Houstonians know our city offers great food, and now the rest of the country is learning that, too. In an article published Monday, Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema ranked the Bayou City as the fifth best food city in America.
That puts Houston ahead of traditional powers like New York (eighth) and Chicago (seventh) and just behind New Orleans (fourth). Portland tops Sietsema's list.
Unlike some lists, Sietsema put the time in to get an accurate sense of the places he visited. In an introductory essay, he writes that he spent "more than 60 days on the road this year, visiting more than a dozen destinations, then measuring them against a set of standards . . . I ate, drank and shopped in 271 restaurants, bars, food stores and farmers markets."
As for Houston, Sietsema says his experience here "surprised him the most" of any city he visited. He touts eating at Killen's Barbecue as his defining moment and touts egg custard at Chinatown's ECK Bakery as a "best bargain." He writes:
Houston, where have you been all my (food) life? Your best Vietnamese cooking returns me to Saigon, and some of your Chinese menus rival those I’ve dipped into in Beijing. As for Mexican, the seafood-themed Caracol and Cuchara, staffed by female chefs from different regions of Mexico, set the pace. Meanwhile, locals of all persuasions gather around the city’s signature: not fajitas, but Asian-Cajun seafood boils. Few food scenes enjoy the easy, Texas-size camaraderie found in the country’s fourth-largest city; the chef of the popular Underbelly goes so far as to promote the competition by sharing a list of his favorite eats with his customers. As one discerning palate put it, “If L.A. and New Orleans had a baby, it might be Houston.”
Those in search of more in-depth thoughts from the celebrated critic should review the more comprehensive essay he published in November.