This piece stemmed from that. They still haven’t made it here, but I’ve got some helpful suggestions for them, possibly, and any visitors. My tact began with highlighting cuisines that aren’t found in the Chicago area, or not found in much quality, and are done well here. Barbecue, Creole and Cajun, Gulf seafood, Tex-Mex, Vietnamese come quickly to mind. No chicken fried steak, though. There are only so many calories that can be ingested in a weekend, even a long weekend, but below is a list to work from, with the cuisines or meal listed alphabetically. Geared toward nicer spots, for the most part. Barbecue and breakfast tacos, necessarily less so.
Barbecue – As extraordinary as Houston barbecue can be now, I had thought that this might not be an option given the inherent heaviness, but then I realized that if you show some restraint – something I can have a hard time doing, myself – like just having a sandwich or splitting a plate, a visit to a barbecue joint doesn’t have to be a one-meal day. Truth (Washington Corridor), The Pit Room (Montrose), Pinkerton’s (Heights), Blood Bros. (Bellaire), Killen’s (Cypress, Pearland)
Breakfast – If they want breakfast, there are some excellent, casual and fun choices that are geared toward our locale. The Breakfast Klub (Midtown), Goode Co. Taqueria (West University), Cucharita (Montrose), El Tiempo (East End and elsewhere)
Breakfast Tacos – For a quick and even more casual breakfast that can be picked up, and something that isn’t much of a thing at all in Chicago, breakfast tacos can be a piquant and tasty morning start when time is a consideration. Tacos A Go Go (various), Tio Trompo (Washington Corridor), Urbe (Uptown Park), Laredo Taqueria (Washington Corridor, Near North Side), The Taco Stand (Heights)
Brunch – If they desire a brunch day, three of the Hugo Ortega-Tracy Vaught restaurants do a great job with brunch and in different ways then there is the grand Creole brunch at Brennan’s, a high-calorie and necessarily alcohol-laden morning feast. Hugo’s (Montrose), Xochi (Downtown), Brennan’s (Midtown), Backstreet Café (River Oaks)
Cocktails – For folks into cocktails or maybe at least before dinner, several of Bobby Heugel’s and alum’s spots can do the trick terrifically well, led by the trend-setting Anvil that is still going strong in its second decade. Anvil (Montrose), Refuge (Montrose), Julep (Washington Corridor), Better Luck Tomorrow (Heights), Under the Volcano (Rice Village), BCN (for the Spanish gin and tonics, Montrose)
Creole / Cajun – Creole as practiced in New Orleans hasn’t really found roots beyond Louisiana other than here, if with some local concessions that work well. Brennan’s (Midtown), Eunice (Greenway Plaza), Ragin’ Cajun (Greenway Plaza), Lagniappe (Heights)
Gulf Seafood – This can be something a little unique for visitors, and a few spots are excellent with it. Goode Co. Seafood (West University, Memorial), Eugene’s (Montrose), Brennan’s (Midtown)
Italian – Italian doesn’t quickly come to mind with Houston, but I don’t believe that there are any better Italian chefs in Chicago, for example, than Maurizio Ferrarese at the Alba (Uptown Park) in the Hotel Granduca or Giancarlo Ferrara at Amalfi (Briargrove) here.
Italian-American (what most people know as Italian) – The always bustling, fun original Carrabba’s on Kirby and the one the family still runs on Woodway are well-run crowd-pleasers featuring robust flavors with a nod toward our locale and the Carrabba-family roots in Sicily. Upper Kirby, Briargrove
Kolaches – This Czechoslovak breakfast pastry has been a Texas staple, though most versions are rather lacking, to be honest. But Houston is home to the very best purveyor in the entire state, Kolache Shoppe (Greenway Plaza, Heights), which even has a drive-thru at its Heights location.
Mexican – Hugo Ortega is our answer to Rick Bayless, except he is from Mexico. He and Tracy Vaught’s trio of upscale Mexican restaurants are the best Mexican restaurants here and called the best in the state. And the new, more casual Urbe is a great asset to the dining landscape. Hugo’s (Montrose), Xochi (Downtown), Caracol (Galleria Area), Urbe (Uptown Park), Cuchara (Montrose)
Steak – The Great American Steakhouse template doesn’t vary too much across the country even as it has evolved over the years. There is something to be said for top-quality, well-marbled steak seared over a very high heat with fatty sides and a plush atmosphere. Georgia James does something different and is also fantastic while Pappas Bros. excels at the more familiar with a wine list that is a enophile’s dream, well, a well-heeled one. For a more affordable, excellent steak, in the tradition of the pampas, is the family-run Uruguayan Saldivia’s. Georgia James (Montrose), Pappas Bros. Steakhouse (Galleria Area, Downtown), Saldivia’s (Westchase)
Sushi – I think that Manabu Horiuchi at Kata Robata is not only a terrific sushi chef and for Japanese cuisine in general, but he is one of the very best chefs in Houston regardless of cuisine. The folks from Austin with Uchi and Uchiko do a terrific job with a slightly Americanized interpretation. Kata Robata (Upper Kirby), Uchi (Montrose), Uchiko (Galleria Area), Soto (Montrose), MF Sushi (Museum District), Nippon (Montrose)
Tex-Mex – There’s not quality Tex-Mex in most places as here and this is always well liked by relatives visiting. El Tiempo (various), Goode Co. Kitchen & Cantina (Memorial, Heights)
Viet-Cajun (during crawfish season) – A recently developed cuisine that has drawn considerable attention with its leading light an especially fun dining experience, and one that’s quite regional. Crawfish & Noodles (Chinatown, Heights)
Vietnamese – A Houston staple, certainly for me. Long one of my favorite places for Vietnamese food is Jasmine, followed by its sibling Saigon Pagaloc, both along Bellaire Boulevard. A more modern, accessible and fun, and geographically easy location is probably better, unless they want to experience Seven Courses of Beef. That can be fun. Xin Chao (Washington Corridor), Ka Bau (Montrose), Moon Rabbit (Heights), Dinette (Heights), Thien An (Midtown), The Blind Goat (Downtown)
Wine – Houston has some really good wine bars, both in terms of selection and comfort, one can be a fine way to began an evening or be the evening. 13 Celsius (Midtown), Camerata (Montrose), Montrose Cheese & Wine, Roots (Montrose), Vinology (Rice Village)
Other – A few other places to note mostly for their quality, as MAD and BCN are two of the best restaurants in Houston. MAD even has some of the most notable restaurant bathrooms in the country that makes for a fun, and often necessary detour. MAD (River Oaks District), BCN (Montrose), Navy Blue (Rice Village)
If you, they, need to do chicken fried steak, Wild Oats is the best call.