Houston Foodie Bucket List: First Edition

November 7, 2013
by Amber Ambrose

There are seemingly infinite dishes that define Houston as a city, which is why this list is not at all comprehensive. It's our first attempt at putting together some of the most iconic meals available at the moment; some new, some old, some in-between. The one thing they all have in common is their ability to conjure a time and place, as these are all meals you'll never forget. How many have you checked off your list?

Tasting Menu at The Pass

It could be argued by some that high-concept tasting menus are too cerebral, too pretentious or too dainty. Those arguments will not work at The Pass side of The Pass & Provisions. First, no one leaves hungry. Second, everyone has fun. Third, all of the food is delicious. While the setting could prove intimidating to uneasy diners on their first tasting menu experience, the jovial service lightens the mood, as do the dishes which can be quite whimsical in their presentation. We also appreciate the fact that there are five- and eight-course options and ample accommodations for vegetarians.

807 Taft; 713-628-9020

Tomahawk Rib-Eye at Taste of Texas 

If you're into embracing stereotypes - perhaps one about everything being bigger in Texas - family-owned Taste of Texas will be right up your alley. The steakhouse itself is massive, with a cattle ranch theme, salad bar and lots and lots of beef. Of that beef is the storied Tomahawk Rib-Eye: 38-ounces of meat hanging off a 14-inch bone. This is a bucket list, after all. Might as well make it count.

10505 Katy Fwy.; 713-932-6901

Crispy Skin Snapper at Reef 

The bounties of the Gulf of Mexico are part of what makes Houston such an amazing food city, and chef Bryan Caswell is known for his manipulation of such ingredients. An avid fisherman himself, Caswell has created an altogether new-school menu of Gulf Coast seafood at the well-known Reef, and every dish is worth trying at least once. Of those dishes, the one we can't ever pass up is the crispy skin snapper served with sweet and sour chard and tomato brown butter. It's everything we love about Houston combined in a single bite.

2600 Travis St.; 713-526-8282

Oysters on the Half Shell at Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood 

There's something so satisfying about sitting down at Danton's oyster bar with a dozen raw oysters on ice and a cold beer in hand. Perhaps it's their old-school seafood house decor that sets us at ease, or just their synonymity with simple Gulf Coast seafood, but on Mondays it's made that much better by offering the delicacies at half-price between 4-8 PM.

4611 Montrose Blvd.; 713-807-8883

Dim Sum at Fung's Kitchen

No other dim sum in Houston can compare to Fung's Kitchen. Saturdays and Sundays will find the stalwart restaurant with the pagoda overhang packed to the gills with dumpling and small plate seekers. The traditional service comes complete with carts bustling around the dining rooms, clattering with the sound of dishes and steamers filled with dumplings, chicken feet, turnip cakes and innumerable other classic dim sum finds. It's best to start out slow and build up rather than ordering too much right from the start, though in all honesty, there's no wrong way to eat dim sum. Bring a group, an appetite and a sense of adventure.

7320 Southwest Fwy.; 713-779-2288

Fajitas at The Original Ninfa's on Navigation 

A blazing comal arrives at your table overloaded with tender strips of marinated beef, caramelized onions and bell peppers, chicken and shrimp. It's pleasing to all of the senses: the aroma of the meat and its seasonings, the sound of the onions sizzling on the hot metal, the view of so much food splayed out before you, the feel of a warm, hand-made tortilla being smeared with refried beans and guacamole before stuffing it with all that meat and lastly, the taste of it finally combined into that first bite. It's what first put Houston on the culinary map, and part of what continues to keep it there.

2704 Navigation Blvd.; 713-228-1175

Crawfish Pho at LA Crawfish

This clever dish from a humble little crawfish spot inside an Asian grocery store's food court is a study in the beauty that emerges when cuisines collide. A little bit of Louisiana mixed with a little bit of Vietnam equals a winning formula of aromatic boiled crawfish soup. Their hybrid Vietnamese-Cajun crawfish is also worthy of a bucket list title, but we'll save it for the next iteration.

1005 Blalock Rd.; 713-461-8808

Buffalo Bacon Cheeseburger at Bubba's Texas Burger Shack

It's not necessarily the best burger in town, though it could bravely compete for the title. What makes eating a burger at Bubba's so special is the location and the atmosphere. There's no doubt this is a dive. It's literally located underneath a highway, and almost no one can find it on their first try (even with Google maps). Once you do pull into their gravel parking lot, you'll find a quirky little shack with mostly outdoor seating, an order window or the inside counter and the smell of griddled meat wafting throughout. Grab a bottle of Texas beer, a bag of chips and watch the traffic roll by.

5230 Westpark Dr.; 713-661-1622

Cauliflower at Roost

Who knew cauliflower could be craveable? Much has been said about the cauliflower dish at Roost, and it really is that good. Chef and owner Kevin Naderi was onto something when he flash fried the vegetable, coated it in a miso dressing and topped it with pine nuts, scallions and the pièce de résistance, paper-thin bonito flakes. It's remained a classic on the otherwise frequently changing menu, and orders come with half a head, which means there's plenty to share.

1972 Fairview St.; 713-523-7667

Sunday Brunch at Hugo's

If there was a Spanish word for smorgasbord, it'd be the most appropriate description of the brunch at Hugo's. It's more than a buffet, it's more than a brunch and it transcends time and space and words and tight pants. It's a marvel of a meal, with platter after platter of the freshest traditional Mexican (not to be confused with Tex-Mex) food carted out of the dining room and onto the massive line of dishes that fill one whole corner of the restaurant. That's not even taking the dessert station into consideration, which always sports the best Mexican hot chocolate ever, to be used when dunking your churros. It's the best way to spend a Sunday morning or early afternoon outside of dining in Mexico City itself. (Even that is a questionable comparison.)

1600 Westheimer Rd.; 713-524-7744