This post was sponsored by Rent.com. You can find Rent.com’s complete guide on life in Houston here. All opinions are completely my own!
As I mentioned earlier this year, I’ve had an increasing number of excuses to explore the food scene around Houston, and it feels like a good time to start sharing my finds here. This is January’s installment of my new Houston Favorites series! Whether you live in Houston or not, I hope these will inspire you to come explore Houston’s phenomenal food scene at one point or another.
There are tons (and tons and tons) of fantastic restaurants in Houston; here are just handful that have caught and held my attention over the last year or so thanks to interesting, varied and crowd-pleasing menus, a gorgeous ambiance, affordability, and really quality or unique ingredients. When thinking about eating out with friends, here are 5 places that always make my shortlist:
Long praised among the Houston food community for its inventive Indian fusion cuisine, Pondicheri is likeable in my book for their flavorful herb-sprinkled desi fries, thick and tender carrot roti and wide array of vegetarian fusion curries, dosas, salads and thalis. But my favorite part is the bake lab located upstairs from the restaurant where you can find vividly spiced masala shortbread, chocolate chip cookies spiked with coconut and mint, rosewater soaked doughnuts, or fudgy cookies suffused with basil (plus, the famous chai pie which made Grub Street’s list of Crazy-Awesome New Desserts). At $3-$5 on average per item, the treats aren’t cheap, but the unique flavors are worth it.
With a gorgeously airy and modern interior, Pondicheri is just as good for brunch (they have great $5 breakfast specials like a spicy potato-stuffed roti, spiced oatmeal and a masala egg roti wrap) as it is for a casual lunch with a friend or a small group dinner out (though they don’t take reservations and wait times can be long, particularly during weekend peak times). Additionally, the bake lab is a great place to grab takeaway for lunch, dessert for a gathering, or to spend the afternoon studying.
Weights + Measures is another beautiful, modern establishment that can serve pretty much all purposes. My favorite part of W+M is the fact that you can select freshly baked doughnuts, croissants, muffins or other pastries from the attached bakeshop to have during brunch (are you sensing a theme?). I also love their variety of brunch toasts—sauteed mushrooms draped in melted brie, loaded avocado, or Nutella-banana-bacon-fried egg.
W+M is also a great happy hour destination—you can start with drinks on their small patio or inside at their long bar or spacious lounge. And drinks can effortlessly transition into dinner—their pizzas are excellent, and the roasted carrot pizza has received much acclaim. I can vouch for the fact that their freshly made “doughknots” are an excellent end to any meal. Note: they won’t split checks here, but they can split group checks evenly or you can do the good old-fashioned write-down-what-goes-on-which-credit-card thing. Or, you know, Venmo.
If there’s one restaurant in Houston that I’m always craving, it’s Local Foods. Yes, it’s essentially a basic sandwich/salad/soup menu, but they have a fantastic array of fresh, vegetable-driven sides, extraordinarily fresh bread and generally exceptional ingredients and flavor combinations. If I’m not craving their smoked salmon sandwich, jammed with layers of delicate lox and savory onion jam (I leave off the cream cheese) between a dense poppyseed bagel, I’m craving the market veggie sandwich (a mash of roasted brussels sprouts, cauliflower, hummus and avocado, which I always order on a pretzel bun), the arugula shrimp salad or the addictive Tuscan kale side that has converted even the staunchest kale haters.
The atmosphere is casual, an order-at-the-counter type of deal (which is great if you don’t want to deal with splitting bills among a large group). While both the Village and Kirby locations have a wide selection of craft beer, parking lots for easy parking and a variety of small or large table seating indoors, the Kirby location also has a spacious patio and generally has a bigger and better dessert selection (the menus are chef-driven and differ slightly). The massive chocolate cupcakes are derived from the same recipe as Benjy’s famous mom’s chocolate cake (another great spot for happy hour or a ritzier dinner and run by the same parent company).
This trendy Italian joint actually has locations all over the world, but only one in Texas—and it happens to be right in the heart of midtown, which makes post-dinner nightlife venturing easy. The pizza competition is fierce in Houston and Piola stacks up fairly well with an almost overwhelming variety of thin- (but not too thin) crust pizzas, but what sets it apart for me are the solid offerings from the rest of the menu: from loaded salads (I love the Toscanini, which comes with olives, tuna, shrimp, hard-boiled eggs, arugula, brie, etc) to antipasti, pasta dishes, meat-based entrees, and a long wine list.
Drinks can be enjoyed at the bar before moving to a table either on their patio or inside under a collection of their funky colored light fixtures, where you can also watch freshly made pizzas emerge from the brick oven in their partially open kitchen. My favorite part about Piola, however, is their Gnocchi Day. On the 29th of every month, they do an all-you-can-eat gnocchi special (you don’t want to see how much I can eat) for $15. It makes for a great group outing, and reservations are highly recommended for Gnocchi Day. If you have room for dessert after, Dolce Delights is right around the corner.
Not to be confused with its older location, this relatively new midtown hang out is a gorgeous destination for a tapas-style dinner with friends. The seafood-heavy menu ranges from risotto balls to smoked salmon crostini to mini shrimp and pesto pizzas to cod and potato croquettes to mussels. Their happy hour (3-6:30pm Monday-Friday) makes for a particularly economical way to munch on fluffy pizettes and sandwiches for under $10 and various bites that range from $5-$8. Oh, and lots of drink specials. A totally gorgeous space to hang out, nibble and drink wine. I would not be opposed to being taken on a date here.