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Celebrating Iconic Houston Restaurants

Take a Bite of These Culinary Classics
 

In a city filled with buzzy, new restaurant openings, it takes real culinary talent for a business to withstand the test of time. Mediocre cuisine and so-so customer service just won’t cut it and some of Houston’s most-loved, tried-and-true institutions provide plenty of proof.

Armando Palacios’ Upper Kirby namesake, Armandos, is as famous for its upscale Mexican fare as it is for its see-and-be-seen clientele. The iconic restaurant has been a style staple among well-heeled Houstonians and celebrities for decades. Inside, white linen-topped tables set the stage for Armandos’ famously-potent margaritas, verde-sauce-topped enchiladas and the eatery’s signature appetizer—mushroom-flecked queso flameado paired with piping-hot tortillas.

Chef Michael Cordua founded his first restaurant, Churrascos, in 1988, helping pioneer Latin cuisine in Houston and the United States. Twenty-five years later, the award-winning, fine-dining restaurant continues to garner praise, including a nod by Esquire magazine for having one of the 20 Best Steaks in America.

For 30 years, Damian’s Cucina Italiana has served authentic Italian cuisine in its warmly-inviting, Midtown space. Inside, vaulted archways, vintage family photos and a pastoral mural spanning the back wall, lend to the spot’s old-world atmosphere. Expect impeccable service, homemade pastas and a solid selection of Italian wine.

Tucked away on Shepherd Drive is the converted residence that is home to Backstreet Café. Since 1983, Chef Hugo Ortega’s New American venture has delighted fans with refined comfort food like shrimp and grits and a savory meat loaf tower. For prime people-watching, patrons in-the-know request one of the umbrella-covered table on the front terrace.

Since 1973, Ouisie’s Table owner and executive chef Elouise Adams Jones has offered Houston diners Southern cuisine, accented with inspirations from Texas, Louisiana and Mexico, at her award-winning River Oaks restaurant. Within the intimate and romantic spot, loyal diners dig into favorites like chicken fried steak, sea bass and chicken curry.

The taqueria that launched the iconic chain 40 years ago still manages to retain its authentic charm. Tex-Mex purists delight in the Original Ninfa’s on Navigation’s kitschy decor and Tecate, while local socials flock to the institution for spot-on fajitas, freshly-made tortillas and potent margaritas.

In 1967, a little restaurant known as the Brisket House opened on Pierce Street, near Downtown Houston. This became the first venture for Texas-born Chris and Harris Pappas, and the start of a nationally-known restaurant empire. In 1996, the Brisket House changed its name to Pappas Bar-B-Q. By 2005, six locations were scattered across Houston and one in Dallas. Today, Pappas Restaurants owns and operates nine brands with more than 100 locations throughout the U.S.

Since its 1967 opening as a sister restaurant to New Orleans' world-famous Commander's Palace, Brennan's of Houston has firmly established itself as a mainstay in the city's dining scene. Though a two-alarm fire nearly destroyed the location in September 2008, the landmark rebuilt and reopened in February 2010. Today, it continues its legacy as a backdrop for special occasions and a destination for fine creole cuisine.

Good ol' boys, professionals and other types merge at Lankford Grocery & Market for fully-loaded, hot-off-the-grill burgers, while the regulars prefer the evenings. Since 1938, the hole-in-the-wall diner has earned plenty of national praise, including a place on Gourmet magazine’s list of 20 Burgers to Eat Before It’s Too Late.

Founded in 1923, the locally owned and operated James Coney Island serves up hot dogs and other quick-serve favorites to a loyal customer base. What started with two Greek immigrant brothers and a hot dog stand in Downtown Houston has grown into a restaurant empire, boasting nearly two-dozen area locations.

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