The best restaurant in Texas is a comfort food restaurant in San Antonio. The second best is a pizzeria in Midtown.
These and other surprising revelations come via Yelp, the crowd-sourced review website, which has just published its list of the top 100 restaurants in Texas with San Antonio’s Comfort Cafe at the top.
The Houston area does well overall with 21 entries, led by Midtown pizzeria The Gypsy Poet at No. 2. Other local businesses in the top 20 include:
- Kat's BBQ in Santa Fe (third)
- Tony’s Italian Delicatessen in Montgomery (fourth)
- Robin’s Snowflake Donuts & Cafe in Spring (sixth)
- Vietwich in Stafford (17th)
- Mama Frances Soul Kitchen in La Marque (19th)
- That’s My Dog in Katy (20th)
Yes, it’s a little strange to see a list of the best 100 restaurants in Texas that includes The Cookshack, a chicken sandwich restaurant on Washington Avenue at 70th, but doesn’t include any of the state’s James Beard Award-winning restaurants like Franklin Barbecue, Uchi, or Hugo’s. In a blog post, Yelp senior communications manager Brenae Leary says the website created the list by “using a number of factors including the total volume and ratings of reviews between January 1, 2016 and April 16, 2021.”
Farrah Akhtar, Yelp’s senior community director for Greater Houston, provided some additional insight. She notes that a restaurant’s average star rating goes deeper than the number people see on a business’ page.
“You compare Franklin Barbecue or Uchi Houston that both have a four-and-a-half star rating on Yelp compared to, let’s say Aga’s [Restaurant & Catering in Southwest Houston, 90th],” Akhtar says. “On the back end, when our data scientists are pulling this data, they’re looking at so many things, including the star rating that goes to the ninth decimal.”
In other words, even a four-star review can have a negative effect in determining whether a restaurant has the credentials to earn a spot on the list.
One thing that unites almost all of the restaurants is that they’re relatively inexpensive with an average price below $30 per person (indicated by $$ on Yelp). Akhtar also notes that three are Black-owned, seven are Latinx-owned, and 17 are women-owned. Yelp has seen a dramatic increase in the number of users searching for those terms.
Rafael Nasr thinks he’s identified something else that sets these restaurants apart. Craft Pita, his Lebanese restaurant in Briargrove, ranks 51st on Yelp’s list.
“It is about being hyper detail-oriented to provide a unique experience that makes people feel good. Part of that comes from service. Part of that feeling comes from constantly checking on guests, making them feel like they’re special,” Nasr says.
“Part of that happens because you’re coming into a mom and pop. You see either my mom or me working the floor ... Nothing makes you feel as special as when the owner is essentially serving you.”
That lesson is something for any future restaurateur to consider: bringing a personal touch and delivering value counts for more than fine linens or an elegant dining room — at least on Yelp.