Photo by Julie Soefer

Consider the potato. The humble tuber can be prepared in such a wide variety of ways that suit just about every class of restaurant.

A burger joint would feel incomplete without french fries or tater tots. Dining at a steakhouse wouldn’t be the same without a baked potato or mashed potatoes. Of course, Houston’s restaurants go above and beyond those more ordinary preparations with a number of potato dishes that show elevated technique or use the potato as a basis for creative toppings.

With that in mind, we’ve rounded up 10 of Houston’s most creamy, crunchy, and gooey potato dishes. What sets most of them apart is that multiple techniques are typically used to make them — everything from searing to baking to confit to frying. However they’re made, it’s a win for Houstonians.

Note that this list doesn’t include traditional french fries. We’ll consider them another time.

Andiron - Pommes Anna
For his new steakhouse, restaurateur Michael Sambrooks wanted a statement making, destination worthy potato side. He found it in the Pommes Anna, a classic French side made of overlapping layers of thinly sliced potatoes. Simply seasoned with butter, salt, and diced onion, it’s crispy on the outside and soft in the middle — giving it the texture and flavor necessary to stand up to the restaurant’s wood-fired steaks.

Feges BBQ - Money Cat Potatoes
Inspired by a dish Justin Yu created for his famous, pre-Oxheart, brunch pop-up, Feges roasts the potatoes, smashes them, then fries them to order. The dish is then tossed in the restaurant’s signature gochujang barbecue sauce before being topped with Duke’s Mayo and green onions. More than being delicious, the dish is also an homage to a person who contributed to both the love story of husband-and-wife chef-owners Patrick Feges and Erin Smith and the evolution of their business.

“I fell in love with the Money Cat potatoes at Morningstar while I was working down the street at Southern Goods,” Feges explains in an email. “We were planning on doing patatas bravas but switched to honor Morningstar [Editor’s note: a coffee shop in the Heights that closed in 2020], who used to buy brisket from me to make kolaches. Erin and I met because David [Buehrer, one of Morningstar’s owners] hired Erin as the chef of Blacksmith, and David connected us with the people at Greenway [Plaza, where the first Feges BBQ location opened in 2018]. We owe a lot to him.”

El Topo - Papa Costra
The West U. restaurant confits potatoes, then smashes them on a griddle to get them crispy. After that, they’re wrapped in a blanket of melted cheese for a dish that’s a little salty, a little crispy, a little gooey, and utterly decadent. Even better, this dish will be one of the El Topo classics to appear on the menu at Teshica, its new concept that will open in the coming weeks.

Squable - Bacon Fat Hash Browns
CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Chef of the Year winner Mark Clayton created this dish for Squable’s brunch menu. Described by the chef as his take on pommes paillasson, it’s made by poaching shredded Kennebec potatoes in bacon fat. After being coated in potato starch, they’re fried twice then topped with hollandaise, smoked trout roe, and chives. Crispy, crunchy, and rich, it helps alleviate any lingering pain from Saturday night

Riel - Truffle Pierogi
Riel pioneered the wave of caviar tots that have popped up on menus around town, but that’s only one of its potato masterpieces. Rather than try to explain what makes the truffle pierogi so compelling, we’ll turn it over to Riel chef-owner Ryan Lachaine.

“I f—ing hate using the word ‘elevated,’ but we took the potato and cheddar pierogi I grew up eating and kinda jazzed them up. We slowly sauté leeks in butter and combine that with same potato mixture that we use in our regular pierogi. They’re poached in a mixture of butter and water then quickly sautéed on the plancha. We cover them in a beurre blanc with some caviar mixed in.”

Burger-Chan - Loaded Tots
Just like its burgers, this Galleria-area restaurant lets diners customize its tater tots by letting them add chili and cheese, Spam-chi (Spam, kimchi relish, scallion aioli, and green onions), or“loaded” — a nod to loaded baked potatoes that’s topped with sour cream, cheddar, chopped bacon, and green onions. The result is a creamy, crunchy, gooey, delightfully messy twist that’s way more satisfying than just about any french fry.

Kenny & Ziggy’s - Potato Knish
People know about the latkes at this Jewish deli, but true potato obsessives seek out the round potato knish. Yukon Gold potatoes are seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper, caramelized onions, and other spices and then wrapped in a laminated dough that’s baked until golden brown. Crispy on the outside, soft and warm in the middle, the Kenny & Ziggy’s knish is pure comfort on a plate. Like everything else at the restaurant, it’s served in such a hefty portion that just about anyone will have half to take home.

Ostia - Crispy Potatoes
Chef Travis McShane’s signature side takes three days to make since the potatoes are allowed to dry after being steamed on day one and blanched on day two. On day three, they’re fried to order to bring out the crispiness of the uneven edges. Rosemary, sea salt, and very garlicky aioli further enhance the thick cut wedges.

Steak 48 - Hasselback Potatoes
Every steakhouse serves potatoes in a variety of forms, and Steak 48 does its part with five different options that include double baked truffle potato and potatoes au gratin. Still, the hasselback potato stands out. Skewed, sliced by hand, steamed, and fried, the process produces oversized potato chips that are crispy, fluffy, and completely irresistible.

Truth BBQ - Tater Tot Casserole
Inspired by one of his grandmother’s recipes, pitmaster and owner Leonard Botello IV combined frozen tater tots with a range of ingredients that includes cream of mushroom soup, rotel tomatoes, cheddar, sour cream, and bacon. Like all of Truth’s best dishes, channeling a little nostalgia makes for a memorable bite that’s creamy and gooey enough to be a decadent alternative to the potato salad served by most barbecue restaurants.

Andiron pommes anna

Photo by Julie Soefer

Andiron's Pommes Anna.

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ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill's guitars,  flashy duds, and more hit Dallas auction

sharp dressed man

A massive collection of guitars, fancy clothes, boots, and other memorabilia belonging to the bassist from rock band ZZ Top makes its Dallas premiere. Julien’s Auctions presents “The Collection of Dusty Hill of ZZ Top," a three-day auction taking place December 7-9 in Dallas at 915 Slocum Street and online at Julien's Live.

The auction will feature nearly 1,200 lots showcasing Dusty Hill's one-of-a-kind instruments, Western style wardrobe worn on stage and in appearances, gear, documents, favorite cowboy hats, boots, buckles, and memorabilia. As a prelude, the collection will be on display at 915 Slocum Street through December 7.

A Dallas native who passed away in 2021, Hill was notorious for his collection of stuff, some of which was already sold off in an estate sale in Houston in 2022.

The auction's headlining item will be Hill’s fur bass guitar played on the “Legs” music video. The 1983 Dean Explorer style bass, in sheepskin finish with ZZ Top logo painted on the fretboard, was attached to a rig worn around Hill’s waist to make it spin. They're predicting it will fetch $80,000 to $100,000.

Another offering is Hill’s signature 1953 Fender Precision bass guitar, and most-played instrument by Hill out of all the guitars in this collection. The bass was heavily used by Hill and served as his go to stage guitar for numerous ZZ Top live performances and in the studio until Dusty retired the bass in 2012 due to road wear.

Fans will find a museum-like exhibition created a la “Dusty Land” with instantly recognizable items on display, such as:

  • Circa 1983 Wayne Charvel, Custom Eliminator Hot Rod car-shaped bass guitar in custom red and yellow Eliminator hot rod finish previously displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland
  • Circa 1960s Fender body Telecaster bass guitar, in grey / blue finish with custom pinstriping by Houston artist Jim Carnifax done in 1983, used in “Gimme all your Lovin" and "Sharp Dressed Man" music videos
  • An MTV Moonman award statuette presented to Dusty Hill for Best Group Video "Legs" at the inaugural MTV Video Music Awards ceremony held in 1984
  • Bald eagle jacket by Manuel with talons and feather accents down sleeves, accented with prong-set stones, with personalized "Dusty Hill" Manuel label
  • Black leather motorcycle jacket with custom painted skeleton motif, eagle head pins on lapel, and silver spike embellishments with "StreekLandslide" written on the back

Special wall displays feature a horseshoe ring of hats, awards, Elvis Presley memorabilia, cowboy boots, and Western style accessories.

”Dusty treasured all of the items in this auction and it means so much to me that the fans, whom he loved, will have an opportunity to own something from his personal collection. He would be so happy to know that this auction will benefit other musicians in need through the efforts of MusiCares,” says his widow "Chuck" in a statement.

"The Collection of Dusty Hill" was previously exhibited at Julien’s international exhibitions in Kildare, Ireland, and then in New York at Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square. It's currently on display at 915 Slocum Street through December 7. Photos of auction items can be seen here. The exhibition is free and open 12-8 pm weekdays, 10:30 am-6:30 pm on Saturday-Sunday December 2-3.

Hill's widow Chuck's involvement is notable. Houstonians may recall that a sale purporting to be "official" Dusty Hill items was not — and ultimately forced a cease and desist from Hill and her attorney. The experience left Charleen "Chuck" Hill "devastated," though she found no fault with media outlets that reported the sale as it was presented (including CultureMap): “you were misled too, just like the fans,” she told us.

The Rustic's co-owner dishes on his Tex-Mex future, plus our visit to Rumi's

What's Eric Eating Episodes 334 and 335

On this week’s episode of “What’s Eric Eating,” Kyle Noonan joins CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss Free Range Concepts. The Dallas-based hospitality group operates four restaurants and bars in Houston: Bowl & Barrel and The Generic Public in CityCentre and two locations of its concert venue The Rustic in downtown and Uptown Park.

The conversation begins with Noonan discussing his time working for Pappas Restaurants. From there, he partnered with his college room, finance professional Josh Sepkowitz, to open the first Bowl & Barrel in Dallas. The duo then partnered with Texas country music singer Pat Green on The Rustic, which becomes one of the highest grossing bars in Texas.

After discussing the company’s operations in Houston, including plans for possible new locations of both Bowl & Barrel and The General Public, Noonan shares that Free Range is looking beyond Texas. It has already committed to opening locations of The Rustic in Arizona, Denver, San Diego, Orlando, and Tampa and has eyes on potential locations in the Carolinas and Georiga. Any of those cities or states could also become home to Joe Leo Fine Tex-Mex, which is named for Noonan’s grandfather.

“We’re really interested in Tex-Mex outside of Texas, to be honest. I had experience with the Pappasitos brand. There is a real hunger for Tex-Mex outside of Texas,” Noonan says. He notes that the market for such a restaurant would include former Texas residents as well as people who are curious about the cuisine.

“We like to look for opportunities and low-hanging fruit,” he adds. “I see a lot of green space for Tex-Mex outside of Texas.”

Listen to the full interview to hear Noonan share why he likes to visit a city’s oldest restaurants when traveling instead of its hotspots.

On this week’s other episode, Sandler and co-host Michael Fulmer discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: the Houston return of Dallas Tex-Mex favorite Mi Cocina and Mexican bakery El Bolillo opening a new location in west Houston.

In the restaurants of the week segment, Fulmer and Sandler discuss their recent meal at Rumi’s Kitchen, the Atlanta-based Persian fine dining restaurant that recently opened next to Uchiko. They also share first impressions of Comalito, the new taqueria in the Houston Farmers Market led by star Mexican pastry chef Luis Robledo Richards. Finally, they describe their recent breakfast at Burnt Bean Co., the barbecue joint in Seguin that earned a finalist nomination in the 2023 James Beard Awards for Best Chef: Texas.

Bun B's next trill food favorite pops up at Sunday's Texans tailgate

get there early

Too often in recent years, tailgating would be the best part of attending a Texans game. While that’s not true this season — AFC Rookie of the Month and Offensive Player of the Month CJ Stroud has the team in contention for a Wild Card spot — those attending the game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, December 3 may want to get to the stadium a little earlier than usual.

Houston hip hop legend Bun B will use the occuasion to hold a special pop-up for Trill Tenders in the parking lot of NRG Stadium. Texans fans will find Bun B and the Trill Tenders team at the Modelo Golden Lion Tailgate, which is located near the Amegy Bank gate outside the southeast corner of NRG Stadium. Tenders will be served from 9:30 am until kickoff at noon (or sold out). Given Houstonians' enthusiasm for all things Trill, we suggest getting there early.

The first 100 adults (21-plus) will receive free tenders. Minors will be able to purchase tenders at a nearby location outside the tailgate.

A sister concept to his smash hit smash burger concept Trill Burgers, Trill Tenders serves, as it names implies, chicken tenders. The award-winning concept made its Houston debut at the recent Taste of the Texans fundraiser.

Trill Burgers chefs Mike Pham and Fernando Valladares teamed up on the Trill Tenders recipe. Drawing on their French training and experience operating Nashville-style hot chicken concepts in Orange County, Trill Tenders are brined to ensure they stay juicy when fried. It's served with two dipping sauces, dubbed "Soy OG" and "Pink OG," which looks like the chefs' take on the creamy and tangy dipping sauce served at national chicken tender chains.

Trill Tenders chicken tender and friesThat's a tasty-looking tendie.Photo by Golda Valladares

Back in October, the tenders won the ConTender Contest at the 2023 Tenderfest in Los Angeles where they beat out a host of top California chefs such as Burt Bakman of Slab Barbecue, Joan McNamara of Joan’s on Third, and chef Maynard Llera of Kuya Lord Filipino restaurant.

Sunday’s pop-up deepens Trill Burgers’ relationship with the Texans. Prior to the season, the team announced that Trill Burgers would be available at four stands within NRG Stadium. Of course, the burgers are also available for lunch and dinner daily at its brick and mortar location at 3607 S Shepherd Dr.