Gumbo recipes are like fingerprints. No two are exactly alike. But, “ no roux, no gumbo.” There has to be a roux.
My personal preference is for a dark roux. If you don’t get your roux dark enough, you’re missing out on some deep, toasted flavors. Shocking the trinity in the super hot roux starts the caramelization process.
Gumbo is translated from West African words for okra (kingombo or quingombo). But I’ve noticed very little use of okra in the gumbos that I’ve been sampling.
Beginning in February of 2022, I began sampling gumbo at restaurants around town. Some were not great. Some were good enough. And some would warrant a return visit.
First off, the ones that I did not like.
Acme Oyster and Seafood. The first time I sampled it, there wasn't any seafood to speak of in it. Just a mediocre, lukewarm gumbo broth. The second time, pretty much the same experience. Not recommended.
Eugene's Gulf Coast Cuisine. The day I went the chicken in the gumbo had that warmed over flavor profile that comes from refrigerating chicken and bringing it out of the fridge the next or subsequent days.
Eunice Restaurant. The chicken was so heavily smoky that this became a one note gumbo. Smoky chicken.
Goode Company Seafood. A thick, flour-y gumbo broth that was really unpleasant. See roux comments under "Flying Fish".
State Fare Kitchen on I-10. I sat at the bar and ordered the gumbo. The bartender said "let me bring you a sample first to taste as some people think it is too dark." Well, I LOVE a good gumbo where the roux has blackened sufficiently. It shows the chef has the necessary skills. In this case, it wasn't a dark roux. It was a burned roux. And I was so grateful that I got to do a taste test first. Big tip to the bartender that day.
Flying Fish on Durham. I really wanted to like the gumbo here because they are local to the Heights. When you make a roux, that hot oil breaks down the glutenin and gliadin, the two proteins that form the gluten web when liquid is added. So the flour loses its thickening ability as it develops for the nutty roux flavor we all love. Although the roux here was dark, the gumbo had this thick flour paste feel and taste to it that was very unpleasant. There was a nice amount of sausage and shrimp but I couldn't get past that flour paste consistency. Same problem that I had with Goode Company Seafood.
Alfreda's. I remember not liking this one bit. Can't remember if it was because it was really greasy (but not in a good way like at Viola and Agnes) or that the spicing was just unbalanced. I seem to remember thinking "clueless kitchen".
Joe's Deli on Winkler on the East Side. More like a gumbo porridge. Cheap sausage, with a texture more like Vienna sausages. Broken up bits of rice cooked down in the gumbo.
Esther’s Cajun on N Shepherd. Piled high with meat and fixins’ but very little broth. It wasn’t a favorite. I took it home, added two cups of water to thin it out and create a broth. While I finished it completely, I can’t imagine going back for it again.
Willie's Bar and Grill off of 290. Come here for the burgers and onion rings but not the gumbo. I have to qualify by saying that I finished the bowl. But they dump too much worcestershire sauce into it and that is all you taste. Was it a goof on one particular day? I don't know as I haven't gone back for a second test.
And now, on to some gumbos that I liked.
1929 Po-Boy Cajun Kitchen inthe Lyric Market food hall on Smith.. For me, this is about as good as it gets.
Viola and Agnes on NASA Road 1. Still my favorite. The chef is from Lake Charles. The gumbo is really rich, with a layer of spicy oil on top, and includes a crab claw and a chicken drumstick. This is a place I would take out of towners as I pretty much like everything on the menu. (http://www.houstonfoodexplorers.com/2021/07/gumbo-viola-agnes-nasa-road-1-in-clear.html )
Christie’s Seafood on Westheimer.. For me, this is about as good as it gets. It is the style of gumbo I like best. Dark roux. Thinner broth. Lots of flavor. Shrimp added at the last moment so as not to cook down.
Gatlin’s Fins and Feathers on Crosstimbers. While their fried chicken was “good enough” but saltier than I like, I enjoyed their gumbo a lot. I would go back for the gumbo.
Bayou City Seafood on Richmond. I liked this gumbo a lot and it was one of the true bargains for the price. Big shrimp. Real seafood. I've been back three times now.
Zydeco Restaurant in downtown Houston. I ordered both a seafood gumbo and a chicken and sausage gumbo. The steam table looked really sad, but the gumbo. These were the simple but well prepared gumbos that I could eat every day. Actually, I had planned to just have a taste of each bowl and take the rest home. But spoonful followed spoonful and I burned through both bowls. And the jalapeño cornbread was tasty, too. Now, they had jars of Kary's Dark Roux for sale. I'm not sure if they make their own or just use the jar roux.
Le Pam's House of Creole out on 1960. Very Louisiana. Very home cookin'. I liked the way the gumbo came together as it was ordered. Some roux and broth. Add some seafood. Heat it up. Tasty gumbo for sure. One thing that I suspect, though I'm not 100% sure...unlike every other gumbo I've tried, the Le Pam gumbo seemed to have a hint of Zatarain or Louisiana Foods crab boil liquid in it.
7 Spice Cajun Seafood (right across the street from Le Pam's, and, I see that there is now one on Westheimer also). Funny that I did two places in one day. I suspect the gumbo at 7 Spice is more "chain restaurant", might have been where they just opened a jar of roux, etc. But you know, something about it, I kinda liked it just as much as Le Pam's. Go figure.
Grace's on Kirby had a decent gumbo that I would order again.
Lucille's. They feature a gumbo z'herbes, which I always thought was a meatless gumbo for Lent made with 9 kinds of greens. But theirs had meats in it and I've since learned that this is not out of the ordinary in the world of Louisiana gumbo. Online, I've seen a bunch of recipes for this type of gumbo that include ham hock or other types of meat. (the Leah Chase recipe has chorizo, sausage, brisket, etc. for example : https://www.southernliving.com/recipes/leah-chase-gumbo-z-herbes) It was a tasty gumbo.
Little Daddy's Gumbo Bar. In Galveston and also in League City. I've always liked their gumbo and enjoy getting a bowl when I am out that way.
Saigon House. The Vietnamese restaurant of chef Tony Nguyen, located out on 1960 (aka Cypress Creek Parkway). And a mile or so from Le Pam's and 7 Spice. A gumbo that I really enjoyed. Some comments from others indicate it may be a tad inconsistent so, fingers crossed, it will be delicious on the day that you visit. Here's a photo of their gumbo presentation.
Babin's Seafood Katy. I was torn on whether to give this a "favorite" listing or a "good enough" listing. It's part of the Landy's chain of restaurants. I'm pretty sure it is a jar roux. But it was a nice, dark roux. And the shrimp were succulent, though not as impressive as, say, Bayou City Seafood. In a pinch, I'd go back for the gumbo.
Rainbow Lodge. I found the duck and andouille gumbo to be very tasty and I would order it again.
"Good Enough Gumbo" (Because sometime good enough is good enough)
Abe's Cajun Market in Clear Lake. A salty gumbo which would normally be an instant deal breaker. But I really like this gumbo. Even with its saltiness, it has a nice amount of sausage and chicken and a pretty good flavor profile.
BB's. A very meh gumbo, but still a good enough one if one isn't obsessed with finding the best.
Brennan's. Again, a gumbo with no soul. Kind of bland. Kind of boring. I wouldn't order it again. But not bad, so I put it in this "good enough" column.
A friend said good things about the Jason's Deli gumbo (prepared at one location in their commissary). I tried it at two locations and found it tasty enough.
Crawfish Cafe in the Heights. And I think the original location is on Bellaire Blvd. Again, a perfectly acceptable gumbo. The place is rocking at night, due to the boiled crawfish or seafood that you order sauced to your particular tastes.
Crescent City Beignet on San Felipe. An "okay" gumbo with no soul to it.
Captain Benny's. A perfectly acceptable gumbo.
Frank's Americana. It was a thicker gumbo than is my preference, but I liked the flavor. And the shrimp in it weren't over cooked.
Roux Pour. Various locations. A decent enough gumbo from a chain.
Joyce's. A perfectly acceptable gumbo.
Pier 6 in San Leon. Another "okay" gumbo. Smallish serving. Decent flavor. Included okra in the recipe. Included two oysters which was a plus. But they cooked the smallish shrimp in the gumbo instead of cooking them separately and adding to the hot broth just before serving. So the shrimp were tough and not very appealing.
House of Roux in Old Town Spring. Original Visit: "For me, this is about as good as it gets. I discovered that I like dark, thin roux broths, like what I had at Liuzza's by the Track in New Orleans. I like them more than the thicker, flour gravy rouxs. For me, House of Roux, along with Viola and Agnes, and Bayou City Seafood are my three favorite gumbos in the Houston area.
Supreme Gumbo. It was a little food truck on Southmore at Almeda. Now, it is a stand alone on Cavalcade. It can be an acceptable gumbo with a real Lousiana feel to it. Or it can be totally awful. Depending on the day. Caveat emptor.Update 2023: "We had some gumbo more recently that was “meh”. So caveat emptor. Was it just an "off" day?