Love Letter to Houston Restaurants

National critic pens love letter to Houston restaurants: Someone else gets it

National critic pens love letter to Houston restaurants

The Original Ninfa's on Navigation fajitas
The list of 18 dishes includes fajitas at Ninfa's on Navigation. The Original Ninfa's on Navigation/Facebook
Barbecue Inn Houston fried chicken with french fries
Fried chicken at Barbecue Inn. Photo by Jon B./Foursquare.com
Killen's barbecue chicken fried steak
Ronnie Killen's chicken fried steak. Photo by Eric Sandler
Pho Binh soup
Pho Binh's signature pho. Photo by Eric Sandler
Oxheart Meadowood dumplings
Crystal dumplings are a recent addition to the tasting menu at Oxheart. Photo by Eric Sandler
The Original Ninfa's on Navigation fajitas
Barbecue Inn Houston fried chicken with french fries
Killen's barbecue chicken fried steak
Pho Binh soup
Oxheart Meadowood dumplings

Another national critic understands how awesome Houston's food scene is. On Thursday, Bill Addison, Eater's food critic who travels the country from his home in Atlanta, dropped a self-described "love letter to Houston's extraordinary restaurant culture" that goes beyond the big names and shows what makes eating here so special. 

"As a nation, we know the culinary greatness and variety we have in our best gastronomic cities: Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. I'm not convinced, though, that enough of America grasps the glory of Houston, the city that easily rounds out the country's top five food destinations," Addison writes in the lead paragraph of his article titled "18 Reasons Your Next Meal Should be in Houston. Later, he continues his praise: "in my near-constant travels, no city more constantly astounds me on every visit than Houston. Its extraordinary breadth (more than 10,000 restaurants) and the remarkable blend of cultures — the crossroads geography of this place lays its culinary foundation."

Addison's article shows the depth that comes from years of visits (he used to work for the Dallas Morning News) that he supplemented with a recent, week-long catch up trip. Like Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema, who also ranked Houston as the country's fifth best food city after traveling the nation, Addison got outside the loop to Chinatown, Hillcroft, and beyond. It stands in stark contrast to a recent New York Times article titled "Houston's Culinary Bragging Rights" that profiled four high-profile, inside the Loop restaurants but did little to showcase the city's culinary diversity.

The list of 18 dishes blends classics like fajitas at Ninfa's and barbacoa at Gerardo's — also featured on CultureMap's list of 10 Houston dishes to eat before you die — with more modern favorites like the Korean goat and dumplings at Underbelly and bone marrow pho at Pho Binh by Night. He even hits a range of recent arrivals like Helen, Foreign Correspondents, and Chinatown's Uyghur Bistro.

Count Ronnie Killen as the list's big winner for landing both the chicken fried steak at Killen's Steakhouse and a five meat plate from Killen's Barbecue on the list. Oxheart, the only restaurant on Addison's list of the country's 38 essential restaurants, also gets some love for the dumplings that chef Justin Yu and cook Samuel Chang first developed for its dinner at The Restaurant at Meadowood.

Snubs are a little trickier to sort out, but let's just say that Addison's view of Houston dining is pretty cutting edge. Old-school fine dining destinations like Tony's, Da Marco, and Mark's are nowhere to be found, and Addison writes that he was "disappointed" by a visit to Pondicheri.    

Both Sietsema and Addison sit on the James Beard Award committee that determines the semifinalists for the restaurant and chef awards. As the praise mounts, Houston's restaurant community will begin to earn the national respect it deserves, as demonstrated by the nominations of Helen Greek Food & Wine and The Pass. If the city keeps the momentum going, it may even start to win a few. Wouldn't that be fun? 

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