Places to Love: Houston, Texas
Travelers are always on the lookout for the little-known haunts or hidden gems. But what if that hidden gem was an entire city? Houston, Texas might not sit atop your list of must-see destinations, but maybe it should. It might not have Austin’s rolling Hill Country or Dallas’ clean-cut vibe, but Houston embodies what’s great about America. Its low cost of living allows for a booming art scene, and lots of opportunity for hungry entrepreneurs looking to turn dreams into reality. Add in incredible museums, a diverse food and fun music scene, and you’ll quickly see that the Magnolia City really does have it all. Here’s why Houston is a place to love.
PLACES AND STORIES TO LOVE
Houston Museum District
From The Museum of Fine Arts to the Beer Can House (yep, a house sided with aluminum beer cans), you’re bound to find a museum for every taste.
Visit Project Row Houses in Houston’s northern Third Ward, one of the city’s oldest African American neighborhoods. Founded in 1993, PRH is a unique experiment in activating the intersections between art, historic preservation, affordable and innovative housing. The community includes a group of shotgun houses restored in the 1990s, eight of which serve as studios for visiting artists. A row behind the art studio houses single mothers.
The Rothko Chapel offers quiet respite from the city’s hustle and bustle. Founded in 1971, intimate, non-secular sanctuary offers a tranquil meditative environment. Not surprisingly, it gets its name from its namesake inspiration: American painter Mark Rothko. Be sure to check out Barnett Newman’s majestic sculpture “Broken Obelisk” stands in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The Rothko Chapel is an independent institution, a sacred place open to all people, every day. Best part? Entry is always free.
One of the most notable visual aspect of Houston has to be its graffiti scene. Once a misunderstood and even feared medium, mural art is now embraced widely. I had the great pleasure of touring the city’s robust mural scene with artist Gonzo247. Our meeting point? St. Arnold Brewery, the oldest craft brewery in the state. In Houston, this craft brewery and street art go hand-in-hand. Gonzo247 not only designed the label for the Art Car IPA, but also painted a beautiful mural in the brewery. Brewery Founder Brock Wagner is as passionate about beer as he is about art, which is why the building is filled with both. There are few things that go together like drinking and art, don’t you think?
Global Eats, Local Flavor
It’s no secret that I love grocery shopping when I travel. And while I love a good farmers market or food hall, that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean a grab-your-cart-and-cruise-the-aisles kind of grocery store.
Houston boasts Specialty Phoenicia, one of the most impressive I’ve ever experienced. What started in 1983 as a humble sandwich shop with a handful of grocery items Specialty Phoenicia sells ingredients from over 50 countries. They have an entire aisle dedicated to rice, a pita production set up that would make Willy Wonka jealous, plus a deli, bakery and a dizzying array of cheeses. They typically say you should never arrive at the grocery store hungry, but I am calling this an exception to the rule.
IF YOU GO
They say to never grocery shop while hungry, but skip that advice and head straight for the cheese counter. If you’re nice, they’ll give you some samples. Great deli counter and prepared foods to go, too.
12141 Westheimer Road
Houston, Texas 77077
Phone: (281) 558-8225
The Community Cloth
Every episode of Places to Love features a local shopping experience. In Houston, I was moved by what they’re doing at the Community Cloth. This organization empowers refugee women by giving artisans the materials and infrastructure to create and sell handmade, indigenous arts and crafts. Think woven scarves, knitwear, household items, children’s hats, bags and more. Through the Community Cloth, women express their culture and heritage, learn new skills and obtain much-needed supplemental income. All of the proceeds go directly to the artisans and the program.
This organization does more than provide financial opportunities. It serves as a gathering place for refugee women—from all over the globe—to meet, support each other, talk, build friendships and mentor one another. It’s a game changer for these women and their families, who’ve been through so much and are looking to build a new life in a place so far from home. You can purchase their wares online as well by visiting their website.
IF YOU GO
Prepare to be inspired. The refugee women who work with the Community Cloth have incredible stories. This is truly a shopping experience with a lot of heart and soul.
Referred to by some as a modern day Ellis Island, Gulfton is one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Houston. Residents represent seventy distinct cultures, and speak thirty different languages.
Houston: America’s next great food city?
With such a diverse population, there’s more going on in Houston than simply Tex-Mex and barbeque. Enjoy Indian-Pakistani cuisine at Himalaya Restaurant green curry or goat biryani. Dig into excellent Cajun food at the Houston outpost of Brennan’s; and eat Ethiopian staples like kifto with your hands at Blue Nile.
Hugo’s remains one of the city’s most celebrated restaurants. Owned and operated by James Beard Award-winning chef Hugo Ortega, Hugo’s showcases the diverse foods of Mexico. From salsas and moles to tortillas, everything is made in-house. Enjoy fresh and punchy ceviche, yummy slow roasted lamb barbacoa, and grilled octopus. And let’s not forget a Hugo-rita, chef’s take on the classic tequila cocktail.
His latest restaurant, Xochi (pronounced so-chee) is a love letter to Oaxacan cuisine. Expect rich flavor and traditional techniques, all made with the finesse of a talented chef. His mole negro takes three days to create (and 19 ingredients!). Served with Tejas heritage farm black-footed chicken and creamy corn meloso (aka honeyied!), it’s traveling to Oaxaca without leaving the states.
IF YOU GO
Try Xochi’s signature mole tasting. Select four of the classic-mole sauces, served with housemade tortillas. Yum!
Houston Marriott Marquis
1777 Walker Street
Houston, Texas 77010
Phone: (713) 400-3330
Located in downtown Houston within the Marriott Marquis, Xochi is directly across the street from Discovery Green. This a 12-acre park includes a tranquil pond, jogging trails, dog runs and more.
Gulf Coast Soul Headquarters
While its original outpost sits on Austin, Texas’ famed drag South Congress, Houston’s Continental Club brings its own flavor to the music scene. Located in a former 1920s drugstore on Houston’s Main Street, the Continental Club served as a lynchpin for the revitalization of the neighborhood in the early 90s.
If you’re looking for a fun place to catch a show, this is it! When I visited, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing The Suffers perform live. What was supposed to be weekend hobby has transformed into a full-fledged touring group. The Suffers are comprised of former investment bankers, teachers and even a NASA engineer. Their sound? Gulf Coast Soul, a mashup of all sorts of different genres (they call The Wailers, David Bowie, Prince, and Aretha Franklin influencers) that has a distinctly Houstonian feel.
What’s so special about being an artist in Houston is the relatively low cost of living, which allows those pursuing their passions to still buy a house and feed their family. As their lead singer Kam Franklin says, “You can be a starving artist in Houston and still eat good.”
IF YOU GO
There’s great barbecue onsite, perfect for a bite before or after a show.
The Continental Club
3700 Main Street
Phone: (713) 529-9899
Today, Houston’s Midtown is known as a lively, walkable neighborhood with plenty of restaurants, entertainment and green spaces.