Robb Walsh's Top 10 Downtown H-Town Ethnic Eateries

Catfish, grits and poached eggs at Breakfast Klub

So let’s say you’re visiting Houston for a convention and staying at the Hilton downtown. You don’t want to rent a car, but you want to check out some of the cool restaurants you keep hearing about. Here’s my list of 10 great ethnic eateries within a short taxi ride from the convention center:

1 The Breakfast Klub
If you’re craving chicken and waffles or fried catfish and grits with poached eggs, this soul food breakfast joint is your kind of place. But don’t feel like you have to visit in the morning–try having a big breakfast for lunch. The Breakfast Klub is open until 2 in the afternoon. 3711 Travis Street, (713) 528-85611.

2 Irma’s This charming time capsule Tex-Mex joint just north of Minute Maid ballpark was given the James Beard “American Classics” Award in 2008. Go for breakfast and get huevos rancheros and chilaquiles, or go for lunch and try the cheesy enchiladas and the homemade lemonade– but don’t go for dinner, Irma’s is only open Monday to Friday 8 am to 3 pm.
22 N Chenevert St., (713) 222-0767

3 Thiem Hung
One of the city’s best Vietnamese sandwich spots is located just across Highway 59 a little south of the convention center. Barbecued pork is Houston’s favorite Vietnamese sandwich, but the banh mi xiu mai (meatball sandwich) also rocks. The fried rice cake omelet is also excellent. On Thursday and Fridays, the young owner, Minh, does a special prix fixe dinner. 2108 Pease St., (713) 225-4766

4 Original Ninfa’s on Navigation
Mama Ninfa’s place has been preserved more or less the way it was. When you walk in the door, you wait in line beside the tortilla lady who is rapidly patting out the flour tortillas that you are about to eat for lunch or dinner. Get the beef fajitas on a sizzling comal and a couple of frozen margaritas. There is a free shuttle from downtown during lunch–call for details. Open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week.
2704 Navigation, 713-228-1175

5 BB’s Cajun Cafe
The oyster, shrimp, and softshell crab poor boys are terrific, and so is the roast beef and gravy poor boy. THe restaurant’s most popular entrée, “Maw Maw’s Grillades and Grits,” is a bowl full of deep brown gravy with tender round steak and a mound of grits. Try the “Tex-Cajun Virgin” a plate of hot-out-of-the-fryer shoestring fries, topped with roast beef slices, brown gravy, and lots of chile con queso–it’s a new category of fusion cuisine that the rest of the world has yet to discover. And it sure tastes good.
2710 Montrose, (713) 524 4499

6 Hubcap Grill
The Sicilian-American masterpiece called a “muffaletta burger” at Hubcap Grill is topped with the same olive salad found on the muffalettas at Craiganale’s Italian Deli Café, right around the corner. That’s because Hubcap’s owner, Ricky Craig, used to work at Craiganale’s, which is his mother and father’s spaghetti joint. Hubcap’s Greek burger, Frito Pie burger and Philly cheesesteak burgers are also noteworthy. Open Monday to Saturday, 11 am to 3 pm. 1111 Prairie, 713-223-5885

7 Pizzatola’s Barbecue
When Texas barbecue legend John Davis opened his Shepherd Drive Bar-B-Que in 1934, it was a blacks-only establishment. Whites had to get their barbecue from the rear door and eat in the parking lot. When John Davis died in 1983, Italian-American barbecue hound Jerome Pizzitola leased the place from the Davis family and saved the grandfathered barbecue pits. Don’t miss the ribs! 1703 Shepherd Drive, (713) 227-2283

8 Rustika Bakery
Never heard of jalapeño gefilte fish? Where have you been? The owners of Rustika Bakery are Jewish–they are also from Mexico City. Wait until you try their “guacamole bobe” appetizer, a fusion of Jewish deli-style creamy egg salad and Mexican guacamole served with tortilla chips. The bakery case is an amazing blend of Jewish stuff like rugelah and Latino favorites like empanadas.The sandwiches at Rustika are also terrific. Lunch only. 3237 Southwest Freeway, 713 665-6226

9 Indika
Anita Jaisinghani has been lauded by the New York Times and a host of other publications for her startlingly fresh take on Indian cuisine. The lunch menu includes lots of easy-to-love items like “Grilled Chicken Naan Sandwich with Spinach, Goat Cheese and Mango Chutney” But there are also some innovative creations like a beet soup seasoned with masala and crabmeat samosas. Don’t miss the saffron ice cream
516 Westheimer 713-524-2170

10 Charivari
Ever been to a Transylvanian restaurant? Here’s your chance. Chef John Schuster comes from that region of Romania and he is a grand master of the dishes of the European Borscht Belt. Order blinis and caviar, “Budapest style” foie gras, Weiner schnitzel, filet mignon in Cognac-green pepper cream sauce, choucroute, or anything else from Middle Europe. And if the timing is right, you might just catch “spargle season” when Schuster does a wide variety of Black Forest-style dishes with fresh white asparagus.
2521 Bagby 713 521 7231

18 thoughts on “Robb Walsh's Top 10 Downtown H-Town Ethnic Eateries

  1. Dwight Silverman

    The restaurant choices are fine, but why no links to their web sites? Or why not link the addresses to Google or Bing map locations?

  2. Gary

    Charivari? The owner/chef is possibly the biggest a**hole in Houston.

  3. robbwalsh Post author

    Kerr- Zydeco is closer, but BB’s is better.
    Dwight- Okay links are there now.

  4. James Knauff

    This a pretty darn good list. Houston is a great food and beverage town and visitors have myriad eateries to select from. Mr. Walsh’s recommendations are solid for starters.

  5. Stephen

    New York Coffee Shop in Meyerland definitely should be on here in my opinion. Granted I haven’t been to most of the places you’re listing so I cannot compare.

  6. John

    It’s sad that I’ve lived my entire life here but I’ve only been to one of those (Ninfa’s on Navigation). I’m going on a quest to try every one of these in the next couple of months.

  7. Steve

    I have been to most of the restaurants on the list. Some of the best Vietnamese food is at Huynh’s at 912 St. Emanuel across the freeway from George R Brown.

  8. Jose S

    There’s now a BBs location downtown right next to the Lancaster. It’s been open about a month.

  9. Mike

    Sorry, I’m gonna quibble here. To this non-native, downtown is where the big buildings stand; that postage stamp area that makes the skyline. I can’t count #’s 7 and 9 as being in that range.

  10. J.

    I’m sorry that Gary seems to have had a bad experience at Charivari. I’ve eaten there many times since it opened and have always found Chef Schuster to be very pleasant.

  11. jim

    Yeah, 5, 7 and 9 all struck me as a little out of the projected target area. If you make it from d-town to Montrose and Westheimer (or equally distant points to the NE, SE, and NW) you are into best-100 territory, not top 10.

  12. Matthew

    i just can’t get behind a recommendation for pizzatola’s. the food i got was acceptable, but not worth the price they charge. maybe not a short taxi ride away, but i think thelma’s is worth the extra coin. you’ll make it up in the savings from the cost of the meal, any way.

  13. David

    Not sure which restaurant I would remove, but Bombay Pizza Co. needs to be included. Perhaps a Top 11?

  14. Kevin

    Yeah, most of these places don’t fit my definition of downtown either. Poorly titled posting, Walsh.

    Other commenters suggested posting websites; I suggest posting Google Map links, with a highlight on bus routes from, say, Main St. Square. That would be awesome for the out-of-town visitor.

  15. Errol Sizer

    Man, my grandmother was from Sicily and she made the most incredible meatballs I ever tasted, like you had died and gone to meatball heaven. Sadly, she died last year and she didnt leave a recipe for me so I’ve been trying to figure it out by myself… slowly working my through the meatball recipe here, I still cant figure out what her secret ingredient was though!!!

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