LOng a staple in these parts
- You really shouldn’t eat chicken fried steak: it’s about as unhealthy an item on the menu, battered and deep-fried beef with a thick black pepper-spiked gravy that’s usually heavily caloric; plus, it features as poor a cut and quality of beefsteak that you will find served at any restaurant. And I certainly shouldn’t eat chicken fried steak – and I always neglect to mention these occasional orders to my cardiologist – but it’s a guilty pleasure and something I’ve enjoyed since childhood. It was long a Texas staple, once found almost everywhere, after all. Maybe enjoyed is too strong of a word; many of my early experiences with it were the tough and gristly versions from the school cafeteria, even tougher and more gristle-laden ones weekly during a college meal plan and the too often dull and far-from-tender preparations where the dish is still cooked. Enjoyed at times is more correct. There are very good preparations every now and then, though restaurants serving the dish in any level of adeptness are found diminishingly so on the more competitive local restaurant landscape. Pappas Burgers, where I had one of the best chicken fried steaks in recent years, no longer offers it, to give one example.
Through four years, off and on, I’ve eaten chicken fried steaks at three dozen places in town in an effort to find the best and recommendable versions in general. There are numerous bad preparations and I ended my research on this with an attractive, if appropriately lousy one at Ouisie’s Table; tough and bland beef, cheap-tasting, with the breading falling too easily away from it, a place once known for the dish and where it was once done fairly well. The dining scene in Houston has largely moved far beyond chicken fried steaks and places like that, thankfully, but a savory chicken fried steak is still welcome every now and then for some of us. Here are the restaurants where you can find at least a decent one.
Posted on November 26, 2022.
Wild Oats – $18 / $32 – Designated on the menu as “Wagyu Chicken Fried Steak / Fancy meat…” this upscale version from the Texas-themed outpost of Underbelly Hospitality is the top take on the statewide “classic” now found in our fair city. Featuring excellent meat, the regionally raised Wagyu beef, for a chicken fried steak, it is quite tender with a welcome hint of beef flavor, something that is lacking in most renditions. The breading will fall off somewhat, but no matter, it is delicious, aided by not-so-piquant jalapeño and bacon gravy. Very whipped mashed potatoes and crip green beans served with a little crumbled bacon and micro chives on top provide nice complements for the steak. For $32 for a large order, which is not terribly large at all, this might not be much of a value, but it sure is tasty. Heights
Best of the Rest
Frank’s Americana – $28 – On a section of Westheimer that borders River Oaks, this nice, clubby restaurant serves a slightly upscale, well-crafted and flavorful take on the Texas staple that will please any income class. Served under cream gravy with mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables cooked al dente for a satisfying full meal. Greenway Plaza
Killen’s – $20 / $26 – Fittingly, in the building on Waugh that housed Hickory Hollow for many years, a destination for many for its chicken fried steak, Ronnie Killen’s Inner Loop location does a more-than-creditable job with the dish. The well-seasoned steak here is noticeable, welcome and somewhat unusual, and needs no help from any bottled hot sauce, though the cream gravy is reflexive must. Served with mashed potatoes. Washington Corridor
Killen’s STQ – $34 – It’s chicken fried ribeye at this expensive, mostly steakhouse that’s pricier and of a higher quality than most versions of the dish. It comes in a manageable size with the necessary white gravy, its frequent partner mashed potatoes that are conspicuously well-done here, and also collard greens for more of a Southern bent to the dish and restaurant. Briargrove
Barbecue Inn – $17.50 – You don’t travel to this charmingly old school and friendly Houston relic on the north side, now near north side, for the barbecue but what comes out of the deep fryer: the fried chicken, fried shrimp and chicken fried steak. Comforting, satisfying, if nothing spectacular, but value-oriented. It’s a meal coming with cream gravy and a choice of two sides among a iceberg lettuce salad, French fries, mashed potatoes and green beans. Near North Side
Mia’s Table – $19.99 – Johnny Carrabba’s casual, counter-service concept for hearty family friendly, locally inclined fare is justifiably popular as it does fine versions of almost everything including the tender-enough and tasty chicken fried steak; with jalapeño cream gravy for just a little bite even before the splashes of hot sauce. Upper Kirby District, Spring Branch, Katy, Cypress, Clear Lake, The Woodlands
- Mucky Duck – $16.95 – Just on Wednesdays, this British-themed showcase club and pub with a kitchen much better than it needs to be, offers a tender take on the battered, deep-fried steak, which is served with creamy mashed potatoes, a lot of gravy, Mexican-style street corn, and a piece of moist cornbread. Upper Kirby District
State Fare – $24 lunch / $28 dinner – The stylish Texas-centric spots have, maybe, too many pitfalls on the menu, but its offering of the chicken fried steak is not one of them. Here, it’s a half-pound of sturdy ribeye steak that has more flavor than most versions and a crust that nicely adheres to the meat and which comes under a lot of welcome salty, cream gravy, mashed potatoes, bacon-and-onion aided green beans. Memorial City, Sugar Land, The Woodlands
Laurenzo’s Grill – $25.99 – It’s called Vitello Fritto here, chicken fried veal, a fancier Italian-American take on it, well on the name, at least. More tender than usually found as its veal, the sausage gravy provides some additional gustatory oomph that might be necessary. The dish nicely comes with bread and a choice of side from a list of nearly twenty choices. Washington Corridor
Hughie’s – $15 – This family run Vietnamese duo catering to a non-Vietnamese clientele also serves hamburgers and Country Fried Steak. Featuring higher quality filet mignon that is smothered in sausage and bacon gravy, it’s an appetizing interpretation. It comes with sides of just decent garlic-spiked mashed potatoes and a kale salad for just $15. Heights (2)
Jax Grill – $15.99 – These longtime, lower key counter service places provide one of the best values for chicken fried steak. If not quite fork-tender, the beef is soft and tasty enough under a crispy crust served with a flour-y white cream gravy that all calls for some more black pepper and cayenne-based hot sauce that is now served with French fries. Washington Corridor, Bellaire, Katy
Hickory Hollow – $12.60 / $15 / $18 – Once the local favorite for it, a stop for one can still satisfy, and even be a belt-busting diversion. Coming in small, large, and ridiculously large sizes, the last of which will engender stares from fellow diners. This familiar and crusty preparation is on the mild side and calls for hot sauce. Served with a couple sides, it’s a wallet-friendly order, especially for the considerable amount of calories. Cypress
Chicken fried steak comes in more disappointing versions than just about any type of dish so it will be helpful to mention some of the restaurants where you should definitely not order it, in addition to the aforementioned Ouisie’s Table: Federal Grill, House of Pies, Luby’s, of course, and Union Kitchen.