The fourth largest — and most diverse — city in the country, Houston, is sprawling with enclaves of multiple international communities, purveyors of Texas barbecue, and award-winning chefs. Simply put, if visiting Houston, one must dine.
As such, it’s not surprising that the millions of people who visit Houston each year for business or pleasure are looking for the city’s best restaurants. With thousands of dining destinations to choose from, though, sometimes it’s hard to pick. Consider this totally intense, pick-your-adventure itinerary for a glimpse at Houston’s unique culinary identity in just 24 hours.
7 a.m. — Breakfast
If you’re an early riser, stop by Midtown breakfast favorite, the Breakfast Klub, (3711 Travis Street) at around 7 a.m. to avoid the lines that often wrap around the corner. Otherwise, get ready to wait. Either way, Southern-style breakfast and dishes like the crispy, well-seasoned wings and waffles and catfish and grits are well worth it. Traveling through George Bush Intercontinental Airport in North Houston? Luck up by stopping by its airport outpost near Gate A7.
9 a.m. — Coffee
Any day of the week, local caffeine legend Blacksmith is a worthy stop thanks to its perfect cortados, cappuccinos, and assortment of freshly brewed teas (1018 Westheimer Road), but if you’re in the city Friday through Sunday before 2 p.m., head to Oso Coffee Co (2603 Navigation Boulevard) for a Horchata latte or a doughnut- or concha-topped caffeinated drink. Sundays are perfect for strolls through the East End Farmers Market, which takes over the Esplanade from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
11:30 a.m. — Take an Asiantown Adventure
Spend a few hours browsing the shopping centers of Asiatown, which line the length of Bellaire Boulevard. Try a bowl of pho, Houston’s favorite hangover cure, or banh mi at Pho Binh first. Then go on a dessert tour of Houston, making stops at Aqua S for sea salt soft serve or boba tea at one of the many shops. Then, consider a bounty of small plates at Dim Sum King’s all-day dim sum, or Korean barbecue at Honey Pig Korean BBQ. Don’t be surprised if a nap is required before trekking back out for dinner.
3 p.m. — An Afternoon Beer
If you’re looking for a place to unwind, visit Saint Arnold Brewing Company, where you can kick back with a local brew (delicious homemade rootbeer or hopped-up sparkling water for the non-drinkers) while taking in breathtaking views of the city skyline from its beer garden.
Be sure to take in sights of East Ends murals on the drive over, and then peek at the brewery’s eclectic art cars, which are often on display at the city’s annual Art Car Parade. If you find yourself hungry for a snack, you can’t go wrong with the soft pretzels served with queso blanco or a wood-fired pizza to share.
5 p.m. — A Food Souvenir Pit-Stop
Texans swear that Buc-ee’s — a Lone Star State convenience store, rest stop, and gas station — is the best to ever do it. With a reputation for the cleanest bathroom, Buc-ee’s is also a prime place to stop for breakfast tacos, brisket sandwiches, snacks galore, and fun memorabilia and gifts for those waiting at your next destination. Though Beaver nuggets, Buc-ee’s signature sweet corn puff snacks, are a definite signature, the rest stop also boasts its own delicious varieties of beef jerky, marshmallowy rice crispy treats, a wide selection of barbecue rubs and sauces, and tons of gear, including its own branded collection of mugs, bags, and cups that bare its cute, buck-toothed beaver mascot Buc-ee. For more guidance on what to buy, here’s a run-down on some of the best items. (Multiple locations)
Can’t make it to Buc-ee’s? Head to El Bolillo Bakery (2517 Airline Drive) to load up on baked goods like Mexican sweet bread, pastries, tortillas, and jalapeño-cheese bread as souvenirs.
6:30 p.m. — A Real Deal Tex-Mex Dinner
Many Houstonians are aware that Houston is home to the Tex-Mex restaurant that introduced the country to what is now known as fajitas. Head to East End’s Original Ninfas on Navigation (2704 Navigation Boulevard) to try sizzling platters of fajitas, endless chips and salsa, and margaritas — a favorite being its signature Ninfarita. Looking for a more contemporary version of Tex-Mex? Try Candente in Montrose, which merges classics like enchiladas with tender smoked barbecue staples like brisket (4306 Yoakum Boulevard).
8 p.m. — Nightcap Cocktails
Known for fast service, friendly bartenders, and delicious cocktails, Bobby Heugel’s Anvil Bar & Refuge in Montrose cocktail bar is one of the best in the city, with an extensive drink list and a wide selection of spirits (1424 Westheimer Road). But there are other top choices, including Julep — Houston’s picturesque cocktail bar and the first local establishment to take home a national James Beard Award (1919 Washington Avenue) — and Eight Row Flint (1039 Yale St), the Ranch Water connoisseur that serves up at least five renditions of the sotol-based drink, a wide selection of margaritas, frozen, and more.
11 p.m. — Late-Night Snack
If you’re looking for a spot that’s truly open all night, there are a few places you can go. Yes, Whataburger (select locations) is one quick and easy choice if looking for a casual bite to eat, but you can always opt for House of Pies for a diner experience complete with chicken fried steak and multiple pies to choose from, including pecan and dutch apple, or Katz’s Deli (616 Westheimer Road; 2200 N Shepherd Drive; or 19075 I-45, Shenandoah) which offers everything from New York-style cheesecakes to matzo ball soup and pastrami sandwiches.
Need (even) more dining recommendations? Check out Eater’s maps of Houston’s hottest and most essential restaurants.