Dadami may be Korean food, but it’s unlikely you’ve ever had Korean like this. This family-run restaurant specializes in hwe, the Korean version of Japanese sashimi. Your fish—typically red snapper, though the restaurant occasionally has other specimens in its tanks—is killed when you order it, then fileted and served alongside other raw delicacies such as sea squirt and sea anemone. The rest of your fish is used to make a delicious, spicy stew filled with vegetables—and these are only a few of the courses you’ll get when you sit down at Dadami with a group (the best way to go). Just tell your waitress how much money you want to spend, and the kitchen takes care of the rest, sending out a parade of exquisitely presented dishes until you cry “uncle.” Toast your friends the Korean way, and order a few bottles of soju for the group.
Most restaurants don’t roast entire goats over indoor spits, but most restaurants aren’t El Hidalguense. Here, specialties from the Mexican state of Hidalgo such as barbacoa de borrego estilo Hidalgo—lamb cooked in maguey leaves—and chavito asado al pastor (that would be that whole goat) draw Mexican families eager for a taste of home; after all, Hidalgo is considered the birthplace of barbacoa. On certain evenings, you’ll even find a trio huasteco band on stage playing all the favorites while patrons take turns dancing and eating—the raucous El Hidalguense encourages you to make a night out of it.
Jonathan Levine’s namesake restaurant, spectacular and unfussy, is the toast of the Memorial Villages—which extend into Spring Branch—thanks to Levine’s big personality and bold food to match. During dinner at Jonathan’s the Rub, try the simply prepared branzino or one of Levine’s signature steaks, such as an organic Angus rib eye from 44 Ranch, with the restaurant’s signature rub. The sides are given ample attention here, with standout selections including roast corn off the cob and blue cheese broccoli. While the wine list is well curated and compatible with the menu of American classics, you’re welcome to BYOB as well.
Sometimes you just want a pile of meat on a hot grill. For those times, gather up a group of friends and head to Korea Garden. There, you’ll get a private room (the better to contain laughter and conversation) and all the Korean barbecue you can eat. Naturally, you’ll get plenty of homemade banchan, too, for between-barbecue snacking, and, of course, beer. Korea Garden has been serving Houstonians kimchi and bulgogi since the 1980s, and its classic dishes have stood the test of time—no longer viewed as just a novelty meal, Korean barbecue is now as common as sushi.
Argentinean restaurant Pampa Grill also functions as a grocery store and gathering spot for Houston’s small but tightly knit Argentine community. The place specializes in parrilladas, sizzling griddles piled high with everything from short ribs and flank steak to sweetbreads and blood sausage—all the South American favorites, and in quantities large enough to feed a whole family at once. The menu also features classic dishes such as milanesas and ravioles (thanks to the strong German and Italian influences in Argentina), and the place is BYOB, encouraging guests to stay and linger—which you’ll definitely want to do, thanks to the homey, warm atmosphere and friendly service.
If cabbage and kielbasa sound like comfort food to you, you’ll feel right at home inside the wood-paneled walls of Polonia, the cozy Polish restaurant just down the street from Houston’s largest Polish Catholic church and Polish grocery store. Polonia serves big portions of Old World favorites like golonka, golabki, and goulash, as well as piping-hot potato pancakes and pierogi with plenty of sour cream. Sundays are the busiest days, when the restaurant is packed with parishioners after church service and paczki—Poland’s beloved stuffed donuts—are served. We recommend Friday and Saturday nights, when you can still get the paczki without a wait and indulge in some Polish vodka with your meal, too.
Tacos del Julio offers dishes from Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon and one of the largest cities in Mexico. You’ll find plenty of expats here; they come for Tacos del Julio’s trompo. The trompo meat (typically achiote-seasoned pork flavored with pineapple and other spices) is piled onto a large spit—just like gyro meat—before being shaved off and griddled to order. It tastes best in taquizas, a set of five small corn tortillas topped with cilantro, onion, and lime. Also recommended: the caldo tlalpeño, chicken soup with huge chunks of avocado, carrot, and panela cheese in the spicy adobo-accented broth.
Called Tornado Burger until recently, this third outpost of the popular (and original) Tornado Burger on Murphy Rd. is now serving mainly tacos—hence the name change. While burgers are still on offer, the tacos (and giant, outsized burritos) are far more popular. In fact, the menu features breakfast tacos in bulk: three dozen will run you just under $70, not to mention make you quite popular at the office. There’s no indoor seating here, but you can eat your signature Spicyburger—the patty ground fresh and hand-formed—or Mexico City–style street tacos outside in the shade.
When you want the best Thai in town, you go to Vieng Thai, where you’ll find the food more evocative of Bangkok than the Bayou City. The dishes are more authentic in spice level, too, which makes Vieng Thai a heat-seeker’s delight—especially the crispy, spicy fried catfish. Try the fragrant mussaman curry if you prefer something milder, or the savory-sweet pad see ewe: beef with broccoli and egg over thick rice noodles. For something lighter, the green papaya salad with dried shrimp and peanuts in a bright citrus dressing is a favorite, as is a salad of fried anchovies over cucumber, cilantro, and onions. Vieng Thai is BYOB; we recommend picking up some beer on the way.