It is crazy to think that we have been living through a global pandemic for the last year. Prior to the pandemic, I would spend over half the year traveling the country for work and on my travels I had the opportunity to explore new cities and their local culinary scene. For me when I travel, I want to get the true experience and see the city as a local. It is hard to really experience a city when you spend the whole time in tourist traps. There is so much to explore just off the beaten path but sometimes you just need a little advice. While in a new city I always propose the question to locals I meet, “If you were to move away from your city and never go back, where would you eat at one last time?”. This question has lead me to some very spectacular dining experiences and pointed me to local watering holes where I got to drink with the locals and really get a true experience of each place I visit. Spending the last year grounded, it gave me a chance to explore my own city more and made me ponder the same question, so I reached out to a handful of local Houstonians to get their input. Just for the record none of the participants in this article are leaving Houston, so breath easy.
- Brian Ching – Owner of Pitch25 and East End Backyard and formerly professional soccer player for the Houston Dynamo and US Men’s National Soccer Team. Moved to Houston in 2006 when the San Jose Earthquakes moved their franchise and became the Houston Dynamo.
- Miya Shay – Television news reporter for KTRK-TV, ABC 13 who has been living in Houston for the last 18yrs.
- Frank Billingsley – Chief Meteorologist for KPRC-TV Houston and has been living in Houston since March of 1989.
- Theresa – iHeartRadio On-Air Talent TheresaRockFace for KTBZ-fm 94.5 The Buzz and has been living in Houston for the last 16yrs.
- Mario Figueroa k.a. GONZO247 – Multidisciplinary artist rooted in graffiti art. Houston native born and raised.
If you were to leave Houston. What is a restaurant you would have to eat at one last time before you left?
Brian: That’s a tough one as there are so many great restaurants in Houston and it just depends on what you’re in the mood for. I’ll go with one of my favorite BBQ joints since this is Texas. The Pit Room.
Miya: That’s such a hard question to answer! From Texas BBQ, to Mexican, to world class sushi, Houston is one of the most diverse food cities in America. There is no better to place to fill your tummy and your soul. One of my favorite cuisines I’ve fallen in love with since moving to Houston is Vietnamese food. I’m ethnically Chinese, and I was unfamiliar with the cuisine until embracing it here. My most frequent stop for Vietnamese food is Cali Sandwich in Midtown.
Frank: Eloise Nichols Grill & Liquors on Mid Lane
Theresa: Liberty Taco
Gonzo247: Knowing that Houston is the culinary capital of the South, with the most James Beard winners, of course, “what to eat?” is the quintessential question. There is no shortage of amazing culinary experiences and I’m continually impressed with the variety of quality places to visit for some sincerely soul-infused cuisine. If I had to choose one last Houston meal, I would lean towards some barbacoa tacos from Brother’s Taco House.
What makes these places so special to you?
Brian: I always get the pork ribs and brisket when I go there. The brisket just falls apart with your fork. Also love the Texas country vibe you get when you walk in.
Miya: It’s a small family restaurant situated at the corner of Anita and Travis. Cali has survived the boom and bust of the area. It thrived when Midtown was a mini Little Saigon. It survived through the opening of nightclubs and fancy apartments. Rent’s gone up, but their banh mi’s are still very affordable. A typical lunch choice for me is pork sandwich with a mango smoothie, no added sugar. They use just fruit, ice, and condensed milk. It’s perfection. The Vietnamese fried eggrolls are nice, shrouded in a bit of lettuce, cool and hot at the same time. My favorite though, is the Bun Bo Hue, a spicy pork and beef soup. I ask for it “all the way,” meaning they serve it with pork blood cubes, and all the other tidbits that make the soup funky, flavorful, and just so satisfying. The food is just always on point. It’s affordable, and just so good. Besides the dishes I mentioned, I also like the Bun Rieu, a tomato crab noodle soup with escargot. So good, and the depth of flavor is amazing. To top it all off, the owner is always on site. She is likely to yell at you if you misbehave, or if she thinks you ordered the wrong thing. I love it when she complains about her adult children to me, sometimes while they’re working there. It’s great.
Frank: They first opened around four years ago with the aim of being the neighborhood restaurant and they are. Reliably good food, reasonable prices, very friendly staff and a great big, long bar which is always inviting along with specialty cocktails. I always feel welcome there and even if they have an off night, it’s no problem for me. I would miss them wherever I went.
Theresa: My husband and I lived near it and ate there almost every morning. We have moved to the burbs and are no longer near it. It’s just great food and I love their coffee. When we talk about it, we both just smile. So sad, but that’s what good food does. It brings us JOY! It’s kind of our place and our thing. The brisket breakfast tacos are my jam!!
Gonzo247: For me, some of my fondest memories growing up are going to my grandparents’ house in 2nd Ward, after church on Sunday’s and having an amazing meal of scrambled eggs, refried beans, fried potatoes, tortillas de harina, and of course, some barbacoa. Anytime I bite into a good barbacoa taco, the memories always come flooding back. There are many great taco houses in Houston that offer *REAL barbacoa but I always default to Brother’s Tacos. They are located on the corner of Leeland and Emancipation in Houston’s former ChinaTown (now known as EaDO). Their barbacoa meat is always consistent, juicy and delicious. You can never go wrong.
* Note, some places try to pull off using a brisket as barbacoa. Real barbacoa is the cheek meat of a steamed cow head. It’s a delicacy in Mexico and reserved for Saturday or Sunday mornings. A good restaurant will only offer barbacoa on the weekends. If a place offers barbacoa on their daily menus, you might have to question the freshness of the meat, or confirm that it is actually cheek meat and not a shredded cut from a different part of the cow. –