Comfort is Key
Life is a tad crazy these days, am I right? I mean, when we were "heading back to the 20's" on New Year's Eve, was this what you would have imagined? Kind of the old school 20's for real in some aspects; maybe we should watch our words more closely so we don't bring on exactly what we ask for next year!
Through all the time spent at home, longing for summer days without masks, with more travel and a lot more people around, it is good to focus on positive things. Personally, I have been grateful to already have a love for cooking and baking so it was not a new skill I was suddenly inclined to figure out on the fly. But while I enjoy cooking, my kitchen is not huge and my dishes do pile up. It is moments like these that make me glad that my favorite restaurants are still delivering food or getting me out of the house to pick it up.
Having someone cook for you is pleasant. It's even better when it comes without having to do any dishes afterward. So what are some of my favorite local Houston joints I have been supporting during this home-bound season? Take a gander ...
El Rey - Bomb A$$ Chicken Tortilla Soup! Years ago, when I was in college, I fell in love with tortilla soup at this restaurant I worked at; The Filling Station. The head chef's wife taught me how to make it while also teaching me Spanish. It was such a great time in my life and I still make large batches of tortilla soup every 4-6 months. The soup at El Rey is the closest thing I have found to her recipe and it is worth the drive or delivery fee. I will eat this if it is 110 degrees outside without any hesitation. I even eat this to help clear out my sinuses because it comes with the perfect kick to it. 12/10 recommend. Also, recommend adding horchata to your order so your taste buds can have a complete journey of awesome.
Bellagreen - Tomato Basil Soup. Okay, so this one is epic comfort for me. It is next to my office. You know, the one that I can no longer go to due to the Rona. I have eaten it weekly for so many years I have lost count. It comes with a delicious puff pastry you can dip into or rip up and sprinkle into the soup. With all fresh, organic ingredients, it is so refreshing and delicious. Go ahead and just get the full bowl since you will regret it after you finish the cup and want more.
Agu - Ramen of the Gods. You can take it to-go, sneak into their Washington Avenue restaurant, or use your favorite food delivery app to bring it over to you. Their tofu is one of my favorites in the city and I could eat the seaweed salad all day. But we're here for the ramen. With pork, chicken, and vegetarian options, there is literally something for everyone here; my personal favorite is the Garlic Kotteri Ramen with parmesan cheese. If you are gluten-free or watching your carbs you can swap the noodles out for a GF or kale noodle option as well.
Pho Saigon - This local Pho house is considered one of the best in the city for a reason. Inhale the aroma of the broth, basil, spices, and meat as you slurp up this delicious Vietnamese soup. They don't deliver, so get your butt off the couch and go support them. Just don't spill it on the ride home or you will regret it!
Fajita Pete's - Tasty Fajitas That Won't Kill Your Paycheck. Eating fajita's at home is not the same, I get it. Part of the fun of fajitas is sharing it with someone you like over margaritas and gossip. However, these bad boys will make you feel all warm inside as you eat them while binging the latest Netflix trend. Add on chips and queso to really complete the experience. Oh, did I mention that they also deliver margaritas? Yep, they do and they are good as well. May every day be Cinco de Mayo in your house.
Cuchara - It's not Mexican if the meat ain't good. Chicharrones, flautas, tacos, ceviche, and even pozole. All the food here is delicious, the drinks make it even better. You can dine in, pick up, or have it delivered. They have vegetarian and vegan options as well! The atmosphere inside is almost as good as the atmosphere on the patio. Whether you need a fun chill spot, a Sunday Funday starting point, or a romantic date setting, look no further.
Jus'Mac - Goat Cheese. Macaroni and Cheese is probably the highest-ranked comfort food for me, but that is normally my homemade cheddar and tomato version. What is not to love about pasta drowning in cheese? It is my two favorite things combined, so clearly I am a fan.
Annie Cafe & Bar - Rig. A. Toneeee. Not going to try and lie to you here, this is one of the best pasta's I have tasted in the city so far. It was melt-in-your-mouth delicious and I was so mad at myself for eating too much bread before the pasta landed in front of me. Surrounded by great views, the patio is always a solid seating choice. Don't let the cafe in the title fool you, this is a high-class food joint so expect a higher price point ... and food that matches it.
Riva's - a house of Italian yumminess. Yes, yumminess, it's a word. This adorable local restaurant may not look like much on the outside, but this house-turned-restaurant is worth the entry. It is homey, like an Italian restaurant should be and the staff is nothing short of top-notch.
Pink's Pizza - Miami Vice is Still All the Rage. Yes, I liked the new show and the old show, but this is not about binge-worthy tv shows, it's about pizza. It is no surprise, if you have ever met me at all, that there is pizza on my comfort list. I FREAKING LOVE PIZZA. I fell in love with this pizza PC (Pre-Coronavirus) and it has helped me through many rough weeks since lockdown. It has perfectly cooked ham, juicy pineapple and so much cheese I could die happy after eating it. Say what you will about the pineapple thing, but this pizza is worth a second look at this tasty fruit on pizza situation. Order it, you can thank me later.
Frank's - a local legend. It's one of those places that seems like it would be a drunk night out stop before heading home, but it is so much more. You can stop inside and eat on the upper level, grab it and walk around town eating it, or head over to the Backyard and hang out with friends. The price point is the best. The pizza has not once failed me. The staff is amazing and it is directly underneath El Big Bad, so head upstairs to get a uniquely crafted tequila beverage before chowing down.
TACOS & MORE
Velvet Taco - Unique take on a classic. Have you ever wanted a hamburger and a taco at the same time? Done. What about a breakfast taco for real, for real? Get it here. There are ahi tacos, veggie tacos, and weekly specials. The menu is not always the same, so keep going to find new favorites. Aside from the tasty tacos, their specialized tater tots with an egg on them are drool-worthy. And if you do not get a piece of red velvet cake, you need to go back immediately!
Torchy's Tacos - Sweetest Corn EVER! Being that I am from Austin and so is Torchy's it's not a huge surprise to find it on my list. But I am not putting it here for the tacos. Unpopular opinion, but their tacos are not really my favorite. *gasps heard all around Texas* Their sweet corn is why we are visiting them. It. Is. So. Good. And, are you even from Texas if you don't like Elote?
Tacos Tierra Caliente - small truck, big flavor. Located next to West Alabama Ice House, this is one of the city's most sought-after tacos. Super fast, super simple, and super delicious. Taco trucks may not seem like much, but in Texas we know that they tend to be the best place to find true, honest, tacos. No need for fancy, trendy ingredients. Pro tip: try all the salsas.
Schlotzky's - Serious Sandwich Every Time. I know, it's a chain, but they are all individually owned and so very, very tasty. You have to buy all the sides separately now, which is kinda a bummer, but you can also snag Cinnabun while you are there. My go-to is always The Original, but all the sandwiches are tasty as well as the pizzas!
Ike's Love & Sandwiches - A Cali sub joint in the Heights. Like Joey on Friends, sometimes we just need a sandwich. These subs are piled high with fresh meat, great seasonings, crispy lettuce, and much more. On the menu, you will find award-winning sandwiches as voted on by Eater, ESPN, and even PETA for the vegans in the house. Just because it is here from the west coast does not mean there are not H-Town exclusives. Look for the Heights exclusives and give them a go! Oh, and be sure to top it with Ike's Dirty Secret Sauce or order it extra dirty if you're in the mood.
Brown Bag Deli - The bread makes a difference. Houston raised, this sandwich shop offers fresh, locally-sourced food and options that vary by the season. Make it a sandwich, a wrap, or a salad, just make it your own. Love the option to create something that I want, when I want it, or to grab a ready-made meal. Whatever you choose, I suggest trying the homemade jalapeno cheddar bun and red potato salad.
Jeni's Ice Cream - Ice cream done right. Head over to The Heights and patiently social distance as you wait for this delicious ice cream. It is always worth the trip and if you take a walk down the road seeing this historic area while you eat it, the calories won't even count. I am pretty sure that's how it works.
Smoosh - Cookies, good. Ice cream, good. Combination action, amazing. You can design your own ice cream cookie sandwich and have it delivered to your door to make you super comfortable in your newly-purchased sweatsuit. Or, choose from an array of ice cream flavors and toss those pints in the freezer for a day-to-day comfort boost.
HEB - I am going to count this as local for obvious reasons and if you don't know why you must not be from Texas. You can shop in-store or use their delivery service; whatever your comfort level. For a small fee and great time slot availability, you can have someone grab all the items you need and drop them on your doorstep while you do your own thing. Not really sure why I didn't use this feature more PC. Be sure to grab your bags and mask as you head into the store though!
H-Mart - Many Asian markets have been hit badly due to this virus, which is awful as they have so much good food available there. Head on in and grab spices you would never be able to find at a regular grocery store.
99 Ranch Market - Similar to H-Mart, this chain is suffering and could use some love. Inside you will find a variety of foods that can be hard to locate elsewhere, along with delicious baked goods, seafood and more.
Trader Joe's - You are probably drinking more wine than you used to, so you should head here to grab quality grape juice at a much lower price point. While you are there, pick up a gorgeous bouquet of flowers along with foods, cookies and snacks you can only snag here.
8th Wonder Brewery - You can make orders and pick them up right from the brewery. No, it's not the same as sitting out on the picnic tables while your dog wanders around barking at people. But what it does is help this delicious local favorite stay afloat during a time when they cannot open its doors. You can even get pony kegs. So, you do you and grab all their seasonal flavors and your regular favorites. You can even order glasses to drink them out of at your home as well. In the mood for something stronger? Don't forget that this Brewston also has a distillery you can order from also! They even have pool-friendly adult Capri Sun style cocktails you can toss in a bag to support them while catching some rays.
Eureka Heights - I have a confession: I had not drunk a lot of Eureka beer PC. Another reason I am happy to have been forced to stay home and that I made the effort to support local before anything else. First, they are right down the street from me so what on earth have I even been doing with my life up until now? If you keep up with them on Instagram, you will find them doing polls and making new flavors throughout the pandemic. Let your voice be heard and drink a local beer you helped create. Seriously, their marketing is legit and the beer is even better so swing by The Heights, grab a six-pack (or more), and enjoy!
Karbach Brewery - This was the last place I was before quarantine happened, so it seemed fitting to carry them with me throughout it as well. I find myself going towards Karbach more and more as the months go on. Maybe because they have so many Houston branded beers, but also maybe because their beers are awesome. Either way, place an order on their website or grab some of your favorite ales, or IPAs, or whatever your poison may be from your local liquor store. Not sure which flavor you are going to want? Try to variety pack and test your taste buds.
Bovine & Barley - Adult ice cream truck - Driving around town daily from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., be sure to follow them on Instagram so you know when they will be in your neighborhood. From Ranch Water and mules to mojitos, you have to order *some food in order to get the drinks, but they come to you with delicious cocktails you know you have been missing.
Boheme - Brunch, drag, fries, fun. If you are inside the loop, you can order some tamales and a frozen mojito to be delivered to you by their Mobile Bar. They have alcoholic popsicles that are beach ready as well. Shop their menu and grab whatever you want to enjoy from the comfort of your own home. Their patio is still open, so don't hesitate to head over and enjoy their Vietnamese Fries or Quarantine Specials in person while catching their awesome drag shows on the weekend.
Distilleries - Many people forget we have a bunch of Spiritual options around the city as well. Yellow Rose, Grateful Dane, Gulf Coast, Whitmeyer's, and more. Check Google to see when they are open and go grab a bottle while supporting a local company in the process.
Drizly - Get anything you want delivery right from your locally owned liquor stores and keep the little guys in business while stocking your shelves.
I know that things are starting to open back up (stay safe!) but it's always important to support your local businesses; pandemic or not. Large chain businesses get money from all over, while the locally owned and operated places rely on the support of their communities. You can literally help your neighbors by choosing to eat, drink, shop at local places. Yes, you can get reliable, always-the-same food, etc. at chain places. But, you can get unique, one-of-a-kind, locally created items by choosing to support your communities.