6 Sizzling Dining Hot Spots in Downtown Houston

February 18, 2019

With one of America’s most diverse populations, Houston is also home to one of the most vibrant culinary palettes in the world. Thousands of restaurants dish out cuisine that takes its cue from American regions and places around the world.

From award-winning, celebrity chef-driven restaurants to barbeque havens to iconic eateries to ethnic favorites, H-Town has it all, and the list keeps evolving.

“With 10,000-plus restaurants representing over 70 different cuisines, Houston is the ‘Culinary & Cultural Capital of the South.’ Our amazing restaurant scene as ethnically diverse as our 2.3 million residents,” said Mike Waterman, president and CEO of Visit Houston. “From Xochi’s Oaxacan cuisine to The Rustic’s American fare or Caribbean soul dishes at Kulture and Kau Ba’s Vietnamese Cajun, visitors can experience the world’s delicacies in one visit.

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“Plus, with so many options, it’s not surprising that Food & Wine, GQ and TravelZoo all named Houston as the best foodie destination this year,” he added.

Following are six standouts on the Houston culinary map nowadays, some new, some tried and true—all well suited to visiting groups, starting with three in the city’s completely reimagined convention center district: Avenida Houston.

The Rustic Houston

One of the city’s hottest new performance venues is also one of its tastiest.

The Rustic Houston debuted in November 2018 as the third installment in The Rustic series. The flagship is in Dallas and the other is in San Antonio.

In Houston, The Rustic stands on Polk Street right next to the George R. Brown Convention Center, so groups are loving the vibrant venue just steps away. The 25,000-square-foot, event-ready dining and entertainment establishment features farm-to-table, home-style fare, daily concerts, a retractable roof, an outdoor stage and a large outdoor patio.

Uptown Outdoor Stage at The Rustic
Uptown Outdoor Stage at The Rustic

Live music is on the calendar daily at The Rustic.

Home-style dishes inspired by Texas flavors and traditions are a highlight, such as beer-can hen with jalapeno bread and slow-cooked carnitas with orange peel.

Groups can rent portions of the space or take advantage of buyouts.


Chef Hugo Ortega won the 2017 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest for his eponymous Hugo restaurant after being nominated for the title for six consecutive years.

At Xochi, located in the Marriott Marquis Houston, he brings even more of his culinary flair from Oaxaca, Mexico, to the table.

Xochi Oaxaca Cuisine
Xochi Oaxaca Cuisine

Dishes include house-made masas, a variety of moles, beans cooked with avocado leaves and endlessly creative items such as callo de hacha, featuring scallops in mole verde, white beans, green beans, chayote and masa dumplings. Imported Oaxacan coffee, tlayudas (huge tortillas, fire-roasted with toppings) and other distinctive Oaxacan-inspired dishes are also on the menu.

The restaurant has several private dining spaces and is available for larger events and buyouts.

Grotto Downtown

Next door to the George R. Brown Convention Center is the on-site Grotto Downtown restaurant. The mod, industrial-chic space is a favorite for locals, who come for its upscale trattoria vibe.

Grotto Downtown
Grotto Downtown

Grotto specializes in Southern Italian cuisine, including unique small plates, Neopolitan pizzas, pastas and entrees such as whole branzino drizzled with a warm pancetta vinaigrette and served with celery slaw. Grotto also boasts the largest Grappa lineup in downtown Houston.

Groups can utilize several areas of the restaurant for meals.


The Breakfast Klub’s Marcus Davis has brought his take on Southern and African-inspired cuisine to Avenida Houston with the recent opening of Kulture.

Kulture Restaurant Grand Opening
Kulture Restaurant Grand Opening

Davis dubs his restaurant an urban comfort kitchen exploring food and spirits rooted in African diaspora. Spanning across Caribbean and even Southern delicacies, aromas of gruyere mac and cheese or crispy riblets fill the space and add to its minimalistic approach to meals.

Kulture was named No. 20 in Houston’s Top 100 Restaurants of 2018 in the Houston Chronicle and one of the Top 12 Houston Restaurants of 2018 by KPRC’s Click2Houston website.

Phoenicia Specialty Foods Downtown

Phoenicia Specialty Foods Downtown is a 28,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art food market for culinary-minded attendees, and it also features venues for group meals.

Phoenicia offers more than 10,000 products imported from more than 50 countries. The one-stop gourmet haven is an inspirational foodie paradise, providing residents and visitors quality culinary products and unique household basics at competitive prices.

From a vast wine selection and unique produce to a popular bakery, Phoenicia has something for everyone. The store offers prepared foods and catering services as well as office delivery.

MKT Bar, Phoenicia Specialty Foods
MKT Bar, Phoenicia Specialty Foods

The downtown Phoenicia location also features MKT Bar, an in-house wine and beer bar that serves distinctive international fare and is available for group meals and events.

The industrial chic space seats up to 250 guests.

Meanwhile, guests strolling through Phoenicia Specialty Foods can discover a gelato bar, gourmet sandwich station, salad bar, olive bar, demonstration kitchen, wine and cigar department, fine housewares section, full-service bakery and fresh-baked pizza corner.

The store even has a 150-foot pita bread conveyor belt that transports freshly baked pita bread and artisan flat breads from the market’s mezzanine bakery to customers below.

Pita Bread Conveyor Belt at Phoenicia Specialty Foods
Pita Bread Conveyor Belt at Phoenicia Specialty Foods

The spectacle is popular with visiting patrons.

Kau Ba Saigon Kitchen

Kau Ba Saigon Kitchen recently opened to much fanfare in Montrose, with celebrity chef Nikki Tran bringing her take on “Viejun”, a fusion of Vietnamese and Cajun, to Houston.

Tran, known for her Netflix shows Ugly Delicious and Somebody Feed Phil, is one of the most recent celebrity chefs to open a brick and mortar location in Houston.

She owns two popular restaurants in Saigon.

Kau Ba Saigon Kitchen
Kau Ba Saigon Kitchen

With Kau Ba, her aim is to bring the last recipes of Saigon to life again, melding them with Cajun influences. Tran prides herself on using the freshest ingredients and absolutely no MSG.

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About the author
Lori Tenny | Destinations Editor, Contributing Writer

Lori was formerly Director of Strategic Content at Meetings Today where she oversaw feature-related content for the brand, as well as custom publishing, content marketing initiatives and strategic digital projects.