The LH Gumbo at Holley’s Seafood Restaurant & Oyster Bar combines shrimp, fried oysters and duck confit for a distinctive flavor that evokes a blast-and-cast weekend—that combination duck-hunting-and-saltwater-fishing trip that’s peculiar to our stretch of the Gulf Coast, where saltmarshes, rice farms and oyster reefs blend into one another. Chef Mark Holley’s creative, ducky take on seafood gumbo is the best in town—something confirmed by Houstonia’s own Gumbo Smackdown last month—but it’s far from the only variety you’ll find here.
Houston’s most popular version, Cajun gumbo, is thickened with roux, rather than the more old-fashioned okra or filé (dried, ground sassafras leaves). You’ll find charming examples of this variety at Segari’s, Reef and Goode Company Seafood. But if “the darker the better” is your yardstick, you can’t beat the ebony-toned, extra-spicy Cajun gumbo at Danton’s Gulf Coast Seafood Kitchen, which contains shrimp, crab and oysters and comes with a side of rice.
Creole gumbos are generally thickened with filé powder, which Louisianans borrowed from local Native American populations. In fact, it’s called kombo in the Choctaw language, giving rise to one origin theory for the name of the soup. Mama Rose Mandola’s Seafood Gumbo at Tony Mandola’s is an excellent example of that genre.
A more widely accepted theory holds that the name originates from the African word for okra (ngombo). Fans of vegetable-thickened gumbo love the Texas Creole smoked shrimp and okra gumbo at Brennan’s of Houston. The ingredient list is short, but the flavor is huge. Extra points for presentation: It comes topped with a giant, head-on, smoked shrimp.
And if it’s ultra-modern you’re looking for, the Creole Whole Crab, Shrimp & Andouille Gumbo at Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette comes with crab still in the shell as well as oysters and okra, both fried to a golden brown. Offered with rice or potato salad, it’s a deliciously updated spin on Houston’s favorite seafood soup.