There’s more to Houston’s food scene than sit-down restaurants. Some of the city’s best eats can be found at pop-ups, traveling food establishments that are as innovative as they are nomadic. While the city is home to a host of high-end pop-ups that will set you back more than a few bucks per meal, we’re here to dish on the affordable ones—the ones that serve up comfort food so compelling that you’ll catch feelings for it.
According to Good Morning America, the best burgers in the nation are found right here in Houston at Trill Burgers. A collaboration between Bun B, Nick Scurfield, and Andy Nguyen, Trill Burgers launched back in 2021. What’s the secret to their success? Bun B says it’s the simple way they present the burgers, which come with two extra-crispy patties, cheese, two pickles, Trill Sauce, and a potato roll. But he isn’t ready to dish on any actual secrets yet, like the ingredients of his Trill Sauce. “Even if I told you all of the ingredients to it, the one missing factor would be that trillness,” he says. “And nobody can give it that except for us.”
Knives in Water is the brainchild of Ryan Grimes, who founded the pop-up back in 2009 after deciding that a job in the corporate sector was not for him. The Baltimore-reared chef cooks, in his words, “what I would want to eat while getting f*cked up at a bar.” So what does that entail? His usual fare includes classics like gumbo, fried fish, spicy mussels, chicken wings, ribs, and collard greens. You can often find him posted up at dive bars like Lil’ Danny Speedo’s Go Fly a Kite Lounge, Grand Prize, or Two Headed Dog. What’s the secret to his expertise as a chef? “I just have a black mom and the internet. That’s it,” Grimes says with a laugh.
What started out as a backyard supper club by Corey Dozier, Scott Ache, and Mikah Danaé (Dozier and Danaé have since left the partnership) has turned into a pasta pop-up where every dish is inspired by classic horror movies like The Exorcist or Suspiria. The pop-up was housed for some time at Second Ward wine bar How to Survive on Land and Sea, but Ache has since opened a food truck in the Heights right outside Johnny’s Gold Brick. “The pop-up community in Houston is lovely. You end up finding these bars and nooks and crannies where you can offer up food to people, and you piggyback off of each other,” he says. “They need it as much as you need it.”
It would be hard to find a pop-up in Houston that hustles harder than Umbrella Fellas. The hot dog- and burger-dispensing dive bar staple, founded back in 2016 by Chito Perez, can be found decamped throughout the week at places like Axelrad, Lil’ Danny Speedo’s Go Fly a Kite Lounge, Two Headed Dog, Barbarella, and Grand Prize Bar. Beneath its famous red- and yellow-striped umbrella, Perez cooks up some of the most perfect burgers you can find in the city. A standout on the menu is the Chito Burger, a barfly-worthy concoction that sports a beef patty topped with bacon, gorgonzola, and cranberry—all served on a buttered challah bun. Consider topping yours with a fried egg for a truly extravagant affair.