Essential “Need-to-Knows” of Houston
You may think you know Southern metropolis; however, we’ve found some things that may change your mind. Over the last two decades, Houston has silently grown into a diverse cultural and culinary destination attracting artists, chefs, and eccentrics to its humid borders offering low-cost living and freedom to be who you want to be! In fact, Houston is the most diverse city in America! Houston is huge, it’s basically five cities surrounded by a giant freeway loop. Each area has a distinct cultural identity yet sharing many of the qualities that make up Houston. When people think of Texas images of cowboys, brisket, and football come to mind. These things still exist in fact they are alive and well in Houston but Houston is now home to large Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Latin, Indo-Pak, and African populations whose cultures have trickled into everyday Houston life!
There’s a reason we are starting with eats, the fastest way to get a feel for a new place is with its flavor palate and Houston’s palate is very unique. From Brisket to Bahn Mi here is Houston’s Essential Eats.
Worth A Trip
If you had only one day in Houston these are the places you should go for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Barbecue is Texas’ claim to fame in the culinary arts and Houston is a major player in the game. (Yes that rhymed) There are dozens of famous and amazing pitmasters in the greater Houston area from Feges, an underground (literally) BBQ joint, to Tejas Chocolate & BBQ, one of the few places in the world you can get homemade chocolates and world-class brisket! The place we chose to highlight embodies what makes Houston unique. Blood Bros. BBQ is a newcomer to the Texas BBQ scene but has been making waves with its fresh takes on Texas classics. Their menu tells the story of growing up in the SW Houston neighborhood of Afleif and how the various cultures they were around growing up melded to create something new and beautiful. It’s more than fusion its something new, it’s the lovechild of Texas, Vietnamese, and Chinese tradition. Where else can you find Green Curry Boudin and Brisket Bao Tacos?
This next place has received accolades from GQ to James Beard and most recently Time’s “World’s Greatest Places 2019” which considering the hundreds of millions of “places” there are in the world is a big deal. This 13 seat chef’s table serves neo-soul cuisine meticulously designed to teach the eater about the African diaspora throughout American history. This is a tasting menu with a side of tantalizing conversation! It’s BYOB and very small so be sure to make your reservation in advance!
Bang For Your Buck
If multi-course tasting menus are out of your budget or you’re looking for a good quick bite after work these are your best bets. Vietnamese is another Houston staple but it just so happens that its price point is so good that it made it into this category! Everyone in Houston has their own answer for the best Pho and best Bahn mi joints but we chose to talk about Cali Sandwich and Pho for one reason. It’s one of the last places to get an amazing Bahn Mi for $3! It’s old Houston and we hope it stays here forever!
In 1969 Sallie and Percy “Frenchy” Creuzot opened a Po’Boy shop outside of the University of Houston. Today Frenchy’s serves cajun comfort food to millions of people across nine locations throughout Houston. It’s a longtime local favorite for a quick meal for under $10!
Late Nite Bite
Whether it’s a late-night craving or a comforting meal after a night of debauchery the late nite eatery is essential. And for such an industrious city, Houston has quite a few late nite bites! Andy’s Home Cafe is a small cozy cafe in Houston’s historic Heights neighborhood that has been serving hearty Tex-Mex plates to diners at all hours of the day, every day since 1977. They claim the best breakfast in Houston but do yourself a favor and get the Carne Guisada burrito its the ultimate late nite comfort!
Toukei Izakaya is a hip modern Japanese bar and small plate eatery nuzzled in an unassuming shopping strip in Houston’s Chinatown neighborhood. This Izakaya or Japanese tavern serves great whiskey cocktails and warm sake with amazing Japanese small plates designed to be eaten with sake and made to share with friends. You can eat until 1:30 am and drink until 2 am.
Houston loves its dive bars and its music and they do both well but you can do much more. Houston is very much a worker’s town and a DIY town so you’ll find a nice assortment of unique activities and practical leisure.
Kick Back and Relax
The heat and humidity make outdoor leisure hard to imagine but in those golden fall months or even brisk winter months, nothing is better than grabbing a bite and finding a shady spot to sit with some friends. The Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden is one of the best places to spend an afternoon with a good book or a significant other. Designed by Japanese artist, Isamu Noguchi, the Cullen Sculpture Garden is a giant concrete maze housing several sculptures from iconic artists like Joan Miro, Henri Matisse, and Auguste Rodin. Most recently the grounds were expanded as the neighboring Glassel School of Art was remodeled so it now includes Houston’s own rendition of Anish Kapoor’s famous Chicago tourist attraction the Cloud Column and a rooftop lounge area! Grab a snack from a nearby food truck and head up the slope to enjoy a leisurely bite with a view.
In the evening when the weather is nice, try the Rooftop Cinema Club, a swanky yet cozy rooftop theater downtown. Known for their unique take on dinner and a movie, this theater offers a unique way to enjoy classic cult films complete with your own wireless headphones (so you never miss a line), a great drink and food menu, and of course cozy chairs (for one or two) and blankets.
In a night out in Houston you can find yourself enjoying your favorite band in an outdoor theater on a hill then heading next door to enjoy a drink with a view in a “decommissioned bachelor pad” and then finishing the night off with a turtle race! Okay let’s start there, Little Woodrow’s is a Texas watering hole turned franchise that always has something unique going on like its famous turtle races! For something a little more lowkey Alexrad is your spot. A backyard designed for you to kick back and drink! It’s simple all you need are good drinks, some shade, and cozy seating. (Axelrad has all three!) For something with A/C, the Raventower offers the same level of comfort out of a retired bachelor pad. In 1970 it was a metal shop that built the “ultimate bachelor pad” in a tower with a view of the skyline. Today, Raventower runs a watering hole with one of the largest patios in the city! Nextdoor is the Whiteoak Music Hall, Houston’s newest music venue that brings some of the biggest acts and underground favorites through its doors.
Root for the Home Team
Houston is a sports town with deep pride for its teams. The unique thing about it is Houston has a lot of pro teams! Yes, you can go to Minutemaid and enjoy a taco and beer while you catch the Astros, or head to NRG on Sundays for tailgating, BBQ and Texans football or even Toyota Center to watch Harden and Westbrook score ridiculous amounts every night. But, there’s more than that like the Dynamo, Houston’s pro Soccer team, or the SaberCats who play Rugby in their new $15 million stadium! There’s even a Houston Cricket League and two pro E-sports teams all with diehard fans that make any sport a fun experience. Whether you follow the sport or not you’re in for a good time!
Exploring Houston can be overwhelming, in the same way, exploring Los Angeles can be overwhelming except with much more humidity! This means you need to research and know where you want to go and what you want to explore, thankfully we’re doing the research for you!
Exploring these areas is the summer heat is not for the faint of heart but during any other season we highly recommend these spots!
Drive 60 miles north to find Sam Houston National Forest in Huntsville. This lush pine forest nature preserve features various scenic hiking trails that have everything from lake views to deck trails that take you over delicate ponds. You can even find the Sam Houston museum where you can experience life in the 1800s like popcorn cooked on a campfire!
The city is full of great running trails but one the best and our favorite comes complete with a gorgeous public art structure. Rice University Loop is a 3-mile long trail located on historic Rice University (obviously). This trail features views on the campus can be extended by the nearby Hermann Park and the best part is you get to rest at the famous James Turrell “Twilight Epiphany”, a massive art space carved into a grassy hill. You can sometimes find the orchestra performing in there which only enhances the transcendent visual experience.
These spots can be enjoyed at any time of the year and are great for some airconditioned walking! The Houston Galleria is most definitely a tourist trap and you will rarely find it not crowded. But, it’s still a great way to spend a hot day even if you’re not shopping! You can have sushi served from a little train and while watching people ice skate. Then you can work off your meal by ice skating yourself!
This one is less of a tourist trap but still a major tourist destination. The Museum of Fine Arts is one of the largest art museums in the country and is still growing with a recent expansion currently under construction. The main section consists of two buildings connected by a stunning underground tunnel that doubles as an art installation by James Turrell. The museum is complete with a cafe, gift shop and an underground movie theater showing the latest films from the festival circuit and classic art house cinema! You can spend a day walking throughout this Campus and only see half of the works on display! The best part is it is free on Thursdays along with just about every other museum in the city so you can easily museum hop!
Party Like a Local
Sadly Houston has lost all of its major music festivals but luckily the party has not left with them! You can still find a party any time of the year! In Houston a party can come in many shapes and sizes, Critical Mass is a perfect example of that. Critical Mass is a once a month casual bike ride and social mixer that occurs on the last Friday of every month. It’s a fun way to meet new people and a great way to explore the city! If you’re lucky enough to be in Houston during the springtime you will more than likely be surrounded by Crawfish festivals. These parties originate from Lousiana but have become an important part of Houston culture! Our suggestion is to try one, it doesn’t matter which crawfish fest just head to one or all of them and chow down while enjoying some Zydeco music and drinking! This last one is half party half leisurely stroll. Zoo Lights is a two-month-long event that takes place during the holidays at the Houston Zoo and surrounding park. Various parties take place over the two months it’s open like the Ugly Sweater Night that comes with one free drink. There’s a designated driver ticket if you want to be a good friend!
Houston is weird but in a good way. It rewards you again and again for taking the time to get to know it. Every day in Houston can be different and every day can surprise you! It’s easily one of the most underrated cities and is silently taking over so get in before it blows up!
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