Real Food Restaurants in the Houston Area
Those of us who are interested in eating local, unprocessed Real Food are willing to spend a lot of time preparing that food; however, we are all busy and sometimes we would like to eat out and have someone else cook the food and clean up after it.
Our problem is finding a restaurant that cares about the quality and nutrition of the food, not just the look and taste, a restaurant where we don’t need to feel guilty that we are sacrificing our health just for convenience. We are looking for restaurants that are trying to move toward more healthful practices in food selection and preparation, such as using local produce, organic foods, grassfed beef, etc.
Most of the listed restaurants have been suggested by readers. I have supplemented their recommendations with website information to provide as much information as possible about the restaurant’s claims about their food.
I welcome comments and additional information that either support or refute the restaurant’s claims to using Real Food. Sometimes, I don’t include a suggested restaurant because I can’t find out enough information to support its commitment to Real Food. For those that I have personally visited, there will be links to my reviews. I get no compensation for listing a restaurant here or for reviewing a restaurant.
Important Note: I don’t know of any Houston area restaurant that serves 100% Real Food, at least based on my definition of Real Food, so you will need to make your food choices carefully and probably allow some lapses when eating at any of these restaurants. I hope there will be a day when I can list a restaurant that is a true, 100% Real Food restaurant!
The restaurants are listed alphabetically by type and include my reasons for including them. Look below the initial restaurant list for fast food restaurants (yes, there are a few!), food trucks, burgers, and coffee shops.
Harvest Organic Grille: serves free range chicken, wild-caught fish, and grassfed beef. They don’t use microwaves or deep fry anything. There are many vegetarian and gluten-free selections for those who have dietary restrictions. Their motto: “At Harvest Organic Grille – Wine House & Bar, we believe healthy doesn’t have to be boring!” They offer organic wines and beers. There are two locations, one on Woodway, another on Westheimer. Recent visits seem to say the quality of food at Harvest Organic Grille is not as good as it once was. Although the name includes the word “organic,” the website does not say that the ingredients are organic. Some of their wines are listed as organic, and some of the cocktails have organic ingredients What their website does claim is that they use “healthy, natural, sustainable, and fresh ingredients.
Indika and Pondicheri Cafe: owner/chef Anita Jaisinghani. Declaring “You are what you eat” the Pondicheri website states “Whether you are a chai, curry, or cardamom cookie, we passionately guarantee your composition is of raw, local, and uncompromising quality. We savor the blossoming need to use ingredients of purity along with a desire for hand-made quality. Together, these stamp our food with the fingerprints of true oxygenated existence. It is with utmost pride and pleasure that we roast and grind our spices, sing songs to our yeast starters, cure our bacon, grind our sausage meat, milk our paneer, and most importantly cherish our kitchen. Cooking wholesome nourishment tingles us with a fervor that indulges our ever-present lust to feed.” The Pondicheri menu lists paneer (raw milk). A Houston Chronicle review, July 26, 2011, of Pondicheri by Alison Cook said that Jaisinghani was an “advocate of humanely raised and local ingredients” and that the eggs were “farm eggs with rich golden yolks that sit up high, mocking their pallid supermarket cousins.”
Local Foods: advertises a “gourmet selection of sandwiches, salads and prepared meals with local ingredients.” Their website lists these local food sources: Gundermann Farms, (their website does not claim to be organic and all their produce may not be local), Atkinson Farms (their website does not claim to be organic), Animal Farm (organic per Yelp review), Texas Hill Country Olive Oil (some of their oil may be from out of state), Texas wild gulf shrimp, and Hatterman Egg Farm (free range and soy-free per Urban Harvest review, have high omega 3’s and no soy per HoustonPress review), Pola Cheese (artisan cheese made in the Montrose area per HoustonPress review), and others. Local Foods sandwich menu lists Duck Confit, House Smoked Salmon, and “Banh Mi.” Salads include Spring Harvest Salad and Asian Chicken Salad. Sides include Housemade Chips, but there is no information about the fat used for frying. Beverages include kombucha, beer, and wine, but there’s no claim to be organic for any drink.
**Added November 2014** Nature’s Garden Market Café: a small café and health food store in Friendswood offers sandwiches and salads. Many of the menu items are organic. The salad dressings and mayonnaise are house-made. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are available. The store also offers an organic produce co-op with a choice of share sizes. They offer pet foods and treats, including raw items. The health food store offers supplements, groceries, and personal care items.
Partners in Paleo: owner/chef Jeanette Pearson is dedicated to producing healthy paleo meals for her friends and neighbors. The restaurant is located in League City and is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 am to 3 pm and Friday evenings until 8 pm. She serves mostly organic produce, pasture raised meats and eggs, uses no wheat, dairy or sugar (some maple syrup), and just a little rice flour. Read the Real Food Houston review of Partners in Paleo.
Revival Market: owners Ryan Pera and Morgan Weber. Weber is also the owner of Revival Farms where he practices sustainable farming following Joel Salatin’s philosophy (he visited Polyface Farm during a vacation). Meat from Revival Farms is showcased at Revival Market. Chef Pera is interested in “butchering, charcuterie, and salumi.” He is working toward stocking a “seasonal repertoire of house-made staples for the home cook’s larder that includes stocks, sauces, pickles, jams, and preserves.” Revival Market specializes in locally raised meats and vegetables. Even the coffee is roasted by local businesses. Mangalitsa pork from Revival Farms is the source of the rendered lard available in the market. For information and photos, see the Real Food Houston review of Revival Market. Revival Market has provided detailed information about its food sources and preparation methods.
Roots Bistro: the website says they are “Local. Organic. Green.” They are the second Green-Certified Restaurant in Houston. They claim that “Everything from the animal chef butchers to the salt that flavors it is locally sourced and organically grown.” However, I was unable to find any backup information about their ingredients. Reviews on UrbanSpoon and Yelp varied widely. Many thought it was expensive.
Ruggles Green: the restaurant is certified by the Green Restaurant Association. The website states “We offer delicious menu items that incorporate organic, all-natural, hormone-free, preservative-free, products that are always delicious. We strive to preserve the environment through our actions in recycling, conservation, the use of sustainable products, and simple common sense.” The website menu adds “We serve delicious menu items that, when possible, incorporate local, organic, all-natural, hormone and preservative-free products. All of our food items are fresh and made to order. We strive to preserve the environment through recycling, conserving, and using sustainable products and practices.”
Season’s Harvest Cafe, Cypress/Fairbanks area, (no website, but they have a Facebook page featuring their menu which varies daily) is a small, family owned, farm-to-table restaurant serving local, organic foods. There are vegetarian/vegan and gluten-free options for some menu items. The Yelp and UrbanSpoon reviews are generally favorable. Season’s Harvest Cafe is open for breakfast and lunch, Tuesday through Saturday.
Skinny Ritas Grille, offers Mexican and Latin flavors. According to their website, their “chicken, pork and beef are farm and naturally raised, no antibiotics, hormone-free and gluten-free.” They cook with olive oil and coconut oil. Their seafood is fresh, never-frozen, and they offer vegetarian options and organic drinks. An unusual item is cactus tortillas, but they also offer a stone-ground wheat tortilla. Their dinner menu makes a huge claim that ALL of their ingredients are GMO-free. That is a very difficult achievement.
Sorrel Urban Bistro: an affordable farm-to-table restaurant that features “local organically grown produce and meat, sustainable fish and wild game.” One reviewer says everything is so fresh that the restaurant has no freezer.
Tabella’s: a farm-to-table restaurant in Kemah, TX, uses fresh, locally sourced produce and Gulf seafood. The restaurant opened in January 2012 as an addition to Clear Creek Winery and Clipper House Bed & Breakfast. For more information and photos see the Real Food Houston post on Tabella’s.
True Food Kitchen, a full service restaurant, boasts a motto “Honest food that tastes really good.” They offer many selections that are organic, biodynamically farmed, local, sustainably farmed, gluten-free, and/or vegan. Their menu identifies which items fall under each category. The website says their food is anti-inflammatory and provides nutrients, both of which are much more than any other local restaurant claims. It’s not clear what oils and fats are used. They are open every day with brunch served on Saturday and Sunday. For more information about the concepts behind True Food Kitchen read here.
Zelko Bistro, owned and operated by Chef Jamie and Dahlia Zelko has New American Fare “prepared with the highest quality and sustainable ingredients.” Chef Jamie Zelko has been named Sustainable Restaurateur by H Magazine. The restaurant claims to be focused on local ingredients, and the website mentions using local, 100% raw honey; however, I could find very little specific information about their food. Both owners are beekeepers. The menu lists several fried foods but does not say what fat or oil is used for cooking. Reviews on Yelp are uneven.
Fast Food and Fast Casual Restaurants
Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurants have become more open about the ingredients in their foods by publishing a list online that indicates such labels as GMO, organic, pasture raised. With careful choice most GMOs can be avoided when eating at Chipotle. I know of no other restaurant chain that provides as much information about their ingredients as does Chipotle. Chipotle Ingredients Statement. [Updated May 24, 2013] Chipotle allows antibiotics in their beef. [Updated August 12, 2013]
Franks & Toppings: a fast food restaurant that seems to be trying to provide healthy, real food. The menu is mostly hamburgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches. Where they are not a typical fast food restaurant is the food. Here’s their statement: “We use about 80% organic USDA and ALL NATURAL products. And our Seafood products are on BOI or Monterey Bay Seafood Guide’s Green list.” They say their beef is 100% organic with no fillers. Using the term ‘all natural’ may not mean too much, but perhaps it indicates a direction away from standard fast food fare. They say they use no styrofoam, only compostable products. Their forks and spoons are made from renewable birch wood, and they have designed their facility for efficiency and eco-friendly goals. Even the staff’s uniforms are made with organic cotton. The reader who recommended adding Franks & Toppings says they use olive oil to fry their potatoes, but, unfortunately, they don’t offer real cheese as a topping. Update August 30, 2013: a reader says that Franks & Toppings is halal.
Zoe’s Kitchen is a fast casual restaurant chain that has several Houston locations. Offerings include Mediterranean soups, salads, sandwiches & kebabs. They do not use microwaves and do not deep fry any foods. They claim to use local ingredients where available. Grilling is the main method of cooking. Oils used for cooking and salad dressings are primarily canola and olive oil. None of their foods are organic and the fish and seafood are not wild caught; however, they do place an emphasis on fresh. I also want to acknowledge that Zoe’s Kitchen did answer my questions about their ingredients, whereas most restaurants either ignore such requests or deliberately hide their food sources and cooking methods. Their willingness to provide information is a significant justification for adding the chain to the list.
Bare Bowls Kitchen food truck: on a mission to provide REAL food at a reasonable price. Chef James Ashley prepares fresh food to order using pastured meat, local farmers market produce, and pastured eggs. Chef James is also the owner of Pure Catering. Read Real Food Houston’s first review and revisit at Bare Bowls Kitchen.
Flip ‘n Patties, a food truck that offers “Filipino Street Food & Juicy Burgers.” The burgers are made with grassfed and grass finished beef. Their menu includes items made with meat from farm raised pigs and pastured organic chicken. They make their own buns in-house with organic, unbleached flour.
Oh My! Pocket Pies: a mobile restaurant that offers a “fresher alternative to fast food” that specializes in “quality ingredients from mostly local vendors.” They use local Law Ranch Cattle Company grass-fed beef and other local vendors and serve their food in recyclable products.
The Counter offers custom built burgers and has two Houston area locations, one in the Heights and another in the Woodlands. The burgers are made with antibiotic-free and hormore-free beef. Other choices include natural chicken sandwiches and organic bison burgers. The burgers may be ordered on a bowl for gluten-free and low-carb options. Ingredients offered include organic mixed greens. The Counter offers Tillamook cheddar, which is free of rBST. Condiments such as ketchup and mayo without HFCS are available upon request. See the Houston menu.
Elevation Burger on Kirby. The healthiest food item at this restaurant seems to be the grass-fed beef burger which they grind fresh on the premises. They use olive oil to fry the potatoes, which may be somewhat better than the standard rancid vegetable oil, but is still not the healthiest choice for frying. There’s not much information about the rest of their ingredients, so we can assume they are probably just standard fare for fast food restaurants. They do offer an option to get the burger wrapped in lettuce rather than on a bun. For more information about this new burger restaurant, read CultureMap’s review.
JerryBuilt Hometown Burgers is another burger restaurant that is claiming to provide better ingredients. They use Niman Ranch beef and bake their buns in house with dough from Three Brothers Bakery. Niman Ranch, a San Francisco based ranch and processor, beef is grazed for the first 14-18 months, then finished on grain. Their chicken is from Buddy’s Natural Chicken based in Gonzales, TX. Both Niman beef and Buddy’s chicken are fed a grain mix that includes soy, which is probably genetically engineered since there’s no claim to be organic. JerryBuilt’s first choice for produce is organic and local, but always fresh. I couldn’t find any information about the kind of oil used for cooking. JerryBuilt may be an improvement over standard fast food burgers, but they’ve got a way to go before the burgers are really healthy.
The Burger Guys have two locations, Westheimer and Main Street. Their claims include using Akaushi beef (probably not grassfed and grass finished, but I could not verify that), potatoes fried in duck fat, house-made sauces, and soft drinks with cane sugar. A good add-on not usually offered is the fried chicken or duck egg. Note that the claim to use duck fat for french fries is “Finished in duck fat.” I got no reply to an email asking them what they use for the first frying, which, unfortunately, is probably a much cheaper, unhealthy fat, or they would advertise the difference. A review of the new Downtown location says they shop farmers markets for fresh produce (good!) and that they make their own ice cream (could be good, but we don’t know the ingredients). Since their beef is probably not grassfed, I’m ambivalent about including Burger Guys on our Real Food Restaurants page. Does anyone have more information about them?
I’ve learned from a reader that there are two coffee shops in the Houston area that serve unhomogenized, lightly pasteurized milk with their coffee. They are Pearland Coffee Roasters and Catalina Coffee Shop. If you really like your coffee, you might want to try these out. Let me know what you think about their coffee.
For more good options on Houston area restaurants, also see Made with Love Houston.