Tamales: Alamo Tamales & Taco
They’re the Tex-Mex tradition made for big holiday feasts: steaming-hot tamales, homemade or purchased by the dozen. Don’t have time for a tamale-making party? Pick up a bag of these notoriously labor-intensive delicacies at Houston institution Alamo, where the sweet scent of masa wafts through the air, tempting all who enter. Our favorite varieties are the juicy shredded pork and the sweet corn, but it’s impossible to go wrong here.
Brisket and Latkes: Kenny & Ziggy’s Delicatessen
Crispy, warm latkes are a Hanukkah tradition, eaten to commemorate the ancient miracle of the oil that kept a menorah lit in the Holy Temple for eight days. Houston’s most famous New York–style deli celebrates miracles year-round with its delicious golden discs of shredded, fried potatoes, and you can get them alongside tender, chopped brisket swimming in sweet, rich tomato-and-wine gravy. Come Hanukkah, the restaurant offers both in bulk.
Pecan Pie: Goode Co. Barbecue
The wooden box comes with a message on its lid: “You might give some serious thought to thanking your lucky stars you’re in Texas.” That’s the motto at this Houston barbecue stalwart, which for more than 40 years has offered the ultimate holiday present: a decadent Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie with a rich, gooey filling. Pro tip: Ship one to a friend in another city, and they’ll thank their lucky stars for you.
Bûche de Noël: Common Bond Café
Traditional French Bûches de Noël look like actual yule logs, but this beloved Houston bakery takes a more modern approach. This year find two pretty versions of this classic dessert. One—pistachio-raspberry cake with white-chocolate mousse in a red-chocolate glaze, topped with fresh raspberries—is a glittery, fire-engine-red creation, while the other—Oreo, caramel, and fudge brownie encased in smooth, glossy dark chocolate and topped with candies—looks like the most luxurious Ho-Ho ever.
Smoked Turkey: Killen’s Barbecue
Leave it to the king of Houston barbecue to Texan up your Thanksgiving feast with a whole smoked turkey. The team, led by pitmaster Manny Torres, smokes 15-to-17-pound birds for up to 18 hours, ensuring a tender, succulent result redolent of the most beautiful of holiday scents: hickory, mesquite, oak, and pecan.
Turkey with the Fixins: Jonathan’s The Rub
Want to avoid the hassle entirely this Thanksgiving? Make reservations at the Memorial location of this Houston favorite, which is offering a $45-per-person Turkey Day menu featuring fried turkey; sides such as sweet potato casserole, garlic mashed potatoes, and cornbread stuffing; and, for dessert, pecan or Snickers pie. Get the beef tenderloin entrée option for $65.
Sufganiyot: Three Brothers Bakery
For more than eight decades, Houstonians have known that during Hanukkah—or any time of the year—this is the place for pastries, cakes, and other sweets. But for those celebrating the Festival of Lights, there’s no treat quite like sufganiyot, fried doughnuts with fruit filling. The bakery offers them only at this time of year, and they’re wonderful.
Melomakarona: Niko Niko’s
These traditional Greek Christmas cookies, shaped like eggs, are made of flour, sugar, orange juice, cinnamon, honey, and ground walnuts. Niko Niko’s sells the popular treats year-round, but they’re especially sweet during the holidays.
Wine-Poached Pears: Backstreet Cafe
A traditional dessert in the wine-growing regions of France, this treat has long been a staple of chef Hugo Ortega’s, featuring on Backstreet’s menu in a wonderful salad. Wine-poached pears are also a popular holiday treat—Ortega stuffs the luscious fruit with blue cheese and candied pecans—and you can order them by the half or full dozen during the holidays.
The Coziest Christmas Cocktails
Gluhwein: King’s BierHaus and King’s BierGarten
This cuddly German cocktail is a spicy holiday drink: red wine and brandy mulled with cinnamon, cloves, orange juice, and orange slices. It’s awesome after a day on the ski slopes … or after shutting off our air-conditioner for the first time all year.
Café Brûlot: Brennan’s of Houston
For more than 40 years server Marcelino Cantu has been wowing diners with this spectacular after-dinner French-Creole cocktail, a classic holiday drink. A mixture of brandy, triple sec, cinnamon, cloves, and orange and lemon spirals is ignited tableside before strong, hot coffee is added to the mix. The resulting elixir, which serves six, is ladled from a brûlot bowl—a traditional New Orleans wedding gift.
The Nudge: Rainbow Lodge
Diners at this white-tablecloth cabin serving mountains of meat may need an after-dinner jolt. That makes this digestif—coffee, brandy, Kahlúa, and Amaretto, plus whipped cream—the perfect end to a happy evening.