Updated Dec 4, 2023 - Culture

The Keith Lee effect hits Houston

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Keith Lee has become America's most popular food critic. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Viral TikTok food critic Keith Lee is raving about Houston's food during his most recent food expedition.

Why it matters: After Lee essentially ripped Atlanta's food scene to shreds with his honest reviews, his much-anticipated tour through Houston tastes like validation — since we locals have always known Houston is a serious food city. (Sorry, Atlanta friends.)

Context: 27-year-old former MMA fighter Lee has a whopping 15.2 million followers on TikTok. To contextualize, that's more than most U.S. states' populations, so when he visits a restaurant, the place experiences a business boost dubbed the "Keith Lee effect."

  • Based in Las Vegas, Lee rates his food on a 10-point scale, often in the car with his family weighing in.
  • He regularly visits Black-owned and family-owned restaurants and has a history of turning an underrated mom-and-pop spot into the hottest kitchen in any city.

What they're saying: "Houston's got a plethora of places to choose from," he said at the end of one of his food review videos. "That's one thing about Houston: Houston has the most diverse and biggest array of food that I've had since we've been on food tours."

Where he ate in Houston:

Stick Talk: This was the first restaurant Lee tried after flying in. While it didn't get Lee's glowing accolades, he said the Cajun hibachi restaurant wasn't bad for some late-night hibachi, since it's often open until 3am.

  • His order included the chicken bowl, salmon bowl, blue raspberry lemonade and more. On average, the dishes got a 7-point rating, and he said he wanted more prominent flavors.
  • If you go: 502 Elgin St. in Midtown or 5819 Richmond Ave. at the Galleria.

Butter Funk Kitchen: The restaurant direct messaged him, asking him to visit.

  • Lee started by saying the customer service was good.
  • He gave the Sunnyside restaurant a mostly positive review for the weekend-special oxtails, "buttery" mashed potatoes, "moist" cornbread, fried okra, red beans and rice, and lemon pepper wings. The fried catfish got an 8.9/10, but the mac and cheese got a 3/10.
  • If you go: 8511 Scott St., Suite G.

The Breakfast Klub: The famed brunch place is about to get busier after Lee called the food "immaculate."

  • He said the fried chicken was "one of the best pieces of chicken [he's] had in a long time," rating it a 9.5 out of 10. Lee said the pancakes were dense but melted in his mouth.
  • His wife was a big fan of the Breakfast Klub, giving everything a 10.
  • "This whole place, I give it 9.8 out of 10. That's almost as high as I get, for real," he said. "I would mess around and come back to Houston just for that."
  • If you go: 3711 Travis St.

The Puddery: After the owner made over a dozen posts requesting the critic's visit, Lee stopped by. He loved the desserts so much, he gave a $2,000 tip.

  • After ordering the croissant Oreo waffle, now called the "Keith Lee Croffle," and banana and strawberry banana puddings, he said there should be lines "out the door, around the corner" and it's best dessert he's ever had. "It's not even close." He rated the banana pudding with strawberry a 9.2 out of 10.
  • If you go: 5517 Broadway St., Suite M, Pearland.

Cool Runnings Jamaican Grill: Winner, winner. This place obtained Lee's rare 10 points for its brown stew chicken.

  • Lee said the chicken just falls apart. He also enjoyed the cabbage and plantains on that plate but wasn't a fan of the rice.
  • If you go: 8270 W. Bellfort Ave.

The Better Box: For his sixth Houston review, Lee checked out a Philadelphia-inspired Chinese takeout food truck.

  • He started with the Cajun salmon cheesesteak, quickly giving it a 9.3 rating. He mentioned the Philly cheesesteak eggroll had a lot of potential.
  • If you go: Check out their Instagram for the most updated location and schedule.

The Waffle Bus: Lee visited this Heights eatery that started as a food truck. The Heights location has been plagued by construction along Shepherd Drive and has lost 50% of its clientele, the owner told Lee.

  • The restaurant's strawberry Irish creme brulee waffle sandwich won the best dish with a 9 out of 10.
  • "I'm for sure coming through the traffic for this," Lee said.
  • If you go: 1835 N. Shepherd Drive.

Mezza Grille: Lee's latest visit was to the new American fusion restaurant Mezza Grille, where he had a beef shish kebab, a mango-stuffed chicken breast, a spicy chicken shawarma wrap and a bowl of chicken tortilla soup.

  • Each dish got a high 8 or 9 out of 10 rating.
  • Finishing off the soup, Lee said, "for this place not to be known, they've got some great food if you ask me."

If you go: 6100 Westheimer Road, Suite 154.

The bottom line: Get ready for the long lines at your new favorite places.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include Lee's latest visits to Waffle Bus and Mezza Grille.

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