As of May 2020, I’ve lived in Pearland for a decade. I was here long before Ronnie Killen expanded his mini-empire to four restaurants in Pearland alone, before the city got its second H-E-B on Pearland Parkway, and even before Pearland could sell liquor for off-premise consumption. You read that correctly; I couldn’t go to a liquor store in my own city for the first six years I lived here. Another development that I’ve delighted in is the expansion of dining options. No longer am I doomed to eat at chain restaurants or fast food joints, both of which are easy to find no matter where you are in the greater Galveston County area — even my tiny hometown of Santa Fe.
Those expanded dining options are in part due to population growth. With over 120,000 residents, Pearland is among the fastest-growing cities in the Greater Houston area. The explosive growth during the first two decades of the century transformed this once-quiet farming community into a bustling and diverse mini-metropolis. With that diversity came a boom in locally owned restaurants serving everything from soul food to ramen.
Pearland is a mere 10 miles south of 610 and may be most well known to Greater Houston-area diners for the cluster of well-regarded, eponymous restaurants owned and operated by the aforementioned Ronnie Killen: Killen’s Barbecue, Killen’s Steakhouse, Killen’s Burgers and Killen’s TMX. However, Pearland is also home to many additional fabulous eateries, as well as two local breweries. The 10 listed here are among my favorites. All of them currently offer takeout options for diners who aren’t yet ready to dine in person or those who simply need a quick, midweek dinner option.
Atchafalaya Crawfish, 2202 North Main: Crawfish season is, even in a good year, sadly only about five months long, and everyone born and raised in the region has very specific standards for excellent crawfish. When selling such a fiercely debated cuisine, a purveyor has to have a great product, because anything less would be insulting. Atchafalaya is a no-frills, drive-up outpost serving boiled and live crawfish during the season at incredibly reasonable prices. Live crawfish prices start as low as $2 a pound and boiled crawfish ranges from a mere $4 per pound to $6 per pound, depending on size and availability. Atchafalaya seasons the crawfish in the traditional Louisiana style and serves them with potatoes, sausage and corn. Atchafalaya Crawfish is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. or until the mudbugs are sold out.
Brooklyn Pizzeria, 9215 Broadway: Brooklyn Pizzeria started in 2006 with its first location in Humble. The Shahini family had moved from New York City to Houston a year earlier. They soon discovered that few area restaurants served a proper pie. So, they decided to start a pizza parlor like the one Mike Shahini operated for over 25 years in Brooklyn. A mere six years later, the Shahinis expanded with a second location in Missouri City. They now have eight restaurants serving fresh, New York-style pies. The menu is simple and hits all the basics. Pizza by the slice ranges from $2.77 to $3.70 for multiple toppings. A large pizza starts at $14.84 and goes up to $18.54 for the four-or-more-topping specialty pizzas. However, the large is an impressive, 16-inch monster that can easily feed a family of four (or two very hungry adults). The Shahinis make every sauce in house. For diners not in the mood for pizza (unfathomable, but it could happen), Brooklyn Pizzeria also offers 9-inch hero subs starting at just $7, salads for under $8 and a variety of pasta dishes from $8.50 to $11.50. Brooklyn Pizzeria is open every day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Burger Tex, 3006 Broadway: Burger places may seem like they’re a dime a dozen, and looking at Burger Tex’s menu one might be inclined to shrug and question how a basic burger shop is surviving with so many other options available (not the least of which is Killen’s Burger a mere 1.3 miles away). Burger Tex is a lesson in not judging a book by its cover. The buns are made fresh in house daily and are toasted before hosting four-, six- or eight-ounce beef patties. The burgers are served unadorned, so guests can dress them at the salad bar with the typical condiments and vegetal accoutrements. Burger Tex also offers a Bulgogi Burger for those who want to try something different. The fries aren’t much to write home about, but the onion rings are a treat, achieving the rare state of crispy outer shell surrounding a tender, fully cooked onion. The burgers are perfectly charred with a flavorful outer crust, while maintaining sufficient moisture and a pleasantly crumbly texture. It’s a basic burger shop, but the simplicity is exactly what makes it great. Burger Tex is open Mondays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Emma’s Mex Grill, 5096 Broadway: Owners Jose Jr. and Luis Mendieta are proud, fourth-generation restaurateurs. Their family opened the first restaurant, Mely’s, in 1989 and it was a popular staple until 2008. After closing, Jose Sr. decided to open another restaurant in honor of his mother-in-law, Emma Arteaga de García, who passed away in 2009. In addition to offering Mexican cuisine, Emma’s also serves an impressive array of tequilas and agave spirits and occasionally hosts meet-the-maker events and tequila tasting dinners. The everyday menu runs the gamut of Mexican dishes that Houstonians crave such as tacos, fajitas, and tamalesbut also features more innovative dishes like Enchiladas San Miguel, which are stuffed with roasted corn, tomatoes and zucchini — a lacto-vegetarian dream. The Ceviche Golfo is a refreshing mix of shrimp, scallops and white fish that are marinated in lime and cilantro and tossed with fresh red onion, jalapeño, jicama and cucumber. The Mendieta family have spent the better part of 30 years serving Pearland, and if the success of Emma’s is any indication, they’ll surely be serving for 30 more. Emma’s Mex Grill is open Mondays through Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Four Friends Tea Room, 3816 Broadway: This adorable spot, which includes a gift shop, was established 20 years ago in Pearland’s historic district. Owner Sherrill Kirbyand her sister Joy keep the tea room well-stocked with an eclectic array of tea cups and pots. Guests can enjoy a spot of afternoon tea that comes with a full pot, three finger sandwiches and a dessert for just $15. For a mere $5 more, tea enthusiasts can upgrade to High Tea, which increases the repast to a cup of soup, salad and the choice of three finger sandwiches or two croissant sandwiches along with chips and a dessert. In addition, guests can enjoy an adorable Mommy & Me Take Out Tea Party package that includes an adult tea room sampler, kids meal, pink lemonade “tea” for kids, desserts, a teapot and two tea cups for just $50. It’s perfect for a birthday or a simply a fun activity for those long summer days. Four Friends Tea Room is open Mondays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for take out only.
La Casita, 18043 County Road 127: In 1976, Evangelina Castillo asked her husband Paul to build a small room next to their house, which was between Friendswood and Pearland, so she could start a restaurant. If it didn’t work out, Evangelina said they could just turn it into an apartment for rent. Her family on her father’s side, the Ybarras, were in the restaurant business, but this was Evangelina’s first restaurant. The family connections and her career working in the cafeteria at daughter’s school inspired Castillo to take the risk, which paid off. Everything at La Casita is made fresh and in house. The menu includes classics like fajitas, tacos, enchiladas and chalupas. During the filming of Apollo 13, Tom Hanks stopped into La Casita and diners can still enjoy the Tom Hanks Special that includes 3 chicken enchiladas, rice and beans for just $9.25. The prices at La Casita are a steal but perhaps nothing beats the $18.50 Fajitas a la Casita that comes with a generous pound of beef fajitas, six tortillas and all the traditional accoutrements. That’s a date-night meal for $25 including a tip, and that’s hard to find anywhere. La Casita is open Mondays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Mikki’s Soul Food Café, 9603 Broadway: Twenty years ago, Jeanette Williams started the original Mikki’s Soul Food Café at 10500 West Bellfort. The Pearland branch opened on June 14 last year. The menu boasts classic sides such as black-eyed peas, collard greens and macaroni and cheese, as well as staples like stewed oxtails, turkey necks and fried catfish. The smothered pork chop is a must-have treat, but it’s recommended diners arrive hungry. The bone-in chop dominates the plate, measuring, on average, 6 to 8 inches in diameter. The tender meat is served over a generous pile of white rice and is smothered with a classic brown gravy. If you’re in need of comfort (and who isn’t these days), Mikki’s has something to soothe your soul. Mikki’s Cafe is open Mondays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Peña’s Donut Heaven, 11601 Shadow Creek Parkway: Raymond Peña grew up in the doughnut business and worked with his mother at her local doughnut shop. After 20 years as a Houston firefighter, he opened Donut Heaven in 1996 with wife Debbie. At his latest shop, Peña offers all the doughnut classics, from iced to filled. In addition, the expansive breakfast and lunch menu has offerings for every mood. For guests wanting to test their gastronomical limits, the Peña’s Donut Burger offers a generous half-pound, all-beef patty with American cheese and a glazed doughnut bun. If you’re stopping in for breakfast and it’s Tuesday, don’t miss the two-for-$4 breakfast tacos. The tacos are made with fresh flour tortillas, eggs and your choice of two other ingredients. Guests can choose from chorizo, bacon, ham or sausage, or keep it vegetarian with spinach, mushrooms and bell peppers. Everything is cooked to order, and at just $4 it’s an outstanding bargain breakfast. Pena’s is open Mondays through Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Super Bowl Asian Cuisine & Tea House, 4310 Bailey: Crystal and Sean Lee arrived in Pearland in 2016 from Taiwan by way of Los Angeles and quickly set up shop serving pan-Asian cuisine. For the Lee family, the restaurant business is a family affair. Daughter Elsa and son Osmond often help out after school and on weekends, answering the phone for take-out orders and busing tables. Everything is made fresh daily, including the tonkotsu ramen. It can take anywhere from 18 to 24 hours to develop the deep umami flavors in ramen broth. Super Bowl only serves about 40 bowls of ramen per day because they only make one pot. This is one of many examples of the Lees commitment to quality. Crystal regularly drives to Kemah to pick up the fresh Gulf shrimp that makes the curry coconut shrimp with rice a standout dish. In addition to being delicious, Super Bowl is budget-friendly, with most dishes priced between $8 and $11. Super Bowl also offers an impressive variety of milk teas, flavored green and black teas, smoothies with fresh fruits, specialty hot brewed teas, and frothy Dalgona coffee. Super Bowl is open Monday through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. and Wednesdays through Saturdays from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Taglia Fresh Italian, 3115 Dixie Farm Road: Sheri Rabanal, fresh out of college at 23, opened this restaurant in September 2019. Taglia serves fresh Italian food, which is all made in-house, including the breads and pastas. The dishes are a mix of Rabanal’s ideas as well as recipes from her mother and her uncle’s pizzerias in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Guests can order Italian-American staples like fettuccine alfredo, but Taglia’s hidden gems are the lesser-known pastas. The Casarecce Al Pomodoro is a light and refreshing option with fresh Roma tomatoes, roasted garlic and herbs topped with freshly grated parmigiano. Campanelle, a pasta shaped like a bell-like flower, is served in a light Parmesan sauce with prosciutto and mushrooms. The commitment to quality, housemade pastas and pizza dough, family-friendly menu and pricing will no doubt lead to this recent addition to Pearland’s food scene becoming a weekly staple for busy, working families. Taglia Fresh Italian is open Mondays through Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
If you choose to dine in, make it a better experience for you, the staff and fellow guests by following the minimum Health Protocols for Restaurant Customers that have been established by the State of Texas. These include minimizing in-person contact, maintaining six feet of distance from those not in your party, washing or sanitizing your hands frequently and wearing a face covering when entering or exiting the restaurant or are interacting with restaurant staff. Even if you don’t agree with the rules, remember: the staff didn’t make them, so there’s no reason to be unkind.
Still hungry in Pearland? Check out the restaurant picks that writer Carlos Brandon made in 2018.