Brand-new restaurant or established mainstay: when you’re hot, you’re hot. And as a diner, there's nothing worse than having to wait for hours at a perpetually packed restaurant — or the nagging feeling that you'll never be able to snag a seat. Have no fear, we're here to help. Below, the eight toughest-to-crack restaurants in Houston, and how to get in.
Known for its 90-minute waits and no-reservations policy, this snug hot spot in the Heights is a tough cookie. The laid-back vibe and a vast tap wall are part of the appeal, and the rustic indoor-outdoor bar can make waiting for a table more bearable. Once you're in, plump pig wings with sweet-and-sour sauce, fried green tomatoes and the mammoth burnt ends served over cheese grits (pictured) will have made it all worth it.
How to hack it: On weekdays, arrive precisely at 5 PM when the doors open or wait until well after the dinner rush; Southern Goods is open late, until 2 AM some days. Optionally, hit up weekend brunch right when the doors open at 11 AM.
632 19th St.; 346-980-8152
Helen Greek Food & Wine
Red-hot Helen, known for its Hellenic wines and modern Greek bites, was recently nominated for a James Beard Award and was named to Texas Monthly's best new restaurants list, adding to the hoopla since its opening last spring. The tightly edited menu of grilled fish, inventive veggies and cutting-edge small plates and the tiny shotgun space — only 10 tables! — make scoring a reservation a challenge, particularly at dinner.
How to hack it: Book an online reservation a week in advance; walk-ins are welcome at the bar, but try non-peak hours. If all fails consider early Sunday brunch, when the usually bustling Rice Village is calm and when it's easier to park.
2429 Rice Blvd.; 832-831-7133
State of Grace
This striking bistro is Ford Fry’s first restaurant in his hometown; the acclaimed Atlanta chef grew up in River Oaks. The upscale Texas Hill Country menu pays homage to the Gulf Coast, with chile-spiced blue crab claws; cheese enchilada “a la Felix,” topped with chile gravy, and a giant butter-basted prime rib-eye with punch potatoes and a salad modeled after one of the long-departed Houston steakhouse, The Hofbrau.
How to hack it: For a weekend reservation, call one week in advance. If you can’t score a table for dinner, try the new Sunday brunch instead. Lastly, eat at the bar or pop into the Oyster Room, which is tucked off the main dining room.
3258 Westheimer Rd.; 832-942-5080
The Pass & Provisions
This New American dual-concept restaurant has been buzzing since co-chefs Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan opened it a few years ago. At The Pass, wild and inventive tasting menus are the draw, making it one of the most exclusive tables in town. Although the adjoining Provisions also accepts reservations, it's more casual about walk-ins.
How to hack it: For a special occasion at The Pass, make online reservations at least two weeks in advance. Arrive by 5 PM for a walk-in table in Provisions; you'll not only snag seats, but you'll also be able to make use of the restaurant's private self parking lot, which usually fills up after 7 PM. There's also a bar that serves food as well as a petite shaded patio.
807 Taft St.; 713-628-9020
It’s worth the pilgrimage to Pearland for Killen's mammoth beef ribs, tender turkey and banana pudding; in fact, the food here is so good here that on many days the restaurant plum runs out by lunch. On Saturdays, Killen’s passes out free beer to those who endure the long waits. A line around the building can’t scare off Texans!
How to hack it: Arrive before 11 AM and get in line. Then, take a breath and get ready to embrace the wait.
3613 E. Broadway St.; 281-465-2272
In 2012, on the opening day of Tyson Cole’s Uchi Houston, the restaurant received 600 phone calls for reservations. The Japanese gem’s paparazzi-style frenzy has slowed a bit, but tables are still in high demand. The social hour (5–6:30 PM), when a dozen or so of the signature menu items are served in smaller portions for only $6 and cocktails are also discounted, is hotter than ever. Cheers to that!
How to hack it: For a very early or very late spot, call or book online at OpenTable. Walk-ins are accepted in the dining room and at the sushi bar. Avoid peak times; Sunday–Tuesday are your best bets for walk-ins.
904 Westheimer Rd.; 713-522-4808
Coltivare Pizza and Garden
The cozy wood-wrapped dining room is just as enticing as the charming, tucked-away patio garden at this perennial Heights favorite, so expect both to be consistently packed. Why? Pillow-y pizzas, homemade pastas, fresh salads, smart cocktails are all humble and delicious, yet unfussy and reasonably priced. The only hitch? Coltivare serves dinner only and doesn't accept reservations.
How to hack it: Arrive before 5 PM. Who knows, maybe you'll meet someone interesting while waiting in line.
3320 White Oak Dr.; 713-637-4095
Blame it on the national media for putting chef Justin Yu’s Oxheart in its own little bubble of exclusivity. With unique tasting menus of locally sourced products and artistic, earthy presentations you could never concoct at home, there’s nothing else quite like it in town. Needless to say, its intimate size and reservations-only policy make Oxheart a difficult restaurant to crack.
How to hack it: Reservations are accepted up to a month in advance, or call between 2–5 PM Thursday to Monday. Trust us: the planning will have been worth it.
1302 Nance St.; 832-830-8592