A Perfect Day of Eating: 24 Hours in Houston

A full day and night of the best of the Bayou City
November 6, 2017
by Ellie Sharp

Houston has a lot to offer when it comes to dining out, from Vietnamese-Cajun crawfish to barbecue to endless sugary treats. For days when three square meals just aren't enough, why not make it 10? While we don't expect anyone to attempt this in full, we've developed a theoretically doable game plan for snagging H-town's most essential bites. Here's your day of perfect eating.

Credit: Ellie Sharp

Breakfast: Kolache Shoppe
When Czech settlers arrived in Texas in the early 1800s, they brought a taste of their homeland in the form of kolache, which are roundish-square, slightly flattened sweet rolls filled with fruit or cheese. A Texas variation, called klobasniky, replaced traditional fillings with sausage. Today, just about every Texas donut shop worth its salt also serves kolache and klobasniky, often stuffed with additional fillings like egg, potato, cheese, jalapeños and other kinds of meats. Kolache Shoppe opened its Upper Kirby Houston storefront in 1970, and the recipes have remained unchanged, with each offering made daily. Find a large variety of sweet and savory grab-and-go options by singles or the dozen. (Hint: Buy extras as they are good warm or at room temperature.)

3945 Richmond Ave.; 713-626-4580

Credit: Ellie Sharp

Mid-morning snack: Ragin’ Cajun
After breakfast, head down Richmond Avenue just a few blocks because during crawfish season, there’s no better spot for spicy mudbugs than this local institution opened in the 1970s by two members of the legendary Mandola family and a gentleman named Ray Hay. Originally called Ray Hay’s Cajun Poboys, it changed its name in 1981 to honor the Ragin’ Cajuns of the University of Southwest Louisiana, Luke B. Mandola Sr.’s alma mater. Prime boiling generally runs from February to June, but the rest of the year fans flock here for overstuffed fried shrimp po' boys, gumbo, boudin and crawfish étouffée. Any option will do for a splendid snack inside surrounded by all manner of Gulf Coast decor or on the spacious patio overlooking Richmond Avenue.

4302 Richmond Ave.; 713-623-6321

Credit: Scott Sandlin

First lunch: The Pit Room
On your Richmond Avenue food crawl, The Pit Room is just a few miles east. Everything at this Montrose hot spot is made from scratch right down to the flour tortillas used for generously stuffed tacos and chips prepared with rendered brisket lard, as well as sausages, salsas and pickled veggies. Central Texas–style 'cue is the primary draw, however, with tender brisket, pork, ribs (beef and pork) and smoked chicken available with signature tangy sauce. 

1201 Richmond Ave.; 281-888-1929

Credit: Ellie Sharp

Mid-afternoon caffeine fix: Cafeza
By now a nap likely sounds dreamy, but the day is far from over, so buckle up and take a 10-minute drive to this coffee shop inspired by cafes in Barcelona and Buenos Aires, as well as the Hispanic cervecerias and refresquerias that pepper the local landscape. Three concepts in one (coffee shop, bar, restaurant), the long, narrow space is regularly packed with folks working or visiting with pals while sipping specialty coffees, teas and aguas frescas. Find single-origin beans from roasters in Colorado and Arkansas, plus collaborations with Houston-based Boomtown. The menu also showcases housemade churros, Spanish sandwiches and tacos. Come back at night when the place takes on a loungelike atmosphere, with live music and poetry readings.

1720 Houston Ave.; 832-203-8016

Courtesy of Saint Arnold Brewing Company

Second lunch, plus beer: Saint Arnold Brewing Company
It used to be that the only time one could knock back suds at Texas’ oldest microbrewery, which was founded in 1994, was on weekends or during special events when the sprawling beer hall is open for bring-your-own-picnics, beer and tours. These days the hall offers weekday lunch from 11 AM–2 PM Monday through Friday with a chef-driven menu of elevated pub classics like bratwurst sandwiches, burgers, hand-cut fries in four variations, salads and snacks. A rotating roster of taps features perennial brews like Santo and Elissa IPA, plus seasonals and special series, including ICON and Divine Reserve; nonalcoholic housemade root beer is also always available. The brewery is also located conveniently between Cafeza and Downtown.

2000 Lyons Ave.; 713-686-9494

Credit: Julie Soefer

Happy hour: The Pastry War
On Main Street, in the heart of Downtown, this colorful art-adorned mezcaleria is not your average tequila bar; instead of standard names, the selections here come exclusively from family-owned distilleries in Mexico personally visited by owner Bobby Heugel and bartender Alba Huerta. More than 80 agaves (mezcals, bacanoras, sotols and tequilas) are offered straight or worked into three flavors of margaritas, along with specialty cocktails like the Pelirojo made from jalapeño-infused vodka, lime juice and pineapple-Mexican saffron soda. Beer and wine are also served, as well as a small menu of empanadas, tamales, pastries and chips with queso or salsa. Enjoy the daily happy hour from 4–6:30 PM when all mezcals and tequilas are half off, along with a complimentary agua fresca and free games of pool. 

310 Main St.; 713-225-3310

Courtesy of Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

Pre-dinner snack: Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
A few blocks away, Pappas is a household name in town thanks to the Pappas family of restaurants that feature Tex-Mex, Greek and barbecue themes. When money is no object, however, the high-end steakhouse is one of Houston’s most splurge-worthy destinations with impeccable service to match the cuisine. Popular for big celebrations and intimate meetings alike, this swanky spot serves up high-end steaks, seafood, wine and cocktails. When a “lighter meal” is in order, you can’t beat the chilled seafood tower piled with stone crab claws or king crab legs (depending on the season), peeled shrimp, Maine lobster tail and raw oysters typically sourced from the East Coast. Accompaniments include mignonette, cocktail sauce, brandy mustard and prepared horseradish. Take it over the top with a wine pairing from Pappas Bros.' master sommelier Jack Mason, who recommends Chartogne-Taillet "Cuvee Sainte Anne" Brut Champagne or the Assyrtiko/Athiri blend from Domaine Sigalas.

1200 McKinney St.; 713-658-1995

Credit: Paula Murphy

Dinner: Xochi
After oysters, drive or walk four blocks north to Xochi. A conversation about authentic Mexican cuisine in Houston is incomplete without the mention of James Beard Award–winner Hugo Ortega, who emigrated from Mexico City in the 1980s and worked his way up from dishwasher at Backstreet Cafe (which he now co-owns with his wife Tracey Vaught) to chef/co-owner of three additional iconic Houston mainstays. His passion translates to the plates at Xochi, his latest venture, where he focuses on cuisine specific to Oaxaca, including dishes you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere: the Oaxacan street food tlayudas (large thin tortillas with toppings), chapulines (grasshoppers) and several other insects, moles and a traditional fish and shrimp soup heated with hot river rocks from the wood oven. 

1777 Walker St.; 713-400-3330

Credit: Julie Soefer

Dessert: Fluff Bake Bar
Head one-and-a-half miles into Midtown, where getting a sugar fix is a piece of cake with this delightful bakery from pastry chef Rebecca Masson, aka The Sugar Fairy. Cookies, bars, "cup/cakes" and more blend creative flavors with endearing names such as Fluffernutter (peanut butter oatmeal sandwich cookies with peanut butter cream and marshmallow fluff) and Unicorn Bait (sugar cookies with birthday cake crumbs and sprinkles baked in). The shop stays open until 10 PM on weeknights and midnight Friday–Saturday.

314 Gray St.; 713-522-1900

Credit: Ellie Sharp

Middle-of-the-night-hunger-run: House of Pies
Open 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, this local institution is famous for its fruit, cream, nut and chocolate pies, including the best-selling Bayou Goo (pies available whole or by the slice). For savory cravings, there's also classic all-day diner fare. The people-watching is also fantastic, especially around the time clubs and bars let out.  

3112 Kirby Dr.; 713-528-3816