Anything you can do we can do better? Even Austinites will readily admit that Houston is a far more diverse city than Austin will ever be. After all, Greater Austin (including the Round Rock area) has a population of right around 2 million, smaller than that of Houston's inner city and dwarfed by the metro area's more than 6 million.
But one thing that Austin has been doing better than us and for longer is chain restaurants. Something to be proud of? That's your question to answer once you've eaten your way through some of Silicon Hills' edible best and brightest listed here.
Established in 1984, this classic Austin ice cream joint operates over 10 locations in its home city. Amy’s may be the Austin-Houston restaurant pioneer, as its Houston location has been open for business since 1993. With an expansion to San Antonio in 1997, the craft ice cream shop hasn’t been in the expansion news lately. But maybe that means more Mexican Vanilla is on Houston's horizon.
One of the pioneers of Austin startups, Mike Young and John Zapp’s Chuy’s restaurants have since expanded monumentally from their abandoned barbecue joint on Barton Springs. Chuy’s is a staple not just in Austin, but in the U.S. as well, as it now can be found in almost 20 states. The restaurant boasts more than 30 restaurants in Texas alone and, eight of which are in Houston. It must be the free nacho bar, right?
Ever wished your chicken-and-waffles was chicken-and-French-toast? It's a reality at brunch at this onetime South Congress startup. Since its 2005 debut, the classic Texas icehouse has become an Austin institution. In 2014, the Doc’s team tried their luck expanding to Houston and they have been met with success. With a dog-friendly patio and both food and drinks, Doc’s Motorworks is trying to perfect a classic Texas summer day excursion.
This acclaimed gelato spot has garnered much of its praise for combining the Italian tradition of gelato with more forward-thinking Austin locavore style. Including vegan coconut milk gelati and flavors like apple-cinnamon and avocado, the Austin-based gelateria has recently expanded to the Heights, where, since March, they have been helping Houstonians beat the heat.
Another South Congress native, the burger bar offering fresh buns daily has made its way around the West Coast since leaving its hometown. Closer to home, the restaurant boasts three locations in the Houston area—River Oaks, Rice Village, and now in Vintage Park—all of which garner long lines for their Parmesan-truffle fries and creative monthly charity burgers.
This Lamar street startup aims to educate Americans in the world of ramen—what they call “the soul food of Japan.” The quick service joint operates in Houston out of a home in Montrose, but has two Austin locations. Started by chef/DJs Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto, a duo that started building their musical careers in Austin but left to pursue culinary paths instead. After working along the West Coast, the two have returned to Texas to lead Houstonians and Austinites away from the 99-cent ramen they know all too well.
Founder Roberto Espinosa created this taqueria in 1999 to give Austinites a taste of his Mexico City hometown's cuisine. With co-owner Eric Wilkerson, the Tacodeli brand now encompasses a location in Houston, Dallas, and four more Austin locations. Meats are organic and flavors are oversized thanks to uncommon takes on classics like chopped beef tenderloin coated in a chipotle-sesame sauce.
One of the first Indian restaurants in the Heights, the just-opened Tarka has its roots in Austin, too. The fast-casual restaurant was founded in 2009 and now operates in three Texas cities after its first location was met with lines out the door. Only a year later, the Tarka team opened their second Austin location, and their third came a year after that. The Houston location is less than a month old and is already drawing crowds.
Widely regarded as a staple of fast-casual dining in Houston (especially the queso), owner Michael Rypka started on South 1st Street, Austin, with a food truck and a red Vespa. Now his “damn good tacos” are in 11 Texas cities. The widely-known tacos such as the Democrat, Trailer Park and Mr. Pink have earned a spot in the Minute Maid Park outfield, in addition to 10 other Houston-area locations.
Critically acclaimed chef Tyson Cole’s Uchi is another Houston staple born in Austin. Business Insider’s “Best Restaurant in Texas” started south of the Colorado River on Lamar Street and has now made its way to both Dallas and Houston. Cole’s Japanese farmhouse-inspired Uchiko in Austin is garnering the same praise Uchi received, and it seems only so long before a version comes to Space City.