I like to say that Houstonians eat for sport. While our various sports teams (the Astros notwithstanding) certainly provide ample entertainment and hours of debate fodder, not everyone follows the Texans nor the Rockets nor the Dynamo. But everyone eats.
And that's the terrific thing about food. More than just fuel for your bodies or material for chef-gossip columns, it's the great social equalizer. You may not speak someone else's language; you may not understand their art or music or attire; you may have absolutely nothing else in common with their culture, but you can always break bread together. Everyone eats. And although we may prepare the ingredients differently, we tend to eat the same foods across the world—whether it's some sort of bread, some sort of meat, or some sort of fermented alcoholic beverage.
So it's little wonder that in a city as diverse as Houston, food is a popular topic. People use discussions of food to learn more about someone they've just met, as a means of bonding, as a topic of debate, or simply as small talk (it's certainly more interesting than the weather). Most of us have an opinion about the best Vietnamese restaurants, the best place for fajitas, the best burger—and most of us love to share it.
We also have a tendency, as Houstonians, to be more open-minded about the people we interact with on a daily basis and, therefore, the foods we eat. This—along with attractive real estate prices and an abundance of fresh seafood, produce, and other ingredients—is precisely what has drawn so much public attention to Houston. Where other cities are copying whatever New York and Los Angeles are doing—or simply choosing not to do anything creative at all—our chefs have taken their various world influences and distilled them into what's quickly emerging as "Houston cuisine," drawing from the tapestry of ethnicities and cultures that thrive in Houston and straining them through a Texan filter.
And we're doing that at every level—not just the fancy, high-end restaurants. There's the matzoh ball pho at Eatsie Boys Cafe and the barbecue brisket ramen at Soma Sushi—both mentioned in October's food issue as two of the 50 restaurants that define Houston dining—but also the Pakistani "animal-style" sliders at Bismillah Chaat, crawfish pho at LA Crawfish, and the Djinn at Sandy Witch Sandwich Company, a modern twist on the old-school Indian dabeli.
In the October issue of Houstonia, we explore Houston's fascinating dining scene through a list of 50 restaurants that food editor Robb Walsh and I feel define Houston cuisine—both here and to the rest of the nation. Some of the 50 are restaurants which are responsible for garnering the city national attention, others are more under the radar, while still others are stalwarts that have long been steadily and quietly crafting the Houston culinary scene we see today. While the list isn't live on our site quite yet, the issue itself is on newsstands now. Pick up a copy—even if you don't agree with all of our selections, it'll make a great conversation starter.