You might not like Burt’s. It’s not the type of place a chic restaurant critic would ever approach. It probably won’t be on any tourist lists or reviewed by Fodor’s. But we think all that’s a good thing. Because if you want to experience real local Houston food and culture, you owe it to yourself to visit Burt’s Meat Market and Cajun Food, in the Fourth Ward district of inner Houston.
Close to downtown, in the shadow of the fancy corporate buildings, sits this place that’s been serving up authentic soul food in this community since 1948. Burt’s has been keeping this community well fed for generations, and you can see it in the way that so many people keep coming back. It’s a trustworthy place. No-nonsense, and what you see is what you get. The area is gritty, and this is a combination grocery store and meat market and not a cozy upscale restaurant, but the food is heart-warming, and more.
Being so close to the Lousiana border, Houston local culture puts a distinct Cajun slant on southern food, and Burt’s does it better than most in the area. Alongside the fried chicken and collard greens, you’ll find gumbo, boudain balls (a spicy dirty-rice mixture), Andouille sausage, crawfish (in season March through May), and other Cajun specialties. This is indeed where the locals pick up their supplies for their neighborhood crawfish boils. But even if you don’t like Cajun food or haven’t even tried it, you will love Burt’s wide selection of everything else.
Of course, this is a meat market. So don’t expect anything remotely vegetarian or even “heart healthy.” (Houston and the South in general have some of the highest rates of heart attacks in the nation for a reason. We don’t eat light. We eat to enjoy.) But all their food is prepared locally, on-site. Including their amazing selection of smoked meats, which is perhaps what they’re best known for. When you see things like smoked turkey legs, sausage, and other beautiful meats, you’ll know why this is such good food. Then add to that all their home-made sides, like mac and cheese, fried okra, and out-of-this-world southern-style greens, and you’ve got food you just can’t find in other places. And don’t even mention the awesome desserts…
Now we’ve just got to sit down.
Which brings up a critical point: You don’t actually eat at Burt’s. There’s no seating. This is a take-out-only joint. Just get in line and order—and don’t talk on your cell phone while in line, by the way, or they will skip you faster than an alligator’s tail-swat—and they’ll give your food to you in a Styrofoam box for you to take with you. Sit in your car and eat like everybody else, or take it back to your hotel room or house.
Again, we said this wasn’t the type of place that gets reviewed for being all nicey-nicey. But that’s not really what you want anyway, is it? Especially if you’re just visiting Houston and want an authentic experience eating like the locals, you just want some of the best local food around, right? That’s exactly what Burt’s Meat Market is all about.