Coastal Texans have the best of both culinary worlds when it comes to winter comfort foods
It’s hard to say what residents in these parts turn to more when it’s cold — chili or gumbo. We are, after all, equal parts Texan and coastal dweller. And both meals are equally emblematic of our culture. A steaming bowl of either comforts us on winter days and fills us at festivals and fairs. Most everyone has a good recipe — there’s no shortage of cook-off teams around here — and will make a pot on a lazy weekend day. But luckily, we have bountiful options when we’re short on time and long on cravings.
Clary’s Seafood Restaurant
Clary Milburn began waiting tables at the famous Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant back in the 1960s, until he branched off to open his own spot off the causeway in 1977. Clary’s signature gumbo sprang from the winner of a five-way taste test, when a former cook compared batches made from different recipes. Milburn continued tweaking it through the years, and the result is a rich, spicy dark roux loaded with flavor and big, juicy shrimp and lump crab.
8509 Teichman Road, Galveston
Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant
This famous historic Galveston favorite makes great gumbo, in part because of its expertise in fresh seafood and in part because of a few roux-making secrets the establishment has had the chance to refine since it opened more than a century ago. As one Gaido family member shared on Tanji Patton’s Goodtaste.tv, one of the tricks to a great roux is using clarified butter, which allows it to tolerate more heat. Gaido’s gumbo showcases the effect with a creamy, dark roux, perfectly cooked shrimp and a lot of the dish’s namesake okra.
3828 Seawall Blvd., Galveston
This unassuming San Leon oyster bar, named the “ultimate seafood dive bar” by the Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern, is best known for its wood-roasted Oysters Gilhooley, but you also can find a good selection of other seafood and Cajun dishes, including a bowl of “Everybody” mixed seafood, chicken and sausage gumbo. Don’t bring plastic, Gilhooley’s is cash only.
222 Ninth St., San Leon
Little Daddy’s Gumbo Bar
Little Daddy’s makes its roux in big batches in the morning, and then cooks your gumbo to order in the restaurant’s unique style of steam kettle cooking. It’s a method that sister restaurant Saltwater Grill in downtown Galveston has been perfecting since 1999, and allows the fresh proteins to be quickly poached in just the right amount of soup before being served. You can order four different heaping bowls of gumbo made in this style, including classic seafood or chicken and sausage, decadent prime rib, or “mumbo,” for a little bit of everything.
2107 Postoffice St., Galveston
1615 W. FM 646, League City
Miller’s Seawall Grill
At this family-owned waterfront favorite for almost 40 years, Mama Miller’s very own gumbo recipe is still served hot to order, and not just because it’s fresh — here’s one bowl of gumbo that doesn’t skimp on spice for the general public’s palate. Make sure you taste it before adding hot sauce. Along with the typical steamed rice, it also comes with a slab of grilled bread for dunking.
1824 Seawall Blvd., Galveston
Shrimp ‘N Stuff
Why mess with a good thing? Shrimp ‘N Stuff offers a roux-based seafood gumbo that’s made from an old recipe handed down for the past 40 years from original owners. “We’ve never deviated from it,” said Jeff Antonelli, who a few years back bought Shrimp ‘N Stuff from Jim Bennett, who opened the original Avenue O location in 1976. Antonelli doubled the gumbo pleasure when he opened the downtown island Shrimp ‘N Stuff in 2014. The gumbo has old Louisiana and Mississippi influences. “It’s great stuff, we make it fresh, every day.”
3901 Ave. O, Galveston
216 23rd St., Galveston
The Seafood Depot
After a 15-year hiatus, The Seafood Depot islanders knew and loved returned last year in a new spot. And you don’t want to miss the eatery’s well loved, hearty shrimp gumbo. Originally opened in 1984, its recipes were handed down by the famous Maceo family to owners Sonny and Mary Martini, and you can still detect a hint of the Italian influence in the bold flavors and warm, sassy characters.
1017 61st St., Galveston
Over at April Fool Point Marina in San Leon, this secret gem of fresh-off-the-boat seafood is regularly packed with locals, visitors and a few boaters docked in for lunch. You can practically watch the shrimp for your gumbo being hauled in from your seat on the outdoor deck. A mild, dark roux and all the right spices make TopWater everyone’s favorite spot for gumbo in this neck of the coast.
815 Ave. O, San Leon
Kelley’s Country Cookin
What started as a small country kitchen inside Lang’s Pharmacy in the 1980s has now blossomed into seven locations of Jim Kelley’s Southern comfort family restaurant chain. And Kelley’s Country Cookin knows how to chili. Kelley’s has an entire section of its menu dedicated to chili, including the “Kelley’s Old Style” chili burger or dog, fries and Frito pie. You can even start your day with a ladle of hot, homemade chili over scrambled eggs with home fries and a biscuit, or load up a baked potato with it for lunch.
4604 Interstate 45, La Marque
Nestled away in a historic 1830s building on the island’s East End, Mosquito Café is well known for its healthy, fresh take on American-fusion eats. In keeping with its title as Zagat’s No. 1 Houston Metropolitan Area “Eclectic-International” restaurant, Mosquito serves a special recipe turkey chili with a handmade corn cake over house refried black beans and brown rice.
628 14th St., Galveston
Oasis Juice Bar & Market
When it comes to chili season, veggie lovers don’t have to be left out. In this hip, downtown hangout, the winter favorite is fire-roasted three bean chili, served with organic brown rice, avocado and cilantro for vegans, who don’t eat meat, eggs, dairy or animal byproducts. Vegetarians who do eat dairy can request their chili be topped with white queso. While usually served seasonally, the chili is so popular, it’s becoming a year-round item.
409 25th St., Galveston
An old hole-in-the-wall barbecue joint a block from Seawall Boulevard on Avenue S., Queen’s is the continuation of a family legacy begun by Clifford Earl Putnal as a neighborhood grocery more than 50 years ago, and carried on by the Kerzee family today. Queen’s barbecue brisket chili is made with a mix of chopped brisket and coarse ground chili meat. You won’t find it year-round though, so head over on a cold day during the winter months — it’s only served from about October through February.
3428 Ave. S, Galveston
Down on 19th Street and Avenue L, Lawrence “Junior” Puccetti has been known to tell patrons a slapsticky joke or squirt prank mustard in their face while they try to decide whether they want their homemade chili straight up, with beans, over fries, on a Coney Island hot dog with cheese and onions, or poured over a cheeseburger — all choices at the classic old bar and grill established back in 1944. Sonny’s Place also has a cool and wacky “Tex-Mex” version of chili spaghetti, which includes cheese, onions, jalapeños, tomatoes and chips.
1206 19th St., Galveston
The Press Box
Got a hankering for chili on game day but can’t pry yourself away from the tube? Go find yourself a screen over at The Press Box sports bar and grill on Postoffice Street in Galveston’s downtown. The Press Box serves “Longhorn” chili and you can order it in a bowl, with Frito pie, over a Coney Island or on a Chili Cheeseburger. The establishment has plenty of cold beer and a full bar of other adult beverages to wash it all down.
2401 Postoffice St. Galveston
Editor Laura Elder contributed to this listing.