In the new year, some of us may be pledging to cut calories. But not all of us need or want to. After all, it’s still a few months until swimsuit season, and the chilly nights may leave you craving stick-to-your-ribs home cooking more than a salad.
Here at Houstonia, we regularly give attention to foods guaranteed to make natives of other countries nostalgic, but we less often think of regional American comforts—even though the city has options aplenty. There is no better way to get a sensory impression of a place close to our hearts than through the smells and tastes of a familiar meal. Below, a few to help make the depths of winter feel a little bit warmer.
Hailing from? Miami or Tampa
- Your favorite: Medianoche
- Where to get it: Flor de Cuba, 16233 Clay Rd.
- How you’ll feel: Balanced. There’s something about that sweet, eggy bread that makes a medianoche slightly more delicious than a classic Cubano. Here, it’s baked in-house and griddled crisp, with Swiss cheese exuding from within. Those melting layers cement ham and meaty pork loin in place along with pickles and mustard. But the best part may be the lime-heavy garlic mojo on the side, perfect for dipping.
Hailing from? Cajun Country
- Your favorite: Natchitoches meat pies
- Where to get it: Hay Merchant, 1100 Westheimer Rd.
- How you’ll feel: Kind of fancy. The lightly spiced, beefy center and flaky crust may have been imported from Louisiana, but this rendition bears little resemblance to the potluck classic—in a good way. The crumble and heat combine for a bite that’s truly fun to eat. A cool green cilantro dipping sauce only adds to the simple app’s disarming diversity.
Hailing from? Detroit
- Your favorite: Coney dogs
- Where to get it: JCI Grill, multiple locations
- How you’ll feel: Satisfied, whether you’re from Detroit or not. The hot dogs, resting beneath a layer of saucy chili, mustard and onions in a soft bun, hits all the right notes. While it’s missing chocolate and cloves, the chili itself may strike a familiar chord with Cincinnati natives. Rhode Islanders craving Del’s will be transported by the frozen lemonade.
Hailing from? Chicago
- Your favorite: Deep-dish pizza
- Where to get it: Gelazzi, 3601 White Oak Dr.
- How you’ll feel: Engulfed in cheese. Gelazzi gets its dough ready-made from Connie’s Pizza in Chicago, so the water that binds it is native to the Windy City. The lower reaches are crisp, but higher up, crust melds with layers of mozzarella, tomato and meat to create something we prefer to compare to a complex, savory cake than plain old pizza pie. You’ll crave another slice, but if you have room for one, we’ll be impressed.
Hailing from? Hawaii
- Your favorite: Loco moco
- Where to get it: Aloha Pho, 2710 N. Mason Rd.
- How you’ll feel: Almost home. It’s not quite soaking up the sun back on the beach, but it’s hard not to look on the bright side when eating a beef patty topped with an over-easy egg and a sea of gravy. This place doesn’t deal in huge flavors, but nonetheless, this plate lunch with mac salad and two scoops of rice is hard to resist, like amped up Salisbury steak on a tropical vacation. The katsu and pineapple-flavored teriyaki are also worth a try.
Hailing from? Philadelphia
- Your favorite: Cheesesteak
- Where to get it: Pappa Geno’s Steak & Cheese, multiple locations
- How you’ll feel: Confused about your allegiances. Yes, a Tony Luke’s recently opened in Memorial. We say, go there for roast pork with Provolone and broccoli rabe. For a serious Philly, we prefer this local chain. Here, finely chopped shaved steak and sweet caramelized onions fuse into a seamless unit with mayo and a choice of real cheese or Whiz, a fatty sea of wonders packed onto a sturdy roll. Perfection.
Hailing from? New York
- Your favorite: Bagels
- Where to get it: New York Bagels & Coffee Shop, 9720 Hillcroft St.
- How you’ll feel: Like someone finally gets you. But of course, no one truly understands your neurotic self. All the same, these bagels are legit, with a thin, slick skin and a chewy interior. The ideal creation, of course, is the “everything,” known here as the “ET” (every topping). At the adjacent coffee shop, get it as the base for lox or a hot turkey sandwich even more New York than New York.
Hailing from? San Francisco
- Your favorite: Mission burritos
- Where to get it: Uberrito, multiple locations
- How you’ll feel: Very full. The wide range of fillings at this small chain means it’s easy to customize yourself a new favorite. Our order? A flour tortilla filled with grilled chicken, cilantro rice, black beans, charred corn and tomatillo salsa. Skipping carbs? Get it as a salad instead.
Hailing from? Pretty much anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon
- Your favorite: Key lime pie
- Where to get it: Eloise Nichols Grill & Liquors, 2400 Mid Ln.
- How you’ll feel: Like you've been upgraded. This is not your grandmother’s (or Ernest Hemingway’s) famous refrigerator pie. Just don’t tell her that chef Joseph Stayshich’s upscale version is a few knots better. The creamy citrus center is smooth sailing, but the tower of airy, brûléed Italian meringue, bejeweled with Key lime zest, makes this a new classic.
Hailing from? Minneapolis
- Your favorite: Juicy Lucy
- Where to get it: Pappas Burger, 5815 Westheimer Rd.
- How you’ll feel: Stuffed. Though the Pappas family’s take on the cheese-filled burger is significantly thinner than you’ll find at Matt’s Bar or 5-8 Club back home, it gets the job done with a unique-to-Houston edge: a filling of pimento cheese. Still not enough ooze? The patty is topped with a runny egg and bacon jam. Just don’t fill up before you make it to the superb hand-cut fries.