Houston was not always considered a great food city. Twenty-five years ago, the city’s greatest culinary achievements were a few steakhouses and some run-of-the-mill Mexican joints. Today, it is touted as one of the nation’s hottest destinations for fine dining. Hugo’s and Underbelly are regulars in any discussion of America’s best restaurants. However, the rise of its gastronomic industry has somewhat overshadowed the city’s original culinary aesthetic: mom-and-pop holes-in-the-wall offering authentic, ethnic and downhome meals that taste like home and adventures all in one.
PAPA MEX, Rosenberg I begin my list with the furthest from the city and the closest to my heart. Papa Mex in Rosenberg, Texas, is a quarter mile from my old high school. INSIDE YOU’LL FIND THE BEST BREAKFAST TACOS THIS SIDE OF THE RIO GRANDE. House-made flour tortillas, red salsa and the smell of coffee will greet you as you walk in and seat yourself. Like any true mom-and-pop, you’re likely to find the proprietor working the register, while family works the kitchen. This neighborhood Tex-Mex is as friendly as it is unassuming. Just don’t show up after lunch hours – closing time is 2pm. 1008 Herndon Dr. | Rosenberg TX 77471 281.342.1511 | www.facebook.com/Papa-Mex
BURNS ORIGINAL BBQ, Acres Homes Recently featured in Anthony Bourdain’s now famous Houston episode of “Parts Unknown,” BURNS IS A TRULY OLD-SCHOOL, FAMILY-OWNED, TEXAS BARBEQUE PIT. The Burns family has been perfecting the art of slowly smoking meat for generations, and the smell of brisket from a block away is a testament to their craft. Everything on the menu is outstanding but the place is best known for their incredible brisket and gigantic barbeque-stuffed baked potatoes. If you’re not on the north side of town, this could be a hike for you, but it is well worth the trip. 8307 De Priest St. | Houston, TX 77088 281.999.5559 | www.facebook.com/BurnsOriginalBbq
LA FOGATA, Alief We’re back in Harris County but still south of the border, way south. COLOMBIAN CUISINE, LIKE OTHER SOUTH AND CENTRAL AMERICAN CUISINES, IS FOCUSED AROUND A HANDFUL OF NATIONAL STAPLES. Built to feed hungry field hands, this is one menu that won’t fit your low-cal diet. The house specialty is the Bandeja Paisa. This classic Colombian dish consists of a seriously healthy serving of red beans and white rice, topped with a fried egg, avocado, carne asada, chorizo, fried plantains, chicharron and traditional arepa. Make sure to pair this with a house-made natural fruit juice. My one suggestion is to show up hungry. 11630 Southwest Fwy. | Houston TX 77031 281.575.8736 | www.facebook.com/LaFogataRestaurant
VIENG THAI, Spring Branch I will finish this list off with a genuine hole-in-the-wall. In the southeast corner of Korea town, in the not so visually appealing part of Spring Branch, VIENG THAI IS SERVING UP TRULY AUTHENTIC THAI FAVORITES. Don’t expect to find good parking or hipster ambiance, just excellent curry and noodles. The green and red curries are outstanding, but the house specialty is the extremely flavorful boat noodles. Most semi-cultured eaters these days are familiar with Pho and Ramen, but have yet to try traditional Thai boat noodles. If you are new to Thai food be warned, it is among the spiciest of Asian cuisines. 6929 Long Point Rd. | Houston, TX 77055 713.688.9910