Time machines are expensive and impractical. Bellaire Broiler Burger is inexpensive and practically perfect—the place has remained virtually unchanged over the decades. Today it's considered one of the city’s most venerable burger joints for the consistency with which it executes the classic Texas roadside stand entry in the great burger lexicon—heavy on the cool, crisp vegetables that top a flame-broiled quarter-pound “pattie,” and with a thick blanket of melted American cheese.
At first glance, the no-nonsense menu at this Bellaire institution looks like something straight out of a New York City deli, but you wouldn’t find chili, eggs and cheese served with a side of grits in the Big Apple. Though best known for its banana nut pancakes, a cult favorite, and standards like corned beef hash, this coffee shop also specializes in more unexpected breakfast items. (Think chicken livers and eggs.)
School is in session at this family favorite, where a giant yellow school bus greets diners upon entering and dishes are given teacher-approved names such as The Study Hall (braised pork belly, Cheddar and barbecue sauce) and The Detention (a cheeseburger with grilled cheese sandwiches for buns). Looking for something a little more Burger 101? Try the Principal, chef Justin Turner’s old-school menu item that many studious burger scholars call the best in town.
Billing itself as “the Cuban restaurant where Cubans eat,” Café Piquet is popular among Houston’s expat community and it’s not hard to see why; eating here feels like eating in someone’s home (someone who’s hired an interior designer, but still). First-timers will want to take advantage of the appetizer and/or entrée samplers, which provide tastes of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, from croquetas de jamón and empanadas to ropa vieja and boliche, a sausage-stuffed roast in a dreamy onion gravy.
The ruggedly beautiful Costa Brava region of northeastern Spain stretches all the way to its border with France, traversing the Catalonia region, whose cuisine incorporates influences both Spanish and French (as well as Mediterranean). This culinary confluence is well represented on the menu at Houston’s own Costa Brava, where pâte de campagne is served with chorizo and jamon serrano and a bone-in pork chop comes with garbanzo bean stew and Moroccan sausage. Naturally, there’s a killer crema catalana you can’t miss on the dessert menu.
As steakhouses continue to dominate Houston’s dining landscape, it only makes sense that some should target more specific audiences, carving out—pardon the pun—smart niches all their own. Enter Jason Goldstein’s Genesis Steakhouse, the first totally kosher steakhouse in the city (and, as we understand it, in the entire Southwest). Outside of the steaks themselves (the Eve is a USDA Prime 12-ounce ribeye; the Adam is 16 ounces), you’ll find non-traditional steakhouse options such as a tabouli and hummus platter, and bowls of Goldstein’s mother’s matzoh ball soup.
San Antonio’s popular vegetarian eatery has put down roots in Houston, but this isn’t any old hippie shack. Green Vegetarian Cuisine is also certified 100 percent kosher, and most of its dishes can also be made vegan. That said, vegetarians and omnivores alike will be taken with its addictive cauliflower hot wings, jalapeño cheese “burger” and the bold flavors of the Monk’s Bowl, a healthy helping of black beans, kale and quinoa tabouli topped with house-made chipotle mayonnaise.
Midtown’s most beloved family-run pizzeria has opened a second location in Bellaire, where you’ll find the same friendly faces and generous BYOB policy (no corkage fee!) as well as a New York–style thin crust that first made Luigi’s famous. If you can branch out from there, you’ll be rewarded with equally good meatball subs and Italian gelato (don’t miss the Nutella flavor).
This gem of a joint offers a taste of Philly in Houston, its steak sandwiches topped appropriately with Cheez Whiz and tucked inside softly shattering French bread that owner Paul Mitchell imports from upstate New York. Houstonians will appreciate Pappa Geno’s fiery Philly cheesesteak version, the Wicked Philly, with hot Italian peppers, and the Texas Philly Melt on thick slices of Texas toast.
The full name of this spot—Yia Yia’s Roadster Grill—should give some clue as to why there are Greek family favorites such as moussaka and pastitsio tucked in among the otherwise American diner-style menu of burgers, melts and malts. (Hint: yia yia means “grandma” in Greek.) Owner Nick Semoudiaris runs the place with his mother, Greek immigrant Koula Gray, and together they’ve turned it into Bellaire’s most beloved restaurant inside a converted Taco Bell.