As , it’s perhaps not a surprise that at nearly every corner, one can find food from south of the border, across the Atlantic, and from neighboring southern states. Houston boasts a population that’s filled with Black Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, numerous immigrants, and other diverse communities. This diversity is reflected in some of its most famed restaurants, like , , , and . These restaurants are just some of many that carry the soul of Houston through food. James Beard Award-winning chef and moved to Houston to shape his culinary career. He’s given the city much of himself, particularly through his nonprofit , but the city has also given him much in return.
“When I moved to Houston, I didn’t understand it just yet,” said Shepherd. “Something that was very important to me was to learn from the people who had been here.”
One of the first meals Shepherd had that left an impact on him was at a Vietnamese restaurant.
“After service, we’d go out and eat Vietnamese food,” said Shepherd. “It was so enthralling. This was like acid and chilies and herbs and textures and different techniques. I just wanted to know more.”
“Understanding where people are coming from and why they're doing things is so important to me.”
Shepherd began working with families from various cultures, many of whom are featured in his book, He felt it essential to not only use the lessons he’d learned from the chefs and home cooks in his own restaurants, but to create an opportunity where they could share their stories and expertise in their own way.
“Understanding where people are coming from and why they’re doing things is so important to me,” said Shepherd. “As we rise in this community, we need to do this together.”
Shepherd’s love for Houston isn’t difficult to understand. The warm-hearted nature of the city’s residents have In addition to the lower cost of living and warm temperatures, newcomers and travelers often find themselves enamored with the immense food offerings throughout the city. .
Some of Houston’s most prominent cuisines align with the most populous communities. Irresistible Mexican food, vibrant Indian cuisine, earthy West African fare, flavorful Vietnamese food, and of course, hearty American cuisine reflect some of the groups that have made Houston the cultural mecca that it is. Even still, the city’s food community extends well beyond these five cuisines. Indonesian restaurants, comforting pupuserias, Chinese tea shops, and Caribbean eateries are just a few of the additional cuisines and communities you can find in the city. To get the true Houston dining experience, which encompasses a truly global array of options, just visit.
The city of Houston simply wouldn’t be what it is today without the incredible contributions of Mexican immigrants. Nearly of Houston’s population is Latino, and many Latino Houstonians have Mexican heritage. From the music to art to fashion, Mexican Americans have helped create a modern Houston that’s vibrant, welcoming, and full of history. One of the most visible examples of Mexican contributions show up in the taco stands, strip malls, and restaurants that serve Mexican cuisine.
Perez immigrated to the United States more than 20 years ago, ultimately finding a home in Houston, Texas. His business has allowed him to support his family, and share his culture with the Houston community. Like many taco stands in the city, Perez offers options like carne asada, fajitas, steak ranchero, and chiles poblanos.
“It’s really great to see how positively people have responded to our food,” said Perez.
Mexican American food can’t be explained solely through a taco. The diverse cuisine reflects the flavors and stories of a massive country and the migration patterns of immigrants. One of the most prominent forms of Mexican food is through Tex-Mex, a delicious amalgam of Mexican and Texas cooking traditions. Houston has numerous offerings that demonstrate some of this diversity, and are sure to fill up the stomachs of visitors and locals.
WEST AFRICAN CUISINE
About . A majority of those immigrants hail from Nigeria, the . Nigeria is home to several key dishes, such as jollof rice, okra stew, pounded yam, and beans and plantain, all of which have influenced African American foodways in the U.S. Because so many Nigerians live in Houston, there are plenty of West African restaurants to choose from. Find cuisines from Senegal, Nigeria, and Ghana through spice-laden suya, fragrant pepper soup, and the ubiquitous and beloved jollof rice.
WESTERN EUROPEAN CUISINE
Western Europe has influenced the world’s cuisine in ways food historians are still fully understanding. The dining experiences of countries like Portugal, Italy, France, and Spain attract millions of travelers to Western Europe each year. Thankfully, for Houstonians, enjoying Italian pasta, Spanish tapas, and French fine dining often means taking a short drive to downtown Houston.
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Houston has one of the nation’s largest Vietnamese populations, and the food community is greatly indebted to their presence in the city. The first wave of Vietnamese immigrants arrived in Houston in 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War, bringing their customs, traditions, and food with them. In addition to Houston’s Little Saigon and Chinatown communities, Vietnamese chefs have spread their culinary traditions and expertise throughout the city. Grabbing a steaming bowl of pho or a hearty Bahn mi sandwich is one of the most Houston activities one can do. Thankfully, dozens of restaurants make it an easy venture.
The first wave of Vietnamese immigrants arrived in Houston in 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War, bringing their customs, traditions, and food with them.
By 2010, about , so it’s no surprise that Indian grocery stores, cultural events, and restaurants have become quintessentially Houston. The massive country boasts cuisines that food historians have spent centuries working to understand. Though no restaurant can be responsible for reflecting the full essence of a country, Houston’s Indian restaurants offer remarkable dishes that help Houstonians learn more about the country’s colorful culture, and the food that feeds the .in the Houston area considered themselves of Indian origin. Today,
The beauty of American cuisine is the cultural influences that have made it what it is, many of which can be traced back to Houston’s immigrant communities. Black Americans, who’ve made invaluable contributions to the American foodways, make up nearly 23 percent of Houston’s population, and play an essential role in the modern American restaurants that line the city’s street. head chef Chris Williams has told the complicated stories of American food through his dining offerings, and challenges diners to remember the essential role of Houston’s diversity in the kitchens that serve communities.
“There’s certainly diversity in the food here, but where you really find diversity is through the often underappreciated staff—like cooks, servers, and cleaning crews—that keep the restaurant community going.
Williams and Shepherd have both used their roles as leading chefs to use food to express the American story. Their restaurants, along with many others in Houston, tell the stories of Black and indigenous culinary traditions, the impact of immigration from all corners of the world, and the expanding definition of what it means to be American.
Their restaurants, along with many others in Houston, tell the stories of Black and indigenous culinary traditions, the impact of immigration from all corners of the world, and the expanding definition of what it means to be American.
The diversity in Houston’s dining community is a gift Houstonians continue to be prideful of. Eating at restaurants that reflect the myriad of cultures in Houston also gives residents and tourists alike the opportunity to learn something new.
“I really hope that people understand that everybody has a story to tell, and to listen to that story is to just take a few minutes, and the easiest way to do that is through food,” said Shepherd. “Food tells the story of life, it tells a story of people, it tells a story of culture, and it takes a minute to listen and to be a part of people’s lives. Once you can do that you can kind of see everybody’s perspective, and you can better grasp the world.”
In Houston, food enthusiasts can try making that grasp, one bite at a time.