life outside the loop
When assembling CultureMap’s list of Houston’s Top 100 restaurants, we decided to focus on the neighborhoods where our readers live, which is primarily inside the Loop and neighborhoods near the Galleria. After all, those are the areas where the most ambitious restaurants are located.
To include a restaurant located beyond the Beltway, it would have to be exceptional; that is, worth the hassle of a long drive and superior to other options in its category. After all, what’s the point in telling someone who lives in Montrose about a great Italian restaurant in Cypress when it would mean driving past Giacomo’s to get there?
For this list, our definition of the suburbs is a little loose, but that allows this list to spotlight worthy restaurants in places like Bellaire, Memorial, and other Houston neighborhoods that may otherwise fly under the radar.
Creating a destination-worthy restaurant in the heart of The Woodlands isn’t easy, but chef Austin Simmons has risen to the challenge. Blending his French training with a love of Asian ingredients has led Simmons to create memorable bites like the Korean butter-poached crab with kimchi pancake and lobster toast with smoked trout roe. Steak lovers will appreciate Heartbrand X, an ultra-aged akaushi beef with a very limited distribution. The wine list even offers a few well-priced gems that reward true oenophiles who peruse it carefully.
Chef-owner Kris Jakob uses his French training to turn out all manner of classic fare, including chicken liver pate, mushroom ravioli, and filet au poivre. Because the restaurant is in Friendwood, it also serves a bad-ass chicken fried steak with foie gras cream gravy. Daily specials usually yield old school favorites like roasted duck or snapper quenelle. Well-chosen craft beers and wines further elevate the experience.
Chef Alex Au-Yeung's bold flavors and creative dishes have made this Katy restaurant a hit. Diners who are new to the cuisine should consider staples like roti with chicken curry, satay skewers, and laksa. Those with more adventurous palates will find the chef's funky bak kut teh (pork ribs with pig trotters and stomach) to be a delightful mix of textures and flavors. To deal with the crowds, Au-Yeung recently expanded the dining room, almost doubling his seating capacity.
Saltillo Mexican Kitchen
Houston has numerous options when it comes to eating a great steak, but none feel quite as personal as Carlos Abedrop's Bellaire restaurant. While it’s possible to order a filet or strip, the best decision is to go with a group big enough to justify ordering the tapa de lomo — a four-pound, $190 ribeye cap that feeds six. Pair it with some of Houston’s best enchiladas and a margarita for a truly memorable meal.
Aga’s Restaurant & Catering
Despite its size, this restaurant in Southwest Houston seems to run on a perpetual wait, but that’s just a testament to the quality of the food being served. The signature goat chops are mandatory. From there, consider options like shrimp biryani, some naan, and any of the curries. Service is quick and efficient, which means any waiting-induced hunger will soon be satiated.
From the shouted greetings upon entering the dining room to the menu of sushi, yakitori skewers, and noodles, the entire dining experience at this Memorial restaurant transports diners to Japan. Choose from the extensive selection of skewers — don’t miss the ground chicken meat with egg yolk — along with whatever nigiri is on special that day. Pairing the food with a cold Asahi or two is optional but definitely encouraged.
This Humble restaurant has emerged as one of Greater Houston’s finest purveyors of Peking duck. With crispy skin and juicy meat that’s served on thin, delicate pancakes, Bamboo House nails the classic dish. Hand-pulled noodles and some Sichuan favorites (stir-fried pea shoots, mapo tofu) round out the selections. Best of all, a recently-opened second location at Westheimer and Fountain View makes Bamboo House more accessible than ever.
Ramen Bar Ichi
Houston has several options for great bowls of ramen, but this intimate restaurant next to Seiwa Market stands out for its rich, creamy broth, properly al dente noodles, and flavorful toppings. Pair that bowl of spicy tonkotsu with a wide range of appetizers, including vegetable dishes, izakaya-style raw dishes, and fried options like chicken kaarage and shrimp tempura.