City Guide: Houston, TX

I’ve been struggling with how to adequately introduce Houston, TX. In all fairness, it is a huge city to whittle down to a single paragraph, page, or even a full-on paperback book…

Houston from space

Houston from space

But that is the beauty of Houston. It is unfathomable. Having lived there for a number of years, I can say with honesty that there is something there for everybody, from the most underground of underground music scenes to the highest manifestations of high art. It is America’s most ethnically diverse city – yes, even more so than New York City and Los Angeles – and is set to overtake Chicago as the third largest city in the states. It is home to old money, new upstarts, bull riders, hip-hop legends, farmers, tattoo artists, fashion figures, social activists, country singers, and – alas – even politicians. And that’s not even scratching the surface.

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Cy Twombly Gallery – The Menil Collection

As you can imagine, it’s impossible to pull together a comprehensive guide to Houston that appeals to everyone’s sense of what the city has to offer. So what follows is a tailored list of what made Houston a home to me. Call it an indulgence or call it insight, but everything on here is worth experiencing if you ever find yourself in The Bayou City:

TASTE

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I will go out on a limb to say that Hugo’s is my absolute favorite restaurant in Houston – if not the entire country. Not many people understand the difference between authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex (or that there is a difference at all), but one visit to Hugo’s will change that. In short, the restaurant is based exclusively on upscale, yet traditional Mexican dishes from Chapulines (pan-sautéed grasshoppers) to Cochinta Pibil (slow-roasted baby pig cooked banana leaf). If you have the opportunity, I recommend visiting during Sunday brunch, where you can sample the gamut of what Hugo’s has to offer. Make a B-line for their subtly spiced house-made hot chocolate, and then take some home in disc form. 1600 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006 - (713) 524 7744

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For those interested in an innovative menu made with locally sourced ingredients, Pondicheri is a must. It is a forward-thinking, contemporary Indian fusion restaurant with an incredible atmosphere and an even better wait staff. Their menu features new manifestations of traditional Indian dishes, such as Saag Paneer made with their own farmer’s cheese, but I recommend ordering one of their thalis (or sampling dishes) with a house made sweet lassi. They also feature a baking lab (pictured above) that is always testing out different desserts – none of which have ever disappointed. They are vegetarian and gluten-free friendly, and are incredibly reasonable in terms of the price point! 2800 Kirby, Suite B132 Houston, Texas 77098 – (713) 522 2022

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You can get sushi anywhere, but there are only a handful of restaurants that feature a full on Japanese menu. Of these, Kata Robata is an incredible example of the broad spectrum of Japanese cuisine, from traditional street food to contemporary innovations like Foie Gras and Duck Soba noodles. Having lived in Tokyo, I am particularly fond of their robata (slow-grilled) menu, their 72-hour slow-cooked Texas Kobe Beef skewer being a personal favorite. Regardless, if you are just in the mood for sushi, the Kata Robata chefs to a wonderful job with their extensive offering of sashimi & sushimaki. 3600 Kirby Dr., Houston, TX 77098 – (713) 529 8858

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There is no ‘best’ part of The Rice Box. It’s all good. The Chinese-American cuisine is great, it’s fast, it’s cheap, it’s honest, it’s easy, and it’s on wheels. The proprietors are friendly, quadrilingual, and are always up for a good conversation – especially if it has to do with travel or sci-fi. And the list goes on. But the final point for The Rice Box is their advantageous location on Westheimer Rd from early evening into the early morning. It’s a perfect opportunity to grab some General Tsao’s Chicken (their speciality), before enjoying a handmade cocktail at Anvil Bar & Refuge or a local craft brew at Hay Merchant – both of which are within 2 blocks. (Locations variable) 

Tiny's No. 5

Tiny’s No. 5

When we entertained friends and family from out of town, brunch at Tiny’s No. 5 was a given. As it should be, half of the draw is their menu and half is their beautiful atmosphere. Grab a white wine mojito, a plate of migas, and one of their signature chocolate chip cookies as a treat. The space itself is incredible, with tons of natural light illuminating a spacious, minimal interior. You can also sit in the shade outside to admire their meticulously landscaped green space, which is particularly nice during spring. 3636 Rice Boulevard, Houston, TX 77005 - (713) 664 0141

DO

Reserve Supply Co.

Reserve Supply Co.

I don’t tend to enjoy or recommend men’s stores, but Reserve Supply Co. is a playground for anyone interested in a good pair of jeans, a solid pair of boots, vintage leather jackets, motorcycles, and skateboards. The shop is well-curated, interesting, and definitely worth a visit. It’s also a great starting point for a day of shop and café-hopping throughout The Heights, which is one of Houston’s most unique neighborhoods. 2205 Washington St., Houston, TX 77007 – (713) 750-9582

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Baby Alligator Lounging at Brazos Bend State Park

One of the more unique experiences that Houston has to offer is just outside the city limits. Brazos Bend State Park is a great destination for outdoorsy types, with hiking/biking trails, fishing, and a variety of other things to offer. Their claim to fame however is their considerable population of resident alligators. In all actuality, you would be hard pressed to not encounter an alligator during your time there. It’s worth mentioning that both alligators and people maintain a respectful distance, though it’s not uncommon to be several yards away. Regardless, it’s certain to be a memorable experience and a great escape from the urban atmosphere. 21901 FM 762 Rd, Needville, TX 77461 – (979) 553 5102

If Brazos Bend State Park is too far off the beaten path, there is another option in the heart of the city. Hermann Park is a huge open area featuring a variety of green spaces, bodies of water, and throngs of wildlife. On any given visit, you will see a large variety of duck and bird species, turtles, fish, nutria, and the fattest squirrels on the planet. If you time it right, you’ll even see larpers in the midst of foam sword battles. It sounds surreal (and it is), but it’s also really quaint. If you are there around dusk, take a walk along the outer gate of the Japanese Garden. There you will find at least a dozen of carefree wild rabbits chasing one another throughout the garden before turning in for the night. Hermann Park also features Miller Outdoor Theatre, which shows musical and theatrical performances throughout the year, including an incredible series of Shakespeare productions. Similarly, the park also houses the world-renowned Houston Zoo and the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Honestly, the latter is certainly worth a visit, both for the Cockrell Butterfly Center and the newly opened Morian Hall of Paleontology, which is currently the only exhibit in the world to display an actual piece of fossilized dinosaur skin (as opposed to an imprint). It also houses an incredible collection of petrified woods. 6001 Fannin St., Houston, TX 77030 – (713) 524 5876

SEE

Cruz Diez installation at Sicardi Gallery

Cruz Diez installation at Sicardi Gallery

Of the many contemporary art spaces in Houston, Sicardi Gallery is among the most unique. The gallery specializes in established and mid-career Latin American artists, including Antonio Asis, Maria Fernanda Cardoso, León Ferrari, Gego, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Liliana Porter, and Manual Espinosa among others. A gallery is only as good as its artists, but Sicardi spares no expense in curating phenomenal shows that are intriguing, thematic, and memorable beyond that of their counterparts. The other notable takeaway about the gallery is that it is located directly across the street from the Menil Collection.1506 W Alabama St, Houston, TX 77006 – (713) 529 1313

Anyone remotely interested in the visual arts needs to carve out an afternoon to visit the Menil Collection. For starters, it is one of Houston’s premier art spaces with an incredible showcasing of works spanning from antiquities to contemporary art. In short, it stems from the private collection of John & Dominique de Menil, who made it their mission to make art accessible to everyone – not just those with the means to acquire it. As such, there is an undeniable character and personal touch around the Menil Collection that is unparalleled by other institutions. 1533 Sul Ross St, Houston, TX 77006 – (713) 525 9400

Rothko Chapel - The Menil Collection

Rothko Chapel – The Menil Collection

In addition to the main building that houses the bulk of the collection, there are two standalone galleries that each attract visitors from around the world. The first is the Rothko Chapel, which was “dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief.” As such, the space is incredibly tranquil and meditative, making it more of an experience than a sight to see. It’s worth noting that on the vernal equinox (March 20th), the Rothko Chapel will host a series of sound installations by internationally acclaimed artist Jeff Talman. As always, admission is free of charge. 1533 Sul Ross St, Houston, TX 77006 – (713) 525 9400

The second must-see on the Menil grounds is the Cy Twombly Gallery. As the largest collection of Twombly’s paintings and sculptures, it is an incredible experience that spans through defining moments in his career. In addition to showcasing these works, the space itself was also designed in collaboration with the artist, who made sure to rely exclusively on all natural light throughout the space. Both full-time docents are extremely knowledgeable and friendly, so be sure to tell them if it’s your first visit. Like the Rothko Chapel, the Cy Twombly Gallery is always free. 1533 Sul Ross St, Houston, TX 77006 – (713) 525 9400

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One thought on “City Guide: Houston, TX

  1. Whoa, Doggies!!! The good folks of the San Francisco Bay Area will undoubtedly argue with you about Houston being America’s most culturally diverse city. I might just argue on their side, though I’m not sure now after reading about the places/experiences you’ve described. It seems I have vastly underrated Houston. It’s now gone on my list of places to visit.

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