Cheap Eats in Houston
Meals that won't break the bank
No matter what you're craving, there are plenty of affordable options to choose from in Houston. Check out these wallet-friendly stand outs in a neighborhood near you.
The line at Downtown's Doozo Dumplings & Noodles moves quickly, so you'd better know what you want and have cash handy. Dig into delicious dumplings like the healthy steamed veggie, chicken or pork, all accompanied with a spicy dipping sauce. Since this place offers takeout only, plan to enjoy your dumplings in the food court.
Located in Downtown's historic district - within walking distance of several boutique hotels - Frank's Pizza is known for its cheap, New York-style pizza served late into the night. Meet the after-hours crowd on the weekends for a Late Night Slice of house specialties like the Barbecue Chicken, Hawaiian or Chicken Fiesta pizza.
Hungry for home-style Vietnamese? Head to Huynh. There are plenty of familiar dishes - pho (soup), bun (vermicelli salad) and soft spring rolls - that will appeal to a timid eater or neophyte to Vietnamese cooking. However, what makes this place remarkable is the gutsy home-style cooking for eaters ready to go a little deeper into the cuisine.
Niko Niko's Market Square - which first opened in Montrose more than 30 years ago - added a sidewalk-style kiosk for on-the-go gyro lovers in late-summer 2010. Expect a pared-down version of the Greek institution's classic menu with an emphasis on to-go foods - perfect for picnics in the park or lunch desk-side. Stop by for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Located on Downtown's east side, near the George R. Brown, Thiem Hung specializes in home-style Vietnamese fare. Peruse the recently-expanded menu that's filled with an assortment of sandwiches, noodle and rice dishes. On Thursday and Friday nights, Thiem Hung offers a three-course after-dark special that's worth a trip.
We know, eating a burger underneath a freeway doesn't sound terribly appealing, but trust us, Bubba's TexasBurger Shack is worth the trip. Tucked away in a well-worn shack under the Westpark Tollway, the faithful flock for ice-cold Saint Arnolds brew, jalapeno-tinged potato salad and buffalo burgers. Get it to go or grab a seat on the patio and soak up the vehicular view along Westpark Drive.
For a bacon-and-eggs meal from a kitchen that treats breakfast with utter seriousness, Buffalo Grille is the place to go. You'll have to wait in line to place an order, so arrive early. The restaurant is known for its enormous pancakes (one is enough), the seemingly endless list of egg dishes and pecan-smoked bacon, as well as lunch and dinner options. Go for the cinnamon coffee.
Apparently, the combination of Chacho's potent pina coladas, memorable margaritas and tasty King Kong nachos are all locals need to keep coming back to this 24-hour outpost. In a hurry? Get it to-go, too, via one of Chacho's two - seriously, two! - drive through lanes, which operate around the clock.
Craving omelets in the afternoon? No one's going to judge you at Fountain View Cafe. The Galleria-area hot spot, which stays open until 3 p.m., offers up breakfast and brunch fare, as well as dinner take-out - although you'll need to pick it up before 3 p.m. Don't miss the stellar pancakes, sandwiches and mom-approved cakes.
Set in an unassuming strip center at Westheimer and Fountainview, The French House is a popular counter-service haunt among the Galleria-area's professional set. Go for the California specialty sandwich with smoked turkey breast, tomato, avocado, sprouts and melted swiss, served with the French House's special sauce on the side. The onion soup is also an all star. The restaurant's breakfast is on point, too.
Even during the bustling lunch hour - when the restaurant is packed - Zabak's Mediterranean Café operates like a well-oiled machine. Inside, newcomers can find the house specials written on the chalkboard above the register, but just in case you need help, the falafel is a standout, as is the fresh and flavorful tabouli salad. The pickled condiment station is an added bonus, too.
Heights hipsters flock to the shopping-center-set Antidote Coffee House for its caffeine-laden offerings and laid-back, at-home vibe. The loft-like interior - with its rubbed concrete floors, exposed brick walls and open vent-work - is filled with an array of eclectic furniture and artwork produced by local artisans. There's free wi-fi and plenty of plug-ins, but you know what they say about all work and no play - head there for happy hour Monday through Friday (4 to 7 p.m.) and enjoy $1 double espresso.
It may not sound like the kind of place you'd think to order a panini, but the Boom Boom Room is where it's at. The wine bar is only open from 4 p.m. until 2 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday, but it doesn't deter locals from returning for piping-hot sammys and a stellar wine selection. Be sure to check out the crack brownie, which is just as addicting as it sounds.
From ribs to brisket, Cajun-style sausage to pulled pork, the Heights' Gatlin's Barbecue has plenty to satisfy your 'que cravings. The sides are equally tasty, with everything from home-style dirty rice to potato salad and baked beans. And you'll want to save a little room for the Southern-style bread pudding.
Customers wondering how many ways the classic comfort food can be re-imagined will be pleasantly surprised at the Heights-set Jus' Mac. The noodle empire is loaded with 17 unique variations of macaroni-and-cheese-laden dishes - seven of which are vegetarian - from a "light" cheddar and broccoli option, a roasted poblano-pepper-and-swiss-cheese-infused dish, even mac-cheese soup.
Set on the bottom floor of a mixed-use development on Washington Avenue, Les Givral's Kahve is must-visit for wallet-friendly French-Vietnamese fare. Stop in for lunch, dinner and late night vermicelli bowls, mouth-watering banh-mi sandwiches, spring rolls and awesome sushi deals.
Set on 19th Street, inside a renovated antique shop, Pie in the Sky is hard to miss. The attention-getting neon-green facade beckons hungry patrons for breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings, as well as all the pie you can stand. Go for the frittata-style breakfast pie or the cilantro and lime chicken sandwich, but don't leave before sampling a slice of the oh-so-divine chocolate peanut butter pie.
Located on Studemont, just off of Washington Avenue, Sam's Café is a popular place for Corridor residents to snag fast and affordable Chinese food. Go for a flavorful bowl of hot and sour soup, the Hunan Beef or triple delight. Have it delivered or dine in daily.
It may offer a lively party scene, but Christian's Tailgate is all business when it comes to burgers. Head there before midnight for fresh, ground-chuck patties (never frozen) loaded on six-inch buns, toasted crispy around the edges and topped with mustard, mayo, onions, pickles, tomatoes and shredded lettuce.
Crepes may be the main claim-to-fame at Midtown's CoCo's Crepes & Coffee, but visitors can also expect espresso-infused drinks, teas, smoothies and a solid panini selection. Grab a seat inside or score a table on the patio and dig into a signature crepe or build your own from an array of options like roasted-red peppers, feta, basil pesto and several other selections.
Set along the METRORail, just a few doors down from Continental Club, Natachee's Supper 'n Punch opened in early October 2010, serving classic comfort food like meatloaf sandwiches, fried pickles and biscuits and country gravy - although, many would argue that Natachee's burgers are the real menu all-stars.
With 10 Pho Saigon Vietnamese locations under P.B. Tran's belt, the locally-owned Vietnamese chain continues to grow in the Houston area. The first location opened in Midtown in 1998 and quickly became known for its savory, noodle-and-herb-laden pho and inexpensive prices. Go for the spring rolls while you're there, too.
Good food and good prices define this casual, yet funky Midtown restaurant. Located right off the MetroRail and next to the Continental Club, Tacos a Go-Go is the perfect place to stop for some of the most authentic Tex-Mex food in Houston. Think: Carne Guisada tacos, pork tamale plates and hearty burritos. The hotspot stays open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, making it one of the best late-night eating options in the neighborhood.
Barnaby's Cafe features fresh, uncomplicated, contemporary food with quick service and easy-on-the-wallet prices. The simple grab-bag menu includes a balanced variety of salads (Chinese chicken, chopped chef salad), cool sandwiches (pesto-chicken salad with artichoke hearts) and hot sandwiches (various burger combos and more).
New Orleans and Houston cuisine collide on the menu at BB's Cajun Cafe. Think: Over-stuffed po' boys, boudin balls and classic red beans and rice. Get it to go, have it delivered or dine-in. The personality-filled spot is open daily, serving it up until midnight or later.
Fish tacos remain a prudent choice at Berryhill Baja Grill, with chunks of catfish cradled in double-wrapped white corn tortillas. Equally likable are the tamales, particularly the corn-and-spinach variety. The happy hour scene can get fairly hectic, so take that as a warning or an invitation. High marks for a large, covered patio, perfect for margarita sipping.
Artsy types, poetry buffs and music lovers from all walks of life count the warm Brasil coffeehouse as a favorite. Grab a coffee - they have wine and beer, too - along with pizza, sandwiches or the not-to-be-missed spinach quiche. On nice days, the shaded patio can't be beat.
On Friday and Saturday nights, Chef Bryan Caswell's Little Bigs burger joint is busy turning out much-buzzed-about beef sliders, hand-cut French fries and classic milkshakes to hungry Montrose patrons until 3 a.m. LB's has chicken sliders, vegetarian black bean sliders and Carolina-style pulled pork varieties, too.
Good ol' boys, professionals and other types merge at Lankford Grocery & Market for lunch, while the regulars prefer the evenings. In all its '40s-style glory, the ice-house includes a grill that offers hamburgers--greasy real-beef patties and all the fixings. Cheese enchiladas are also on the menu. Wash down your burger with a cold glass of Shiner Bock beer.
Set across the street from the wildly successful Goode Co. Barbeque,Goode Company Hamburgers & Taqueria boasts a loyal following that call the hefty mesquite-grilled burgers and succulent chicken-breast sandwiches the best in town. Place your order at the busy counter and nestle indoors or snag a table on the funky, neon-lit patio.
Part all-night diner, part pastry shop, House of Pies evokes the vinyl-and-Formica charm of a bygone era. Freshly-baked sugar-free pastries, classic fruit favorites and sinfully-rich offerings balance a menu loaded with typical greasy-spoon fare. Go for the grilled ham-and-swiss, a cup of vegetable soup and a slice of the multi-layered Bayou Goo.
A true Houston neighborhood bar institution, Kenneally's offers all the Irish pub food you'd expect as well as a delicious thin-crust pizza. Go for the pepperoni pizza - available by the slice - or signature corned-beef-topped Shamrock, paired with a creamy pint of Guinness. Dig in at the bar or venture out back for a seat on the patio.
Weslayan Café might look unassuming, but don't be fooled, the cozy restaurant is all business when it comes to soups, salads and sandwiches. Elbow your way past Highland Village-regulars for a chance at the grilled chicken wraps and southwestern specialty burgers. Check it for breakfast, too, when Weslayan is busy whipping up tacos, burritos and other great-start grub.
Bring cash to the Vietnamese Banh Mi Hoang Sandwich Shop, just next door to the U of H campus, and grab lunch with the locals - mostly students and faculty. Go for the tofu or BBQ-pork banh mi sandwich, served on a perfectly-crispy and golden roll, alongside the standard cilantro, pickled carrots, cucumbers and jalapeno. but pay a little extra to double the meat.
Chef Bobbie Patterson opened up his Bobbie Que's rib shack across from the University of Houston in 2010. There, the Ohio native - who's known for his own line of bottled sauces - turns out tender, smoky meats and tasty sides like potato salad, cole slaw and mac and cheese. Wanna go rogue? Try the fried catfish - an unexpected, but delicious, deviation to the bar-b-que offerings.
Venture beyond the arched entry of Tlaquepaque Market to find the art-and-music-filled Bohemeo's coffee house. Lupe and Sidonie Olivarez opened their cheery East End outpost in 2006, offering coffee, espresso drinks, desserts and light bites. Go for the fish and shrimp tacos topped with purple cabbage, cilantro and Bohemeo's signature, cayenne-tinged sauce. The coffee shop also offers free wi-fi, along with frequent live music performances.
While the quesadillas, fajitas and tortas are on point at the East End-set Brothers Taco House, it's the breakfast tacos that are the all-star (just ask anyone waiting in the line that snakes out the door). Chock-full of beans, eggs, peppers and cheese, the hearty items are cheap (less than $2, per taco) and filling. (Two is more than enough around these parts, so order accordingly.)
UH and TSU students, neighborhood residents, and Frenchy's Chicken devotees wait patiently for their fried fare and Cajun sides at Frenchy Creuzot's walk-up operation. The unassuming outpost, located a couple blocks from the University of Houston's campus, has been a culinary institution since the late 1960s. Cayenne-flecked, lick-your-fingers-good fried chicken anchors the simple menu, aided by side-order options that include spicy red jambalaya, soulful collard greens, dirty rice, and red beans and rice.
Just east of downtown stands a robin's egg blue clapboard trailer that's home to the city's much-loved Sparkle's Hamburger Spot. It may not be fancy (or even fast for that matter), but it's a local favorite that's known for its jalapeno-cheese-and-hickory-bacon-loaded burgers, pork chops and fried chicken, among other decadent (but delicious) options. Save room for an old-fashioned, hand-mixed malt.
Thelma's Bar B Que shack is known for its long lines, inexpensive prices, and authentic Texas flavor. Thelma's is a great place to eat bar-b-que, as long as you have time to kill. The food is well worth the wait though. It's best not to go when they first open, because the crowd lines up before the doors open. Open Monday through Saturday.
Owned by the same folks behind The Woodlands' Hubbell & Hudson Bistro & Market, Black Walnut Cafe draws an eclectic mix of students, the professional set, and Rice Village neighbors for sandwiches, salads, pasta, and other hearty fares. If you have a sweet tooth, save room for dessert. BWC's display case is always chock-full of tempting confections.
Owned by the Raven folks next door, the sky-blue Picnic cafe features long, indoor picnic tables, often dotted with locals lunching on tuna salad. Faves include the smoked turkey with avocado and char-grilled veggie with goat cheese, although the pimento cheese or sun-dried tomato chicken salad are save bets, too. Star pastries include lemony blueberry muffins, luscious cranberry loaves, carrot cake and assorted cheesecakes.