Two renowned chefs and a restaurateur dish on the hopping Houston dining scene



“Culinary hot spot” isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind for most people at the mention of Houston. But it should be. Believe it or not, Houston always ranks high in national magazines’ top lists in dining and restaurants.

The city was voted one of the top 10 cities in the world to visit by The New York Times in “The 46 Places to Go in 2013,” simply because of its food scene. The Wall Street Journal ascribed such similar praise in 2013.

With more than 11,000 restaurants, Houstonians eat out more than residents of any other city in the United States, according to Zagat. So, it’s no surprise that the city’s chefs know a thing or two about pleasing a crowd. They also know that, whether it’s fusion concepts like Korean barbecue, chef-driven dining experiences or sweet and savory flavor combinations like the bacon jam found on almost everything at BRC Gastropub, innovation is king in this town.


IT’S IN THE DIVERSITY. So, why is the city’s food so great? As a native Houstonian, restaurateur Lee Ellis, who owns concept restaurants such as Petite Sweets, Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar and BRC Gastropub, says it’s because of the area’s makeup.

“I don’t think there are very many cities that are as diverse as this one,” he said. “There’s some great ethnic food here. Everything’s represented here and being close to the Gulf, it’s just an added bonus point.”

He also points out that Houston’s ethnic density equals more authentic cuisine. “I think the Mexican food in this city is better than any other city that I’ve been to. On the Asian side, Vietnamese food, we have it hands-down over anywhere else. Vietnamese is a good cross here … they’ve opened the eyes of local Houstonians when they opened up and I think what’s followed behind it is pretty amazing.”

As Chris Shepherd, chef of restaurant Underbelly, puts it, “You’ve got all of the culture and diversity of the city and you’ve got chefs that have left and trained at different places, chefs that are coming back. You’ve got a bunch of new, young talent coming in and just kind of doing what they do.”

Shepherd was nominated for Best Chef of the Southwest and Best New Restaurant of 2013 in the James Beard Foundation Awards.


INNOVATION CERTAINLY HELPS. Ellis got diners’ attention by taking what people love to eat and elevating it. From roasting a whole pig head to tail, to serving Gulf seafood and Southern comfort food, in nearly every one of his restaurants Ellis brings down-home concepts to life beautifully.

His restaurants are a result of taking trendy food concepts and making them instant classics.

Ellis is also experimenting with a new sweet tooth. “I wanted frozen custard because nobody inside the loop had frozen custard.”

Ellis blends a whole piece of pie or cake in a shake with frozen custard and serves it to his customers at Liberty Kitchen. BRC Gastropub is known for its signature appetizer: bacon jam and cheddar biscuits. With a lot of sweet and a little spice, this combo puts BRC on the must-visit list. Ellis is a bacon enthusiast to the core; bacon jam is found on the asparagus at Liberty Kitchen and on the bacon jam cupcake pancake at Petite Sweets.

“Bacon jam is on all our menus,” says Ellis.

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