Whether a café, fully fleshed out bistro, or a food-truck concept, it’s always a big deal when a new restaurant launches in Houston. We’re often left to wonder how it’ll blend in with the city’s remarkable culinary scene. Plus, we want to see if their menus, top-shelf libations, and consistent finesse are contenders as a new go-to brunch or lunch spot. It’s honestly a whole process—a delicious one at that. However, with every new place comes that reminder that older fine dining paved the way for these new beauties to flourish, and that’s where a new-found appreciation comes rushing in. To see that many of these institutions are still thriving and standing tall enough to give the city’s downtown skyscrapers a run for their money is one thing. But once you add in the pandemic’s discomforting reign, which continues to heavily plague how restaurants operate, their continued presence is even more awe-inducing. From no-frills shacks cooking unforgettable comfort food classics to swanky palaces nurturing their culinary missions with modern nips and tucks, here are 12 old-school restaurants in Houston sure to give you a timeless experience.
Whether you’re looking to score some tangy pies to celebrate pi(e) day or just to quench a random weekday craving, Flying Saucer is always the answer. Serving as the oldest operating bakery in the city, this family-owned shop opened in 1967 with one goal—to produce out-of-this-world pies for Houstonians. Their objective continues to be met with riveting praise, and those infamously long lines that tend to scale around the building during the holidays is evidence of a mission accomplished. Pop by and choose from their long roster of pies (which can be bought in slices or a full pan), such as their Dutch Apple, Pecan, Cherry, Banana Cream, and Key Lime flavors.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served pickup or get delivery via UberEats.
Downtown Houston and Friendswood
Consistently whipping up silky spaghetti and cheesy pies since the 1980s, Birraporetti’s is a suave example that Houston’s Italian restaurant scene has long been bursting with flavor. Their menu also sports a festive Irish twist, so as you’re winding down your meal with a chocolatey cheesecake, try some of their Four Star Irish Coffee for good measure. This casual blend mocks up an inventive bill of fare that’ll beguile you to try everything—which will keep lunchtime interesting. Other highlights include buttery veal cloaked in a white wine puree, crab cakes elevated with their signature Tortellini Alfredo, Lobster or Cheese Ravioli, and endless baskets of garlic bread to sop up that leftover sauce.
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable, for Downtown or Friendswood location, order takeout, or get delivery through Doordash, Postmates, and UberEats.
East End and Uptown
Another delicious anchor that’s still thriving in Houston is Ninfa’s. Opened in 1973, the late Ninfa Laurenzo, also known as Mama Ninfa, blew the city out the water with her sizzling fajitas and tacos al carbon. Some say her craft launched the national craze for these chargrilled beauties, and with one bite, you’ll definitely agree. After her passing, Legacy Restaurants bought the concept and the company’s executive chef Alex Padilla (whose culinary chops are also present in po’boy favorite Antone’s) began retrofitting the menu with new dishes. With their recent hop over to Uptown, it’s now easier than ever to gorge on those popular fajitas, plus other treasures like their braised chicken or pork tamales, table salsas, spicy stuffed shrimp, and cheese enchiladas.
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable, order take-out online, or get delivery through Doordash, Postmates, and UberEats.
Fried catfish, short ribs with creamy potatoes and candied yams, pork chop platters, hot gumbo—this restaurant is truly it when it comes to soul food. Situated in the heart of Third Ward, this Southern gem has been living up to its motto (“where every meal gives you a Sunday feel”) since it debuted in 1959. The cafeteria-style concept was originally founded by the late Frank and Mattie Jones, who wanted to create a safe and delicious haven for old-fashioned soul food to thrive. This mission stayed within the family, and it wasn’t long until their grandson and his wife, Craig and Georgette Joseph, took ownership and further roused the area with their new daily specials. When visiting, load up on everything from their vibrant daiquiris and smothered chicken dinners (which is on special for $10 on Thursdays) to an oxtail plate, which features three sides of your choice and two cornbread muffins.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, order take-out online, or get delivery through Doordash, Grubhub, and UberEats.
Heights and Baytown
No matter the toppings and creative frills, the city has always appreciated a juicy burger—especially a Texas-sized one. Originally crafted by two University of Texas graduates in the mid-1940s, this charming shack keeps all their burgers hot, well-seasoned, and simple. The restaurant opened in Austin before spreading to Houston and other cities in Texas. Currently, the city only has two locations, but that’s more than enough when the mood hits for quality smashed patties. Pull up to this walk-up shack and try their double and triple decker burgers, or keep it simple with their single-layered patty melts and jalapeño poppers.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, order take-out via Toast, or get delivery through Doordash.
When it comes to this quaint, 40s style market, they sure know how to dream up a classic American meal. Since they opened their doors in 1937, they’ve been churning out perfect burgers, traditional desserts, and Tex-Mex filtered breakfast platters with ease. Even their creamy milkshakes, which pair nicely with their Peach Cobbler, will knock you back in your seat—but keep you conscious enough to add another to your tab.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, order take-out online, or get delivery via Doordash, Postmates, and UberEats.
Washington, Memorial and Braeswood
This award-winning bakery continues to set the standard on what a delicious challah and pie cake should taste like. The company’s lineage traces back to Poland in the mid 1820s, where it was originally named Morris Jucker’s Bakery. Two of the Jucker children, twins Sol and Sigmund, began working at the shop at the ripe age of 10, eventually becoming the bread and butter of the shop. However, after the horrors of WWII, the twins alongside their younger brother, Max, fled to Houston and restarted their bakery efforts in 1949. Since then, they’ve opened three locations, spreading their rich menu of three-tier cakes, Salted Caramel Pecan and Bourbon Chocolate Chip pies, danishes, button cup cookies, and more across Houston. Recently, the quaint dessert shop celebrated their 73rd anniversary with 73-cent cookies, so be sure to keep an eye out for their 74th. But you’ll probably want to visit throughout the year, of course.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, order take-out online, or get delivery via Grubhub.
Mere minutes away from the sprawling 610 Loop, this chic mainstay serves up the perfect FOMO for Instagram reels. Seriously, one snapshot of their groovy Whatamelon Margarita (a Tequila-based cocktail steeped with lime, mint, and a watermelon garnish on the rim) and their vibrant brunch spread, and you might get bombarded with messages to drop details on the restaurant. Annie, which originally opened in 1980, has gone through a number of contemporary renovations, but that eclectic allure that’s helped build their core customer base has never wavered. Their most recent redesign stretches back to 2019, when restaurant aficionado Ben Benjamin teamed up with James Beard recognized chef Robert Del Grande—who began working at the cafe a year after its debut—to revamp their menu. Some of the standouts are their shrimp cocktail served with a light chile sauce, salmon set atop a bed of shiitake mushrooms, ribeyes, and skirt steaks.
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable, order take-out online, or get delivery through Grubhub and UberEats.
Well known for their old-timey interior and exquisite, rum-flambéed Bananas Foster, this hotspot has been dominating Houston since 1967. Brennan’s actually came off the heels of their older, and just as popular, sister restaurant Commander’s Palace, which is stationed in New Orleans. They both embody a menu that’s rooted in Gulf Coast classics, but their Midtown location fully embraces a modern Texas touch. Their crawfish-brimmed enchiladas and Redfish have undergone a mesquite-grilled makeover. However, there are plenty of other dishes that are worth checking out. Customers can slurp on fresh oysters by the pound, warm up with their Snapping Turtle Soup, or keep it light with their massive crab cakes jazzed with an herb salad.
How to book: Reserve via OpenTable or by calling 713-522-9711, or get delivery through Postmates and UberEats.
Houston’s culinary landscape boasts plenty of old-school eateries and the nightlife scene is right up there in age with great vintage bars. Operating since the late 1920s, this neighborhood haunt once was a place where locals could purchase ice. Several kitschy picnic tables later and the ice house transformed into an open-patio beer palace. When visiting, slide in the nearest chair (if not completely filled) and cozy up with some slow-cooked barbacoa tacos from the neighboring Tacos Tierra Caliente food truck.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating.
Luxurious private dining spaces, lobsters, and Luxardo Cherry toppled gelato—talk about a triple threat. “Inspired by Naples, influenced by Milan, and cherished in Houston,” Tony’s has been serving excellent fare for over 56 years. The late Tony Vallone spearheaded the lavish concept, which has hosted numerous celebrities (including Mick Jagger and Andrea Bocelli) and received admirable praise throughout the city’s social scene. Once inside, customers are immediately met with an aromatic blend of well-prepared seafood and warm spices. And, if dining privately, modern art, crystal chandeliers, and—depending on the room—tables vast enough to fit 100 people. For lunch, steady your appetite with savory gazpacho and Ahi Tuna-studded toast before diving into hearty steak salad and truffled Filet Mignon. For dinner, dig into classic fettuccine swimming in vodka sauce, jumbo lump crab, lemony Dover Sole, and all the silken potatoes you can possibly eat.
How to book: Reserve and order take-out via OpenTable, or get delivery through Grubhub and Postmates.
Washington Ave/Memorial Park
Would Houston truly be what it is without slabs of BBQ? The city is full of lots of underrated and well-known chains, but we have to tip our hats to one of the OG chophouses, Pizzitola’s. In 1934, couple John and Lela Davis opened this smoke shack, originally named Shepherd Drive Barbecue Stand, in the now diminished West End neighborhood. Being that this was during the Jim Crow era, many businesses across the city engaged in segregation. However, the restaurant (which was Black-owned at the time) approached the racial divide differently, allowing their Black customers to dine-in while the White customers were served in the back. After John Davis passed, long-time customer Jerry Pizzitola bought the BBQ joint and the rest is history. Their menu is heavy on classics, so expect juicy brisket, ribs guaranteed to fall off the bone, smoked chicken, pulled pork, and sausage links by the pound.
How to book: Stop by for first come, first served seating, order take-out online, or get delivery via Favor.