. It’s okay to take an hour or three to eat some Gulf seafood, as long as you’re doing it with people you like.
My favorite place in Houston to eat blue crab is Crawfish and Noodles, located on the very same Bellaire strip of which I speak so fondly. While I tend to get my fill of the restaurant’s namesake dishes elsewhere, Crawfish and Noodles does do a spectacular salted crab dish (or cua rang muoi in Vietnamese). The crab is fresh, the batter crispy and well seasoned. If you have the patience to pick apart crab with your hands and teeth, you’ll love the crab at Crawfish & Noodles.
Crawfish and Noodles
11360 Bellaire Blvd. #990
Houston, TX 77072
Now you’ve got a nice list of Houston eateries to take your visiting guests or to just try yourself if you haven’t been. All of these dishes and places are good samples of what Houston cuisine is all about. Have you been to any of these? Have a differing opinion on who makes the best taco, steak, Gulf seafood, or Southern comfort food? Do tell.