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 as much information as possible about the restaurant’s claim for 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.
Disclaimer: The qualities listed for each restaurant are largely based on their own claims. Most restaurants have not been personally visited or evaluated, and only two have supplied answers to questions about their foods or their preparation methods.. I hope to be able to implement better evaluation in the future. Further, 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 I give 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.
Dish Society: offers local, fresh, seasonally-adjusted items. Some items include grassfed beef and Gulf seafood. Beverages include local Kickin kombucha, San Pelligrino, organic cane sugar sweetened soda, freshly-squeezed juices, fair trade coffees, local craft beers, and one organic wine. Breads are locally made by Slow Dough Bread Company. Some items mention Himalayan sea salt. The website does not give any information about the type of fats used in cooking or salad dressings. They do mention Heart of Texas Olive Oil as one of their suppliers. There are two locations in the Houston area: Galleria - Tanglewood [menus], 5740 San Felipe, and Katy - LaCenterra [menus], 23501 Cinco Ranch Blvd.
Down House offers locally sourced ingredients including farmers market produce, grassfed beef, wild caught seafood, and free-range eggs. Their list of local suppliers include Slow Dough Bread, Houston Dairymaids, Mill-King Creamery, Fat Cat Creamery, Dustin's Eggs, and Plant It Forward Farms. The menu changes regularly. Open daily from 9 AM to 12 AM. Brunch on Saturday from 9 AM to 3 PM. The executive chef, Mark Decker, visits the Eastside farmers' market for some of the produce. Reviews on Yelp. Reviews on UrbanSpoon. Facebook page.
Harold's in the Heights is a casual restaurant serving a unique brand of Southern and Creole cuisine. They say that many ingredients are locally sourced and include wild caught seafood and farmers' market produce. Local vendors include Houston Dairymaids, Atkinson Farms, Finck Cattle (free-range with no antibiotics or added hormones, but fed some grain), and Black Hill Ranch. The menu claims include house-made yogurt. Their list of vendors. Reviews on Yelp and UrbanSpoon.
Harvest Organic Grille: serves free range chicken, wild-caught fish, and grassfed beef. They don't use microwaves or deep fry anything. They offer selections that are vegetarian, gluten-free, and dairy-free for those who have dietary restrictions. The menu lists organic wines and beers. The website says they use only Himalayan salt, alkaline water, and wild-caught fish. They also say that they don't use processed foods and their meats are without chemicals, antibiotics, or hormones, and are all "natural." Their website says that all foods are prepared from scratch: "By definition, scratch means 100% fresh ingredients. We don’t cook ready products, but rather we buy each ingredient individually from local providers. All sauces, flavors, and foods are prepared inside of the restaurant. This means we don’t use canned foods." Although the name includes the word "organic," the website does not say that all of 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." Indika list of vendors.
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.
A Moveable Feast: a family owned health food store and café. The menu lists some organic items but also includes farmed fish. It's unclear from the menu, but there may be additional organic foods in the café. There is a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan menu items. The store sells A Better Way Beef and chicken plus organic grocery foods.
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, including organic salads, organic vegetable juices, organic tea and coffee, and organic breads. 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 meals can be ordered every week for take home. Order meals in packs of 10, 5, or even just one, on their website. Everything is made from scratch with mostly local organic produce, pasture raised meats and eggs. PnP uses no grains, dairy, legumes, or sugar. Read the Real Food Houston review of Partners in Paleo.
**new listing - January 2018** Pepper Twins: a country Chinese restaurant with four locations in Houston. Many menu items are organic (they are marked), and the chicken, beef, and pork are pastured meats from local farms. The chicken and lamb soups are homemade broth. Everything is made in-house.
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). Revival Market uses locally raised meats and vegetables but there are no claims to use organic products. Their food sources. Update June 2015: Revival Market has expanded its dining area and also now offers evening meals. Update March 2016: Revival Market no longer raises its own animals for meat. It's not clear where they source their meat. They still say they serve the best they can with price restrictions of what people are willing to pay.
Ruggles Green: the restaurant is certified by the Green Restaurant Association. The website makes these claims: all meat and poultry products contain no steroids, hormones or antibiotics; olive oil is used for cooking and rice bran oil is used for frying; no food contains trans-fats; offers organic and biodynamic wines; organic and free-trade coffee and tea. They say they avoid GMOs but don't claim to be GMO free.
Seasons Gourmet Food & Grocer, Galveston. Their website says that their seafood is "locally sourced and fresh directly from the Gulf," the dairy is local, the produce is local and organic, and the chicken is "free-range." Seasons specializes in supplying "vacation renters, second home owners and Galvestonians with the convenience of food, beer, wine and prepared foods delivered straight to their doorstep." They also offer in-house dining and take-out service. Yelp review. there is a Facebook page.
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 and some 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, including organic margaritas. 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.
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. Some menu items are listed as organic. 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. Read reviews at Yelp , Foursquare, and Urbanspoon.
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. Both owners are beekeepers. The menu lists cheeses from Brazos Valley. Beverages include San Pellegrino. There is no information about the fats and oils used for food preparation. 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] Chipotle announces the elimination of all GMO ingredients in their food. [Updated April 29, 2015]
D'Marco's Pizzeria, a local pizza restaurant with two locations (S. Highway 6 in Sugar Land and Memorial Drive, Houston) that features Chicago-style pizza. They also offer pasta, sandwiches, and salads. D'Marco's is added to this list for three primary offerings. They use organic beef and chicken for their meats; their flour is unbleached and untreated; and they offer a choice of organic soft drinks. The pizza dough and Italian sausage are made in-house.
Jason's Deli: a chain restaurant that has made some efforts to improve the quality of their food. They claim to have eliminated artificial trans fats and high fructose corn syrup from their menus. Their website has a Nutrition Calculator that gives the basic Nutrition Facts for your choice of customized menu items and lists all the ingredients, some of which are organic. There is also an Interactive Nutrition Menu with a list of food items and the basic food facts for each. A Special Diets Wizard helps you choose menu items that avoid common allergens such as eggs, gluten, or peanuts. Soybean oil appears to be the primary oil used. Sample menu from a Houston area Jason's Deli. For more information about which items are healthier and which items should be avoided at Jason's Deli, read Food Babe's article, Jason's Deli: What's Healthy & What's Not!
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.
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 former mobile restaurant now sells their pies at several Houston locations. There are also options for pick-up and delivery. They offer 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.
Elevation Burger on Kirby. The website lists some organic items. The beef burger is made with organic, grass-fed beef which they grind fresh on the premises. The menu lists organic chicken, organic bacon, and organic grains in the veggie burger. They use olive oil to fry the potatoes. 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 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. The say that their food contains no antibiotics, no growth hormones, no trans fats or hydrogenated oils. Their salad dressings are house-made. Facebook page.
I've learned from readers that there are coffee shops in the Houston area that serve unhomogenized, lightly pasteurized milk with their sometimes organic coffee. If you really like your coffee, you might want to try these out. Let me know what you think about their coffee.
Antidote Coffee in The Heights at 729 Studewood St, Houston, TX 77007. According to a reader they use Mill-King low temp pasteurized milk and serve at least some organic coffees, although I could not verify that. They serve coffee, desserts, and sandwiches and have some vegetarian and gluten-free options. Antidote Facebook page. Reviews on Yelp and UrbanSpoon,
Page last updated: May 24, 2016