The Ultimate 'Top Chef' Houston Location Guide
As the fourth-largest city in the U.S., it's almost surprising that Top Chef hasn't shot in Houston before. But when the cheftestants and judges finally made their way to Space City, season 19 did justice to Houston's culinary scene. Beyond highlighting the ingredients and dishes that Southeast Texas is famous for, Top Chef took viewers on a tour of the people and places that have cultivated the city's unique culture.
From buzzy new spots to icons in the local food industry, all of the restaurants, markets, museums, and even island (yes, island!) included in this season should be on your Houston bucket list. In the first 12 episodes, you'll get a great overview of what to eat, see, and do in Texas' biggest city. Whether you're the kind of fan that wants to visit everywhere Tom and Padma went, or have just been inspired to plan a food-filled trip to Houston, here are all the locations and restaurants featured in season 19 of Top Chef.
Top Chef Houston Restaurants
In the season premiere we're introduced to some of Houston's most influential chefs who've been gathered to taste the contestants' food after they cook at The Annie Café. Among those at the table are Hugo Ortega, chef-owner of renowned restaurants including Xochi and Caracol, and Chris Shepherd of Underbelly Hospitality, famous for places like Georgia James (where you can get what might be the best steak of your life). Top Chef also highlights the incredible food being produced by Houston's many Asian communities. If you're looking for a good group restaurant, or just want amazing Indian food, head to Kiran's, whose chef-owner Kiran Verma judges episode three's Elimination Challenge. Must-visit locations for Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Filipino cuisine were also showcased in that episode; try Kata Robata if you're craving a wagyu sando, Xin Chao for buttermilk fried chicken battered with pandan rice flakes, or Crawfish & Noodles for (you guessed it) noodles.
For innovative takes on Vietnamese food, try chef Christine Ha's cooking at The Blind Goat. Head over to Himalaya for Indo-Pakistani food—and make sure to try the mutton biryani. There's also the top-tier Japanese cooking at Shun Japanese Kitchen, Chinese cuisine at Mala Sichuan Bistro and Dumpling Haus (where you should obviously order the dumplings), or Filipino dishes from 7000 Islands (delivery only) and soon-to-open restaurant The Fattest Cow. All of these, and more restaurants representing the many Asian communities in Houston, are featured in episode three.
You can't go to Houston without having queso, and local legend Irma Galvan makes an appearance to guest judge a queso-off in the Quickfire Challenge of episode two. For a taste of her Tex-Mex fare, grab a table at Irma's Original in the downtown area. The cheftestants also try their hand at barbecue, cooking up briskets at J-Bar-M Barbecue, a relatively new addition to the city's barbecue scene, with state-of-the-art smokers. Pitmaster Greg Gatlin serves as the guest judge for Top Chef's brisket-centric challenge in episode five, a role that seems fitting considering his family-owned joint Gatlin's BBQ is known for making some of the best barbecue in H-town (as us locals call it).
Suffice to day, if you're planning an meal itinerary based on this season of Top Chef, you have more than enough options to choose from. Craving some fajitas? Go downtown to Ninfa's Original — a Tex-Mex spot founded by "Mama" Ninfa Lorenzo who, as Padma mentions during the Quickfire in episode 10, is credited with popularizing fajitas in Houston. Located in Southeast Texas, Houston also benefits from a lot of Cajun influence on its cuisine — try classic dishes like gumbo and bananas foster at Brennan's, an iconic institution for Houstonians.
Explore more takes on Texas-style and American cooking at places like Sparrow Cookshop or Lucille's, whose chefs respectively appear in episodes one and four. To round out a culinary trip through Houston, make sure you visit ChòpnBlok (episode seven), a West African-inspired fast casual concept, and This Is It (episode nine), a spot that's been serving fried fish, smothered chicken, and other soul food since 1959.
For their final challenge in the Lone Star State, the cheftestants cook in the kitchen at Bludorn, a spot serving New-American dishes using Gulf Coast ingredients, that frequently makes the short list for best restaurants in the city and in Texas. Chef Aaron Bludorn takes a seat at the table during the elimination challenge of episode 12, where he critiques the contestants alongside guest judge chef Daniel Boulud.
But if you're looking to cook for yourself or grab ingredients on the go, Houston has some great spots to pick up groceries or artisanal food products. Get local produce at the Houston Farmer's Market, where the cheftestants whip up fajitas for a Quickfire Challenge. Or check out supermarkets like Hong Kong Food Market, Viet Hoa, Seiwa Market, 99 Ranch Market, and Subhlaxmi Grocers, which were also visited on the show.
Top Chef Houston Locations
Of course, the chefs and judges also explore what Houston has to offer outside its restaurant scene. When you're not busy eating, the area has a wide array of museums, neighborhoods, and activities that are worth checking out. Located in the Museum District itself is the Houston Museum of Natural Science, where the contestants this season serve their dishes in front of towering dinosaur skeletons after the elimination challenge in episode seven. If you're already at the museum, be sure not to miss the walk-through butterfly habitat, a perennial favorite for anyone visiting. To further explore the science side of things, travel to the city's outskirts and visit Space Center Houston.
This season of Top Chef also showcases one of Houston's newest attractions, POST. This converted historic post office space is now filled with a food hall, music venue, and beautifully designed modern updates to the building. The cheftestants even host their own night market on the POST Skylawn, a rooftop park and farm with beautiful views of downtown Houston. Interested in checking out some more of the city's history? In episode nine, the Top Chef team visits Freedmen's Town, a nationally registered historical site that served as a community for former slaves after the Civil War. This district is still fighting to protect its heritage today, and has played an important role in Houston's Black community. Finally, if you're looking to really complete your Top Chef experience of Houston, then book a room at the Staybridge Suites, where the contestants crashed throughout the season.
When you want to escape from the city and spend a day on the beach, one of the best day trips out of Houston is a quick visit to Galveston, an island city just one hour away. First settled in 1816, Galveston is a unique combination of historical architecture and Texas beach town. (You can see evidence of this historical influence in The Tremont House, where the cheftestants stayed on the island.) Take the Galveston Island Trolley over to The Strand, a quaint street filled with local shops and restaurants — and while you're there, make sure to pick up some chocolates at La King's Confectionery, where the contestants make a pit stop for some sugary snacks. Galveston is also the prime place for taking a fishing excursion in the Gulf of Mexico; you can even use the same charter company that took the contestants out to sea, Galveston Deep Sea Fishing. Although if your fishing efforts fall flat, you can always pick up some fresh fish at Katie's Seafood Market, just like they do in episode 12.
You won't meet a Houstonian who can't wax poetic about their city — from the diversity of cultures and cuisines to the world class museums — so it's no surprise that Top Chef finally made its way to H-town. When planning your next vacation, think about all the brisket, pho, and fajitas you could be eating if you just take a trip to Southeast Texas. You'll likely find that, as you tick off everything on the essential Top Chef itinerary for Houston, you'll love the city as much as the locals do.