The greater Houston area is one of the most ethnically diverse metropolitan areas in the country, according to the city of Houston. And this vast multicultural heritage has led to a unique fusion of flavors in Houston restaurants.

Ask any local and they’ll tell you Houston food is some of the best in the country. But deciding where to eat can be the hardest part of any trip to Houston. To make the decision easier, we’ve compiled a list of iconic Houston restaurants and dished on their specialties.

Breakfast Klub

This iconic Third Ward restaurant is the local go-to spot for chicken and waffles. Their signature menu items include the Wings & Waffle dish that features a large Belgian waffle topped with a circle of six fried chicken wings, powdered sugar and a fresh strawberry.

Chicken and waffles from Breakfast Klub.

Chicken and waffles from Breakfast Klub.

Amy V. via Yelp

Another popular dish is the Katfish & Grits, a seasoned catfish fillet with grits served with a choice of potatoes or eggs and toast or a biscuit.

Native Houstonian Marcus Davis opened the restaurant in September 2001 and used the letter k in the spelling of the restaurant name and menu items to make the eatery more memorable. Due to its popularity, the restaurant also sells a line of branded consumer products including waffle and pancake mix and its signature seasoning and fish fry batter for visitors who want to cook at home.

The Breakfast Klub is open seven days a week and breakfast is served from open until close, which is 2 p.m. Lunch is only served during the week starting at 11 a.m. Don’t be scared by the line–it’s worth the wait.

Niko Niko’s

For nearly half a century, Niko Niko’s has been serving traditional Greek food in Houston. The Fetokakis family opened the restaurant in 1977 with a borrowed $350. Most of the recipes came from the kitchen of Eleni Fetokakis’ father, who lived just outside of Athens, Greece. (She was literally born in the back of her father’s restaurant in 1937.)  

Lamb and beef gyro from Niko Niko's.

Lamb and beef gyro from Niko Niko’s.

Nawar F. via Yelp

The most popular item on the menu is their gyro—chopped lamb and beef with spices, tomato, onion and tzatziki sauce served in a pita. (There’s also a chicken gyro with onions, tomato, cabbage and roasted garlic aioli sauce.) The restaurant also serves Greekfast—Greek spins of popular breakfast items like Baklava French Toast and a steak and egg pita.

Visit any of the three locations including Montrose, Memorial/Spring Branch and Market Square. And be sure to try the expanded menu at their newest location on Memorial/Spring Branch, which has a dedicated bakery.

The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation          

In 1973, “Mama” Ninfa Laurenzo opened a ten-table restaurant in part of her family’s struggling tortilla and pizza factory. Inspired by tacos from Mexico, she started chargrilling skirt steak and making Tacos a la Carbon, which became known as fajitas. These are served on a homemade flour tortilla with pico de gallo, guacamole and chile con queso. She and her family later closed the factory to focus on the booming restaurant that became famous for Tex-Mex food with both a Mexican and Italian influence.

Chicken and beef combination fajitas from The Original Ninfa's on Navigation.

Chicken and beef combination fajitas from The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation.

Yaning L. via Yelp

Ninfa’s is often credited with popularizing fajitas in Texas and across the country. After Ninfa passed away in 2001, Legacy Restaurants bought the eatery in 2005 and focused on continuing her legacy by ensuring everything is cooked to order. Aside from the original location in East Downtown, there’s also a Ninfa’s Uptown in Tanglewood. 

Crawfish & Noodles

One of the best places to try one of the most unique Houston dishes—Viet-Cajun crawfish—is Crawfish & Noodles. The Chinatown restaurant serves up mudbugs in a spicy buttery sauce with garlic, onion, cayenne and lemon pepper that earned it a mention in The New York Times and other publications. The strip mall eatery is a destination—travelers often come straight from the airport with luggage in tow to slip on a pair of plastic gloves and pinch, peel and suck down a bowl of crawfish. Aside from crawfish, another must-try dish is their salt and pepper blue crab.

Viet-Cajun crawfish from Crawfish & Noodles.

Viet-Cajun crawfish from Crawfish & Noodles.

Bruce L. via Yelp

Executive Chef and owner Throng Nguyen opened the restaurant in 2008 with a focus on uniting people through food. Born in Vietnam, he was self-taught and learned much from his grandmother. After migrating to the U.S., he worked in the casino business before opening the restaurant. In 2020, Nguyen was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s award for Best Chef: Texas. (The foundation subsequently canceled the 2020 awards, and no winner was chosen.) Nguyen was also a semifinalist in 2018 and 2019.

A second location at the Houston Farmers Market is scheduled to open soon.

House of Pies

Texans wait in line for two things: barbecue and pie. The family-owned and operated House of Pies has been a stable in the Houston community since 1967. The booth-filled diner has five locations and serves up 40 varieties of pies (made with no preservatives) and cakes. (Don’t worry—the long lines are only around the holidays.) The house specialty here is the Bayou Goo pie which consists of a bottom layer of sweet cream cheese with crushed pecans and a mixed filling of vanilla custard and chocolate topped with whip cream, chocolate shavings and powdered sugar.

Bayou Goo pie from House of Pies.

Bayou Goo pie from House of Pies.

Crystal T. via Yelp

Aside from pie, the restaurant also serves an all-day breakfast, lunch and dinner and is one of the best places for late-night food in Houston—the Fuqua Street location is open 24 hours, and the Lake Woodlands Drive location is open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays. 

Gatlin’s BBQ

This family-owned Oak Forest barbecue restaurant opened in 2010 and became so popular it moved to a larger building in 2015. Gatlin’s BBQ menu has all the savory Texas classics—brisket, sausage, pulled pork and turkey. (There’s also beef ribs on Friday and Saturday.) One of the unique things on the menu is their chicken wings, which they started making in 2017 when the Super Bowl came to Houston. The wings are brined and rubbed before being smoked for three and a half hours. Then, they are quickly chilled before being dropped into a deep fryer and sauced with five flavor choices—original BBQ, the house sauce, Thai chili, raspberry habanero and mild buffalo.

Thai chili wings from Gatlin's BBQ. 

Thai chili wings from Gatlin’s BBQ. 

Katrelle W. via Yelp

The owners also pride themselves on their wide variety of sides ranging from collard greens to mac and cheese. Gatlin’s BBQ is one of the few barbecue joints to serve breakfast Monday through Saturday, starting at 7 a.m. The brisket biscuit is a must.

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