The ultimate Thanksgiving fantasy draft of Houston restaurant dishes

In an ideal world, here's which turkey, potatoes, mac and cheese or pies would make up the perfect holiday meal.

Photo of Emma Balter
Menu items from Lucille's, Cleburne, Truth BBQ, Backstreet Cafe, Squable and Nobie's make up our Thanksgiving draft of Houston restaurant dishes.

Menu items from Lucille's, Cleburne, Truth BBQ, Backstreet Cafe, Squable and Nobie's make up our Thanksgiving draft of Houston restaurant dishes.

David "Odiwams" Wright, Karen Warren, Paula Murphy and Emma Balter

A few years ago, I took over Thanksgiving cooking duties for the family with my cousin Leslie. Weeks before Turkey Day, we pour over New York Times and Bon Appétit recipes we've had our eye on and devise a detailed spreadsheet with a shopping list and run of show.

It's all part of the fun, but at some point when I have my hand deep inside a raw bird's cavity, I'm going to daydream about summoning my favorite Houston food to my parents' home in the Hudson Valley. I got to thinking: If logistics were no object, which dishes would make up my perfect Thanksgiving meal? Who has the best mac and cheese, the most buttery mashed potatoes, or the most decadent pie?

The following list is not a suggestion for where to get your Thanksgiving meal to go (although if you're eager, maybe there's still time for a last-minute errand?). Rather, it's a pure fantasy to salivate over while you enjoy your own home-cooked feast.

Best turkey

Cleburne Cafeteria offers Thanksgiving turkey dinner year-round.

Cleburne Cafeteria offers Thanksgiving turkey dinner year-round.

Emma Balter

It's really not difficult to improve on turkey, arguably everyone's least favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal. While I often end up experimenting with a fancy rub, the tried-and-true, if done well, is just fine. Cleburne Cafeteria, a Houston institution 80 years young, serves its Thanksgiving plate year-round. A generous portion of juicy turkey breast is smothered with dollops of dressing and gravy on top. And I don't say this often about cranberry sauce, but Cleburne's version is delightful.

Cleburne Cafeteria
Best mac and cheese

Lucille's mac and cheese

Lucille's mac and cheese is made with a blend of cheddar and Monterey Jack.

David "Odiwams" Wright

The mac and cheese at Lucille's in the Museum District wins for its presentation and commitment to decadence. The pasta is mixed with a creamy blend of two cheeses—cheddar and Monterey Jack—that is sprinkled with more shredded cheese and herbed panko crumbs, then baked in the miniature cast iron dish that it's served on. As if that wasn't enough, it's topped with a little truffle oil and fresh herbs.

Lucille's
Best sweet potatoes

Squable's roasted sweet potatoes with pork belly, honey butter, black garlic and buttermilk

Squable's roasted sweet potatoes with pork belly, honey butter, black garlic and buttermilk.

Emma Balter

I'll admit that I like my sweet potatoes a little more high-brow, so if I had to pick, Squable's version on its small plates menu would definitely be in my fantasy Thanksgiving draft. Perfectly roasted sweet potatoes are enhanced by pork belly chunks and a honey butter, black garlic and buttermilk sauce.

Squable
Best mashed potatoes

Backstreet Cafe's mashed potatoes

Backstreet Cafe's mashed potatoes is made with garlic and parmesan.

Paula Murphy

Backstreet Cafe's mashed potatoes are served on the side of the storied restaurant's pecan-crusted chicken, meatloaf and tenderloin steak—and I wish I had it on my Thanksgiving table. Idaho potatoes are mashed with garlic, butter, heavy cream and parmesan, and chopped green onions are folded in at the end.

Backstreet Cafe
Best green beans

Truth BBQ green beans

The green beans are one of the best sides at Truth BBQ.

Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle

How excited about green beans can one get, really? If you've had the side at legendary barbecue joint Truth BBQ, it turns out, pretty damn excited. The flavorful beans retain the perfect amount of snap, and are dotted with bacon bits, jammy onions and tomatoes.

Truth BBQ
Best pie

Nobie's Almond Joy pie

Nobie's is famous for its rotating pies, like the Almond Joy slice.

Emma Balter

If only we had a baker like Kelly Walker from Nobie's handling our Thanksgiving desserts (luckily for us, she does take orders). Her pies are legendary in Houston and rotate through weekly, with classics such as key lime mingling with creative renditions like the baklava pie. On my most recent trip to Nobie's, I indulged in an Almond Joy pie. Everyone's least-favorite Halloween candy doesn't exactly spark joy for many, but I personally enjoy one and loved eating it in pie form. A chocolate crust supported a layer of chocolate, a layer of coconut shavings, plus a generous wedge of torched whipped cream.

Nobie's
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