I recently flew to Houston with my wife, Vicky, to do some exploratory eating around the city for our upcoming Serious Eats book. In a city as large as Houston, it's tough to be comprehensive, so for our purposes, I'm narrowing it down to 6 places there that I really love and think that all serious eaters should try.
Shipley's Do-Nuts (on Ella Boulevard)
The glazed doughnuts are made to order at this particular location and this one only. No one seems to know why. The first one I tried was so hot I burned my mouth and lips on it. Once they recovered, I ate another doughnut, and it was worth every bit of the third-degree burns that accompanied the first. These are doughnuts from God. 3410 Ella Boulevard, Houston TX 77018; shipleydonuts.ws
Pierson & Co. BBQ
East Texas African-American barbecue ribs by way of southwest Louisiana. The ribs at Pierson's are meaty and porky with just enough chew and just enough fat. And the beef links are juicy crazy good, fat-oozing, delicious, and not that spicy. Oh, and did I mention mashed potato salad? Brilliant invention — smooth and creamy. 5110 West T. C. Jester, Houston TX; 713-683-6997; piersonandcompanybbq.com
This restaurant's name is a misnomer if there ever was one, because these folks fry like hot oil Zen masters. (And I have to thank my good friend Robb Walsh for giving me the heads up to this fact.) Imagine a fried chicken breast that is so juicy it squirts you in the eye when you take a bite. That's what happened. Crust and skin are at a cosmic one and are so crunchy you can hear each bite three tables away. And, oh yes, they salt this bird. The chicken-fried steak, barely spiced or salted, is a little disappointing. The fried shrimp are better. The owner and his dad brought over their ribs, which are quite good but nothing life-changing. Stick with the chicken and all will be right with your world. 116 W Crosstimbers Street, Houston TX 77018; 713-695-8112
Segari's Restaurant & Bar
I like to stop at Segari's, an old oilman hangout, for jumbo fried shrimp — and I do mean JUMBO — as big as steaks. And the gumbo here is as good as you can get in New Orleans. 1503 Shepherd Drive, Houston TX 77007; 713-880-2470; segarisrestaurant.com
Pizzitola's, where I like to go for spare ribs in Houston, has an interesting history dripping with irony and barbecue sauce. It was originally owned by an African-American family for 50 years, and in those days, white people had to go around back to a separate entrance. Talk about turning the tables. These days, the Pizzitola family, who bought the place from John Davis and his wife, Leila, have put up the baseball bat on the wall that John Davis used to scare away robbers. This is the only open pit left in Houston. Tiny (a little bigger than baby backs) but excellent salt-and-pepper ribs, more like Chinese-style — imagine a hybrid Chinese-Texas barbecue rib, and you've got the idea. 1703 Shepherd Drive, Houston TX 77007; 713-227-2283; pizzitolas.com
Laurenzo's El Tiempa Cantina
I've had amazing Tex-Mex lunches at Laurenzo's El Tiempa Cantina — fajitas, ceviche, hard-shell tacos, cheese enchiladas, house-made salsa, chips, and tortillas. Multiple locations; see eltiempocantina.com/locations
I know there are more — much more — eats in Houston that are worthy of a serious eater's attention. And I've probably missed your favorite. If so, share it with us here in the comments.