Where to Eat Now in the East End
Downtown’s revitalized neighbor has plenty to offer.
You may have already found yourself seeking out chef David Guerrero’s famed ceviches at this cute café, but there are many other items worth trying on his vast, Central and South America–influenced menu: Peruvian-style Chinese fried rice; Argentinean skirt steak with peppery chimichurri sauce; and roasted pork leg with sautéed hominy and potato-cheese cakes from Guerrero’s home country of Ecuador. Daily breakfast options also offer great variety (try the tamalitos verdes), and a new Sunday brunch offers passion fruit mimosas and live music.
By day, Minh Nguyen’s smart little eatery is your standard Vietnamese sandwich shop offering a few healthy options alongside generously stuffed banh mi and spicy bun bo Hue, such as vegan pho and bowls of bun made with spaghetti squash in lieu of vermicelli. But on Thursday and Friday evenings, it turns downright romantic, as Nguyen lights candles on the tables and spins standards from the 1940s. These are the only nights dinner is offered, so BYOB and come prepared to enjoy one of Nguyen’s prix-fixe three-course menus blending American and Vietnamese influences (though you can always order off the regular menu too).
Savvy diners will call ahead to this little burger shack so their meal is ready when they get here. There’s often a long wait, especially at lunch, when diners crowd the patio and chow down on chicken-fried steak sandwiches or big, beefy jalapeño cheeseburgers, made from USDA Prime ground chuck and always prepared to order.
If you’ve got a big group and you’re craving a Tex-Mex feast, this giant El Tiempo outpost on Navigation Blvd. is the place to be. Adept at handling crowds and offering a menu to please most palates, the kitchen at this 8,400-square-foot restaurant will send out your jumbo-lump-crab nachos, spicy pork tamales, cheese enchiladas and—of course—plates of fajitas before your margarita even starts to sweat.
For over a decade, Annie Huynh’s family-run Vietnamese eatery has served as a welcome constant as old Chinatown transitions into the new EaDo. At both lunch and dinnertime, expect a short wait—it’s worth it for the chargrilled pork wrapped in silky rice paper (banh uot thit nuong), the chewy-crispy wok-fried noodles (hu tieu) and a mesmerizing duck soup with fermented bamboo (bun mang vit) that’s unlike any other you’ll find in Houston.
As the story goes, this Houston classic owes its notoriously extensive menu to Kim Su Tran La, “Mama La,” who memorized over 250 family recipes before fleeing Vietnam and ending up in Houston in 1980. Many Houstonians enjoyed their first taste of Vietnamese cuisine here, and many more are still trying to work their way through the entire lineup of dishes at the flagship location in EaDo—a Mount Everest–scale food bucket list in itself.
We need a whole new category to describe the modern soul food/New American Creole cuisine that chefs James Haywood and Ross Coleman are serving at this bright new East End restaurant. Look for turkey-neck lettuce wraps with house-made nuoc cham (the fish sauce–based dipping sauce found at Vietnamese restaurants); black vinegar–braised oxtails; shrimp and grits; and the boudin of the day on the ever-changing menu. Whatever you get, save room for the irresistible individual servings of peach cobbler in cast-iron skillets.
One of the first of the new wave of restaurants to move into the East End, this updated ice house has kept things interesting by adding its own brews, created on site, to its original lineup of beers and hot dogs, along with several over-the-top dishes. Grab your Cheech and Chong burgers (we’ll let you find out which is which) and pull up a picnic table; it’s all outdoor seating at this spot, which is open until at least 2 a.m. six nights a week.
If you’ve lived in Houston any length of time (we’re talking a month, max) and you haven’t visited the birthplace of the fajita platter, hie thee here posthaste—though come prepared to wait. It was at this great institution that Mama Ninfa Laurenzo first started selling grilled skirt steak in her handmade tortillas (and where she pioneered the creamy green sauce we would drink straight if only people would stop judging us). Today Ninfa’s offers equally compelling dishes by chef Alex Padilla, whose modern Tex-Mex creations, such as mole-grilled salmon, complement Mama Ninfa’s originals without detracting from her legacy.
If you’re smart enough to get to this early-morning hotspot when it opens at 6 Saturdays or 8 Sundays, you may find yourself waiting only 10 minutes or so for their famous breakfast tacos. Otherwise, come prepared to while away the hour or more it will take to get that perfect chicharron-and-egg taco with a good book or good friends and a cup of coffee. Is the wait worth it? Absolutely, though you could always come during the week, when Villa Arcos opens at 6 and those homemade breakfast tacos are just as alluring—and much faster to arrive in your hot little hands.Read More