Illustration by Marissa Avelar
Today’s City Guide update comes to us from Marisa Avelar, a graphic designer, painter and mixed media artist born and raised in Houston. She loves to create large abstract paintings and shadow boxes that mix fabric, old magazines and various media as well as her whimsical graphic design work. Today she shares with us some of the many great restaurants, museums, hotels, and more of her native Houston. Thanks Marissa for this comprehensive guide, and a special thanks to Carole Smith for the lovely photos that accompany it! –Stephanie
Read the full city guide after the jump…
Austin may be proud to be weird, but Houston is funky!
Houston, the 4th largest city in the U.S., is an extremely diverse city full of personality. This large city is often overlooked or dismissed for not being eclectic and unique—but don’t let your first thought of Houston be the image of a big oil and energy town full of rich cowboys. With that cowboy culture comes some really cool, strange folksiness, and that oil money has helped fund a very rich and vibrant arts scene. Dig deep and Houston has a lot of culture, art, and diversity, and a plethora of the weird and unique.
I don’t think you would find a magical folk art structure like The Orange Show in any other city. Jeff McKissack, a postman, bought a lot in the middle of a neighborhood on the East End and turned it into a celebration of his favorite fruit, the orange, simply using found objects, fencing, glass, and concrete. Since his passing, a foundation was established to preserve the space, and it now hosts musical acts such as Afrika Bambaataa and Beach House. This foundation also maintains another unique treasure, the Beer Can House: the private home of a furniture upholsterer who said, “I just got sick of mowing the grass,” and covered his home in 50,000 cut-up beer cans. They chime in the wind.
In that same DIY folk-artist spirit, Houston is also home to the annual Art Car Parade and Art Car Museum. Each year, a parade filled with the most amazing and funky works of art you have ever seen on four wheels goes down Allen Parkway, a busy main street in downtown Houston. Cars are covered in action figures, mirrors, or tennis balls or are turned into giant metal chickens. You want strange, we have it, and we proudly parade it downtown!
Some of the best art museums in the region are located here in Houston, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Contemporary Arts Museum, and the Menil Collection, which is free and houses one of the most impressive collections of Surrealist works. The Menils also are responsible for the Rothko Chapel and, a personal favorite, the Cy Twombly Gallery. Project Row Houses are another well-respected and revolutionary venue where a series of shotgun houses in Houston’s Third Ward, the oldest African American community in the city, are turned into revolving artist installations.
The diversity here makes for very rich cultural scene. There is a very large Hispanic and Latino community that brings in some of the best food and culture; a large Southeast Asian community, specifically Chinese and Vietnamese; a rich tradition of southern rap; and yes, that old cowboy culture does exist, mixed with plenty of eccentricity. Take Texas Junk Company, for example, where you can peruse a selection of over 1,000 vintage and used cowboy boots and buy all kinds of junk (an old door, random metal, pieces of a trophy, a banister) for your new assemblage.
Houston is becoming a hotspot for food with many of its culinary artists recently garnering national attention. It’s only natural with such a diverse landscape of culture and food: authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex, Southern soul food, Vietnamese fare (we love our banh-mi), and, of course, damn good barbecue. Some notable chefs are Monica Pope, Bryan Caswell, Michael Pellegrino, and mixologist Bobby Huegel, many of whom have been nominated for James Beard awards and are featured on the Food Network.
Bun B, of the group UGK from Houston, once said to the famous clothing designer Johnny Cupcakes when he made a stop here, “We live in a red state so we try even harder to make people see our identities out here. We fight very hard to make sure we are represented in a real way and stand out as individuals.”
Houston has a lot of quirkiness and something for everyone. We hope this guide will help you navigate through it all!
Check out this Google Map I created with all of the listings below.
Houston is generally divided into two geographic areas: inside or outside I-610, known as the “Loop.” Most of the interesting, artsy and innovative places are all concentrated within the loop. There are areas to explore outside the Loop but the fun stuff gets more scattered and spread out. Houston is a large city, full of many diverse areas and neighborhoods. We’ll start inside and work our way out.
Downtown/Midtown – Theater District, Main Street Corridor
Downtown Houston is home to one of the largest theater districts with top directors and art directors that have helped to shape a vibrant performing arts scene. From the elegant beauty of the Houston Ballet to the Catastrophic Theater that brings in some of the most experimental and edgy productions and collaborations (most recently Black Francis). There are a variety of venues and arenas like the Wortham Center , Jones Hall, and Hobby Center. They help make Houston a city chock full of culture. The nightlife scene is eclectic as well as the dining, the lovely new downtown park Discovery Green and the ever growing Main Street corridor.
Shop/See and Do
Just three years old, Discovery Green has recently made the cut of Travel + Leisure’s coolest city parks. Formerly a large parking lot downtown by the George Brown Convention Center, the 12-acre park has sculpted gardens, a small lake, public art pieces, two restaurants and seems to always be hopping. They host live concerts, film screenings on the lawn, weekly farmer’s markets and a brand new New Year’s celebration called Glow-O-Rama.
The place to come for contemporary and classic theater and plays. Some favorite past productions were Aaron Sorkin’s The Farnworth Invention, Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman and Gruesome Playground Injuries starring Selma Blair (was neat to see her in such an intimate theater setting). Notable Houston locals got their start here, such as the dashing Lee Pace and everybody’s favorite comedian, Lewis Black.
Catastrophic Theater picked up where Infernal Bridegroom — a legendary Houston theatre company known for launching Jim Parsons and collaborating with such artists as Daniel Johnston — left off, with the former founders creating this new ensemble theater that hosts experimental, creative, and mind bending productions. They recently collaborated with Black Francis to create a rock opera, Blue Finger: The Fall and Rise of Herman Brood, and always have new and exciting projects that have Houstonians filling seats.
DiverseWorks Art Space
DiverseWorks located in the downtown warehouse district is a definite arts staple in Houston that hosts visual, performing and literary arts. You can always be sure to see an experimental piece of performance art or catch a production of the Catastrophic Theater. Also, the new Flickerlounge is a hit, partnered with the Aurora Picture Show it features rotating short and full length films.
David Adickes SculpturWorx Studio
David Adickes is a Houston icon. He has also helped to shape what makes Houston unique with his larger than life sculptures of the presidents, the Beatles, and Sam Houston. He was first a painter who still makes some beautiful paintings (he studied in Paris under Fernand Leger) but is known for his larger than life sculptures. His artist’s studio, SculpturWorx located near Winter Street Studios draws visitors off of the beaten path looking to catch a glimpse of his many large busts of the presidents. He recently made a piece called, “We Love Houston,” our new banner of pride and he is hoping more people will come visit us and agree.
Aerosol Warfare Gallery and Boutique
A gallery started by GONZO247, he has created a space where graffiti lovers and makers can unite and express themselves. Hosting shows for Shephard Fairey before he got huge with his Obama posters and local fave Give Up along with over 200 other artists he has taken graffiti art to a new level. He has also been commisioned to transform a house, cars, food trucks and businesses. With the gallery he has given an art form that is often looked down upon a legitimate and real place.
Winter Street Studios and Spring Street Studios
One of the most popular artist warehouses in Houston, Winter Street Studios is home to 75 artist studios and houses many local artist celebrities and organizations. Every second Saturday there is an open house, visitors are invited to tour through the studios and throughout the year there in the large gallery upstairs they host various shows.
The newest to its sister Winter Street Studios, Spring Street Studios just opened and promises to be just as big and successful.
Started in 2001 as a website for Houston artists and organizations to promote their work, Spacetaker has grown to be an exhibition space, technology lab and haven for artist workshops and initiatives. They also host WHAM, an artist’s market that gets bigger and more popular every year. Located in the popular artist warehouse, Winter Street Studios, its a great hub for being at the center of the local arts scene.
Station Museum of Contemporary Art
The Station Museum is a wonderful and fairly new space/gallery that features art that fosters dialogue with issues relating to the social, political, and cultural in art. Some very memorable shows past shows have been Iraqi Artists in Exile and Because We Are, a collection of work about the gay rights movement.
Blaffer Gallery at UH
A contemporary arts museum housed in the Fine Arts building of the University of Houston, the Blaffer Gallery hosts several inspiring and new exhibitions of emerging and respected artists.
Texas Art Asylum
There is a personal love for this store and wish there was one in every town. Founded by the lovely Ramona, she saw a need for a creative reuse center, a place that artists and craftspeople could shop for items for repurposing that would be low cost and affordable. It has grown in popularity and is frequented by many popular local artists. They offer classes and also take donations of materials.
A whole new crop of wonderful local boutiques are growing around Main Street. The Continental Club, Tacos A Go Go and Sig’s Lagoon were already a great trifecta but some new kids on the block are making it even better. My Flaming Heart, Natachee’s Supper n’ Punch, Chick and Chika and Shop-O-Rama. They are also neighbors to the the amazing T’afia and hipster hot spot the Mink. Hop on the Metro Rail and explore more of downtown or go the other way and head to the Museum District.
Yes, it’s “midtown’s only record store” and one of the coolest in Houston. They also carry some awesome concert posters as well as tiki stuff, bobbleheads and books.
My Flaming Heart
One of my favorite new shops in Houston, My Flaming Heart is the vision of Judy Masliyah, a clothing and jewelry designer who was popular in Houston’s indie boutiques. She decided to open her own shop and has an amazing eye for vintage and the eclectic. Her love of Mexican folk art and Day of the Dead is what makes her special though and you can be sure to find plenty of that western style in the mix as well.
Midtown Farmer’s Market
Chef Monica Pope lets her popular restaurant become a farmer’s market every Saturday from 8 to noon. All kinds of goodies can be found here and its always fun to grab some delicious breakfast tacos at Tacos A Go Go (around the corner) and head over to the market.
High Fashion Home and High Fashion Fabrics
Great place to get your design fix, three floors of furniture, textiles, art and accessories for your home. Neighboring HIgh Fashion Fabrics is a fabric lovers dream. The large warehouse has rows and walls filled with beautiful textiles and fabrics.
Smith Opticians 4313 Austin Street, Houston, TX 77004
Anyone looking for a cool pair of vintage specs is in for a treat as owner Philip Brown has a huge collection of vintage eye-wear of every shape and kind. He also carries new brands and if you are looking for some wacky and funky specs, he has a wonderful variety of those too. The prices are great and it feels as if you are stepping back in time.
The Breakfast Klub
There is a line everyday for breakfast outside the door, but don’t be scared, it moves quickly. The Breakfast Klub is a Houston staple and soul food hotspot. The signature dishes are the Wings and Waffles and Katfish and Grits. You will walk away satisfied and know why this is a breakfast tradition in Houston.
Chef Monica Pope is beloved in this town and her food is made with a lot of artistry and flavor. She believes we should “eat where our food lives” and uses all locally grown vegetables, meats and ingredients in her dishes. She also hosts a farmer’s market in her restaurant every Saturday, rain or shine. Personal favorites are her crispy chicken with milled potatoes and salsa verde and her happy hours where she offers flavorful mixed drinks with free all you can eat signature appetizers. Her Blojito (charbay blood orange vodka, mint & organic powdered sugar) and Grin and Pear It are faves as well as the signature chickpea fries and mini burgers.
Popular local chef Bryan Caswell has earned plenty of well deserved national and local attention with Reef. Come here for some delicious and inventive Gulf Coast seafood cooking located downtown with great views of the city. He prides himself on pulling his flavors from all of the culturally diverse food scenes that Houston has to offer.
Beaver’s is a hip yet laid back ice house that is famous for their smoked bbq pork sandwich and other innovative bbq classics as well as a delicious brunch on Sundays with chicken and waffles, tacos and grits. Their mixed drinks are delish as well.
A classic Vietnamese restaurant that is a beloved Houston favorite, burned down a year ago but has just now made its triumphant return.
Tacos A Go Go
Right next to the Continental Club on the 3622 Main block is home to
one of the best places in Houston to get tacos for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a late night snack. Open until 2 a.m. on weekends it always hopping (people sobering up from their fun next door) and the Mexican pop art decor, friendly staff and vibe are just a great place to eat all varieties of yummy tacos.
Natachee’s Supper N’ Punch
Fairly new to the 3622 Block , Natachee’s is another classic eclectic Texas joint. The sign says, “You need a punch in the mouth” and you get that and more with their barbecue pork sandwich, out of this world chicken fried steak, meat-loaf sandwiches and, yes, fried pickles. The burgers and veggie burgers are great as well as breakfast (served all day long). Don’t forget the punch (mixed drinks), we recommend the Sucker Punch. Also, kids are served in vintage lunch boxes and live musical acts rotate on the laid back patio making this a new favorite to spend an afternoon in H-town.
Irma’s 22 North Chenevert Street, Houston, TX 77002-1302
A Tex Mex institution, there is no written menu; upon entering, the staff will recite to you what mouth watering dishes Irma has decided she’ll be cooking that day. Her legendary Mexican punch/lemonade is refreshing and cool. She is usually open weekdays for lunch and during Astros games (situated right by Minute Maid park).
Hank’s Ice Cream
Some of the best ice cream in Houston, Hank has been making homemade ice cream for Houston for years and always has new and unique flavors.
A delicious, popular and exciting new Peruvian restaurant where you can BYOB. Every dish is artistically executed and is full of flavor. It gets pretty packed and is a small space but it’s very much worth it. Some signature dishes are “arepitas” corn/masa dough cakes topped with beef, lamb or pork. Cubano pork sandwiches and their South American spin on tiramisu.
A fried chicken institution in Houston and probably the best, its creole style fried chicken is bursting with flavor. Their are different locations around town and the humble original is on Scott St. right near the UH. Their sides are just as great like the collard greens, red beans and rice and made from scratch biscuits with honey slathered on top. Miss Beyonce Knowles says Frenchy’s is her favorite and misses it when she is away from her hometown of Houston.
Coco’s Crepes and Coffee
Wonderful little crepe spot in the newly revitalized midtown district. Enjoy crepes of every variety from nutella to bananas foster to goat cheese with roasted peppers. They also offer gelato and several varieties of coffee drinks.
Saint Arnold Brewing Company
Not only are they a local brewer who is beloved in this town and makes yummy, unique, malty, hoppy beers but they are important to the community. They can be found on tap at our favorite record store, Cactus Music, and supporting local arts organizations and small institutions that need it. They just moved into a bigger location to support the hundreds of people who show up for their weekend tours; bring a group of friends, your St. Arnold’s pint glass and a picnic and hang out with flowing beer!
Dean’s Credit Clothing
Dean’s is a retro cool place to hang downtown. The bar kept its name because before that it was a credit based department store from the 30s. It has many of the original elements and still carries vintage clothing that you can peruse and purchase. Housed next to another eclectic bar, Notsuoh. These two places are classic Houston nightlife joints.
Very neat bar that has a lot of Houston history and personality. Probably the oldest bar in Houston, it was built in the mid-19th century and is dimly lit only by candlelight and lamps. It also has the one of the best jukeboxes in town that plays great classics from Peggy Lee, Etta James and Hank Williams. You can also get rung up on an antique cash register.
Cool and oddball, notsuoH (Houston backwards) is neighbors with Dean’s Credit Clothing and is a place where the freaks, cool and unique like to gather. Filled with art and loud music. Its worth a peek. Recently Twilight darling Robert Pattinson was spotted hanging out here and was probably one of the places that inspired him to state Houston as his favorite city in America.
Looking for edgy Texas cowboy folksiness and soul? This is the place to go. A sister to its location in Austin they offer folk, soul, rock and rockabilly. It’s a no nonsense, cool place. Some wonderful acts that have played here are Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Wanda Jackson, Big Sandy and Flaco Jimenez. When you are done partying it up, go sober up next door at the very fun Tacos A Go Go.
Popular spot for Houston’s hip. It consists of four small rooms in two separate buildings. DJs and live music can be found here and plenty of live indie acts. Fistful of Soul nights are popular and happen every third Friday of the month.
Nouveau Antique Art Bar
Beautiful new bar downtown that is very low key and nice, right along the metro rail. What is really lovely about it is the entire bar is lit with a large collection of reproductions of Tiffany lamps. The stained glass light and antique furniture give a very romantic vibe.
Located Midtown, this cool and classy wine bar has an industrial-chic feel. Its a great place to have their many wines, micheladas, fine cheeses and meats.
Joystix Classic Games and Pinball
You feel like a kid again when you come here, except this place is for grown ups because they offer mixed drinks. You can play vintage arcade games like Galaga, Asteroids, Centipede, Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Pinball machines of every variety, juke boxes and slot machines. Located right across from Minute Maid Park.
One of the coolest neighborhoods in Houston, Montrose is full of eccentricity and diversity. The community quickly became a haven in the 60s for artists, musicians, bohemians and those wanting to have cheap rent/studio space and be among like minded folk. It’s also the center of the LGBT community, who flocked here in the 70s and restored the rundown homes and buildings, creating the great neighborhood it is today. In the 90s, Montrose began changing again and becoming more gentrified with new developments, townhomes and a mix of young urban professionals moving in, but it still maintains its friendly vibe and bohemian charm. There are lots of local restaurants, antiques, vintage clothing shops, art galleries and bars. The bustling street of Westheimer has all kinds of resale and vintage clothing shops as well as staples like Cafe Brasil, Domy Books and the bar Poison Girl. Its also home to great museums located in the Museum District that borders Montrose. (more info in that section below).
Shop/See and Do
Texas Junk Company 215 Welch Street, Houston, TX 77006-2119
Owner Bob Novotney (he looks like David Byrne with long hair) is the coolest cat and so is this beloved gem in the middle of Montrose. Texas Junk offers over 1,000 used and vintage cowboy boots alongside a large warehouse of junk for your latest assemblage. Need any old frames, vintage kodak canisters, banisters, scrap metal, old doors, scrap paper? He has it all and more. During rodeo season people file in looking for some cool (cheaper than a new pair for $200.00) worn in boots as well as his fine selection of denim jackets. He is only open Friday and Saturday.
This gallery/bookstore first started here in Houston and has opened up a second store in Austin where it has become just as successful. Offers rare art books, periodicals, graphic novels, designer vinyl toys, and hard to find arts related DVDs. Domy is another local arts staple. They share a lovely back patio with Cafe Brasil and host movie nights there each month. It always nice to get a cup of coffee at Brasil and head over to Domy to browse.
Museum of Printing History
Founded in 1979 by four printers who wanted to share their collection and knowledge about the art of printmaking, the museum offers a great historical knowledge and background as well as live demonstrations on antique presses. Throughout the year rotating exhibits and lectures are held. They also have four working galleries with vintage equipment where you can take a class from the artists in residence. They offer classes in printmaking, silkscreening, bookmaking and paper making.
Art League of Houston
One of Houston’s longest operating non-profits arts organizations, the Art League offers classes and exhibitions for local and national artists. It’s a wonderful place that supports the local arts scene and is in the heart of Montrose. In 2007, many of us were sad to see Inversion – Dan Havel and Dean Ruck’s giant inverted house commemorating the old buildings that the Art League built its new facility on — disappear, but in its place the Art League was able to expand the gallery and studio spaces, offering more opportunities for the community. The coffee shop Inversion (named after it) is housed right next door.
A legendary folk and acoustic venue right in the heart of Montrose, Anderson Fair nurtured and allowed some greats like Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams and Robert Earl Keen to practice their singer-songwriter skills. A documentary was recently made about it called For the Sake of the Song Anderson Fair is run by all volunteers and fosters a community revolved around the art of music and songwriting.
Laura Ulmansky is an interior designer who has a wonderful eye. Her boutique on Westheimer is full of funky art, candles, pillows, furniture and home accessories. One of the best design shops in Houston.
Space by Lineart
Right next to Cafe Brasil, this cute little boutique/art space has all kinds of neat handmade work by local artists and designers and revolving shows centered around a particular artist. Magda Sayeg (the mother of yarn bombing) has one of her original knits still on the door handle from when her boutique Raye was there.
One of the standout antique shops on Westheimer, they carry all kinds of cool 40s, 50s and 60s memorabilia and it feels like you are walking in to an old diner. From vintage restored neon signs, to jukeboxes and a large figure of Big Boy. Its a great little shop to see some classic pieces of Americana.
The Guild Shop
The Guild Shop is the popular thrift store of the inner loop scene but they are starting to get a bit pricey. You are sure to find all kinds of treasures here and the great large selection of furniture is always moving in and out quickly, so swipe up what you like and bring a truck. They also have a wonderful variety of dishware, china, jewelry, art, and any knick knack your thrifting heart desires.
Black Hole Coffee House
The popular owners of Antidote Coffee in the Heights and the bar Poison Girl opened up this super cool coffee hangout in Montrose. It’s not far from the museums and nestled in a nice little neighborhood. It’s much more spacious and they offer pastries, wine and beer as well. They also have a lunch menu unlike Antidote where they serve sandwiches and quiches. Prepare to be sucked into the vortex of cool. Also, Carole designed, created and installed the beautiful tile work for the restrooms.
Niko Niko’s is another classic establishment in Houston. Some of the best Greek cooking in town. People line up to get their delicious gyros, greek salads, baby lamb shanks, lemon potatoes and more. This place was formerly a service station, and that counter where you order your food has been there for ages. Marvin Zindler (our local news celeb) gave them various accolades over the years for being the cleanliest establishment and they have had to expand in response to the crowds that come out to get their gyro fix.
La Guadalupana Bakery and Cafe 2109 Dunlavy St, Houston, TX 77006-1703
La Guadalupana has become the mecca for brunchers in the Montrose. A small place tucked next to a laundromat and a corner store, Mr. Diaz always welcomes you with a fresh cup of their cinnamon coffee and his signature breakfast torta, that comes with eggs, chorizo, chiles, and potatoes. If you want some pan dulce (mexican sweet bread) you can order that too and you can’t go wrong with the excellent migas. They offer lunch and dinner too and just as delicious!
Brian Caswell’s take on sliders, shakes and fried chicken sliders. Very fun and tasty with a sprawling patio for outdoor seating.
A favorite in Montrose, Empire Cafe offers a lovely patio with intimate seating as well as cozy indoor seating. It has a sweet european cafe feel. The coffee is excellent as well as the sandwiches, paninis and frittatas.
Brasil 2604 Dunlavy Street, Houston, TX 77098
Brasil is another favorite Montrose staple that offers wonderful coffee, sandwiches and gourmet pizzas. The goat cheese and sausage pizza is so yummy. The front patio is a perfect place to hang with friends or go to the back patio (shared with Domy Books) and hang out under the trees.
By the owners of Shade in the Heights, Canopy is a lovely chic place to have a nice meal. They have popular brunches and their salads are probably some of the freshest and best I have ever had. They also offer burgers, pastas and fried buttermilk porkloin. One of the best desserts in Houston is their chocolate hazelnut tart, a crunchy shell filled with delicious nutella and just the right size.
Classic and yummy cafe in Montrose named after the owner’s beloved deceased sheep dog Barnaby, their Lebanese Chicken Fattoush Salad had me addicted for a while and their hamburgers, meatloaf, sandwiches and recession brownies (only $1) are not to be missed. They have several locations, but the one on Fairview is the original and has a great Montrose vibe.
A popular and delicious breakfast spot, this neighborhood cafe is a great Montrose staple to come for brunch besides the popular La Guadalupana. Their pumpkin pancakes are divine (they come with candied corn on top) and the pink and white scrambled eggs (ham and eggs) are delish! The waiters are so friendly and awesome, Barnaby’s is also known for its friendly service.
Anita Jaisinghani, is an India-born chef and co-owner of Indika. She brings a modern and eclectic take to Indian cuisine. Its a very beloved Montrose restaurant and delivers exciting and delicious dishes and cocktails.
This upscale regional Mexican restaurant serves amazing meals artistically executed by chef Hugo Ortega. His Sunday brunches are a hit, offering an array of exotic food. Any dish is a treat (along with their sangria) and if you have room for dessert get the churros rellenos with some fresh authentic mexican hot chocolate.
Ruggles is a classic Houston cafe that serves up big hearty dishes of every variety. They received extensive damage from Hurricane Ike but have revamped everything and made a triumphant return.
El Tiempo/1308 Cantina
One of the many wonderful Mexican restaurants in Houston, owned by the grandson’s of Mama Ninfa, this restaurant takes their roots to another level. They offer a variety of gourmet Mexican dishes and their fajitas are the best as well as the margaritas that will knock.. you.. out (made with Everclear). I also love the green rice, which has a pasta and a cilantro mix.
A Montrose institution, La Mexicana is a great spot for breakfast, lunch or dinner and has great cheap margaritas.
Adventurous owners/chefs Richard Knight, James and Megan Silk (of a town in West Sussex, England) cook up some incredibly unique dishes that require a just as adventurous diner. Some signature dishes are their Cassoulet (steaming pork and baked white beans sprinkled with bread crumbs), Black pudding with duck and apricot terrine and for the offal dishes, Beef Tongue or Roasted Pork Belly. They use local meats and ingredients so the menu is always new and exciting.
Jenni’s Noodle House
Jenni’s is a great modern Vietnamese restaurant that knows their noodles and curry. Some popular dishes are the vermicelli bowls and the Art Car Curry (named after our unique Houston art cars), which is arguably the best in town. They have 2 other popular locations with the newest in the Heights.
Popular local pizza joint, Star Pizza has some great pizzas loaded with toppings and a doughy bread. Some favorites are the Starburst (supreme with variety of meats) or the Ben’s (classic meat pizza) They also offer a great veggie one.
Té house of tea
Great little teahouse, they have over 130 different teas and offer delicious Asian dishes, crepes, paninis and sandwiches. A fusion of flavors from the owners, one a native of Hong Kong and the other of Ireland.
Popular coffee spot in the heart of the hip Westheimer block. In a large 2 story house, Agora is very cozy and laid back and now you can grab lunch from the variety of food trucks that are stationed in their lot.
This awesome and stylish 4 story bed and breakfast is mid-century modern cool with a very hospitable and warm charm. It’s located right in the middle of all of the fun things to do and if you happen to be hanging around in the evening they pride themselves on having guests hang out with wine, enjoying great conversations.
Robin’s Nest B&B
Right near the museum district, the Robin’s nest is a great Montrose B&B. It has that funky Montrose feel/decor and is very homey and laid back.
Food Trucks: A hot and growing scene, food trucks are all the rage in Houston. Most of them are stationed around town but these popular ones are usually parked in Montrose or the Heights. Check their Twitter for updates on where they will be. If you want a straight list of the best authentic taco trucks look no further than Houston’s Tex-Mex food connoisseur Robb Walsh and his Top Ten Taco Trucks.
Tacos Tierra Caliente
Usually perched outside of the beloved West Alabama Ice House, Tacos Tierra Caliente is now the perfect combo for an afternoon there. You can chill on the benches on a sunny day or after work, drink beer and get some tacos with nicely flavored meat, fresh cilantro and onions on a corn or flour tortilla. Doesn’t get more H-town than that.
Bernie’s Burger Bus
Rolling up in a school bus, this tasty burger bus is run by Justin Turner (former chef to the Rockets’ Shane Battier) who makes his burgers fresh, from scratch. His food is all homemade condiments (ketchup, mayo) and all natural, grass fed, black angus beef. Bernie’s is named after his grandfather Bernie and is a very fun and delicious tribute to him.
Oh My! Pocket Pies
Delicious sweet and savory empanada like-“pies” filled with steak, chicken chile relleno with corn, or the twice baked potato. They are an H-town favorite and were one of the first popular food trucks.
Wonderful little crepe stand that features a rotating weekly menu of delicious classics like the nutella and banana, sweet berry cream or the country ham and cheddar.
Usually parked at Liberty Station on Washington, this shiny burger-mobile (an on the go version of the beloved downtown joint) is heralded by Houston locals as being one of the best burgers in town. Some popular burgers are the Philly Cheesesteak burger and the Greek Burger and they also serve sweet potato fries and the best classic cheeseburger.
Chefs Matt, Ryan and Alex are the Eatsie boys. They like to cook unique gourmet foods and pride themselves on using all local ingredients. Some signature foods are the “Frank the Pretzel” a chicken frank on a pretzel bun with mustard and their Philly Sandwich.
One of the most diverse and exotic menus of the food trucks, they offer a lof of Asian and new American cuisine for those looking to be adventurous with their food. Some signature dishes are the risotto balls with tomato jam, Korean cheese steak with kim chi, and deep fried avocado tacos with cilantro.
All kinds of yummy flavors, Mmm…Cupcake makes cupcakes that are light and fluffy and made with fresh ingredients like a bottom made of real cookies in the Cookie’s and Cream. Also, their cupcakes aren’t expensive like most gourmet cupcake places. Great little cupcake truck.
Snowdog Ice Cream
Looks like a psychedelic ice cream truck by night with its blinking lights and blaring music and emitts bubbles and fun during the day. Snowdog is so much fun and keeps the spirit of H-town’s laid back eccentricity. They have over 30 varieties of ice cream, hula hoops and even offer a snow machine!
Bullbutter Bros. Barbecue
One of the first smokehouse quality barbecue trucks, Bullbutter Bros. is really scrumptious and authentic. They serve signature Texas brisket, pulled pork, sausage and more. Their fresh sides are also wonderful and don’t forget, yes the Bullbutter Balls. Ground beef and pork wrapped in bacon.
The best Indian/Pakistani food in a truck in H-town, they also have a large tent with covered seating if you want to have a seat and enjoy the spicy goodness. They always have a rotating menu of new and dishes but the classics like their Tandoori chicken, chicken curry and tikka masala are great as well. Located in a parking lot at Highway 6 and I-10.
West Alabama Ice House
For over 80 years, the West Alabama Ice House has been around and is the most Houstonian thing anyone can do if they want to see what it’s like to be one. An open air atmosphere with benches and a place that hosts bikers, people of every background young and old alike having a nice cold beer and hanging out. Now with Tacos Tierra Caliente faithfully stationed outside, it just adds that extra icing on the cake to a nice sunny day at the ice house.
Mixologist Bobby Huegel has created an eclectic and popular spot who’s wonderful cocktails have been nominated for James Beard awards and has been listed in Travel + Leisure’s Best Cocktail Bars in America. They offer unique and vibrant drinks expertly made with fresh ingredients. Located in the heart of Montrose and such a cool place to get together with friends.
A wonderful laid back wine and coffee bar to hang out and have their signature sangrias, mojitos or any of their varieties of wines. They offer nice intimate spaces where you can kick back as well as a sprawling patio. Has a very European feel thanks to owner Morgan Holleman from his 20 years of traveling and wanting to create a unique place that showcases art, culture and community.
A fine pub that always has great live music and fun things going on. They have one of the best burgers in town and a great selection of beers and mixed drinks. If you want to rock out, head upstairs where the real action usually is with live music from bands like Bald Eagle Burger and Poor Dumb Bastards.
Cecil’s Pub 600 West Gray Street, Houston, TX 77019-4447
A local favorite, Cecil’s is another place where you can find anyone and everyone from all kinds of backgrounds hanging. They have a reputation for having awesome bartenders and are a great local pub where friends love to gather.
Grand Prize Bar 1010 Banks Street, Houston, TX 77006
This laid back and somewhat swanky bar that artists, hipsters and the young guns like to hang is two stories with a nice patio and candlelit lighting. Located right by the museum district, they have excellent mixed drinks and beverages.
Housed in an old Victorian home on Westheimer this place always has something going on and is probably one of the more ecelectic scenes in Montrose. They have live music, djs, poetry readings, belly dancing and art.
Museum District/Rice University
When I say that Houston is culturally rich, the Museum District is the perfect example of it. With so many wonderful world class museums and our own zoo to explore, the list could go on! Here are a few art and design related ones that are a must visit. Also right nearby is Rice University that boasts important community staples such as the Rice Design Alliance and Rice Art Gallery that has hosted some out of this world exhibitions (its emphasis on installation art). You can continue to explore this wonderful area and get some shopping done on foot, outdoors at the nearby Rice Village Shopping Center.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
“A dynamic cultural complex” the MFAH hosts two large buildings of art and rotating exhibits, two house museums, two art schools, a cutting edge films department and the wonderful Cullen Sculpture Garden that features art from such famous artists as Giacometti, Matisse, Calder and Frank Stella. Some features of the two buildings are that the Caroline Wiess Law building was designed by the legendary Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and The Wilson tunnel (connecting the Audrey Jones Beck building to the Law building) is one of Houston’s treasures. Its a neon glowing tunnel by artist James Turrell titled, “The Light Inside.” This dynamic institution has brought and continues to bring world class art and culture to Houston as well as attracting many visitors from around the world. (Full disclosure: not only is it a great place to visit, I work there)
Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston
Another dynamic art museum that Houston is very fortunate to have, the CAMH always has new and exciting exhibitions and was one of the first places to host work by Glenn Ligon (now a having a hit retrospective at the Whitney), amazing video artist Pipilotti Rist and a memorable show about the Houston art scene titled No Zoning: Artists Engage Houston. Don’t miss the gift shop, it’s a designer lover’s dream.
Menil Collection (Rothko Chapel, Byzantine Fresco Chapel, Twombly Gallery, Dan Flavin – Richmond Hall)
The Menil Collection and its surrounding facilities are a true gem in Houston and a testament to the vision of its founders John and Dominique de Menil. The de Menils were also huge champions of civil and human rights and established the Oscar Romero Award (after the slain Archbishop of El Salvador). The museum is architecturally one of the most beautiful and houses a large chunk of the entire Surrealist movement with pieces from Max Ernst, René Magritte and Georgio de Chirico. During the 50s, the de Menils began collecting Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, with the museum now home to notable pieces by Yves Klein, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. They also have several works from ancient indigenous cultures and an array of art and objects from around the world. Surrounding the main facility are the Cy Twombly Gallery, Byzantine Fresco Chapel (an awe-inspiring recreation of a partially-destroyed chapel from Cyprus) and the Rothko Chapel.
An important endeavor by the de Menils, the Rothko Chapel was built to serve as an intimate sanctuary for those of every belief and background. They commisioned Mark Rothko to create an environment to encompass his work that would be fourteen paintings in an intimate meditative space. He worked closely with the architects to complete the building and in 1971 it was opened. Barnett Newman’s “Broken Obelisk” dedicated to MLK, sits in the front on a tranquility pool. It is truly one of the more unique places one can visit and is free and open to the public everyday.
Jung Center of Houston
Educating people about the philosophies of Carl Jung, the Jung Center is a very fascinating and calming place that offers courses and programs as well as an art gallery and a shop with books on psychology and the humanities.
Houston Center for Photography
The HCP is free and open to the public and offers year round exhibitions, juried member exhibitions, programs, artists opportunities and a library with over 2,500 books on photography.
Lawndale Art Center
Housed in an awesome Art Deco building, Lawndale hosts many eclectic and exciting shows as well as annual Houston traditions like the Dia de los Muertos show, Design Fair and The Big Show, a juried exhibition for emerging and under-represented artists in the Houston area. They also offer an artist studio program where artists receive a stipend and get to have an exhibit at Lawndale and a workshop/presentation to the general public.
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft
Always inspirational and great to visit, the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft focuses on objects of art made from craft materials like: clay, fibers, metal, wood and found/recycled materials.They always have rotating exhibitions and a great artists residency program where you can peruse the artist studios and see them and their work up close.
Project Row Houses
One of the most unique and wonderful arts organizations in Houston, Project Row Houses are an arts nonprofit located right in the heart of Houston’s Third Ward (one of the oldest African American communities in the city). They are a series of shotgun style houses that have each been turned into revolving artist installation and exhibition spaces. This is a true amazing example of art and community living and working together side by side.
Aurora Picture Show
An old 1920s church in the middle of the historic Sunset Heights neighborhood of Houston was stumbled upon by the young artist Andrea Grover who turned it into a non-profit micro-cinema where she would show artist made short films and video art. Since then, The Aurora Picture Show moved to a bungalow by the Menil and has grown into a contemporary and new media arts powerhouse that hosts screenings all across the city. One of the great things they host every year is the annual Media Archaeology festival that has brought to Houston such artists as Paper Rad, Cory Arcangel, Yacht and the Joshua Light Show with Silver Apples. The other wildy popular event is the annual Extremely Shorts Film Festival that calls for submissions for short films 3 minutes and under from around the world. Andrea sold the church to its new tenant 14 pews, and it keeps the spirit alive by showing indie films and screenings of local and underrepresented films
MFAH Films at the Brown Auditorium
The films exhibition program at the MFAH offers some of the best films and culture to Houston that any city would be fortunate to have. With the loss of one of our indie theaters (The Angelika) Houston was left with less than a handful of places for cinephiles and lovers of small and unique films to go. Enter MFAH Films to step it up and continue to bring new features and revivals of art film classics that educate and open our eyes to the art of the moving picture.
The Flower Man 2305 Francis St., Houston, TX
Cleveland “The Flower Man” Turner’s home located in the lower income neighborhood that is the Third Ward stands out as a brightly colored treasure trove of found toys and objects curated by a man who was a former alcoholic and lived on skid row. After nearly dying from alcohol poisoning he had a beautiful vision of flowers and bright colors and decided to build that and maintain it as a pact with God to stay alive and stay sober. He is a charming and inspiring character and it’s always a treat to visit the living work of folk art that is The Flower Man’s home.
Peel Gallery Shop
Located at the large complex of galleries at 4411 Montrose, PEEL is a design and exhibition space that is a wonderful design resource. Always brimming with new and unusual one-of-a-kind pieces this is a design lovers must see.
A large, modern, concrete complex that houses some popular and contemporary Houston galleries:
Barbara Davis Gallery, Peel Gallery, Anya Tish and Wade Wilson Art.
A local bookstore and staple of Houston’s literary scene since 1974, they host book signings and readings and always carry a thought provoking and unique book selection. Some authors that have made appearances are Isabel Allende, P.J. O’Rourke and Tom Wolfe. Another note, my book nerd father’s favorite book store.
Rice University Art Gallery
Located on the campus of Rice University, the Rice Gallery has hosted and continues to host out of this world exhibitions, all primarily focused on installation art. They usually invite and commission artists to create site specific works for the gallery. Some past memorable exhibitions have been shows by Wayne White, Aurora Robson and Kirsten Hassenfeld.
On Sunset Blvd nestled in the museum district, this wonderful shop housed in a two story duplex carries gorgeous home furnishings, housewares and pieces primarily from Latin America and around the world. They also carry work by local artists such as Houston furniture maker David Marsh who uses pine and reclaimed wood and creates one of a kind bright multi-colored cabinets and chests.
Chloe Dao, Project Runway’s second season winner who beat out such memorable designers as Daniel Vosovic and Santino Rice was a Houston native who put us on the fashion map. She chose to stay in Houston and continue her passion for fashion. Lot 8 is her boutique she originally worked out of and continues to sell her one of a kind colorful designs.
The Black Labrador
A cozy authentic English pub near St. Thomas Unversity, the Black Lab offers tons of beers on tap and an expanded wine list, along with traditional fare like burgers and salads. But skip that and go to the English menu, where you’ll find bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, scratch-made baked beans, or better yet, all of them in the Tour of Britain platter.
The Raven Grill
A hidden gem nestled between the Museum District and West University, the comfortable, low key Raven Grill offers wonderful food slow-roasted over a wood fire at surprisingly reasonable prices. Great steaks, grilled fish and pork chops.
Brasserie Max & Julie
A cute, classic and lovely French Brasserie in Montrose, they offer all kids of French country dishes and a delicious brunch. They also offer a wonderful array of French cheeses and wines. The atmosphere is very sweet with its gold handrails, large windows and red velvety colored interiors.
Goode Company – Goode Co. Seafood, Goode Co. Barbecue, Goode Hamburgers and Taqueria
Goode Company is a Houston institution, and their various restaurants span 2 blocks near Rice University. They’re all good, but the real gem is their seafood, served in a restored airstream trailer. Fantastic mesquite grilled fish and shrimp are served up alongside an innovative cajun/friend rice and succulent shrimp/crab empanadas. Try the appetizer of shrimp tamales served Central American style wrapped in banana leaves with the authentic Central American flavors. The barbecue is a local favorite and is a wonderful place to get some authentic Texas flavors.
Yum Yum Cha’s Cafe
Arguably Houston’s finest dim sum establishment, in the heart of the eclectic Rice Village shopping center. Their huge menu boasts dozens open dozens of Cantonese concoctions, in small, reasonably priced portions that encourage adventurous but price-conscious diners.
Black Walnut Cafe
A delightful and delicious cafe its a great spot for brunch, don’t miss their eggs benedict and other lunch and dinner items. Located in the middle of all of the shopping at the Rice Village shopping center, it’s a nice place to stop before or after your shopping excursion.
A great, lively tapas spot, perfect for grabbing a bite after a show or movie, nestled in Rice Village. Some nights they have live music and its packed with people looking to have a fun evening sharing some scrumptious bites.
Field of Greens
Arguably Houston’s best-known health food restaurant. Nearly every dish is vegan, but delicious dishes like the grilled eggplant sandwich lure in carnivores looking for a healthy meal from time to time too.
Goode’s Armadillo Palace
The bar of the Goode empire has a gigantic steel armadillo covered in mirrored glass guarding the door making it impossible to miss. They feature a wide variety of “Texas comfort food” (country fried steak, Frito pie, etc) and excellent live music.
Under the Volcano
Named after Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano, it feels as if you are walking into a Day of the Dead dream with decor and Mexican masks all along the walls. They have great fresh juices, cocktails and the most famous the strawberry basil margarita. There are also lovely patios outdoors where you can kick back and hang.
A cool hidden place for those in the know, Absinthe has no sign but a faint green light (for the green fairy) and martini shaped door handles. It is small and dark and if you want to live like Oscar Wilde, Vincent Van Gogh or Toulouse Latrec go ahead and give this spot named after their favorite drink a try.
River Oaks/Upper Kirby
One of the richest neighborhoods in America, River Oaks was started by one of Texas’ oldest and richest families and is home to almost every executive and celebrity in town, though you’re probably most familiar with it from its prominent placement in Terms of Endearment. Despite its big ticket pedigree, though, it’s surprisingly open to the public, with unquestionably the most beautiful Christmas lights in the city. It also hosts great restaurants and stores, both high and low end.
Bayou Bend Collections and Gardens
A must visit during azalea season (spring), Bayou Bend is the MFAH’s American and fine decorative arts collection at the former home of the Houstonian philanthropist Ima Hogg. It is surrounded by sprawling gardens maintained throughout the year and anyone looking to admire a gorgeous collection of flowers (azaleas, camelias, a large tulip garden) and stroll through beautiful winding trails in the middle of freeway laden Houston, this is the spot to go. They also have events going on all of the time from live music to family days.
A trolley ride away from Bayou Bend or if you drive through the glamorous River Oaks neighborhood on Kirby keep your eye out for the entrance where you can pull up and take a tour of the former home of late art patrons the Mastersons. It is an impressive large mansion filled with great collections of porcelain and a favorite is the sprawling ballroom and entrance with filled with nooks of collections of antique ceramic birds.
Beer Can House
In 1968 a retired upholsterer by the name of John Milkovisch began inlaying marbles, rocks and metal into the concrete of his home to make the landscaping more interesting. When he “got sick of mowing the grass” he decided to cover the house in aluminum beer can siding. Garlands of cut cans hang and chime in the wind and the home was eventually covered in 50,000 of them. After he and his wife’s passing The Orange Show for Visionary Art acquired it and have kept it preserved for all of Houston to enjoy. Nestled in the middle of a neighborhood in River Oaks, this Houston landmark is just another place that makes Houston such a unique city.
Landmark River Oaks Cinema
This theater is one of the oldest in Houston (opened in 1939) that is still operating with its beautiful interior Art Deco design and located in the heart of River Oaks. This is one of the few remaining indie theaters in Houston. They also have an upstairs bar if you would like to have a glass of wine or a white russian (good with one of their many midnight screenings of cult classics like The Big Lebowski and Blue Velvet). Houstonians have fought to keep this historical landmark open and continue to use it as a hub for indie and foreign films as well as local debuts.
The best place for design lovers to peruse and shop in Houston. 5 houses including the main building of design, home accessories, stationery, jewelry, furniture and china/table settings. The main building has a great collection of Jonathan Adler and John Derian works as well as books, wearable items, cards and candles. Want to check out some beautiful furniture and home design start heading over to the other buildings and prepare to spend the day there.
Thompson + Hanson and Tiny Boxwood’s
A wonderful place for design and garden lovers looking to get chic landscaping and decor for their home or patio, Thompson + Hanson is not only a shop, they also are landscape architects. They have a great eye for antiques, decor and pottery and host a nursery. Tiny Boxwood’s is a beautiful little café and espresso bar in the nursery that has become a popular brunch spot and has shabby chic and French provincial decor that makes it oh so lovely. Some favorites are their smoothies, sandwiches and gourmet breakfast tacos. They also offer buffalo burgers and goat cheese pizza for lunchtime goers.
A very luxurious and stylish boutique from Marcus Sloan and Shannon Hall, they carry a large array of cards, home accessories, perfumes and out of this world jewelry. Its always hopping with events for artists and up and coming designers.
ph design shop
Part paper, stationery and design boutique, part graphic design studio, ph is a wonderful little gem located near Upper Kirby. They offer meetings with the graphic designers in the back studio for custom stationery and invites as well as full service commercial design (they have worked with Reef and Little Big’s). You can go next door to Sugarbaby’s for a cupcake after your design eye candy ogling.
Found for the Home
A creative and eclectic home design boutique filled with one-of-a-kind pieces and furnishings.
The heart of record stores in Houston, Cactus has a great history here and is very loved. In an era where record stores are struggling to stay afloat, it’s important that we support local places like this one that not only sell music but celebrate it. There is always a new and exciting in-store performance from local bands and big acts making their way through Houston. If you go to an in-store, you will also get to enjoy free St. Arnold’s beer on tap (they partly own and helped bring Cactus back to life) as well as peruse through the adjacent Record Ranch Gallery where they have a great selection of vinyl and rotating art on the walls.
Houston staple for independent music (particularly punk, hardcore and metal)and very supportive of the local music scene. Great selection of vinyl as well as cds and magazines and they also repair and sell turntables. They are very knowledgeable and the “recommended by sound exchange” stickered stuff is always a great new discovery.
Black Dog Records 3816 South Shepherd Drive, Houston, TX 77098-4228
There is a black lab that hangs out at Black Dog records and I am sure he is a Zeppelin fan. This is one of the best places to go to get your vinyl fix on. It is hidden in a little strip center on Shepherd but look for the long glittery streamers hanging from the window. They have a great selection of classic rock vinyl and memorabilia.
Michael Cordua is one of Houston’s most famous chefs, and his Americas is the centerpiece of a mini-empire. Americas mixes Central and South American cuisine in truly remarkable ways, most notably the famous Churrasco (a high end aged steak with chimichurri and béarnaise), but don’t miss the famous empanadas! The interior decor is so whimsical and creative, the newest location is at River Oaks and is one of the biggest and the best.
Hidden away in a little backstreet between Montrose and River Oaks, the Backstreet Cafe is housed in an old large house and is loved for its gorgeous backyard terrace that offers the best outside dining at night in the city. Great modern American comfort food and lots of vegetarian options too. A wonderful place to go for celebrations and a very romantic spot as well.
Quisie’s Table is a delicious mix of modern cuisine and Southern tradition. The restaurant is bustling and has a great charm and feel to it in a cute house with a screened in patio. Some fave dishes are the shrimp and cheese grits that are insanely tasty, amazing chicken fried steak and three cheese mac and cheese.
One of the best new restaurants/cafés in Houston, operated by the same owner and chef of Indika, Anita Jaisinghani. She serves all kinds of exciting new and affordable dishes like the lamb mint burger with green chutney and onion masala as well as the chicken frankie, a roti wrap with chicken tikka masala. Pondicheri has a wonderful modern atmosphere with its bare concrete walls, eclectic art and steel framed windows. The colors are bright and cheery. They also serve an array of fresh baked goods, sweets , and teas.
Houston’s first certified green restaurant, all ingredients are organic, locally grown or hormone-free and preservative free. They use products that can be recycled and are sustainable and well let me stop now on all of the “green” details, the food is very delicious from salads, pizzas to burgers! They also offer an array of out of this world desserts.
Chef Randy Evans serves up the freshest seasonal meats and veggies. Steaks, fish and all the usual you’d expect from a high end restaurant, but also featuring unique fare like shrimp corn dogs and pork chops with purple mustard demi glace. The atmosphere also has a beautiful bamboo interior and Haven has gotten a lot of well deserved buzz nationally and locally.
Khyber North Indian Grill 2510 Richmond Ave, Houston, TX 77098-3209
One of the most delicious Indian buffets in Houston, Khyber is a hidden gem in Upper Kirby and is always a treat. Wonderful lamb, and classics like their tikka masala and chicken tikka. Don’t forget to save room for dessert, the pistachio topped rice pudding.
Chuy’s isn’t a local Houston joint (they got started in Austin), but it’s a ton of fun. Fantastic spins on Tex Mex flavors, and great for couples and big groups. Famous for their spicy chicken dish called Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and their take on the chimichanga called the Chuychanga, or opt for a Big As Yo’ Face Burrito. The interior decor is filled with folk art goodness like a hubcap ceiling and colorful mosaics of found glass.
House of Pies
House of Pies features dozens of varieties of pies in an old timey diner perfect for late night cravings and people watching. They have a pie of every flavor and slices of each are always available. You can also take home a whole one. Open 24 hours, and a perfect place to hang with friends or strike up a conversation with the eclectic waitstaff.
The Chocolate Bar
Chocolate lovers you are in for a treat from this Houston favorite. Smart guys will take their girlfriends here to enjoy the many delicious varieties of locally made chocolate, rich homemade ice cream flavors and 9 inch cakes. There are 2 locations, the original on West Alabama and Rice Village.
Amy’s Ice Creams
Austin based Amy’s Ice Cream comes to Houston and brings the fun and flavor. Situated right near Cactus Music, Star Pizza and the 59 Diner. Mexican Vanilla is a must try but everything they make is great, including the specially designed and unique flavors. They are also open till midnight.
The Hot Bagel Shop 2009 South Shepherd Drive, Houston, TX 77019-7007
If you think you’ve got to be in NYC for a good bagel, guess again, because the creatively-named Hot Bagel Shop is top of the bagel heap as far as Houston is concerned. True to their name, THBS serves up piping hot fresh-baked bagels 7 days a week to lines that wrap around their tiny building. Have them plain, in strawberry, blueberry, or any of the many varieties that they sell. They also have created the most unique and delicious pigs in a blanket you’ve ever tasted, little sausage dogs wrapped in toasted bagels.
McGonigel’s Mucky Duck
The Mucky Duck is to Houston what Largo is to L.A. This very popular
local bar/eatery/music venue caters to the singer/songwriter crowd,
hosting local and national artists. Nearly every night has something
great going on.
The Tasting Room
A nice little wine bar with a few locations scattered around the city,
The Tasting Room has friendly service and a huge selection of vino from across the globe. They also have great munchies by chef Michael Kramer.
The Heights – West 19th street
Planned as an independent city at the turn of the last century, the Heights is a large, sprawling neighborhood that comprises most of northwest Houston within the Loop. The Heights fell into decline in the 70’s and 80’s, with crime on the rise and many of its historic homes neglected, but over the past two decades it’s become one of Houston’s cultural centers and a bustling, artsy neighborhood full of some of the best restaurants, boutiques and concert venues in the city. It’s known for its tree-lined streets, funky residents and distinctive Victorian bungalows. Don’t miss the popular shopping area that is West 19th Street, you can spend a whole afternoon there soaking in the real Heights experience.
Shop/See and Do
Art Car Museum
Open and free to the public, “The Garage Mahal” is an amazing palace dedicated to the whimsical and out of this world art form that is the art car. Every year there is the large annual Art Car Parade, but the museum allows you to come see the cars up close and personal. From cars covered in singing fish and lobsters, to doll heads and sharded glass. There are so many exciting ones to peruse, they are what make Houston funky and fun.
Bill’s Junk Shop and The Optical Project
Super duper art couple and Glassell Core Program alums Bill Davenport and Francesca Fuchs have helped to keep Houston a vibrant art scene. They own a building right in the heart of the Heights with a home upstairs and downstairs are two gallery/studio spaces. One side is Bill’s Junk, a studio/curio shop/gallery space with Bill’s wonderful art interspersed with his amazing and funky finds that he must part with. They are merely a skim off the top of his whole collection of quirky and cool stuff and he is currently accepting yarn donations for his latest project the Giantest Yarn Ball in Houston.
The Optical Project run by Bill and his amazing artist/painter wife Francesca is an art space that hosts regular rotating exhibits. The last show I enjoyed was, “Astroworld, 1968” after our beloved theme park was torn down he was able to coordinate with Ed Henderson Productions to bring the original model, built in 1967 for viewing.
Artists Cody Ledvina and Brian Rod opened this awesomely unique artist run space that showcases emerging artists and fun shows. Awardees of the Idea Fund here in Houston, they were able to establish the Joanna and keep the spirit of Houston’s funkiness alive with this cool space.
One of Houston’s neatest arts venues, co-owned by Houston artist Wayne Gilbert, G Gallery hosts contemporary artists of every medium always with unique and eye-catching shows.
Coronation Vintage Clothing
Owner Dawn Bell has a wonderful eye for vintage and combines clothes and styles to create modern hits. She now has a Heights warehouse where you can meet by appointment and see her massive collection of dresses, tops, gowns, and purses. She also styles photo shoots, puts on an annual fashion show and has been called by Mad Men on occasion for items to lend.
Opera in the Heights
Houston hosts a surprisingly large number of opera companies. The down-to-earth Opera In The Heights is a friendly alternative to the ritzy downtown opera crowd, presenting large scale shows at accessible prices without sacrificing any quality. Most shows sell out, and last season’s The Pearl Fishers was the hottest ticket in town.
Gallery M Squared/Heights Theater
The Heights theater on the popular and bussling shopping spot at West 19th Street has a fascinating history. It used to be a movie theater until they showed “I Am Curious Yellow” in 1968, when it was torched and gutted by an angry arsonist. Enter former owners the Koprivas who then passed it on to Max B. Harrison and Michael Kubis. They are both owners of Gallery M Squared and have brought new life into it and have made it a wonderful art gallery and venue always hopping with fun and unique shows.
Super Happy Funland
There are no words to describe Super Happy Funland. A one of a kind concert venue/artist collective/performance art space/happening/carnival sideshow, SHF hosts events you truly cannot find anywhere else in the world or probably universe.
A new all local market grocer, butcher shop, coffee shop and cafe, Revival Market is a wonderful new addition to Houston. They carry all great things from the who’s who of local vendors like the Houston Dairymaids, Slow Dough Bread and Co. and even the Houston Beekeeper’s Association. They also offer fresh and delicious pastries and coffee from the ever popular Catalina Coffee. Originally they were going to be a butcher shop, so expect to find an excellent selection of local humanely raised meats. They also have the sweetest rustic decor and packaging.
When the Aurora Picture Show left its original location to become a mobile road show last year, the venue was converted into a new micro-cinema called 14 Pews by LA transplant Cressandra Thibodeaux. Showing the latest in documentaries and art films, 14 Pews has kept an important Houston landmark at the forefront of cinema.
The Art Guys Public Art Pieces: Giant Art Guys at Union Motor Company, Corner of Sheperd and 22nd Street, Statue of Four Lies
The Art Guys are Houston’s own, well, art guys. They make art and they are guys and they have managed to keep Houston weird and interesting with their dadist art and performances. They have drawn collaborations with the likes of Todd Oldham and Ant Farm and recently were plagiarized by Morgan Spurlock. But it’s just what these mind bending artists do, inspire and make things interesting. They have staged several memorable projects such as The Suit Project (featured in the national media), public and performance art pieces, and most recently The Art Guys married a plant at the sculpture garden of the MFAH with a reception at the CAMH. They really have left their mark as artists and Houston artists at that.
Among the fun shops on West 19th Street in the Heights, Jubilee is a great two story place to browse for vintage inspired home decor, soaps, clothing and more. They always have fun things for decorating during the holiday seasons and they always carry creative things that add that extra unique touch to your home.
The husband and wife team who opened Kaboom Books were sadly New Orleanian refugees from Hurricane Katrina, and like many Katrina victims, they found themselves in Houston in late 2005, trying to start new lives. Now they’re some of the coolest folks in H-Town, with one big location overstuffed with an eclectic selection of rare, collectible, out of print and pre-loved books. It’s very cozy and fun and nestled in a great neighborhood in the Heights.
Hello-Lucky Teresa O’ Connor, a video and installation artist, created this wonderful handmade haven for Houstonians to buy local and handmade jewelry, art, clothing and home goods. Hello-Lucky has a lot of style and when you walk in to the bright little yellow bungalow (right down the street from Antidote Coffee) you immediately feel welcome and at home by Teresa and her employees. Hello-Lucky fosters community and art and always has something new and exciting from the over 20 local artists and artisans.
Casa Ramirez 241 West 19th Street, Houston, TX 77008-4009
If you’re nuts about Mexican folk art, particularly those adorable day of the dead skeletons, you’ll find heaven on earth at Casa Ramirez, a longtime fixture on West 19th. There are calaveras in any number of professions: dentists, cops, farmers… even a few Marilyn Monroes. They also educate people on Day of the Dead ofrendas and help to keep the rich tradition alive. The shop is exploding with color of tin pieces, art, coconut masks, paper mache, lotería imagery and various books. The desk is always worked by owner Macario Ramirez (who is also a great local activist) and his lovely wife who greet you with, “Estas en su casa.” They always make you feel at home and offer free cinnamon cookies at the door.
Replay on 19th
The best place to go for vintage clothing, Replay is exploding with fun clothes, bags, shoes, sunglasses and jewelry. They also have a great assortment in the back of 50, 60s and 70s home kitsch decor. Owners Crazy Mike and Laura Levine are always eager to help you put a badass outfit together and have great knowledge about what they are selling. They recently outfitted the crew of the Extreme Makeover Home Edition when they came to Houston to help a local family.
There’s an antiques store or six on every block of the Heights, all full of eccentric treasures. Retropolis is a two story shop with cool retro and vintage clothes, whether you’re looking for a tweed jacket, a pretty old sundress or a Whitesnake T-shirt.
Featured in Martha Stewart Living Magazine, August Antiques and Ben’s Antique Gardening are a bungalow, patio and side garage filled with a beautiful assortment of antiques, old periodicals and printed ephemera from New England and all over the U.S. If you walk next door to the garage, you will find rooms of refurbished vintage radios and fans (in working condition!), as well as those cool 50s and 60s lampshades that look like they come from the Lone Ranger watching days. They repair and refurbish old radios, fans and carry some very gorgeous and unique antiques.
Has been featured on D*S before, Installations Antiques carries a wonderful selection of antique and industrial style furniture as well as work that has been refurbished by owners Becki and Jur van der Oord. They have a lot of style and its always an inspiring experience to come visit and see all of the eclectic eye candy. Apothecary jars, old medical equipment and neat assemblages.
Barrio Antiquo is a wonderfully unique antique furniture and furnishings store filled to the brim with beautiful Mexican home goods, from tables (made out of antique doors) and chairs to mirrors and chandeliers. Best of all is their courtyard filled with amazing steel expressionist sculptures of mariachis, soldiers and animals as well as an array of Mexican pottery and folk art.
Houston’s Creek restaurants are always popular hangouts for basic food and drinks but this one is a fave. Housed in a vintage gas station, Dry Creek is in a dry part of the Heights, so BYOB if you’re into that. Good burgers and refreshing limeades and coffee drinks. A favorite is the fried chicken salad with balsamic vinaigrette, crumbled blue cheese as well as the burgers served on a hearty wheat bun. For those brave enough to try, the Triple Bypass burger comes with a fried egg on top.
The original Creek and still the coziest, draped in trees, filled with lots outdoor seating. Great hot dogs, hamburgers and coffee. Its always hopping and is a great Heights hangout.
Located on the Heights’ historic West 19th St., Shade offers an array of creative and delicious fine dining dishes at better prices than you’d expect. The Grilled Feta-Stuffed Ground Lamb is one of the best as well as the Fried Oyster Tostadas, the Maple Grilled Pork Chop and Wasabi and Cucumber Crusted Red Snapper. Don’t miss dessert, they have some creative and scrumptious options as well.
Like everywhere else in Texas, Houston is serious about its barbecue, and Hickory Hollow is the best. Of course the brisket is melt in your mouth great, but the holy trinity of deliciousness at Hickory Hollow is the barbecued chicken, pork ribs and country fried steak. The chicken and ribs are unbelievably juicy and tender, and the country fried steak is nothing short of miraculous, rich and delicious, served up in portions so huge you could eat them for a week (the smallest portion they serve fills an entire dinner plate on its own).
Recently featured on the Food Network, chef Jamie Zelko creates delicious local grown comfort food and has created a cozy and wonderful restaurant housed in a bungalow in the Heights. The interior has mason jar hanging lights, vintage photographs and nice wood surfaces and the atmosphere is very lovely and laid back. Some favorites are her crab cakes, chicken fried chicken and root beer short ribs.
A fairly new upscale diner in the Heights, Lola has quickly become a go-to destination for my friends and I. It has the salads, burgers and breakfast food you’d expect, but with an artsy twist. The burger, for example, is fresh ground Angus beef topped with a slice of artisan cheddar cheese and fresh arugula, served on a incredible sweet roll, with a side of mind-blowingly great Yukon Gold fries sprinkled with grated parmesan. Great budget steak options (the ribeye frite is only $12). The chicken and waffles are unique and wonderful too.
One of my favorite places to surprise Houston newbies is Vietnam, which looks nondescript on the outside but boasts some of the best Vietnamese food in the city. Also is a popular Heights artists hangout. The vermicelli bowls are incredible. Try the charbroiled pork one, the interplay between the nicely flavored pork with the mild noodles and the crisp, fresh veggies is as refreshing as it is succulent.
A charming Heights establishment with cool and rustic decor (vintage science memorabilia), Down House is named after Darwin’s home in Kent. It is loved for its great atmosphere and scrumptious breakfast and food. Even their well made coffee and house-baked goods like the blueberry muffin filled with juicy berries is moist and crumbly. They also use all kinds of fair trade and local goods and have a rotating menu of excellent coffees from around the world. One charming quirk, your check comes tucked in a random vintage science book.
Naming the best pizza in any city can be fightin’ words, but I don’t even care: Pink’s is the best pizza in Houston. Not quite New York style, not quite LA style, Pink’s has its own unique flavor with a sweet, simple sauce so fresh you get chunks of tomato and sprigs of basil in every delicious bite. They also have great pastas and sandwiches; try the meatballs when you’ve had their pizza all week and want to switch up. You will only find this great pizza in Houston so unique and delicious to us like New York Pizza is to New York.
Andy’s 1115 East 11th Street, Houston, TX 77009
Some of the best Mexican food in the city, a great staff, decor and a jukebox reminiscent of a quinceanera thrown by David Lynch, and open 24 hours. It just doesn’t get better than Andy’s. Huge combination plates give you a taste of practically everything they serve for $8, and don’t miss out on the scrumptious enchiladas and the best carne guisada (mexican beef stew) in Houston.
Dacapo’s Pastry Cafe
Dacapo’s is a busy fully functioning bakery that also hosts a cute little cafe in their lobby. Packed but cozy, they offer fantastic daily special quiches, sandwiches, salads and soups. The Big Club lives up to its name, about 8 inches high and filled with freshly carved turkey and ham. Cross your fingers and you might visit on a day they’re serving their delectable tortilla soup.
Antidote is a great locally-owned coffee shop that went from a fledgling upstart to the hangout spot for everybody in town in a matter of months, and for good reason: great staff, great coffee, and a great local business that supports the neighborhood. Try their special cajeta latte with fresh goat milk.
Pie in the Sky
A cute little spot to hang out with friends, Pie In The Sky boasts a full menu, but the real attraction is their huge fresh-baked pie selection and good ol’ fashioned coffee. Always fresh, warm and a la mode, some of the best pie in Houston.
Spanish Flowers recently became known as “the place Lady Gaga ate at” when she came through on tour lately, but it’s for a reason: they’re one of the best Mexican restaurants in the city, in a great neighborhood, and they’re open 24 hours. There’s nothing better than having one of their mouth-watering tacos al carbon at 3 AM on a Saturday night.
Teotihuacan Mexican Cafe
Teotihuacan is very popular with Heights locals; if you spend the day in the neighborhood, come to Teotihuacan for dinner and chances are you’ll see 90% of the people you saw during the day. Has all your Mexican favorites, some of the best chips in the city, and try the Snapper Veracruz.
Describing its cuisine as “Texas Tuscan”, Stella Solla serves up hearty high end dishes like Wild Boar Ragu, Roast Suckling Pig and the mouth-watering Brown Butter Gnocchi. Another one of Chef Bryan Caswell’s popular creations.
One of the city’s best fine dining restaurants, Glass Wall is home to succulent, unique dishes like Boudin Stuffed TX Quail and Rum & Coke Beef Short Rib (with cheddar grits!).
Crickets Creamery and Caffe 315 West 19th Street, Houston, TX 77008-3900
A creative and charming local creamery that offers freshly made gelatos, coffee and vegetarian lunch. Crickets is a great place to stop and cool off after your West 19th shopping excursion or to bring the kiddies.
Heights Ashbury Coffee House
One of the newest kids on the block of West 19th, the brightly colored Heights Ashbury Coffee House offers coffees, fresh juices, quiches and even Oaxaca-style tacos! They always have rotating art on the walls, live music and are a fun new addition to the Heights.
Shipley’s Donuts (On Ella Blvd. in the Heights)
You haven’t had doughnuts until you’ve had a box of hot Shipley’s. They’re a local chain with locations all over town, but stick with this ancient location on Ella, where any time day or night you’ll get fresh, piping hot doughnuts that will forever wipe away your memories of Dunkins and Krispy Kremes.
Gatlin’s is one of Houston’s most beloved barbecue joints, home to savory and tender brisket, ribs and the like. Come early though! It fills up fast and the good stuff sells out by 7 PM!
A truly one of a kind spot in Houston, the Rainbow Lodge is like a modern day hunting lodge at the foot of town. Very high end (business attire required), serving up venison, wild boar, rabbit and other dishes. Also well known for their weekend brunch featuring $1 champagne and mimosas.
Big Star Bar
A summery vintage feeling joint, Big Star is a favorite of Heights locals. The best spot to hang is outside on the picnic benches and of course the bright red lighting and checkered floor of the interior make this place pretty unique and cool.
Fitzgerald’s is a legendary Houston institution that’s played host to
bands big and small in its 35 year history. Recently renovated by the
team that hosts Houston’s summer music festival Summerfest, Fitz’s has
more great acts than ever; recent shows include The Walkmen, Toro Y
Moi and Tim & Eric.
Sycamore Heights B&B
Built in 1905, this beautiful historic home is a great spot to stay in the middle of all of the shopping and fun in the Heights. They have a sprawling patio, plenty of rooms and the pecan pancakes are served in a bright sunroom in the morning.
Sara’s Bed and Breakfast Inn
A lovely bed and breakfast where the owners are very accommodating but are good about staying out of your way. They offer delicious breakfasts and homey and spacious rooms.
Washington Ave. went from being a street filled with warehouses and used car lots to a bustling bar and nightlife scene as well as new hot place for condos and restaurants. It also has a diverse mix of history (Glenwood Cemetery and the Victorian homes of the Old 6th Ward) as well as artists spaces. Overall the reviews are mixed on what it has become but once in a while there are some great things that have popped up and it continues to grow everyday.
Wabash Antiques and Feed Store
In the middle of the bustling Washington Corridor is this charming
throwback where you can buy antiques and get feed for all your animals, or even buy new ones: Wabash has lots of live chickens, ducks, rabbits and more.
Owner Joe Marcinkowski runs one of the largest ebay shops in the U.S. that sells vintage and midcentury modern furniture. He has a warehouse and a showroom, Midcentury Modern on Washington Ave. Joe has a great eye for design, and his collecting got to be so much that he had to start selling it all. You’ll always find gorgeous one of a kind pieces here, and it’s right next to Catalina Coffee, one of the best coffee shops in town. Also of note he does a lot of inspiring work for the social justice movement in Houston.
A cemetery? Yes, this one is very interesting to visit with its rich history and notable residents like Howard Hughes, Gene Tierney
and many of Houston’s founders. It also has great views of downtown Houston and many pretty areas of greenery to stroll through.
One of the best restaurants in Houston, El Rey looks like a humble fast food drive thru, but they serve incredible Caribbean tacos for less than $2 apiece. Everything’s great, but don’t miss the Cuban tacos (stewed beef, black beans, plantains and sour cream) and the house special El Rey taco (grilled fish with creamy habanero).
Banh mi Vietnamese sandwiches are sweeping the country right now, but I never had them before I lived in Houston. There are lots of great places around town serving up these truly delicious sandwiches at dirt cheap prices (you can feed a family of 10 on them for $15 bucks), but Les Givral’s are some of the best, in a beautiful location with a centerpiece sculpture that wouldn’t look out of place at the Whitney designed by local talented artist and architect Rogelio Rendon.
Part of the rapidly growing strip along Shepherd Drive headed towards the Heights, the well-regarded BRC Gastropub mixes high end gastronomy with traditional American fare, drawing everyone from snooty foodies to twentysomethings walking in from the nearby bars. Try signature dishes like the Jalapeno Potato Chip Chicken Fried Steak or Larry’s Stuffed Victory Steak.
Max’s Wine Dive
Max’s is a very popular local spot by chef Michael Pellegrino with, as you’d imagine, a huge wine selection available with your meal or for retail purchase. As for the food, the dinner menu boasts innovative and delicious dishes like the Lobster Pot Pie, but they’re even more well known for a great brunch menu: cheap mimosas, some of the best in Houston savory Southern Fried Chicken and Waffles and Creme Brulee French Toast.
Like every city, Houston is packed with coffee places, but none have the attention to quality and attentive staff of Catalina, situated in an old, elegant spot along Washington close to downtown. It has a lovely atmosphere and if you like the coffee, take some home; a coffee connoisseur friend of mine buys his espresso here every week!
The Broken Spoke Cafe
The Broken Spoke is a true rarity in Houston: a Belgian restaurant. The friendly staff serves up traditional plates of mussels and fries, served in dozens of different flavors. Wash it down with a nice pint of Stella Artois, served with the food it was created to be eaten with!
The Washington location opened after the iconic original one in the Village, Benjy’s offers innovative cocktails and delicious Southwestern cuisine. It also has chic interiors and a packed Sunday brunch with all kinds of great comfort food. Grandma Levit makes the fudge brownies every day and they should not be missed.
Southwestern inspired food and a very unique and modern spin on Tex-Mex, they have a over 150 selections of tequila and serve some excellent cocktails.
Laid back and cool atmosphere, Liberty Station is always hopping and has a new and scrumptious food truck perched outside every evening. Plenty of wide open space to hang out and a full bar, it’s one of the faves in an often douchey scene on the Washington corridor.
Branch Water Tavern
A sleek and sophisticated place, they are known for the eclectic food and have a wonderful and artistically executed selection of cocktails and drinks.
Walter’s on Washington
Walter’s is moving from Washington to downtown but this indie music staple that features local and national indie bands along with punk is always full of live acts that keep it vibrant and hopping. The low key lighting and atmosphere makes it a great laid back place to enjoy the local music scene.
Absolve Wine Lounge
A classy little lounge with dramatic decor and a nice atmosphere, a great place to have a glass of wine and sit and sip.
The Galleria is like a second downtown district, sprawling skyscrapers, high end shopping and flashy hotels like the Hotel Derek. I had some visiting friends tell me they thought they passed downtown until they got to the actual downtown. It’s where the wealthy of Houston like to get their shop on. If you drive down not many blocks from this area you get into another more culturally diverse section and the landscape changes very quickly. Houston has it all, side by side.
I am not much of a mall girl, more of a boutique kind, but if you are visiting Houston and want to get some primo shopping in, the Galleria is the place to go. They also have a beautiful sprawling skating rink in the center of it all, it’s always fun to go skating with family or friends. It’s also a great place for people watching.
A beloved and popular Houston landmark, the Water Wall is a beautiful place to visit while in the Galleria area. Designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee along with the Williams Tower, the wall pumps 78,500 gallons of recycled water every three hours. Surrounded by a three acre park and large oak trees, many workers and visitors like to come hang out here and have a picnic or a stroll. It’s also a hotspot for wedding photos, day or night.
A famous office tower in Houston, it’s 64-stories and is one of the more unique and beautiful skyscrapers designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee. There is a three acre-park that surrounds it with the famous Williams Waterwall and an 88-foot-high arched entry and beacon light atop. It towers among the Galleria area and can be seen from many parts of town.
Since 1883, Hamilton shirts has been designing custom made 1920s-style tuxedo shirts and is family owned. They are usually featured in Vanity Fair when they are looking to outfit young hot actors like James McAvoy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a vintage outfitted shoot. They are all made locally here in Houston where the family oversees the design and construction of every shirt. You are more than welcome to visit their workshop and check out the lovely shirts in person.
Houston is full of delicious food, but Escalante’s belongs on a
shortlist with the very best. Delicious seafood enchiladas, fajitas,
grilled skewers, guacamole made fresh at your table, and several
varieties of mojitos, all incredible.
RDG + Bar Annie
Mr. Lyle Lovett recently told USA Today about his favorite spots in Houston and RDG + Bar Annie was one of them. Chef Robert Del Grande creates artistically rendered Southwestern comfort food fused with Tex-Mex. Their is also a nice patio space and lounge area as well as a community table for the late comers looking to find a spot to sit in this popular place. This is one of the best places to dine in style in the Galleria area.
The cupcake trend is hot and Crave was the first in Houston. If
you’ve got a cupcake craving, they’ve got all your favorites and a few
more you might not know: dulce de leche, cranberry orange, zucchini
walnut, and more. Super cool atmosphere and a throwback to old bake shops with their vintage mixer logo.
True to its name, The Hobbit Cafe is a one of a kind venue in Upper Kirby
inspired by the Lord of the Rings. Can’t be missed by Tolkien fans, or
vegetarians/vegans; it contains one of the most extensive
veggie-friendly menus in Houston.
The now famous Alamo Drafthouse began in Austin, and Houston is fortunate to have two Drafthouses: one about 10 miles west of the Galleria and another about 10 miles further west (word on the street is one will be moving to the inner loop). If you’ve never had the Drafthouse experience, take care, because you’ll never want to see a movie anywhere else again. Apart from seeing first run releases, the Drafthouse hosts special events year round, with special screenings of classics like Pretty in Pink, The Godfather Trilogy and Pulp Fiction (with cap guns), to bringing luminaries like Crispin Glover to town, all while being served top-notch beers and delicious themed food by the upbeat staff right to your seat. Make sure you arrive early to check out the quirky and fun curated clips that are tailor made for the film you are about to see and revel in a place that truly makes moviegoing a celebrated and fun experience.
Newly opened Relish is a gourmet foods market and specializes in foods that are local and seasonal. They have the best selection from local cheese to baked goods, sandwiches and coffee and tea from beloved coffee connoisseurs, Greenway Coffee. Their tomato and feta salad is not to be missed and every week they have a new menu of delicious food made from fresh local ingredients.
One of Houston’s great hidden gems is this incredible shawarma
restaurant way out on the southwest side. I’ll always remember when my
husband first discovered it on Yelp, the reviewer described it as “the best
shawarma I’ve had since I moved from Cairo,” and they’re not kidding.
It’s easy to get addicted to this delectable menu, but don’t miss the
mind-blowing chicken shawarma and unique, smoky, succulent hummus
as well as the falafel and lamb kabob.
The Burger Guys
One of the best places to get a milkshake in Houston and a burger of course, the Burger Guys don’t mess around. The milkshakes are made with house made ice cream and offer all kinds of adventurous flavors including cereal themed ones and their burgers are thick and juicy as well as the side of the duck fat fried Belgian fries.
The Queen Vic
One of the more exciting new gastropubs, they offer a fusion of British pub food and regional Indian specialties like fish and chips, curries, Indian-kebab burgers and short rib samosas by chef Shiva Patel.
A legendary Houston country bar from when country was called “country
and western”. Live music nearly every night, and pride themselves on
their line dancing prowess.
The East End of Houston borders the industrial waterways leading out to Galveston Bay, and is the center of Hispanic culture in Houston. It’s a busy, colorful barrio full of character, food and art.
El Rincon Social
An artist run exhibition space housed in an old warehouse that was built in the 40s, hosts a variety of experimental and contemporary art in the middle of south-east Houston.
An artist run space, Box13 is one of the great local arts organizations that always has experimental and contemporary work by emerging artists. It serves as an affordable workspace for artists and has 5 “boxes” or exhibition spaces where artists can experiment and put on shows.
The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art all started with a postman named Jeff McKissack whose love of the orange made him by this lot in the East End neighborhood of Houston and turn it into one of the most unique and heartfelt landmarks of public folk art. Shows and concerts are hosted here as well as daily tours. Recently, the amazing Dan Philips is being commissioned to make a new park nearby that will feature a garden, playground and fountain. The Orange Show for Visionary Art Foundation, established after McKissack’s death also preserves and maintains the Beer Can House and started the annual Art Car Parade that is a huge draw every year.
Right near downtown, founded in 1977, Talento Bilingue is a Latino cultural arts center that is an important staple in the Latin community in Houston. They host artist exhibitions, workshops, environmental awareness, and the popular Flor y Canto Summer Art Camp for kids. Some of the favorite things to come to though are the rotating art exhibitions and performances such as the beautiful tribute to Frida Kahlo by artist Ángeles Romero, called “The Brow.”
Frenetic Theatre – Freneticore
A non-profit that promotes the performing arts such as dance, film, theater and multi media presentations. Freneticore always has something mind bending going on and encourages art and artists that are pushing the boundaries beyond a single medium in performance. They also host free movie nights and dance workshops and the ever growing Houston Fringe Festival.
East End Studio Gallery
A community based non-profit, The Houston Institute for Culture/East End Studio Gallery promotes the expression and exploration of one’s culture and identity as well as social issues. They have workshops, gallery talks and work in conjunction with the East End Arts Association.
The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation
According to many locals, Ninfa’s is ground zero for Mexican food in America by Mama Ninfa Laurenzo in 1973. They say it’s the first place tacos, burritos and fajitas were served up to gringos and popularized. Whether that’s true or not, Ninfa’s is a Houston classic and some of the best Mexican food in town and makes handmade fresh flour and corn tortillas. A hotspot whether you’re there for lunch or dinner, Ninfa’s is always packed and always good. It also still has that feel of it’s humble roots before it became a large, popular Houston chain.
Houston is home to some of the best Mexican and Tex Mex restaurants anywhere, but El Jardin is unquestionably one of the best and right in the heart of the barrio. The enchiladas are, without exception, the best in Houston I’ve eaten, and the generously-portioned combo plates give you enough food for a week on prices that will barely dent your wallet. Conveniently open very late on the weekends.
Dot Coffee Shop 7006 Gulf Fwy, Houston, TX 77087-2508
One of Houston’s best diners, Dot is a lovable throwback straight out of Radiohead’s “High and Dry” video and/or the finale of Pulp Fiction. Great burgers and all the diner fare you’d expect, and conveniently located close to the University of Houston.
La Victoria 7138 Lawndale Street, Houston, TX 77023-4213
If you haven’t experienced the deliciousness that is Mexican sweet bread, you’ve been deprived of some seriously great stuff. La Victoria is a staple in the heart of the barrio and is the best place in town to get sweet bread, a fully-stocked bakery that also operates a lunch counter with some legendary carne guisada. I have been going there since childhood with my grandparents and it has a lot of great memories.
Telwink 4318 Telephone Road, Houston, TX 77087-1447
Walking into Telwink is like walking into a time machine, a very old timey diner with delicious breakfast and traditional diner food. It’s as good as it gets, with the line out the door to prove it. Get there early, though: they’re only open for breakfast and lunch and closed up tight by 2 PM.
The first music and art coffee house in Houston’s historic, predominantly Hispanic East End, Bohemeo’s is a colorful, very fun venue started by local musicians Sid and Lupe Olivarez. Host to live music most nights of the week, and offers a great patio with a beautiful view of the Houston skyline.
I have a soft spot for Galveston, it’s taken its fair share of blows from the Hurricane of 1900 to Hurricane Ike but the people still manage to pick up, rebuild and maintain the charm that exists there. It feels like you are going back in time; being a person who loves all things Victorian and antique, Galveston is chock full of old Victorian homes and architecture and has a lot to explore for a nice little day trip outside of Houston. Clear Lake and Kemah are on the way to Galveston and if one would like to learn about where the “Space City” got its name its a nice little stop right by the bay.
Galveston Historical Foundation
Galveston has a lot of history and there is a charm seeing all of the Victorian houses lined up along the main drag. There are plenty of homes to tour, the two standouts are the Moody Mansion, Bishop’s Palace and the Elissa.
One of my favorite parts of Galveston is taking a stroll through the Historic Strand. The Strand, or Avenue B is a street that is parallel to the bay in downtown Galveston. It maintains its Victorian architecture and has all kinds of art galleries, shops and antiques. They also have horse and carriage tours, hotels, a theater as well as the beautiful 1894 Grand Opera House.
A wonderful Strand staple, Hendley Market has all kinds of beautiful antiques and curiosities and carries a wonderful collection of nativity scenes from around the world. From delicate foil candy wrapper scenes from Poland to intricate beaded figures from Mexico its always inspiring to see the different interpretations. One of the best shops on the island and most eclectic.
Somewhere In Time Antiques
A favorite antique shop, they carry all kinds of wonderful trinkets and treasures as well as lovely Victorian outfits for the annual Dickens on the Strand holiday tradition where Galveston goes back in time during the holidays.
A large tropical destination, Moody Gardens consists of two 10 story pyramids of glass one being an aquarium and the other being a tropical rainforest. Each filled with animals, exotic tropical plants and complete ecosystems. They also have an IMAX theater, a paddlewheel boat, a resort and a white sand beach.
The Sea Wall
After the devastating hurricane of 1900 that wiped out Galveston, the city had to rebuild, this time they would raise its elevation and construct a wall that would help protect them from future hurricanes. Made of concrete its 3.3 miles long and is great to drive by and visit. Many restaurants, hotels and attractions are all along the wall and is a more unique part of Galveston.
Lyndon Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston
When Tom Hanks said, “Houston, we have a problem,” in Apollo 13, he was calling the Johnson Space Center. From its start in 1961 with Apollo and Skylab projects to the Space Shuttle and Space Station programs it continues to lead NASA’s efforts in space exploration. This is still mission control for NASA, home to the NASA astronaut corp (training for space shuttle crews) and a great place to explore its history.
100 years old, Gaido’s is a family owned restaurant that is always wonderful to visit. Facing the seawall it has lovely views of the ocean and all of the sauces, desserts and food are made with the family’s own recipes. S.J. Gaido opened this restaurant in 1911 when people would come visit by boat or horse and buggy. It has a lovely old school atmosphere and the services is always tip top.
A wonderful little cafe and brunch spot, they have fresh and eclectic dishes. Some faves are for breakfast their Breakfast Bowls with fresh spinach, roasted potatoes, bacon, two poached eggs and cheese, their grilled shrimp tacos and goat cheese salad. Also, their variety of teas and desserts are scrumptious.
An old drugstore that has been around since 1886, it is so lovely and feels like you are stepping back in time with its marble counter top and soda fountain station. They serve all kinds of classic soda fountain greats as well as ice cream sundaes and lunch and breakfast.
Original Mexican Cafe 1401 Market Street, Galveston, TX 77550-2532
A Galveston institution, the enchiladas are a fave and the tex-mex is made fresh and delicious. For many it’s one of the best Mexican restaurants in Houston and its surrounding areas. They also have the best bread pudding.
Benno’s on the Beach
One of the first restaurants you pass by along the Sea Wall, Benno’s is a classic and loved place to get your Cajun seafood fix on. From the gumbo to the fried catfish to the fried crab it’s all good and crawfish season is just nuts. They also have awesome blue crab. Very casual and laid back.
Right on the Strand, La King’s is a throwback to the 1920’s and an old time confectionary feel. They have all kinds of candies, hand dipped chocolates, lollipops, ice cream, malts and a full coffee bar.
What used to be a hidden secret in Kemah, a little town off of Galveston Bay is now an attraction with tons of restaurants, a ferris wheel and shops. It’s fun to visit if you want to dine by the water and have a nice outing. Some favorite restaurants are the Aquarium, Joe’s Crab Shack, The Flying Dutchman and Landry’s.
The Commodore is a cool hotel, feels like you are living in a 70s mod era. All 92 rooms face the ocean with their own
balconies and in the front is a pool to take a dip. It’s right near all of the fun and surrounded by lots of great dining.
Hotel Galvez and San Luis
If you want to go all out and take it up a notch, stay at the classic and beloved Hotel Galvez or the San Luis Resort. The Hotel Galvez was built right after the Hurricane of 1900 right on the Sea Wall and was promptly called “The Queen of the Gulf.” 100 years later its still a great landmark and a beautiful place to stay. The San Luis Resort is another great place to relax overlooking the ocean and right on the sea wall. They have a restaurant, spa, and H20 Pool and Lounge.
Miscellaneous Day Trips
Drive northside and you will pass a curious and cool place, the Cactus King. A giant green cactus with a smiley face made of found materials greets you as well as a large sculpture of stacked TVs. They have hundreds of cactus species and succulents and is just such a creative and funky place to visit.
Showboat Drive In Theater
Looking to relive the era of the drive-in? If you are willing to take a little drive the Showboat Drive in Theater is really fun. Plan to wait until dusk when it gets dark for the film to start; they always offer a double feature but you don’t have to stay for the second show. They also have a concession area inside where you can get all of the movie goodies including burgers and hot dogs.
National Museum of Funeral History
A really unique and cool place, this museum is the real deal. It’s a huge warehouse that shows the many interesting artifacts from the history of funerals. From elaborate hearsts to glass caskets if you are looking to spend an odd afternoon in H-town this is the thing to do.
Magda Sayeg and the Knitta Crew
The Art Guys
Doug Michels (founding member of Ant Farm)
Two Star Symphony
I am Mesmer
Win and William Butler of The Arcade Fire
Robert Earl Keen
Townes Van Zandt
Dr. David Eagleman