King Creole

At Underbelly, Chris Shepherd declares Houston the South's top gun. Watch out, Big Easy.
Photograph by Debora Smail

I walked into Underbelly the other night and straight into a bear hug from chef-owner Chris Shepherd. And I wasn’t the only one. Every woman that the extroverted Houston chef had ever met before, plus random strangers who were looking a little jealous, also received a hug. I’m not sure what male customers got, maybe a fist bump, possibly a headlock. But hugs are definitely part of the routine at this destination-of-the-moment, a sprawling, exuberant dining hall that is more a reflection of its chef’s personality and philosophy than any Texas restaurant I can think of.

Spend a couple of hours at Underbelly and there will be no doubt in your mind why 39-year-old Shepherd considers Houston the preeminent food city of Texas. Nor will you wonder what

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