Houston chefs & restaurateurs share their favorite dishes from local menus
Houston chefs and restaurant owners are constantly challenged to innovate their offerings and serve consistently well-executed dishes.
Although for some, there's one mainstay dish they'd happily order or cook for themselves daily. That led us to wonder, what are those crave-able classics in Houston?
The rules? They couldn't choose more than one, and it had to be a menu item readily available to all Houston diners.
Among the chefs who responded is James Beard Award-winning Chris Shepherd, chef/owner at new Montrose restaurant One Fifth Steak, 1658 Westheimer. Shepherd said that his favorite dish is the Golden Osetra Caviar with housemade English muffins.
Over at The Original Ninfa's Ninfa's on Navigation, 2704 Navigation, executive chef Alex Padilla, who has helmed the iconic Houston restaurant since 2006, shared his pick. Padilla had previously spent 18 years working under James Beard Award-winning chef Nancy Oakes in San Francisco.
"Ninfa's is well-known for fajitas, ever since Mama Ninfa (Laurenzo) started serving them here in 1973. What I love about this dish is it takes that history that we have and puts it on a burger," Padilla said. "Everybody loves burgers, and everybody loves fajitas, so you've got a grand slam. It's almost like a good steak sandwich but with fajita meat."
Chef Hugo Ortega, who co-owns several Houston restaurants with his wife, Tracy Vaught, may be basking in the light of their newly debuted H-Town Restaurant Group's Xochi, 1777 Walker, a Oaxacan restaurant on the ground level of the Marriott Marquis.
However, when it came to his favorite dish, Ortega named the Poached Seafood Salad, a shrimp and scallop dish with calamari with celeriac remoulade, lemon-poppy seed vinaigrette, capers, sun-dried tomato mojo and serrano. That's available at H-Town Restaurant Group's River Oaks establishment, Backstreet Cafe, 1103 Shepherd.
"It is a classic and a true tribute to the South and all of the locally-sourced ingredients tell a story," Ware said. "The bacon-wrapped shrimp comes from the Gulf and sits atop grits sourced from South Carolina's Anson Mills mixed with mushrooms from Indian Creek Farm. It all comes together to make a comforting Southern classic."
Where: Burger Joint, 2703 Montrose
Who: Matthew Pak, owner
What: Kimchi Burger
Kimchi Burger: Korean BBQ style angus beef patty, lettuce, onion, house made kimchi, cheddar, garlic mayo, topped with a fried egg.
Where: Lee's Fried Chicken & Donuts, 601 Heights Blvd.
Who: Lee Ellis, owner
What: Double Donut Fried Chicken Sandwich
Chicken tenders between two glazed donuts with choice of sauce: "I love the sweet and savory combo." -Lee Ellis
Where: Pi Pizza, 181 Heights
Who: Anthony Calleo, chef/co-owner
What: Pizza topped with pepperoni, mushroom, chili flakes and Houston Dairymaids cheese.
"It's everything Pi is, in a way. It's simple, classic but the ingredients we use to make are so good and we put such care into it that's greater than the sum of its parts. It's sneaky-good." -Anthony Calleo
Where: Saint Arnold Brewing Company, 2000 Lyons Ave.
Who: Ryan Savoie, chef
What: Amber Ale Bratwurst
“My favorite menu item of ours is the Amber Ale Bratwurst. Our Amber Ale brats are made in house now, and they are delicious. We serve it with a Slow Dough pretzel roll and mustard made with our Ale Wagger Brown Ale. It’s a dish using local ingredients that fits perfectly with Houston’s oldest craft brewery.” - Ryan Savoie
Where: Coltivare, 3320 White Oak Dr.
Who: Ryan Pera, chef
What: Swiss chard ravioli with rabbit ragú
"It's a dish stripped down to its essence. No superfluous ingredients, yet each ingredient being necessary for its success. It utilizes what we grow in the garden and most importantly, it tastes awesome.” -Ryan Pera
Where: The Union Kitchen – Memorial, 12538 Memorial Dr.
Who: Henry Hopkes, executive chef
What: Double Bone-In Pork Chop
"My favorite dish is the Double bone-in Pork Chop. It's marinated, sous vide and served with a wild mushroom Madeira sauce and paired perfectly with sautéed spinach and yukon gold potato puree. All of the flavors work well together and the pairings complement the protein." -Henry Hopkes
Where: Original Ninfa's on Navigation, 2704 Navigation Blvd.
Who: Alex Padilla, executive chef
What: Fajita Burger
Ground and chopped fajita topped with grilled red onions, poblano peppers, avocado, chipotle mayo and a Tex-Mex blend of Jack and Oaxaca cheese, served on a Slow Dough brioche bun. "Ninfa's is well-known for fajitas, ever since Mama Ninfa (Laurenzo) started serving them here in 1973. What I love about this dish is it takes that history that we have and puts it on a burger. Everybody loves burgers, and everybody loves fajitas, so you've got a grand slam. It's almost like a good steak sandwich but with fajita meat." -Alex Padilla
Where: State Fare Kitchen & Bar, 947 Gessner
Who: Jim Mills, partner at Cherry Pie Hospitality
What: State Fare Gumbo
Where: One Fifth Steak, 1658 Westheimer
Who: Chris Shepherd, chef/co-owner
What: Golden Osetra Caviar with housemade English muffins. "It offers all the components of traditional caviar service, but it’s my interpretation. The English muffins and soft boiled egg provide a really nice texture, which uplifts the flavor of the caviar.” -Chris Shepherd
Where: Beaver's, 6025 Westheimer
Who: Arash Kharat, chef
What: Philly Cheesesteak
A salute to Texadelphia, the sandwich is made with seared 44farms Beef, carmelized onions, bell peppers, crimini mushrooms, fresh jalapenos, provolone & herb infused 3-cheese spread.
Where: Kata Robata Sushi + Grill, 3600 Kirby
Who: Hori (Manabu Horichi), chef
What: Foie Gras & Duck Chawanmushi
"Of course I love sushi and sashimi but on the cooked side of the menu, I love the Foie Gras and Duck #Chawanmushi ~ Japanese-style egg." - Chef Hori
Where: Cuchara, 214 Fairview
Who: Ana Beaven, owner. Pictured: One of the chefs at the restaurant.
What: 4-maiz tortillas
Each quarter of the new tortillas offered at the Montrose authentic Mexican restaurant represents a different maiz.
Where: MKT Bar, 1001 Austin (ground level at Phoenicia Specialty Foods)
Who: Ann-Marie Tcholakian, co-owner
What: Veg-Out Pizza
All green: $14 roasted squash, zucchini, artichokes, carrots, asparagus, crispy Brussels sprouts leaves, goat cheese and basil pesto on hand-tossed ciabatta crust.
Where: America's, 2040 West Gray
Who: David Cordua, chef/co-owner
What: Smoked Lamb Lollichops
"My favorite dish at Americas is our Smoked Lamb Lollichops. We smoke a rack of lamb with dried corn husks. We then grill them individually with Peruvian aji panca chiles, vinegar, garlic, cumin and vinegar. The result is smoky, spicy, briny and something like nothing else on our menu that converts people that have never been lamb fans before." -David Cordua
Where: Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen, 2327 Post Oak Blvd. and 5172 Buffalo Speedway
Who: Ziggy Gruber, chef/owner
"My favorite menu items at the deli are the blintzes, Hungarian goulash and stuffed cabbage. It has taken me 25 years to get my blintzes the way that I like them, to get the recipe down-pat. Because my family owned kosher delis in NYC we didn’t have any dairy products, so we would visit our friends who owned Ratner’s Deli – they had the best blintzes! Over the years I have worked and worked to either equal or better their blintzes and I think I have surpassed Ratner’s blintzes. They are crispy on outside, creamy farmer’s cheese on inside … delicious and light as a feather." -Ziggy Gruber
Where: Backstreet Cafe, 1103 Shepherd Dr.
Who: Hugo Ortega, chef/co-owner
What: Poached Seafood Salad
This new-to-the-menu salad is made with shrimp, scallops and calamari with celeriac remoulade, lemon-poppy seed vinaigrette, capers, sun-dried tomato mojo and serrano.
Where: Weights & Measures, 2808 Caroline
Who: Richard Kaplan, chef/co-owner
What: Smoked Lobster Fettucine
The dish consists of hand-cut fettucinem oak smoked lobster, spinach, cabernet tomatoes, rosemary lemon butter and toasted panko.
Where: Rainbow Lodge, 2011 Ella
Who: Mark Schmidt, executive chef
What: Scallop Risotto
"The scallop dish is one of my favorites: Seared Sea Scallops, Morcilla Piquillo Risotto, Parsley, Parmesan." -Mark Schmidt
Where: Harold's Restaurant & Tap Room, 350 W. 19th St.
Who: Antoine Ware, executive chef
What: Gulf Shrimp 'n' Grits
"It is a classic and a true tribute to the South and all of the locally-sourced ingredients tell a story. The bacon-wrapped shrimp comes from the Gulf and sits atop grits sourced from South Carolina’s Anson Mills mixed with mushrooms from Indian Creek Farm. It all comes together to make a comforting Southern classic." -Antoine Ware
Where: Holley's Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar, 3201 Louisiana
Who: Mark Holley, chef/owner
What: Thai Snapper for Two
Where: MKT Bar, 1001 Austin (ground level at Phoenicia Specialty Foods)
Who: Haig Tcholakian, co-owner
What: Curried Vegetable Pot Pie
This is a $9 seasonal vegetable stew in a rich curry topped with a flaky crust.
Where: Antone's Famous Po' Boys, multiple locations
Who: Jonathan Horowitz, Legacy Restaurants CEO
What: Turkey & Swiss Po' Boy
One of Antone's four traditional po'boys, this one's made with roasted turkey, swiss cheese, mayo and bread & butter pickles served on toasted Italian bread by Royal Bakery. "It’s simple and the epitome of comfort food. The crunch of the pickles is probably my favorite part – they provide the perfect texture and flavor contrast in the sandwich." -Jonathan Horowitz
Where: Bosscat Kitchen + Libations, 4310 Westheimer (opens Feb. 22)
Who: Peter Petro, chef
What: 12-Hour Beef Short Rib
Braised beef short rib, black pepper sauce, potato gratin. "It's a really nice, clean piece of beef. We cook it until all the connective tissue is broken down, until it's super soft and tender and we can really get some great flavors imparted into it. It's served on a bed of potato gratin with crispy fried onions and a black pepper garlic sauce that has a hint of sweetness. The sauce is based on an Asian recipe that I used at several Asian restaurants in Southern California before we opened Bosscat in 2014. Everything about this dish just goes well together, and people always tell us how much they love the tenderness of the meat." -Peter Petro
Where: Third Coast, 6550 Bertner Ave., 6th floor
Who: Jon Buchanan, executive chef
What: Red Snapper with curry
Gulf snapper with green curry and veggie slaw: "My favorite menu item is the Red Snapper with green curry, vegetable slaw, cashews and lemongrass-ginger rice." -Jon Buchanan
Where: The Union Kitchen, multiple locations
Who: Paul Miller, owner of Gr8 Plate Hospitality Gr8 Plate Hospitality
What: The Union Burger
"The Union Burger has it all. A burger with cheddar, bacon, onion rings, BBQ aioli and our house made chips. It's really everything you could want in a burger." -Paul Miller
Where: Relish Restaurant & Bar, 2810 Westheimer
Who: Dustin Teague, executive chef/co-owner
What: Fried Chicken
This hearty Southern meal, $22, is served with hot honey & maple Brussels sprouts.
Where: Le Mistral/Rouge Wine Bar Rouge, 1400 Eldridge Parkway
Who: David Denis, owner
What: Farmer's Pizza Chef
Topped with pancetta, onions, brie and black olives paired with a glass of Domain de la Suffrene form Bandol.
Where: Upstairs Bar & Lounge at Hungry's, multiple locations
Who: Ashkan Nowamooz, owner
What: Crab Cake Bites
For $8: blue crab cake bites served on a bed of jalapeño mac and cheese.
Where: 13 Celsius, 3000 Caroline
Who: Ian Rosenberg, co-owner
What: Italiano Panini
For $12: Hand-cut slices of salumi and cheeses with olives and arugula. Served with chips and cornichons.
Where: Hungry's, multiple locations
Who: Sue Nowamooz, executive chef
What: Anaheim Chile Grilled Chicken
All-natural chicken, roasted Anaheim chile cream sauce, herb basmati rice, seasonal vegetables and warm pitamac and cheese, $17.
Where: Baba Yega, 2607 Grant
Who: Fred Sharifi, owner
What: Roasted Quinoa Salad
Roasted zucchini, broccoli, red bell pepper, red onion, cauliflower with arugula, lemon zest and roasted garlic vinaigrette, $14.
Where: A Fare Extraordinaire, 2035 Marshall
Who: Ryan Bouillet, executive chef
What: Boneless Braised Short Ribs
"Although difficult to name my favorite dish, the boneless braised short ribs is a continuous crowd stunner. This southern dish is often paired with jalapeno cheddar cheese grits, a nod to my New Orleans culinary background. I top it off with bright rainbow carrots and thin sweet potato threads to add a playful pop of color." -Ryan Bouillet