The way we think about Houston, Texas, today is very much stuck in the past… Oil, shipping, NASA, and football combined to create a big-spending, big-haired quasi-cowboy stereotype that to some extent still lives with us today, even if the reality is different.Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown
I’ve been to a lot of places – not as many as Uncle Tony, of course – but if you made me pick one place to move in Texas, Houston would be it. The fourth-largest city in America ranks #1 for diversity, and that means there are some damn good eats if you’re willing to leave the downtown core and step outside your culinary comfort zone.
Anthony Bourdain visited Houston twice, to film season 2 (episode 7, “The BBQ Triangle”) of A Cook’s Tour and later for a dedicated episode (season 8, episode 5) of Parts Unknown; these were his only two visits to the city, but he does a great job of showing off what makes Houston special today – not what you may have in mind based on history and pop culture.
If you’ve got any good reason to visit and eat in Houston, take it! You can eat at these places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Houston, and explore all the incredible diversity in other parts of the city too. Don’t be surprised if your thoughts about Texas – or at least this part of it – are changed by your trip.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Coahuiltecan, Karankawa, Sana, and Ishak (Atakapa) peoples, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present peoples of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
A Cook’s Tour (2002)
As mentioned, Bourdain’s first trip to Houston was part of a larger episode focusing on barbecue – the episode is called “The BBQ Triangle” and also features Kansas City and North Carolina. Here are the barbecue spots he visits in Houston though.
BBQ Pits by Klose
Before digging into Texas-style barbecue, Bourdain wants to learn about how it’s made – that is, how you design the perfect barbecue pit to get the most out of your fuel, heat, and meat. The place for that is BBQ Pits by Klose – it’s not a restaurant, but it does help make great food.
After touring the factory with Klose and learning about the crazy variety of BBQ pits he and his team build, Bourdain has to take a “test drive” of what can be made on these pits.
Klose prepares him sausage-stuffed and bacon-wrapped quail and tiger shrimp stuffed with crab meat and wrapped in chicken tender and wrapped again in maple-smoked bacon. Tony jokes about being on the Atkin’s diet after digging in.
Burns Original BBQ
Next, Klose and Bourdain head to a proper barbecue restaurant to dig into how a true master makes it. At Burns Original BBQ, they meet with barbecue master Roy Burns, learning about his technique which includes slow-roasting all of his preferred cuts over Post Oak for multiple hours.
The pair opt for a sampler platter of ribs, brisket, and mustard-based potato salad with barbecue sauce to get the best of all that’s on offer.
Parts Unknown (2016)
In between meals of high school cafeteria lunch with first-generation immigrants, a backyard multi-cultural crawfish boil with dishes representing the familial blending of cultures at the table, a quinceañera feast, in the field of a refugee-supporting farm program, and post-cricket match flavors of tandoori, curry, and masala, Bourdain visits a few Houston-area restaurants that are well worth adding to your list.
Burns Original BBQ
Making a return to a neighborhood institution he visited in a past life (of his shows), Tony is delighted to discover that a generational passing of the torch has done nothing to affect the quality of Burns Original BBQ in Acres Homes.
Accompanied by local rapper Slim Thug and his friends David Stunts and Roderick Dearborne (aka “Red Bone”), Bourdain digs into menu classics: a “torpedo-sized” baked potato with cheddar cheese, chopped barbecue beef, and homemade sausage, as well as slow-cooked pork ribs, beef ribs, and brisket.
La Guadalupana Cafe
Sampling a variety of the “minority” groups that compromise the majority of Houston’s residents, Bourdain next heads to La Guadalupana Cafe with Mexico City-born chef David Rodriguez of The Tipping Point Coffee. (Tony doesn’t visit this spot, but it’s worth mentioning if you’re looking for somewhere else to eat or get caffeinated in Houston, too!)
Over migas (eggs mixed with fried, chopped tortillas, machaca norteña (marinated, seasoned, dried, and shredded beef with veggies), and tortillas, the pair discuss the vital but underappreciated role of minorities in the restaurant industry.
After some sleuthing and help from the amazing r/AnthonyBourdain subreddit, I can confirm that the original cut of Parts Unknown in Houston contained Himalaya Restaurant – but it was removed from later edits, including the ones you can watch today (here’s the gross reason why). Given that the restaurant is not to blame for why it has been cut from today’s version of the episode, I wanted to still include it in this list: Anthony Bourdain did eat here, and it’s worthy of your visit too.
Here, Bourdain tries goat biryani, a “Texas-Desi style” green curry chicken, steak tikka, and hunter’s beef (“Indian-inflected pastrami” unique to Houston). (If you’ve seen this scene and can give me more context on their conversation, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!)
Houston Food Tours to Try
Houston has so much to offer, including just four restaurants doesn’t feel like it really does the city justice. If you have time and want to try even more, a food tour might be a good addition to your culinary plans. Here are a few to inspire you:
Have any other questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Houston? Let me know in the comments below!